Caring for the Poor–and Why I Pulled the Plug on a Failed Post

I rarely do this, maybe the 3rd or 4th time in my years of blogging on several blogs, but yesterday I pulled the plug on a rapidly written post that I sorely bungled. I bungled it, in my opinion, by not giving enough explanation to avoid having several people draw unintended and unnecessary offense. Sorry to those of you who posted 11 comments in the six hours that it was up. To the majority of you who were upset and angry, your comments weren’t wasted. I did take it to heart and realize I had conveyed meanings utterly unintended. Here’s the background to the hastily-written post, for those who care, with what I hope is a more proper way of presenting my thoughts on the issue of caring better for those who are in need.

After visiting some friends doing research at a university and inquiring not just about their research but about their workload, I came away quite surprised at how difficult university life has become since my days in academia. Acceptance rates for research proposals have plummeted. The challenges of obtaining funding are more painful than ever, resulting in arduous hours and frequent disappointment. I asked a professor friend why it’s so hard now. Whether you agree or not, he said the stimulus program had been part of the problem. That was not what I expected at all. He explained that when Congress started dishing out billions of extra dollars to stimulate the economy, there was a flood of new money going to universities and research institutions, which resulted in a surge in hiring of staff. Now those new mouths need to be fed with a shrinking supply of funds. Thus, professors have to write more and more proposals with declining acceptance rates. The good intentions of the stimulus program created an imbalance that is now causing long-term pain, in his opinion. Perhaps that’s related to the kind of pain we’ve seen here in Wisconsin, with years of overspending now catching up to us (or, according to one perspective, failure to raise taxes fast enough), leading to unpleasant consequences with no easy answers.

During the same week, I had visited a national park and encountered another lesson in the long-term pain that can arise from the unintended consequences of well-intended actions. I finally learned the reason for all the “Do Not Feed the Animals” signs in our parks. A detailed explanation from the National Park Service indicated that humans feeding the other animals in the park often leads to their death. Apart from the poor nutrition and harmful foods we might give, a potentially bigger problem is that animals who get fed by humans may teach their young to feed that way instead of learning what it takes to survive in nature. When the tourists go away in winter, those animals that learned to look to humans for food may die a slow death of starvation. Kind intentions can sometimes have unkind consequences.

I was considering the issue of unintended consequences and especially the problems that can occur when government bureaucracy steps in to solve a problem, as allegedly reflected in the short-term effects of the stimulus program or the long-term effects of the War on Poverty, where financial incentives were somehow created for children to be raised without fathers, arguably contributing sharply to the decay of families (also see Thomas Sowell’s argument that it increased dependency instead of lifting people out of poverty). So often there are unintended consequences, especially when impersonal systems tackle the unique needs of individuals. What is meant to help, if done poorly, can make things worse.

In drawing insights about unintended consequences from the care of wild animals, I am in no way insinuating that any of you are like them any more than I am. Ditto, tame readers, for the parallel drawn to wild professors.

My post didn’t tell the university perspective I had been considering or adequately present the issue of unintended consequences and the need to consider the unique needs of each individual when caring for each other. Some of you assumed (or wanted to assume?) that I was saying that the poor are like animals that we shouldn’t feed. No, absolutely not. Some turned it into a racial issue. Gag. I am all for vigorously caring for the needy. I mean that sincerely. It is our mandate from God, in fact. I am close to a number of people in extreme circumstances and understand a part of their endless frustrations and desperation. We may all be there one day or at various stages in our lives. Indeed, we are all needy and beggars before God, relying on His goodness constantly, admit it or not. Our goal, as brothers and sisters, is to help each other, to do more for each other, and to do it in love. One need not be in good economic health to be part of God’s work in helping others–we can serve with our might or our mites.

Of the various ways out there to help, some can be impersonal and even harmful due to unintended consequences. Some can lift and provide help when and where it is needed. Government programs sometimes do that, and it’s great when it happens. Church programs sometimes don’t, and it’s sad when that fails. But each of us can do better and can do more. In each case, we should seek to do what really helps others in the long term. What makes us feel good and look good isn’t always what is needed most. That takes more work, more listening, and sometimes a lot more investment of time and money.

I feel that the principles of the LDS Welfare Program, as discussed in my aborted post, are consistent with these thoughts. The LDS Welfare Program includes the concepts that the long-term benefits of individuals and families are key, with unique needs being considered in prayer and love. Doesn’t always happen, but those are the principles and they are inspired ones. There isn’t a Kafkaesque bureaucracy to deal with nor vast tomes of code regulating what can and can’t happen (but there are constraints, realities, and some rules). There aren’t endless forms to fill our and long lines to stand in (though results and expediency vary). The goal is not to create dependency but to create independence and self-esteem.

It doesn’t always work, but I’ve seen it work well, wonderfully well. I’ve seen good people in trying circumstances receive generous and personalized help from people who know and love them, helping them to get back on their feet and cope with the ongoing trials of mortality with more hope than before. I’ve seen it lift givers and recipients and help them both feel more part of a family of God’s children. Yes, I’ve also seen and participated in failed or botched efforts also. And like some of the people we’ve handed money to, we’ve seen good intentions fall flat. I’m thinking, for example, of a man last year who told me with a big smile that he was going to use the money he had just received to buy crack cocaine–it was an extreme case that was really my fault for being rather foolish; it was right to help, but I should have helped him in a better way. I’ll tell the story one day because it’s a surprising part of a longer tale wherein God kindly applies another classic 2 x 4 to my forehead, a store that I must share–don’t ask why now. (I might call it “Finding Moses.”)

We need to help the poor, and we need systems and programs to deal with challenges. However, we can’t rely on systems; we can’t rely solely on others to do the work. Each of us as individuals has talents, abilities, and perhaps material resources that we can apply at various times in our lives to help those around us. When someone is struggling, we cannot always assume that the bishop or the government has it all taken care of. There are still financial constraints and other barriers that can limit what they can do. If we open our minds and listen to the promptings of the Spirit, we may find that we can and should do something extra for someone we know or perhaps a stranger. It can be amazing to watch what a little kindness can do to lift someone else. Sometimes a simple word of advice and encouragement, like the man who literally lifted a finger in my previous post on bighorn sheet, is what is needed. Cash, on the other hand, has its merits, and now is a good time to be generous: once it loses its value, it does nobody any good. (But also invest a portion in commodities or other things that will retain value when the dollar tanks. And building a good food storage can be one of the kindest things you can do for the needy of the future.)

I believe when done prayerfully, seeking revelation on how to help, the risk of doing harm instead of good is greatly reduced. That applies to bishops managing the welfare program as well as each of us managing what resources we might have. Doing real good is not easy, but should be our task and goal.

Frankly, often the best way to help someone who is hungry is to give them a fish. You can feed a person for a day by giving them a fish–not bad! On the other hand, if you teach that man to fish and get him hooked, you can help lead that man to a life of heavy debt (boat, gear, etc.), heavy drinking (the basis for ice fishing), and long-term marital trouble (gone every weekend). A nasty boatload of unintended consequences. Now is that what you really wanted to do?

Anyway, sorry for the misunderstanding from my recent now-yanked post, and thanks for your patience. Now let’s get out there and do some lasting good

Update: As an example of a bad way to help the poor with possible unintended consequences, consider the minimum wage program. Read the 1996 Joint Economic Committee report on the minimum wage. Though intended to help the poor, there is a credible case that it’s real result is to destroy jobs and opportunity, the thing the poor need most. The poor tend not to have jobs. How many of them would be helped if we set the minimum wage, to say, $100 an hour? A lot of poor people wouldn’t suddenly become well off. More poor people and many high-school and college students would suddenly become unemployed. Let’s create jobs, or allow the market to create jobs, rather than telling employers they can’t hire people unless they can afford to pay a certain wage. Well, that’s just my crazy idea. It must feel good to pass a minimum wage law and think you are now raising salaries for millions of needy Americans, but the reality may be that you’re raising barriers.

Update, April 12, 2011: See also “The Minimum Wage: Washingtons Perennial Myth” by by Matthew B. Kibbe and Minimum Wage Hikes Deserve Share of Blame for High Unemployment by Dennis Mitchell, with a great Economics 101 video by Orphe Divounguy.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

83 thoughts on “Caring for the Poor–and Why I Pulled the Plug on a Failed Post

  1. Jeff,

    This is a much better post, but I'm not sure now what you're trying to say. You still seem to want to criticize governmental welfare, but then later you admit good happens within that program, and that bad happens with the church program as well.

    But I'm glad you are pushing the caring for the poor belief. For all the good it has done the poor over the past 70 some odd years, I don't know what you have against government social programs. You yourself note that there are no programs, within the church or out, that are perfect, or without bad consequences. I think Jesus would say that it doesn't matter how we help the poor.

  2. Dan it seems like you didn't read or understand his idea about unintended consequences. You might start by reading the Sowell link.

  3. No, Dan, I think it matters very much how we help the poor. I was probably too wordy to make that clear.

    Some forms of help don't really help in the long run. That's my opinion. I prefer help that is personal and tailored to the needs of people, with love and compassion behind it and a long-term goal of lifting people, advancing their education and capabilities and ability to stand independent.

  4. Jeff, I didn't read the original but as often is the case, you make good point here and your answer to Dan brings it into clearer focus. I suppose I would have understood the original,too, but now we'll never know.

  5. Jeff,

    Your first post made plenty of sense . . . except maybe to those who choose to go through life offended.

  6. I think you missed the mark in one area and did not mention a trap in another.

    First The War on Poverty created programs like Head Start, Job Corps, Vista, Legal Services for the Poor, Upward Bound, Work Study progams for financially disadvantaged students, Community action programs etc. It had nothing to do with "encouraging the breakup of families." The program usually accused of the latter is AFDC (Aid to Families With Dependent Children) which was established in 1935.

    The latter was a program that gave monetary support for children in impoverished situations. Quite often that meant that a woman did not have a male to provide support, so thus the encouragement of males to leave the family so the woman could get money. There were other criticisms of the program including the dependency argument, but a lot of it was simply racist (cartoons of black wefare queens and William Shockley's dysgenics).

    Second, the huge problem of anecdotal history and unintended consequences is not dealt with. You can almost always find exceptions to a program or policy. The question is when a person uses anecdotes, are they examples of a real problem or just examples of a few exceptions? Too often they are used to defend a conclusion not backed by real data.

  7. As Murray Rothbard wrote in For A New Liberty:

    While a strict deterrent is far better than an open welcome and a preachment about the recipients' "rights," the libertarian position calls for the complete abolition of governmental welfare and reliance on private charitable aid, based as it necessarily will be on helping the "deserving poor" on the road to independence as rapidly as possible. There was, after all, little or no governmental welfare in the United States until the Depression of the 1930s, and yet — in an era of a far lower general standard of living — there was no mass starvation in the streets. A highly successful private welfare program in the present-day is the one conducted by the three-millon-member Mormon Church. This remarkable people, hounded by poverty and persecution, emigrated to Utah and nearby states in the nineteenth century, and by thrift and hard work raised themselves to a general level of prosperity and affluence. Very few Mormons are on welfare; Mormons are taught to be independent, self-reliant, and to shun the public dole. Mormons are devout believers and have therefore successfully internalized these admirable values. Furthermore, the Mormon Church operates an extensive private welfare plan for its members — based, again, on the principle of helping their members toward independence as rapidly as possible.

    Note, for example, the following principles from the "Welfare Plan" of the Mormon Church. "Ever since its organization in 1830, the Church has encouraged its members to establish and maintain their economic independence; it has encouraged thrift and fostered the establishment of employment-creating industries; it has stood ready at all times to help needy faithful members." In 1936, the Mormon Church developed a "Church Welfare Plan, . . . a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self-respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help the people to help themselves. Work is to be enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of [p. 149] our Church membership."7 Mormon social workers in the program are instructed to act accordingly: "Faithful to this principle, welfare workers will earnestly teach and urge Church members to be self-sustaining to the full extent of their powers. No true Latter-Day Saint will, while physically able, voluntarily shift from himself the burden of his own support. So long as he can, under the inspiration of the Almighty and with his own labors, he will supply himself with the necessities of life."8 The immediate objectives of the welfare program are to: "1. Place in gainful employment those who are able to work. 2. Provide employment within the Welfare Program, in so far as possible, for those who cannot be placed in gainful employment. 3. Acquire the means with which to supply the needy, for whom the Church assumes responsibility, with the necessities of life."9 Insofar as possible, this program is carried on in small, decentralized, grass-roots groups: "Families, neighbors, quorums and wards and other Church organizational units may find it wise and desirable to form small groups for extending mutual help one to the other. Such groups may plant and harvest crops, process foods, store food, clothing and fuel, and carry out other projects for their mutual benefit."10

    There is no finer model than the Mormon Church for a private, voluntary, rational, individualistic welfare program. Let government welfare be abolished, and one would expect that numerous such programs [p. 151] for rational mutual aid would spring up throughout the country.

    Read the whole thing here: and text search for "mormon" to find the relevant section.

  8. Great post. To me, you are saying that you can't make sweeping generalizations about programs. Each individual or family has unique circumstances, so one program might help them, but have unintended bad consequences for another family.
    The more we as individuals try to help people individually, the better.
    I recently was helping someone who is a young married mother with poor all around skills. I agreed to meet her at a McDonalds near her studio apartment in an extended stay motel (her rent is bigger than my mortgage). It is good for her to be around other mothers who can model parenting or be a support. However, she called up and said it was raining so she couldn't walk there.
    I almost offered her a ride, but then realized that it was more important for her to feel that she could take care of herself and her child and get to where she needed to go. Plus, she needs to be able to make friends, but if she always needs a ride she becomes a charity case rather than a peer.
    We met the following day. It was a little thing, but I hope she can have practice and become capable of taking care of her own life and the benefits it can bring.

  9. I agree that we should help the poor. And I do think that the Church can often do this more effectively than the government.

    That is why it pains me to see the Church spend $3 billion on a shopping mall. Put in perspective, they have spent only about 10% of that over a 25 year period – or around $13 million a year – on humanitarian needs. And this includes fast offerings, etc. that we give.

    I would like to see the numbers reversed – spend billions on helping people and millions on commercial ventures.

  10. Saw the first post and thought it was good, but see how some people could have misinterpreted it. My wife and I did not. The "give a man a fish… Teach a man to fish" example is what came to my mind as I read it. Unfortunate that you had to rewrite, but I do understand some of the offenses.

    Nevertheless, I think your point is valid and it's good to have this kind of thinking out there. Certaianly, shutting down the government welfre system would be bad for many, many people. Hwever there may be ways in which government officials can start to think about thingrs differently in order to help people on a more lasting basis. The fear of instituting the welfare system in the beginning was that it would create a "permanent lower class.". That doesn't always happen, but does more than anyone would like. The solution is not clear cut or obvious, but it's good to not accept the status quo as a perfect solution because it is not.

  11. I don't know many particulars on Church expenditures but many times, speaking in general rather than necessarily in Church situations, expenditures are essentially seed money (investments) that allow for greater giving in the future.

    I think the life of John Huntsman (Sr.?) is one example. Decades ago, in response to an earth quake in Romania, he spent $100,000,000 of his own money building concrete housing for the homeless there. He obviously spent a lot of seed money on building a commercial enterprise that could make him enough money to be able to afford that.

    I suppose a lot of people stereotyped him as a selfish rich person while he was building that wealth and a lot more even after he spent so much so generously. But it was wisdom in the Lord that he was guided in his business affairs in such a way as to be able to afford what he could afford. Anyone that can afford to give that much probably first did more investing than giving.

    I don't expect the Church to be as good in business as John Huntsman was – nor do I suppose this shopping mall was all about making money – but I am not bothered. My guess is that this investment in downtown Salt Lake City will in some way prove to be wisdom in the Lord – if not proven in this life, proven when someone asks the Lord about it and we see how things would have been.

  12. "Certaianly, shutting down the government welfre system would be bad for many, many people."

    Unless we first did away with the regulatory burdens government imposes that makes self-sufficiency very expensive and otherwise somewhat difficult or impossible to obtain. And secondly, assist people in transitioning to self-reliance.

    Of course, to sweeten the deal for those that would lose their regulatory related employment some monetary policy changes may be needed. For example, the Fed could be required to give financial incentives to mortgage holders to forgive real estate loans to people that lose their jobs.

    We might need a few more pieces of the puzzle for completing the picture of government benefiting most that are now dependent on welfare by getting out of the welfare business but don't you suppose it would be possible?

  13. Great post Jeff.

    One little point. Heavy drinking and ice fishing really do not have a connection.

    Also, the point about about teaching a man to fish is very relevant. However it is too easily said. To be a good or adequate fishermnan takes years and years of study and practice. It is a lifelong practice.

  14. What happened to the welfare program? That $13 Million a year charity given by the Mormon church includes fast offerings, Deseret Industries, Bishop's storehouses, canneries; everything. I don't see how it can be so small a number. In Canada and Great Britain where the church must publish its budget, there's no humanitarian giving at all, except from a fund specifically donated to by Mormons for humanitarian giving called 'humanitarian giving', or some such, and a fraction of it isn't dispersed.

    Your church pretends to do good while failing, miserably to do so.

  15. This "13 million a year" number being tossed around is very misleading. Yes, if you look at the 2009 welfare services fact sheet (, the Church gave $327.6 million in cash donations from 1985 to 2009, an average of $13.7 million a year. However, this does not include the value of material assistance ($884.6 million from 1985 to 2009, or an average of $36.9 million a year), and it does not include donated labor (763,737 days in 2009). There is also a fact sheet for 2010 (, and while it does not break down humanitarian aid by cash donations and material assistance, it reports $1.3 billion in humanitarian aid given from 1985-2010, which works out to approximately $87.8 million for 2010, depending on how the $1.3 billion figure is rounded.

    Cash donations are only a part of the Church's giving, and the Church is in a unique position to render material assistance as well as to mobilize the donated time and talents of its members. A "13 million a year" figure misrepresents what the Church does through Welfare Services. It also betrays an assumption that the value of the Church's humanitarian aid lies solely in how much money the Church gives away. Simply giving the poor money is not the only way to help them, and it is probably not the best way to help them, either. Besides, the leaders of the Church have repeatedly urged members to increase their fast offerings and other charitable giving. If we want the Church to do more in the area of humanitarian aid, it is up to us to increase our donations of time and money.

  16. You cannot offend a man who will not be offended.

    As for welfare, it's very sensitive, especially if you are currently receiving welfare.

    But surely it is important to highlight the key point here.

    Give a man a fish and he is a poor man with a fish.

    Teach a man to fish and he is no longer a poor man.

    I think that's the most important part of that saying. If you do anything to help someone and after a time they are are still poor then it makes sense to change the way you help them as you aren't achieving your goal.

    Here in the UK we have growing numbers of people who have not supported themselves for three generations.

    Being poor isn't about your material circumstances, it's about who provides your material circumstances, looking at how much money a person has is deceiving.

    I know many unemployed persons who are financially better off than I am. It's not about the money, it's about work and all of the social advantages that comes with that, health and education being the big two. Supporting yourself and your family promotes your health and opportunities in many areas.

    I'm glad that sign finally sunk in.

  17. I was part of the thousands of southern Mormons who showed up in Homestead, Florida after it was wiped out by a hurricane. The Church's role in bringing in people and supplies was enormous. Might have been very little cash given in that process, but there were large shipments of supplies, massive manpower, and tons of humanitarian good provided. That kind of thing happens in many other venues. If you want to belong to a church that takes the welfare of others seriously, this is a great choice. And let me check . . . yes, we still have openings for membership or even just donated service.

  18. There really wasn't anything wrong with the original post, Jeff. People looking for ways to be offended will always find them. A recent problem from the past decade or so — particularly in political rhetoric — is that people don't often recognize the distinction between an innocent analogy vs. a direct comparison. Becoming oversensitized as we have as a society, the simple analogy has now been tightened to carry the meaning of equating, even though it wasn't what the author was conveying. We read more things into what is said. We seem to have a desperate need to want things to mean something that upsets us so that we can criticize it. This is the lazy way of engaging in discourse. Take offense at the first possible sensitive area, and then we can feel justified in not responding to the core message.

  19. Jeff,

    I guess without getting specific as to which forms of help you have a problem with, we're not going to know what the problem is. Riffing generally against government aid is rather amateurish, in my opinion. If you think there are specific problems, then you should mention them, and we'll find a way to fix it.

    What do you think of Social Security? Is there a problem with a society setting aside money from your own paycheck to have when you retire? It seems like a really good idea. It is actually amazing because you cannot touch that money until you retire, and it is fixed, thus you can't just take it all out and abuse it. Sounds like a great minimum standard of retirement for the citizen workers of this country. Are there problems with it? Of course there are. No system is perfect.

    Or Medicare? Do you have a problem with it? It's actually cheaper than if seniors and disabled people had to pay out of their own pockets (which will be Paul Ryan's plan, btw). Is the price going up? Yep. We continue to rely on the latest and greatest, thus increasing the cost.

    Or Food Stamps? They are proven to be the best stimulant to the economy ($1.84 for ever $1)

    Or Unemployment Benefits? They are the second best stimulant to the economy.

    Or government subsidized student loans? Speaking of teaching people how to fish…

    How well do you think the church will run those programs if the church were suddenly put in charge of all of them? Do you not think that the church ought to have highly competent, knowledgable people to run such programs? Would you pay them? Or are they volunteering their time?

    How about housing projects? Subsidized housing to the poor…I guess we could let them build their own little shanty towns, slums, and it's up to their own efforts to find decent homes. Works just fine in India, right?

    And finally, how was life before the 1930s for the poorest Americans? How long was their lifespan?

  20. Of course, we have a lot of great competition from other religions when it comes to service. We're still small fry, but hoping to keep growing in impact.

  21. Dan, I mentioned and gave some links on the compassionate minimum wage program. Let's start there. It was working with that program in D.C. that turned a young Marxist economist into a conservative, suddenly aware of how government help actually works. That awakened Marxist was Thomas Sowell. So help me see how that form of helping the poor actually helps the poor–in the long run.

  22. But on the other hand, the purpose of this post is not to get into the effectiveness of government programs but to encourage more effectiveness in our own work, so I'm not sure I want to get into a big debate on the failure of Social Security or other programs here. But if you have some new insights on the wisdom of minimum wage since I raised that issue already, I'm interested.

  23. Jeff,

    Just read your update on minimum wage. I knew I had this debate before, so I checked wikipedia, and sure enough, here is a study:

    "In 1992, the minimum wage in New Jersey increased from $4.25 to $5.05 per hour (an 18.8% increase) while the adjacent state of Pennsylvania remained at $4.25. David Card and Alan Krueger gathered information on fast food restaurants in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania in an attempt to see what effect this increase had on employment within New Jersey. Basic economic theory would have implied that relative employment should have decreased in New Jersey. Card and Krueger surveyed employers before the April 1992 New Jersey increase, and again in November–December 1992, asking managers for data on the full-time equivalent staff level of their restaurants both times.[57] Based on data from the employers' responses, the authors concluded that the increase in the minimum wage increased employment in the New Jersey restaurants"

    How about that. the minimum wage increase in New Jersey increased employment in New Jersey…

  24. This reminded me of a certain South American country I had to opportunity to work in a while ago. I happened to get there right after the entire financial system of the country had a meltdown and the government was desperately trying to keep people happy and preventing them from rioting. One of the things the government tried was to dish out copious amounts of welfare money. The problem was that the very same people who would not lift a finger to work or even attempt to find a job would still go and wait for several hours, or even for several days, for the government to give them their handout. These were people who would be "too sick" or "have a bad back" and could not even work their own garden, but suddenly found the strength and stamina to stand in line, outside, in the middle of the summer, for several hours, on the chance that the government would just hand them a couple hundred pesos.

    I also happened to be there during a presidential election, and there were people whose only criteria for who they voted for was which political machine gave the better barbecue (yes, that's right. They determined who they would vote for based on who served the best ribs on the way to the voting booth).

    Now not everyone was like that, and there were some people who were in desperate need of help, and the actions of the government literally stopped them from starving to death. But while it helped them right then, the structural and institutional problems were still there, which meant that there would always be people who where on the verge of starvation and in constant need of help. And all the other people who were quite honestly, downright lazy, well, they never learned their lesson and only helped perpetuate the problem. This was compounded by the fact that no politician or political machine was interested in actually fixing the structural problems because it was the structural problems that allowed them to have and maintain their power.

    So while there are those who truly need some help, a blanket approach of throwing out money, while it may save some, will only help perpetuate the problem that the money was intended to solve. Perhaps the best (and only way) to solve the problem is to approach each case individually (like Jeff suggested). The only problem with this is that it would require an immense amount of commitment from society in general and individuals involved. Still it would solve the problem, and I think that is precisely the approach being taken by the Church.

  25. Christian Wright, thanks for saying one thing I would have said without your comment. Those who harp on the cash-only part of the LDS Church's humanitarian aid are either extremely ignorant of the overall giving the LDS Church does or are intentionally focusing on the one area they can distort in such a way to cast the most negative barbs at the LDS Church as possible. It is a mis-leading, twisted, ridiculous argument when presented in isolation.

    Very good post, Jeff – on a very, very, very complicated topic. My take-away is that you are saying we need to help people who need help in the moment they need help, but we also need to try to find a way to help them in the long run that allows them, whenever possible, eventually to become self-sufficient, not need our help any longer and, thus, turn around and help others.

    Seems like the best approach to me, and I say that as someone who has had to accept Church assistance in the past.

  26. No one should be surprised to discover that modest, well-timed increases in the minimum wage can actually increase employment. People like Thomas Sowell will tell you half the story (the part about how increased payroll costs can force businesses to lay off employees) but not the other half, namely, that workers who are making more money tend to buy more stuff, which can lead to businesses hiring more employees.

    The increased sales can then help city and county and state governments bring in more sales tax revenue, which can result in new infrastructure development, building projects, and the like–which means more good jobs for people, feeding a positive cycle of prosperity. Not to mention reducing the number of potholes in the roads, providing nice parks for the kids to play in, etc., etc.

  27. Pretty much anything that puts money into the pockets of poor- to mid-wage people increases economic activity, helping the economy quite a bit. Because poor- to middle-income spend that money, giving money to businesses, etc. Sigh. A minimum wage does increase business activity on the demand side, lifting everyone's boats.

  28. Dan, the Card and Krueger study has been thoroughly discredited. It's dead wrong. Payroll data actually support the opposite conclusion from their flawed study. See for starters. Also read the Joint Economic Study cited in my post in an update added shortly after I wrote the main body of the post.

    We should be surprised if minimum wage laws provide real gains in employment. Money doesn't just sit idle until wise politicians force businesses to spend more than they need to. The money they have to overspend for entry-level labor is money they can't spend on other jobs, bonuses, advertising, expansion, etc., all of which goes somewhere and plays a role in the economy. The issue is whether the role it plays is efficient. There is also the issue of whether government has any legitimate role setting market prices for labor or other things. Unless the politician setting the wages or any other prices is omnipotent and knows what the ideal price for labor or any other item should be, there is a likelihood that the action misallocates resources and harms the economy.

    Hopefully you can see that setting a minimum wage of $400/hr would not result in new wealth for all low-income workers, but vastly fewer jobs and many destroyed businesses. But for workers who only deliver $5/hr of value to an employer, a minimum wage of $8/hr means that the employer is motivated to not hire the worker that otherwise might have been gladly hired. Supply and demand can fairly determine prices for labor as it can for other items, and artificial levels set by bureaucrats, however compassionate, result in oversupply or shortage and impede the flow of information that is communicated by the mechanism of price.

    I'd love to see more teenagers able to have meaningful work experiences in the summer or in part time jobs, but raising minimum wages only makes that harder. Go ask your local grocer or fast food outlet what a $20/hr wage would mean for high school jobs.

  29. Jeff,

    I'm clearly not going to convince you when you're quite deeply imbedded with the Townhall types. Suffice it to say that the minimum wage works much like unionization, which also pushed for a supposedly "artificial" wage, or in other words, a wage that management didn't really want to give workers but were forced to give workers whether they liked it or not. I won't belabor (pun intended) the point too much that the unionization of our workforce and the push for minimum wage standards in this country did not destroy capitalism. In fact, from the 1940s to 1999, our country has seen amazing economic growth, truly astounding growth. Who knows why economists like your Townhall dude can't see reality very well, but I am quite sure I remember unemployment numbers during the Clinton years being historically low, economy booming, and everyone doing very well. Don't know about you, Jeff, but I still see teenagers at dead end McDonald's jobs. I know I worked at such jobs (Burger King) when I was in high school in California. And they had to pay me probably more than my labor was worth! gasp! You're using utterly ridiculous numbers (absolutely no one is talking about a $100 or $400 minimum wage, so why even bring up something so ridiculous?) and expect to be taken seriously. If the theory is that an increase in minimum wage equals to an increase in unemployment, then why have we had such a strong, low unemployment economy for so long in our country? Hell, even the 8.8% we're dealing with now is relatively low compared to other countries in the world. The assertion that an artificial minimum wage disrupts the economic supply and demand model may look good on paper, but it's not something that is very real in actual reality.

    Finally, I cannot see your link. It doesn't work for me.