Poverty Pimps

"Excesses and abuses, especially in recent years, have provoked very harsh criticisms of the welfare state, dubbed the "social assistance state." Malfunctions and defects in the social assistance state are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the state. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good." Centesimus Annus 48, Pope John Paul II.

For they know not how to do what is right, says the Lord, storing up in their castles what they have extorted and robbed. Amos 3:9-10

Political Exploitation Index

Concurrent with the rise of the so-called Great Society, there was a significant increase in people who derive their living from poverty issues. According to the Progressive Policy Institute's report on the Los Angeles riots, about two-thirds of the Great Society money targeted for inner cities instead funded the social service industry -- bureaucrats, professional advocates, and lawyers (8).

The Houston Catholic Worker of December 1996, lists 48 Houston area initiatives that collectively have received $51 million in funding over the last three years for homeless programs, but the paper reports there is no place to send homeless women and children for shelter in the area. The U.S. Congress' Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe reports that in 1987, the New York shelter system served about 10,100 persons in 28 facilities each night. In 1989, New York City spent $577.4 million on homeless services, or $57,168 per homeless person (dividing 1989 dollars by 1987 census; numbers served may be up in 1989, but those figures were not available; even so, the calculation indicates some serious overhead).

Perhaps the most cogent conservative/libertarian criticism of government welfare programs relate to the high administrative costs. But where does the blame for this lie? Many of these programs were vociferously opposed in Congress, and one of the myths constantly propagated has been of people "cheating" the system through fraud and abuse. Thus, each of these programs comes with guidelines and regulations designed to eliminate a less than serious problem that relates more to political demagoguery that any actual statistics that require spending disproportionately on mandated bureaucratic structures to scrutinize the poor. This has been noted, e.g., in columns by George Miller of the Department of Human Services and Governor Frank Keating in the Daily Oklahoman, who have publicly stated that they were re-orienting the focus of the bureaucracy away from dealing with fraud and abuse issues and towards actually providing help to individuals on welfare to get jobs (which suggests that the problem of fraud and abuse has always been much smaller than people have believed) and thus may say something of the money wasted by liberals and conservatives these past thirty years. Such waste through denials of reality that result in bureaucratic mismanagement is a structure of sin that enables oppression of the poor.

Political Exploitation Index