The previous post started to discuss the
inconsistency that collectivists have regarding the use of redistributed wealth
by those who receive it – that it will be used for its intended purpose. One of the main arguments for government
forced redistribution is that people who have wealth will not do the right
things with it. On the other hand, collectivists
assume that those who receive the redistributions will do the right things with
them, or at least will be better stewards of what they receive than those from
whom it came. Why else would a
redistribution be warranted unless it were to be used for some greater good? Otherwise a redistribution is simply legalized
theft. The assertion underlying wealth redistributions
implies that virtue among those receiving the redistribution is greater than
those whose wealth is redistributed.
During the Middle Ages, the general view was that those who accumulated
wealth possessed greater virtues related to physical things (stewardship,
frugality, etc.), while those who were poor possessed greater spiritual virtues
(piety, humility, etc.). It was not
thought that one group’s virtue was greater than the other; but rather that the
virtues they possessed were merely different – neither was better than the
Charity during the Middle Ages was
performed by both religious organizations and the laity, and included many
different types of organizations.
However, all of these organizations, regardless of whether they took a
contemplative or active view of charity, were motivated by concern for others
which had a religious character. Relationships
between those performing charity and those receiving it were generally
direct. While money was often collected,
services were generally provided to those in need, and those in need were
defined to be those in special circumstances as most people during this time lived
on the edge of subsistence. The spheres
of civic and religious society remained separate during the Early Middle Ages.
By late in the High Middle Ages, and
into the Renaissance and Enlightenment, these views had changed. The Feudal System was firmly in place, and a
degree of freedom had developed, particularly within many of the city-states of
Northern Italy, the Lowlands, and England.
As their rulers were also Christian, they came to believe they had a
moral duty to care for the poor within their kingdoms. The notion of religious and civic societies transformed
once more into one where they were viewed to be one and the same. One implication of this is that many of the
charitable organizations created during the Early Middle Ages were placed under
the direction of municipal associations alongside of the municipal charities
created by the local government. This
was all done in the name of efficiency in caring for the poor. It was thought that fewer large organizations
under the control of the civic government could better care for the poor than
many small ones under the control of individuals. Sound familiar?
This trend continued during the
Renaissance. Charitable organizations
were placed under increasing control of the local ruler. This control not only included the actions of
a charitable organization itself, but in some cases local rulers began directly
appointing a charity’s deacons and elders, or the ruler’s approval was required
for those who were to be placed on lists for consideration by church their
congregations – the civic sphere began to consume the religious sphere.
There were several effects from this
increased centralization and government control. Compare them to what we see today. First, there were promises of increased
revenues and decreased costs based upon efficiency gains to be made in
association with the consolidation.
These never materialized. In
general, revenues decreased while expenses significantly increased due to
increasing amounts of regulation. After
all, a ruler now saw it as their money being spent, collected through taxes, and
they demanded an accounting to know that it was being spent wisely. One quick example from the city of
Florence. It was noted that some record
keeping for the poor had previously taken about two volumes of two hundred
pages each per quarter. After implementing
some additional municipal government requirements, the record keeping increased
to the point where it took four volumes of five hundred pages each for the same
time period – an increase of about four hundred percent!
Second, the purpose of these charitable
organizations began to shift. Although
they still took care of the poor, their purpose shifted from a religious basis
to a means of trying to control the poor.
Initially this took the form of offering charity in return for changes
in behavior – trying to improve the morality of those in need. Third, there were increasing conflicts between
the goals and objectives within these charitable organizations. This led to the misdirection of charity
related funds into non-charitable purposes – the development of patronage. Fourth, the distance between the giver and
receiver of charity increased, leading to a decrease in the closeness of the
relationship. At the same time
requirements for receiving charity were increased. These two changes encouraged fraud and deceit
by the recipient. The virtue of those receiving
redistributions from the municipal charity decreased as the level of effort
necessary to receive that assistance was increased. Instead of charity helping someone in need, it
created an incentive to cheat – to lessen one’s virtue, or increase their vice. This fraud in turn further increased a
charity’s costs as it spent resources to combat it, this in turn led to
diminished revenues as people’s confidence in a charitable organization
decreased, often because they became financially insolvent – they became poorer
stewards of the resources they had received.
Many of these organizations were continually pressed to request more and
more funding from rulers and the public to continue their operations – the very
opposite of their mission and reason for their consolidation.
Money is almost never the problem or the
answer. Instead it is our reliance on
money which is often the problem. We
must look instead to man for an answer. And
when we look to man we must look toward his actions as these indicate where his
heart is. This is difficult to do, and I
believe this difficulty is one reason why charities during the Renaissance were
allowed to devolve by coming under municipal control – it was an easy path –
one in which people thought they could abdicate their responsibility. We are often all too ready to believe this
type of change is okay if we think the responsibility now falls to someone else,
but it does not. It remains with us, and
we are still accountable at the end of the day.
So what can we learn? First, assisting those in need while still achieving
our purpose would appear to include:
Receiving an education in both
reason and faith, so that virtue and morality are taught. Virtue and morality are also learned from
life. While a formal education is not
always required, it certainly can serve to shorten the learning curve. We are not born with virtue, including
wisdom, but we are created in a way to acquire it – through our own effort.
Maintaining close relationships
between those giving and those receiving so that redistributions are more
likely to be effective. This means it
must be left in the hands of individuals, or the local community. Increasing the distance decreases the
connection and eventually leads to poor stewardship.
Focusing on providing the things
that are needed and teaching stewardship.
Habitat for Humanity, at least within the U.S., provides an excellent
model for this approach. Local
charitable groups and individuals work together to teach a form of stewardship
to those wishing to own a home for their family. Individuals are more ready to exercise the
responsibility that comes with ownership when the home is completed. This type of focus means concentrating
efforts on identifying needs such as food, clothing, shelter, education, and
care, instead of focusing on money and funding.
Shifting from the short-term
focus of simply providing things to the long-term development of skills,
self-worth, and hope within those in need.
This is the equivalent of no longer simply giving someone fish, but
instead teaching them to fish. The first
leads to dependence and despair, the later to independence and fulfillment.
Second, larger organizations generally have
not delivered more efficient results, as the organizations themselves generally
become less efficient the larger they get.
This was true during the Renaissance, and true in the twentieth century
as indicated within the 1941 monograph Concentration
of Economic Power published by the Temporary National Economic Committee, a
portion of which states:
efficiency of large establishments has not been demonstrated; the advantages
that are supposed to destroy competition have failed to manifest themselves in
many fields. Nor do the economies of
size, where they exist, invariably necessitate monopoly. . . . The size or the
sizes of the optimum efficiency may be reached long before the major part of a
supply is subjected to such control. The
conclusions that the advantage of large-scale production must lead inevitably
to the abolition of competition cannot be accepted. It should be noted,
moreover, that monopoly is frequently the product of factors other than the
lower costs of greater size. It is attained through collusive agreement and
promoted by public policies. When these
agreements are invalidated and when these policies are reversed, competitive
conditions can be restored.’
While larger organizations generally do
not create greater efficiencies, it is true that fewer larger organizations are
easier to control than many small ones.
Seems like we’ve come back to power again, and perhaps this is the real
motivation underlying such changes as were noted above.
offered another view to consider. He
suggested that the definition of insanity is repeating the same actions and
expecting something different to occur. It
is a failure to learn. We always hear from
collectivists of all stripes that the problem is we just didn’t do enough. We didn’t spend enough, or it wasn’t spend in
the right areas, or it didn’t go to the right places, etc. Unless we learn from history, we will
continue to repeat the same failed approaches.
The U.S. is the only country which calls the depression of the 1930’s
the ‘Great Depression’. It was great in
this country because it was the only place in which the depression lasted more
than a few years, and it was the only country which pursued the policies of
institutional poverty advocated by FDR.
His Treasury secretary, Roger Morgenthau, noted in his diary: ‘We have
tried spending money. We are spending
more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. . . . We have never
made good on our promises. . . . I say after eight years of this Administration
we have just as much unemployment as when we started . . . and an enormous debt
to boot!’ So just where is our focus
today? Is it in the right place? Are we headed in the right direction?