Sunday, October 25, 2009

Give a Man a Fish...

Last weekend I kicked off a new series of what will be relatively sporadic posts concerning politics, economics, history or anything else I find interesting in my leisure reading. Given that I'm still immersed in Reagan's book, I offer up another excerpt expounding on Reagan's measuring stick for government welfare programs.
...Reagan had introduced the topic into the national debate and offered a new criterion for evaluating government programs. Until then, many public officials and policy experts considered a government program a good one if it covered a lot of people. The more people who received benefits, the more successful the pundits and bureaucrats regarded the program. This was the logic of the Great Society. Reagan, by contrast, said that the Great Society approach was a failure. "We declared war on poverty," he famously quipped, "and poverty won." Reagan did not dispute that government has a responsibility to help the poor, but he argued that you cannot free people by making them dependent on the state. "The best social program," Reagan liked to say, "is a job." He insisted that welfare programs be measured by the degree to which they encouraged self-reliance. The purpose of welfare, he said, "should be to eliminate... the need for its own existence."
I tend to agree. Self reliance and curbing or eliminating some one's need for help from the government seem like worthy ideals to me. As the Chinese Proverb states: Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.

Perhaps we should spend more time teaching or incentivizing people how to fish as opposed to simply giving them fish.

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