If a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain.
Have you ever heard this quote before? It is often attributed to Churchill, but has been around long before him (for more info). But who said it is not as important as the Truth in the words.
When we are younger, it is easy to feel for those who are less fortunate, or who struggle just to survive. This shows compassion, a heart. And, because we are young and have not had much opportunity to experience life and to understand its lessons, we seek ‘easy’ answers to the problems we perceive. When we are young, it is easy to look at someone who we perceive to have “more than enough” and think the solution is to take from that person and give to the one who doesn’t “have enough.” To our young mind, this solves the problem. And, if it doesn’t, we think the answer is just to take a little more from the haves and give it to those who are still in need. To the young, this appears to be the most obvious and easiest solution to the problem of poverty – as the young understand it.
However, for those who are capable of learning from life’s lessons, it is expected that they will eventually come to understand why the majority of people are poor. Those who learn life’s lessons will understand that culture and individual priorities are largely responsible for the plight of the average ‘poor’ person, not the exploitation of ‘the rich.’ With understanding comes awareness that hard work, saving and investing in one’s self are the best path to lifting one’s self out of poverty. Along with this comes a value for education and/or professional training; the discipline to resist buying material things that are not needed, especially before you can afford them; and the benefit of not getting married until you are financially established and, once married, to staying married. Understanding will result in a person seeing ‘both sides’ of the debate over how to best help the poor. A person with understanding will realize that there are things that the poor can do to help themselves, but they may still be prone to doing for the poor that which is best left to the poor to do for themselves.
Finally, for those who actually do learn the lessons life teaches, it is expected that they will eventually start to develop wisdom about the issue of poverty. Learning these lessons takes time, which is why wisdom is so often associated with age. The wise not only understand the issues that cause poverty and the path to avoiding it, they understand how best to actually help the poor. They understand that doing for others makes them dependent, and dependency cripples a person’s ability to ever do for themselves. The wise understand that welfare removes fear, and that fear is one of the most powerful motivators of human action. The wise also understand that welfare destroys the spirit and ambition to better ourselves. Finally, the wise understand that welfare encourages foolish behavior that works to keep a person poor, not lift them out of poverty. This is why those who have become wise – who exhibit sound judgment – about the issue of poverty seldom advocate welfare as the solution.
I offer these two stories as proof that this principle is a universal Truth:
[NOTE: there are two video/audio links in this story. They are both lengthy, but well worth your time. Not only does Bono explain his faith, but he details how he came to understand why welfare doesn’t work, but Capitalism does. Yes, Bono explains that the most powerful force for lifting people out of poverty in all of human history has been Capitalism. This is in direct opposition to the narrative of the political Left. Essentially, these stories about Bono detail how a person goes from just ‘feeling’ for the poor to understanding the problem to having the ‘wisdom’ to know how best to help them. The interviews in this story are simply powerful testimony as to the futility of welfare and how best to help the poor from a man who has publicly spent the majority of his adult life trying to help the poor.]
The two men in these stories demonstrate that they have developed some wisdom on the issue of how best to avoid poverty, as well as how to help the poor. However, I want to end with the words of someone who was truly wise, as they put this entire issue in clear focus:
Repeal that [welfare] law, and you will soon see a change in their manners. St. Monday and St. Tuesday, will soon cease to be holidays. Six days shalt thou labor, though one of the old commandments long treated as out of date, will again be looked upon as a respectable precept; industry will increase, and with it plenty among the lower people; their circumstances will mend, and more will be done for their happiness by inuring them to provide for themselves, than could be done by dividing all your estates among them.
— Benjamin Franklin, letter to Collinson, May 9, 1753
This gave me occasion to observe, that when Men are employ’d they are best contented. For on the Days they work’d they were good-natur’d and chearful; and with the consciousness of having done a good Days work they spent the Evenings jollily; but on the idle Days they were mutinous and quarrelsome, finding fault with their Pork, the Bread, etc. and in continual ill-humour.
— Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, 1771
The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy. An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy.
— Benjamin Franklin, Emblematical Representations, Circa 1774
I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I traveled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.
— Benjamin Franklin, On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor, November 1766
You see, Franklin was a wise man, and a wise man understands that there are times when the sure can be painful, but it is a pain that must be endured if you want to actually cure the problem. This should leave those among us seeking to understand the world in which we live wondering what it means when we find people who advocate for policies which are packaged as ‘painless.’ On the other hand, the wise already know why someone would want to continue policies that keep people poor and dependent. The choice you need to make is which you want to be: the young and ‘feeling,’ the understanding who ‘see both sides,’ or the thinking and ‘wise?’