Grown Ass People: Social Consideration and the Ask of the Poor
We feed them at 12:00 noon. They finish eating around 1:00 pm. By 3:00 they go behind the church and defecated. Between 5:00 to 6:00, they go to the next feeding program. And they repeat this same cycle every day for the rest of their lives until they die. This is the lament of Pastor Chris Clemons, Director of a local community feeding program. And it raises important public policy issues for our consideration.
How do we help those who have literally flunked out of society? What should we do with people who stand on busy street corners gesturing towards their mouths, begging for money? How do we assist the denizens of tent cities who reside under our bridges and highways?
More fundamentally, do the poor have a social responsibility? How should we treat those who will not lift a finger to help themselves; parents who act with outrage when asked to financially contribute to their childs summer camp? Should we require that in exchange for the receipt of food, housing, programs and/or services, that the beneficiaries of said services be required to warrant the assistance?
We have no doubt that Pastor Clemons and other social service providers are well intentioned. The good Pastor does all he can for his charges, almost to the point of helping them chew.
But perhaps this is the problem? Maybe we are doing too much for and asking too little of those we assist? Or more than one occasion we have observed some of the programs participants throw away perfectly good food. The solution may therefore lie in the concept of consideration, otherwise known as skin in the game.
The mucilage which cements and seals any legally binding contract is the mutually agreed upon bargained for exchange of value between the parties to the agreement. This bargained for exchange may include money for services, the use of a name, brand or slogan for the right to conduct a particular business, the bartering of one item for another, the gift of time, or the waiver of a right or privilege the parties might otherwise enjoy.
If you paint my house by Friday, I will pay you $600 dollars. If you walk my dog I will watch your children. If you sign with my company I will manage your career. These are all examples of binding consideration. Or in the case of helping the poor, I will help you, if you do something to help yourself.
It is the requirement of skin in the game that is noticeably absent from our attempts to help the poor. Social service providers simply give and those in need simply take, without more. This is especially true where it concerns people who are more than capable of helping themselves. The Pastors feeding program for example is dominated by grown ass men.
Consequently, despite our best efforts nothing changes. In fact things become progressively worse. The co-dependency grows as the poor becomes more dependent on others, while the providers of social services become increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress.
We appreciate the social and political intricacies and consequences of the skin in the game strategy. We also understand the moral dilemma posed by requiring that the poor in some way merit our assistance. We in no way suggest labor camps or imply that the poor be demeaned or bullied. Nor do we apply these criteria to children or the infirm.
Objecting to the notion that the consideration policy is a thinly disguised attempt to control and dehumanize, some, including many social service providers will promptly tell us to go to hell. We can already hear the cries of racism and blaming the victim. To this we plead not guilty.
We accept the obligation to help the poor. There is indeed an unspoken contract between society and the distraught.
Still, in order to break the cycle of dependency and futility, our approach to helping the disenfranchised must change. And any change should include some reasonable requirement that all able-bodied recipients of social services make a good faith attempt to help themselves or otherwise earn the benefit bestowed. As indicated above, this requirement is especially germane to grown ass people who can at least try to do better.
If we are morally required to reach back to assist the less fortunate, then the less fortunate are equally obligated to reach up to be assisted. If we are ethically compelled to help the lost and forlorn, then they are just as obligated to help themselves. None can do it alone. While contrary to conventional wisdom, the less fortunate do indeed have a social responsibility. We all do.
In conclusion, we help no one by giving them something for nothing. All we ask is that they do something to help themselves. Only this holds the promise of real change.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum