In 1990 Revered John Heinemeier gathered with other local ministers to solve the housing crisis in East Brooklyn. Together they developed an innovative housing program to construct 5,000 single-family housing units designed for lower-income buyers. East Brooklyn Churches (or EBC) had a long-term vision of what they needed done but there was much to overcome. These neighborhoods were crumbling, impoverished and drug-ridden. The majority of middle class families had long since fled the area.
The EBC found inspiration for their ambitious endeavor in the story of Nehemiah who had been sent by the King of Babylon in 420 back to Jerusalem to facilitate the rebuiling of the city. “You see the trouble we are in, How Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the walls of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer in disgrace.” So, the Nehemiah Housing Project was begun
Through determined dialogue with each other the ministers of East Brooklyn Churches recognized that only homeownership for the majority could create the stable kind of community that they wanted and so that’s where they began. They met with top political officials, enlisted the media, raised vast amounts of money and were ultimately effective with the housing initiative, completely transforming East Brooklyn.
In 1992 Boston experienced more than 150 homicides–mostly adolescents. When gang members invaded a funeral service in a local church Revered Jeffrey Brown decided to take action. Reverend Brown realized that to help these youth he had to go where they were. He and Reverends Raymond Hammond and Eugene Rivers started walking the streets of Boston at night. They became activist clergy who weren’t afraid to work with the inner-city urban youth on the street-level. They organized the Ten Point Coalition to fight drugs and gang-violence and were personally out there at night doing street-level intervention. They spent time with and developed relationships with these adolescents. They worked with police and parents. By 1997 there was a 60% reduction in firearm incidents and the city had gone for more than two years without a juvenile homicide.
Where are LDS initiatives like these? Why don’t Mormon bishops (or members in general) initiate housing programs for the poor like Reverend Heinemeier or walk the streets of Boston at night like Reverend Brown? There are many Latter-day Saints in large cities like Boston, New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Why aren’t Latter-day Saints to be found on the streets fighting crime, drugs,
gang-violence or organizing housing initatives in urban slums? Are we blind or indifferent to these social problems? Certainly there are plenty scriptures in the LDS canon that require social action on our parts.
Perhaps the most obvious reaon for why Mormon bishops don’t walk the streets trying to fight crime is that on the local level, the LDS Church is run by unpaid volunteers. A lay ministry of volunteers means that Latter-day Saints who serve as bishops do so in addition to working full-time in a profession. In other words, Mormon bishops are also realtors, grocers, businessmen, accountants, scientists, mechanics, bankers and doctors at
the same time they hold ecclesiastical office. These men often have large
families as well. On a purely practical level then, it would be difficult for a
Mormon bishop to make time to walk the streets of Boston to fight crime.
Nevertheless, while this practical difficulty needs to be acknowledged, it is
ultimately unsatisfactory as an answer to my original question.
Of course, Latter-day Saints are concerned with responding to need. The LDS Church is well-known for its generous humanitarian donations. 75 million dollars have been given in the last fifteen years for international disaster relief efforts. During this period, the LDS Church distributed 216,000 tons of
materials to assist suffering citizens of 147 countries. However, this seems to
me to be closely related to John Heinemeier’s condemnation of the citizens of
Boston being very charitable in terms of handing out money, but not very
effective at producing systemic change. What do Latter-day Saints do on the
national and local levels to produce social change?
The LDS Church has an organized social service system (now called LDS family services) which is in essence a counseling service with 55 offices internationally. These offices are run by LDS staff, all of whom
hold Master’s degrees at a minimum in psychology or something similar. Topics
they counsel on include issues as wide-ranging as domestic violence, adoption,
eating disorders, pornography, drug abuse, suicide, depression, same-sex
attraction and divorce among others. Besides LDS family services the LDS Church has a large welfare program which includes a number of projects. First, the welfare program sponsors Deseret Industries, a Salvation Army-like chain of
stores which provide second-hand clothing and furniture for those who are
struggling financially. Second, the welfare program includes bishops’
storehouses, which receive and dispense money collected (consecrated offerings) from members of the Church for those in the ward who
are without. Third, the LDS Church has huge land holdings of orchards, cattle
ranches, farms, canneries, granaries and dairies from which food is picked,
packaged and sold at wholesale (sometimes even given) to members who suffer from hunger. Fourth, in recent years the Perpetual Education fund was established to help members of the Church in 17 international areas (particularly Central and South America) gain an education and “rise out of poverty.” The Fund is set up as a loan program instead of a scholarship program to teach sacrifice and self-reliance. In the three years since PEF’s inception more than 10,000 loans have been made. Millions of dollars have been donated by members of the LDS Church for this effort. President Hinckley, said the following about the Perpetual Education Fund, “I believe that the Lord does not wish to see His people condemned to live in poverty. I believe He would have the faithful enjoy the good things of the earth.”
While I am proud of these efforts and accomplishments of the LDS Church on one hand, I am dismayed at the same time. With the exception of the humanitarian aid for disaster relief internationally, these programs are all directed at helping Latter-day Saints in particular, not the larger population. Is it only the “His people” that the Lord doesn’t want condemned to live in poverty? Does God really only want the “faithful to enjoy the good things of the earth”? Although there are many texts within LDS scripture that call for an ethic of social solidarity, particularly with the poor, it is notably lacking in LDS social
practice. Why the lack? Are we hypocrites? Are we blind? Do we try, but fail
because of incompetence on some level?
As I’ve struggled to make sense of this disconnect between LDS theology and LDS behavior, I’ve found what I think is an important consideration for
understanding the ostensible indifference Latter-day Saints have towards the
poor or towards crime. Latter-day Saint effort towards those outside the Church
is first and foremost directed at saving souls. Currently there are 60,000
missionaries all over the world working on this endeavor. Missionaries or their immediate families pay for these missions sometimes at great financial sacrifice. What is the impetus for this kind of sacrifice? Why not put those resources and all that time into fighting inner-city crime? President Benson
“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The
world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of the
people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. … Christ changes men,
who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature” (“Born of God,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 6).
I don’t disagree that Christ can change human nature, but there is something that disturbs me about the idea that the poor need to take themselves out of the slums.
Still, President Benson seems almost to be talking to me when he wrote,
“Some may ask why we as a people and church quietly and consistently seek to
change individuals while there are such large problems about us. … But decaying
cities are simply a delayed reflection of decaying individuals. … The
commandments of God give emphasis to improvement of the individual as the only real way to bring about the real improvement of society” (A Plea for America , 18).
I understand and agree that if you can help people understand who they really are as children of God, help them to repent through the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and be baptized in His name, covenanting with God to obey God’s commandments that dramatic change will follow. Still, even if the person takes herself out of the slums, don’t the slums still exist? Are we as Latter-day Saints so untouched by the realities of US poverty, drug abuse, gang violence and teenage homicide that these things have become other people’s problems—signs of the times that we are to shun but not help to solve?
when you click on link…and it errors out…is that why folks sometimes put:
as the first post?
M: Fabulous post & thoughts, as usual. However, given the critical bent of the post…I’ll follow the same theme. :)
1. Fast offerings are _NOT_ just for the Saints. Ask your local Bishop; nor are the Bishop’s storehouses, work programs, etc.
2. Since we are all de facto lay ministers in the church, since all saints have the calling to proclaim the gospel, minister to the sick, etc.;
the question you ask re: “official” lay clergy might be profitably directed towards _all_ individual Saints: i.e. you, me, etc.
Personally, I don’t have any systemic program to eradicate the problems you mention. However, I do have three ‘adopted’ kids (inner city LDS branch type big sister/brother program) & regularly invite homeless individuals (whether missionaires or bums) to dine at my home & the bums can even stay & sleep on the couch.
3. re: poverty, drug abuse, gang violence and teenage homicide. these are all problems that reside only in those that don’t live the gospel of jesus christ…restored or not. many, if not most, or even all, poverty, drug abuse, gang violence & homicides would end if the individuals involved simply lived the gospel. 60k missionaries preaching sounds like a great systemic effort to bring about change. Those are the fruits I saw in the few individuals & friends I taught while a missionary who subsequently changed their lives & took themselves out of the misery they lived in.
Sum: I don’t see a disconnect. :)
This is a very well-thought out post.
1. Crime in the U.S. dropped like a rock all through the 90’s. Boston’s decline was, as best I can determine, unexceptional in this regard. Over the decade, In a list of all cities with 500K or more inhabitants, homicide fell by 17% on the low end (Baltimore) to almost 75% on the high end (San Diego and New York). Boston’s drop of 56% is about at the median. Other types of crime also fell precipitously. This comes from an article by Steve Levitt in the latest issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives.
So it would be a mistake to assume that the reduction in Boston was due to Ten Point Coalition.
2. I can think of several wards where youth leaders spent a fair bit of time working with inner-city youth. As you note, these efforts are concentrated on those who are already members.
3. If we use all our resources and still have memebers in need then perhaps it is reasonable to focus on members. Some of the most difficult problems associated with poverty or drug use come from behaviors that need to change. We have a program for changing behavior, called repentance. Thus it makes sense to focus on those who show a willingness to change behavior, i.e. repent, i.e. get baptized. They may be the ones that are actually helpable.
4. I like the President Benson quotes.
5. Disaster relief is very different. The causes are far less about idleness than about inadequate technology. Thus there are less concerns about welfare dependence or a failure to fix the underlying problems.
I think many Mormons’ view of crime and poverty stems from their belief in individual accountability and agency. Preferences, values, beliefs, etc. motivate human behavior, and therefore, the best way to change that behavior is to inculcate errant individuals with new values and beliefs.
Most Mormons are less receptive to structural theories of causation. Even though many economists, sociologists, and political scientists (and some psychologists) have demonstrated how institutional and structural conditions shape individual behavior, we tend to ignore these arguments. Instead, we think that missionaries can somehow subvert the powerful structural forces (like recalcitrant poverty created by lack of employment opportunities) and motivate individuals to ‘shake off their shackles.’ I would never argue that individuals share no blame for their economic or social situations, but at the same time I’m aware that empirical studies show that aggregated changes in behavior tend to occur when structural conditions also change. Therefore, it makes sense that if you want to help people rise abover their poverty, you try to design the conditions for ideal employment opportunities.
Some of these structural changes are beyond the church’s grasp (monetary and fiscal policy, for example, are set by government agencies, not by private churches). But other things can be done by private charities to significantly influence the conditions in which people live. That is the whole basis of ‘faith-based initiatives,’ right?
Our church’s policies on dealing with poverty aren’t really designed to influence structural conditions of persistent poverty. That would require a paradigm shift within the general membership and the leadership of the Church.
One interesting development in SLC is calling people from suburban wards on inner-city welfare missions. For the last year or so, my parents have been “missionaries” in this sense. Their work focuses entirely on the temporal needs of poor members in Salt Lake. The mission is not full time, but I suspect that they end up devoting an amount of time roughly proportional to a bishopric member to the work. I don’t know if other cities have similar programs.
What “structural condtion” changes did you have in mind as showing empirical effectiveness at getting rid of poverty or unemployment?
Brayden, I’d second the structural conditions you mention. It seems like two of the big structural conditions are nuclear families and education. And those are targeted by the church.
I think that the real problem is that in many places the church is a small minority. We simply don’t have the influence that groups like the Catholic church do.
My sense is that you are more thinking of church focus on government programs attacking structural problems. And, most Mormons being Republican, Mormons certainly are distrustful of such programs. I don’t know if we ought to say this is the church’s fault (or credit). Rather in such matters the church leaves members to choose for themselves.
In the past though the church has focused in on such matters. The Indian program in the west was one example, although the church discontinued it for various reasons. I think various scholarships for education are an other example. Within the inner cities of large cities though, I wonder how much as a practical matter the church can do. Especially given the limited presence of the church in such locals.
Okay I am going to go with the basic answer (as always). We have the answer in our very hands. It’s called every member a missionary. If we would listen to the Prophet and do as he asks, by first becoming converted and then helping to convert those around us, we could answer these kinds of questions.
Call me a pollyanna. It’s okay. We don’t need another committee to analize the problem over again. People need to feel sincere love and caring. It comes from understanding the light of Christ and once you have it, you share it.
Obviously the most important condition is employment. If ‘work disappears’ then individuals are more likely to be unemployed and the chances that they will sink below the poverty line also increases; this is particularly true in countries with less developed welfare systems. The problem with unemployment is that it also has exogenous effects on other factors related to poverty, like education levels, property values, consumer demand, etc. If there is less legitimate work to be found, often deviant labor markets emerge to provide alternative sources of income. Since alternative labor markets do not reward the acquisition of education, education tends to become devalued in poor neighborhoods, further increasing the chances that families in these neighborhoods will stay in poverty. At a national level, increased unemployment can undercut consumer demand, which ends up hurting the vitality of the economy further and increasing poverty even more.
Country-level differences in poverty are largely associated with employment levels and welfare-state transfers. Economists will often argue that welfare-state transfers actually increase poverty by reducing employment levels. This may well be true, but in countries with equal employment levels citizens of more generous welfare states are less likely to experience poverty. Certain, poorly planned welfare policies, like drastic increases in the minimum wage or inflation-inducing welfare transfers, may not directly increase poverty levels, but they may indirectly reduce a nation’s wealth by decreasing employment levels.
At the macro-level monetary policy is obviously very important to poverty creation or reduction. If inflation is allowed to increase too rapidly, a sharp increase in unemployment may result. I’m obviously not an expert in macro-economic policy, but it’s safe to say that fluctuations in global and national markets have a significant effect on poverty, at all levels. Good macro-economic policy then is needed to assure that unemployment levels and inflation are kept in check. You can pick your flavor as to which policy is best, although I think many macro-economic experts advise that an activist federal reserve be in place (unless of course you’re an IMF employee advising a Third World country).
My main point of course is that structures greater than the individual (e.g. the market, the state) are extremely influential on changes in poverty levels. To argue that shifts in individual values and beliefs is all that is needed to cure the world’s problems is based on false assumptions about the way the world works.
Clark – I don’t blame the Church, obviously, for poverty. I’m just saying that the Church isn’t really built to combat some of these forces. However, as Melissa points out, other churches are often trying to do things that will have at least an effect on the local economy of poor neighborhoods and thereby help its members to get out of persistent poverty.
Say for example that poverty has dominated in a neighborhood for decades because there are no jobs in the vicinity. One of the things that a church might do, and some do this, is to try to revitalize the neighborhood by securing loans to beautify the neighborhood, fix up abandoned houses (getting rid of the crack dens), and working with police to assist in crime deterrence. I’m not sure if these kinds of programs affect the overall health of the state economy, but they may make a difference for the few poor families that are in these neighborhoods.
Clark – You’re right that the Church has tried to do this some. I would bet that if the Church dedicated more of its vast resources to revitalization programs they could do quite a bit. The impediment to action though is a belief system that puts the locus of control on the individual and largely ignores the structural conditions in which that individual is embedded.
I’d be interested in seeing how unsuccessful those programs were.
A couple of quibbles.
1. Bishops and branch presidents are stewards, called to watch over a specific group of people. Most of them have enough work to do with without looking outside the flock. But there are bishops and branch presidents called to ministries with high-risk groups. Thus we have branches in prisons, and bishops called to work with transient populations (in Utah, at least).
2. Missionary work is not just saving souls. Missionary work is getting people into the church, where a whole network of already-existing programs will transform them from the inside out. I have seen this happen many times in my life to individual people, but the effects over generations are much more remarkable. Consider that early converts in any area (including the first saints of the restoration) are often the poor and downtrodden, humbled by circumstances. Children born in these homes would be at a high risk for crime, poverty, perpetual misery, etc., but through the power of the Gospel (and the programs of the church) they move up and out.
What does the church do to change the economic conditions of its members (and of the community)? Pay your tithing and find out that the Lord will honor his promises to you and your descendents:
“And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 3:12)
Doesn’t the church do this to a degree though? They offer employment experts. Admittedly probably not *that* big a deal, but a step. They also encourage revitalizations of various sorts, both on the ward and stake level not to mention all those kids running around doing Eagle Scout projects.
I do think we ought point out though that in this case the church is each of us. Most of these projects are done on the local level. If they aren’t being done in your area simply contact your ward and stake activity committees.
Another factor distinguishing our approach from that of the Boston church is the varying degrees to which Mormons feel a ‘sense of ownership’ for a particular city or neighborhood. Mormons comprise less than 1% of the populations in the cities Melissa mentions, and are therefore not well equipped to marshall the necessary arm-power such intensive projects require.
In cities where the church does have the sense of ownership and the critical mass of available labor, like Salt Lake, it has spent millions of dollars trying to keep the city prosperous, buying the shopping malls, helping to revitalize downtown, and calling members from leadership-intensive areas to serve in leadership-deficient wards. These members build social capital in many ways, from marital and family counseling to de facto job training and home economics skills.
As for the concern that this work is focused principally on Mormons, it’s important to note that while Mormons may be the *direct* beneficiaries of most of this service, _everyone_ benefits when a marriage is stronger, when their neighbors are more active in their children’s lives and schools, and when they are gainfully employed.
That said, despite the good work church members do, the level of our commitment to good causes cannot honestly be described as “anxiously engaged”.
I’ve always loved Pres. Benson’s spiritual leadership and his wonderful service to those of us who lived during his time among the general authorities. But the following line has always puzzled me:
“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in.”
This strikes me as in one way simply wrong, and other equivocal on the word “works”, and in another sense equivocal on the aim of “works”.
First, it seems that Pres. Benson might thinking of a crude welfarist view that social ills like crime, sloth, broken homes, etc. will be solved by generous social protections and entitlements. The understanding is that ‘the world’ (the liberals and socialists) are trying to make people good by changing their environment rather than changing them. If pressed he may also admit that conservatives do the same general thing, though in different ways.
But “the Lord”, through his church, seems also to do much the same general thing, through education, the welfare program, etc–this has been mentioned. And as Adam Greenwood occastionally reminds, us the Lord seems (I’m not absolutely sure) to make use of “good ol'” hypocrisy (i.e. example, social pressure) just like the world does.
A second problem is that when secular institutions “work” upon people, it is not the same thing as when the Lord works upon the heart. Most secular institutions and also the church acknowledge that the exercise of freedom is a central part of human fulfillment. In addition, liberal social institutions also recognize the positive dangers of trying to fulfill all conditions and triggering causes of human fulfillment through state authority. So in the absence of knowing how to change hearts like the Lord does, civil authorities in the righteous aspect of their powers (which I think are distinct from “the world” in its New Testament usage) provide instead the basic conditions of human fulfillment, though admittedly not all that is required for such.
Lastly, when the Lord works on the heart it seems that he has a different aim than the world does when it attempts to provide certain structural conditions (if you want to put it that way) for human fulfillment. The Lord does not seem to be trying to cure social ills (e.g. the slums), but rather bring sinners to Christ, thereby bringing about eternal life. True, disciples of Christ should be the kind of people you want to live next to, and I think mostly they are. But even if you argue that secular authority is in some sense trying to make people good (I like this idea, most liberals don’t), then this is still different from the Lord’s aim since the kind of goodness we’re talking about here is for him something like a byproduct.
Nate: I dont’know re: service missionaries, but the suburban stakes do support inner city philadelphia. each inner-city unit has anywhere from 2-4 couples that commute & hold callings in the city. Imagine being in the YM/YW & having to come to church in the city on Sunday, for mutual on Wed & for occasionaly dances/activities on Fri nite!
Jeremiah J, if I understand your argument correctly, you are saying that the socio-economic benefits of church membership are unintended consequences. Following this point of view, the Lord is interested only in the spiritual interaction, and anything that spills over into the physical, material world is just gravy. At first glance, that fits pretty well with “no temporal commandment” (D/C 29:34-35). But we are promised physical, material benefits for obeying many of the commandments (as I noted above in regard to tithing) so I think that these things are hardly side effects. I think it is more likely that a lot of the socio-economic improvement that President Benson and others note are natural consequences of obedience to God’s laws (D/C 130:20-21). If so, then they must be primary, intended effects. No?
I love the little intro part where you clarify that you revere President Benson as a spiritual leader, even though it seems that you disagree with his statements about public policy. I am curious, is the mention of his time among as a general authority an attempt to point out that the statement was not made while he was a prophet? Just curious, because clearly President Benson’s lifetime views can be difficult to reconcile with a welfare state.
Regardless, when you speak of a “crude welfarist view” you may be exactly capturing the predominant view of the “war on poverty” of the 60’s and 70’s. Our federal welfare policy was based on various forms of handouts with little regard for changing the person’s behavior. Am I wrong that this is the “crude welfarist view” that President Benson found antithetical to effective ministering to the poor? The Church welfare system certainly does not work this way. Under the 96 TANF revision to welfare, the Feds also are moving towards the view that behavior is central to welfare. Of course, they lack the more spiritual aspects (like tithing) that get incorporated into the Church program.
I see nothing wrong with this view. There is no equivocation on “works” in aim or meaning. Education, properly undertaken, can also change the person. Food stamps, on the other hand, aren’t about changing the person.
I also agree with John that the Lord cares about our physical welfare and views the Gospel as a means of achieving financial happiness, in addition to our exaltation. Obviously, there is a caveat that some are not blessed with material things in this life.
You seem to want “jobs” to be independent entities that float around as the wind blows them. If there are no jobs in a slum, this is not a cause, it is a symptom of whatever is the real problem. Throwing jobs into the slum is not likely to be effective without dealing with the reasons why the jobs left in the first place.
Further, evidence that countries with less poverty have more generous welfare states hardly indicates that welfare program reduce poverty, as it may be that rich states have more generous welfare policy because they have more money. But suppose welfare does causally reduce poverty holding constant unemployment. First, this is the approach that President Benson was under-impressed with. Handing people money does not solve the behavioral problem of idleness. Second, the study holds constant unemployment, as if, once again, jobs were simply out of anyone’s control. This is foolhardy. A larger welfare state certainly encourages people to stop working, encouraging unemployment. In essence, the study you cite asks if giving people money is correlated with less poverty, while explicitly disallowing the possibility that welfare discourages work. The result is unsurprising.
I agree that bad macro-policy can totally mess up a country. The examples of this are legion. I doubt President Benson would disagree that one can mess up a country badly with fiscal and monetary policy, his quote seems more about helping a troubled individual who is in the “slums”. Do you know of any studies showing that structural changes to a specific neighborhood help? These are what I would find most interesting.
Brayden: I question your assumption that the Church has vast economic resources. To be honest with you, it seems to me that Church financial commitments more or less constantly run the risk of outrunning Church financial resources. Most church assets are are de facto expenses. Furthermore, church growth is on a collision course with church revenue. Starkly put, the areas of the world where the Church is growing most rapidly do not pay for the cost of Church programs in those areas. To be honest with you, I think that most discussions of Church finances make the mistake of goggling at zeros in Arizona Republic Articles rather than thinking seriously about the financial demands on the institution. Church resources are largely commited to buildings and temples. Admittedly, BYU may be a place where the Church could trim some financial fat, but there is an argument that seems to have been accepted that BYU pays for itself by increasing activity levels and hence tithing payments from alumni.
Calling the Church rich is rather like calling the British Army in the 19th century big. There were lots of units, but they were so widely disperse around the world that the the British Army was chronically over extended and underfunded.
“it may be that rich states have more generous welfare policy because they have more money”
May probably isn’t a strong enough words. try reading about the current problems in Saudi Arabi & esp. Kuwait. For a time, lots of oil money took care of everything. Now…there is no more oil money to throw on the “welfare state”.
Ah…the joys of institutional ineptidue & failing to support instituions, like the family…that actually work.
If the only benefit of BYU was to raise tithing revenue through increased activity, I think it would get the axe.
BYU probably has around 6000 graduates a year. The Church spends what, 150 million a year on BYU? Suppose 5000 of those people have incomes that average $60,000. If all these people pay full tithing, one is looking at 300 million dollars in income or 30 million dollars in tithing per year. To deal with time discounting, just assume a 20 year work window at full value. Then total tithing revenue is 600 million dollars. To make this worthwhile, one would have to think that there is a full quarter of the entire BYU graduating class that would not tithe but do because they attend BYU.
That seems implausible to me. More generally, the argument might be that although BYU is not worth $150 million/year in higher tithing, it is worth something in increased tithing revenue which, when coupled with other benefits of the institution, makes it worth funding.
All of these are bakc of the envelope calculations, so maybe I made a mistake somewhere.
I apologize for not tending to this post well. I’ve started my qualifying exams in earnest now so I have lots to read. I do want to make a few quick points to the thoughtful comments that have been made, however.
It is true that there was a drop in crime nationally during those same years in the nineties. However, the research of Christopher Winship and others at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard compelling shows that the Ten Point Coalition was directly responsible for the drop in teenage homicide rate in Boston.
I agree with many of the arguments that you make. I think that there are many structural changed that can be influenced by churches. I agree that a paradigm shift would have to occur in the church for policies and programs to be geared that direction. I am hopeful that this might happen since we are certainly willing and able to mobilize our troops when there is a “moral issue” at stake. I think that inner-city poverty and teenage homicide is every bit as much a moral issue as the ERA or same-sex marriage.
I am thrilled to hear about the inner-city welfare missions! Please write a blog and tell us about your parents’experiences.
To say that the Church is a small minority and thus, thath we don’t have influence is not entirely accurate. While we are often small in numbers members of the Church have made lots of waves when they’ve wanted to strongly enough(think Prop 22). Reverend Heinemeier, who initiated Nehemiah Housing in East Brooklyn has tried to initiate a similar project in Boston but has cited Governor Romney’s resistance to the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization as one of the primary problems in advancing Nehemiah Housing there. In other words, Mormons might be numerically fewer in places other than Utah, but many individual Saints are wealthy, well-educated and well-connected and could strongly influence these kinds of programs.
I have a testimony of tithing and the blessings that flow from faithful offerings. However, I disagree that the kind of socio-economic improvement that I’m talking about is a “natural consequence of obedience to God’s laws.” I don’t think that paying your tithing means that your streets will be repaved before your very eyes or that your decaying home will be rebuilt. The Lord often blesses us with unseen and intangible gifts but does not often change our economic situation for us.
Futher, I think it is possible for some to interpret your comment to mean that the reverse is true as well: that those who don’t seem to be blessed socio-economically must not be obedient to the laws of God. I grew up in an area in Utah where extravagance and luxury were understood as signs of righteousness and financial struggle represented disobedience or faithlessness. I think that this kind of thinking is false and spiritually damaging. Although the Lord tells us that He will prosper us if we keep the commandments I think that we misunderstand what kind of prosperity the Lord most often gives.
A side note:
Sometimes I wish that President Kimball hadn’t redefined the word modesty to create a new category referring to a certain dress code. I would like to hear a talk on modesty as a reference to one’s consumption, expression, demeanor and attitude. It seems like we have a conceptual gap that is left by not being able to use the word modesty in this way. Humility and meekness are conceptual cousins, but not really synonyms. Moderation is the closest word I can think of but even moderation seems to be about behavior more than state of mind or attitude.
“Christopher Winship and others at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard compelling shows that the Ten Point Coalition was directly responsible for the drop in teenage homicide rate in Boston.”
-This would be alot more compelling if each & every city in the country also had some type of coalition that pushed for the changes. In fact, if the higher % crime drop cities _lacked_ such a coalition, one could at least initially infer/guess that such Coalitions actually _Hurt_, not _helped_ the crime drop. Lots of causal probelms there, but claiming _coalition_ credit has the same problems.
I haven’t read the Steve Levitt article Frank cites, but there is a discrepancy in the numbers. According to the Winship study the drop in the homicide rate in Boston between 1990-1998 was 77% and was the sharpest drop in the nation. There are other discrepancies between this study and the Levitt study such as Baltimore actually experiencing a 7.5 *increase* between 1990-1996 (not a decrease as Frank suggests)
You can read the Winship study at the following address:
I looked at Mr. Winships articles. He offers little more than anecdotes in support of his claim. Undoubtedly the Ten Point Coalition had some effect on crime. Just as assuredly, Boston’s violent crime rates would have plummeted even without said coalition. Or are we to believe that Boston crime would have remained even though no other large city had less than a 17% drop in crime over the nineties?
So if you wish to say ths Coaltion was a good and worthwhile idea, fine. To attribute Boston’s criminal decline prinicipally to this group would be unwarranted.
John: “Following this point of view, the Lord is interested only in the spiritual interaction, and anything that spills over into the physical, material world is just gravy.”
John you do misunderstand my point. It was not about what are side-effects, but about what the Lord’s ultimate aim is in working on the heart. I didn’t claim that this work of salvation has nothing to do with the temporal world; indeed I believe that the Lord’s plan will save and redeem human bodies, the earth, perhaps the animal kingdom as well. Justice, well-being, social order are surely part of this result. But they are surely not always a part of salvation in this world–you can look to the scriptures if you don’t see this around you. I said that these things were ‘something like a byproduct’ (not the best word) because they are not in themselves the primary aim of the gospel, but rather a part of salvation in its fullness. But this part is not always an accompanyment to saving grace in this world.
Frank: “I love the little intro part where you clarify that you revere President Benson as a spiritual leader, even though it seems that you disagree with his statements about public policy. I am curious, is the mention of his time among as a general authority an attempt to point out that the statement was not made while he was a prophet?”
This is uncharitable and frankly a cheap shot at someone who has just acknowledged the authority of a priesthood leader but wants to understand what his words mean. Would you like it better if I left it open whether or not I held Ezra Taft Benson’s words as having more gravity and importance than anyone else? I suppose that way I would leave myself less open to lame attacks, but my position, and the intent of my words, would be less clear.
No, I had no intent of distinguishing between President Benson’s sayings as a prophet and as a apostle, or between his spiritual leadership and his teachings on social issues. I hold them all in great esteem. I do want to understand them, however, and make sense of them in the context of the rest of the Gospel and the teachings of other prophets.
Fine, we all agree that a crude welfarist view can harm the poor (whether it does so more than the crude anti-welfarist view that has been prevalant for the last 25 years is a different question). My point was that equating this crude view with the world “working from the outside in” is puzzling since it ignores all the other ways in which secular institutions and the church seem to work “from the outside in”. It is very hasty to look at one set of possibly failed or destructive policies and generalize about everything that secular institutions do to promote human well-being by securing certain structural conditions. I still don’t know if I understand Pres. Benson’s intent in this phrase, but the way is it commonly intepreted seems to lead to very strange political conclusions.
I am sure that Winship’s number is correct, though perhaps unintentionally misleading. I should be more specific about Levitt’s number. He is measuring the drop in crime from the peak for any given community (which peaks were between 85-93 depending on the city) to the 2001 level. Although this will give the same general picture as Winship, it will not be identical. Winship picks a particular set of years to examine, presumably they are the ones that make Boston look very good. As you may have already guessed, Boston’s top crime year was 1990, thus this is the best starting year for showing Boston to be great. As Levitt shows, this Boston advantage goes away when one looks at the whole trend and lets each community pick their own top-crime year.
But the numbers don’t differ so much as to affect my criticism. If Boston drops 75% and the rest of the nation drops 60%, is it reasonable to say the Ten Point Coalition did it all? It seems more likely that there were some set of changes that occurred nationwide to cause the drop. So then the best guess would be the Ten Point Coaltion caused a (75-60=15) 15% reduction.
In reality, Boston looks no different than any other place in terms of its decade long drop. So the best guess would be, the Ten Point Coalition may have had an effect, but the data themselves are uninformative if that effect was 5,10 or 15 points positive or negative!
Levitt’s leading contenders for the cause are:
1. More police 10-20%
2. More people in prison ~33%
3. Less crack use ~15%
4. Legalized abortion started eliminating high-risk youth 15 years prior. ~25-30%
These each have their difficulties, but are a good place to start. Might I add that Levitt is an exceptionally careful and bright guy.
The single best independent variable for crime rates, in terms of predictive power, since 1980, has been youth population. Several sociologists and criminologists predicted toward the end of the 1980s that crime would drop significantly in the 1990s, based on a predictable decrease in proportion of youth in the population. At that time they had no knowledge of future economic prosperity, tough-on-crime policies, increases in police forces, etc.
That said, the other factors which Frank mentions do seem to have effects, but they are not as well-established.
I apologize if my question sounded more venomous than I intended. I should be more careful with my tone. Ironically, this is the result of the fact that I misunderstood your writing when I probably would not have misunderstood had we been in the same room. Regardless, I am not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings or impugn anyone’s testimony. Some people do like to seperate out prophetic and non-prophetic remarks (with some justification) and some people do like to separate the social and the spiritual. Clearly you are not one of those people.
I am not sure how effective the anti-welfarist view has been policy-wise prior to the last ten years. It was only in the mid-90’s that we got a true revision of welfare and the EITC to promote work. Regardless, I am claiming that when President Benson wrote what he did, the modus operandi was to hurl cash and food stamps and housing and medical services at people with little thought for their behavior. This is “the world” to which I am guessing he was referring. I think you are right that it would be a stretch to say that “the world” meant everything except preaching of the gospel. Perhaps if I had read more of President Benson’s work I’d know better. But any definition of what he meant by the methods of the world that could equally apply to the Church’s education and Church welfare system would probably be a bad definition.
I absolutely agree that youth population is a huge predictor of crime. I am somewhat puzzled by your demographics claim because the share of the population age 15-24 was expected to rise (and has I think) from 1995-2010. So this predictor did not drop in a way that would explain the crime drop. The share of the population that is black has also risen from 1990 to 2000. So the people you cite must have been looking at something more refined than aggregate youth population. Or they were only looking at the first half of the decade. Note that abortion fits very nicely into a youth population interpretation.
Also, many other criminologists and sociologists and whoever undoubtedly predicted a crime wave in the 1990’s. So it goes with predictions and predictors…
There is a slight property crime decline due to the increase in the number of the elderly. But the effect does not transmit to violent crime. Perhaps this property crime effect is what you were referring to.
Frank, I don’t think that youth population has risen up until 2000, though I could be wrong. The continual aging of the baby boomer generation (which one sociologist called ‘incorrigibly criminal’) also has been cited as a cause of the continual decline in crime–the argument goes that as they age through the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, crime follows a similar path, with some bumps along the way caused by their children.
I’m not surprised that other sociologists predicted crime waves in the 1990s–surely popular consciousness seemed to expect crime to get worse and worse. If you look at films like Predator 2 (released around 1990, set in 1997 I think) the image is one of a war zone on the streets of American cities. Still my point was that youth population is a consistently reliable predictor of crime. Now I haven’t taken a good look at more recent numbers in the last five years–perhaps the developments you point to would provide some counter examples. Still, even comparative studies bear this out–developed nations with low or no population growth (and hence low proportions of youth) over the past generation also have low crime.
I checked the census. The population shares of those under 18 and those over 65 both change almost not at all between 1990 and 2000. Levitt’s article talks about the demographic claims for baby boomers that you mention. He has a 1999 article showing that while this could explain some drops in property crime, it does almost nothing for violent crime, because of other demographic shifts.
Let me reiterate that, when the youth population share changes, crime rates should too. Thus your examples about low birth rate countries are dead on. It’s just that the population changes from 1990 to 2000 were nowhere near enough by themselves to explain the massive drop in violent crime.
Nate – You’re probably right about the wealth of the church being limited by population growth. I didn’t mean to say that the Church _should_ necessarily use its own resources to develop inner-city slums and protect the housing costs of the poor. But as Melissa said, the Church has been very active in encouraging its members to be civically active about other issues, so why not this one too? At any rate, I’m just a sociologist, not an activist or a fund raiser. Nor do I know what’s best for the Church. My main point is that one of the reasons the Church would never do this (at least not in the foreseeable future) is because most members of the Church tend to be very individual-oriented in their understanding of causality.
Frank – Where to begin? First, I actually don’t think that jobs are independent entities that “float around.” I thought the bulk of my comments indicated that I do not think this way. Actually, I was arguing that jobs tend to be related to changes in macro-economic conditions and local property conditions. The reasons that community improvement projects might bring more jobs in to poor neighborhoods is because they create a more hospitable environment for capital. Entrepreneurs are attracted to locations that seem capable of making a profit. They usually avoid run down slums with lots of crack houses because they see these as producing lots of potential problems for profit-making. Community projects could bring in more capital to low-income neighborhoods, if 1) there is institutional support and 2) internal community support to see that the neighborhood is cleaned up. The latter often facilitates the former. However, very rarely will you see communities simply clean up on their own. Poverty is persistent because individuals caught in it often have very few escape routes and the businesses that tend to dominate poverty-stricken areas are inimical to legitimate business pursuits. As I mentioned before, low educational attainment is regarded by many economists and sociologists to be endogenous to poverty, as well as a contributor to its reproduction. Without outside intervention a poor community has a low probability of rebounding on its own simply because they cannot generate their own internal capital needs.
I wouldn’t say that big welfare states are the answer to the problem of local poverty reduction. As I stated before, bad welfare policies can reduce overall wealth and do nothing to minimize the level of absolute poverty. Good welfare programs though can do a lot to increase consumer spending and jump start local sectors in the economy that have become diminished. This is the idea behind most Keynesian policies, including the current administration’s use of the EITC. By giving tax discounts to the working poor you are encouraging them to work. First though good jobs have to be present, and this is where job creation and community investment come into play.
What studies are you aware of that demonstrate that welfare transfers increase poverty levels? Most studies that I’m aware of show that poverty isn’t created by welfare programs; instead they might show that countries with excessive welfare entitlements have lower levels of economic growth (in GDP, productivity, or some other measure). But no study that I’ve ever seen has shown that the absolute level of poverty is positively related to welfare transfers. In the United States at least, most welfare recepients (moving to the individual level of analysis now) stay on unemployment or other welfare aid for a relatively short period of time. Welfare is predominantly used to assist people in getting back on their feet until they can find a good job. This is the philosophy behind the ‘welfare to work’ programs in the U.S.
I know the “where to begin” feeling well, so I sympathize. It is easy to get misinterpreted in this format.
My “jobs float around” criticism consisted of two parts. The first was that one should explain why jobs aren’t present instead of saying that the lack of jobs explains something. You gave your explanation in the first paragraph of the causes. My second criticism was the idea of holding unemployment constant in a cross-country survey of poverty. I am not sure if you address this directly.
We agree that bad welfare policy is a bad idea. You seem to favor the 90s flavor of EITC and workfare programs. Those are light years ahead of the old programs in terms of preserving incentives, but far from perfect. The chief problem is that any program that means-tests on current income is going to create income ranges where people face incentives to not work. Under the current system, it is still the case that, over a certain income range, workers lose almost all their earnings to taxes and retracted benefits. This would be a clear sign of bad work incentives.
I am not clear on your claim about the EITC. You want to call it Keynesian. This is a little strange. Your idea is that increasing consumer spending in a slum will bring back the jobs. Certainly that helps. But we agree that the EITC also encourages work (among some people, it discourages work among others). This is the prime benefit of the EITC over other programs, as you well know. All transfer programs are Keynesian right? The cool thing about the EITC is its “supply side” effect. This is totally not Keynesian. You say:
“By giving tax discounts to the working poor you are encouraging them to work. First though good jobs have to be present, and this is where job creation and community investment come into play.”
Having people willing to work is in principle just as or more effective as the Keynesian consumer spending approach for solving the slum problem. Both should encourage jobs. Do you think one is more effective than the other? Wouldn’t encouraging work be a preferential way of stimulating jobs to return? It not only lowers input costs for firms, but increases demand as agents have more money. The pure Keynesian effect of transfers increasing spending does nothing to encourage work. This would seem to be the sort of thing President Benson found objectionable. So to reiterate, calling the EITC a Keynesian policy is true in the sense that it puts money in people’s hands, but totally misses the point of why the EITC is good, which is its supply side effect. Obviously you understand this.
Lastly, you want me to start listing studies. I take it this is in response to my asking you if you knew of any.studies showing effects on neighborhoods. But I was asking you because I was curious if you already knew of some work, not because I was hiding my information. I know of studies that talk about welfare or EITC or whatever, but I was interested in the inner cities question. Since you seemed to be interested in it I was hoping you already knew what the relevant literature is. Frankly, I would be surprised if there were very many compelling studies because it is a hard nut to crack.
Then you move off into the cross-country comparisons again. I am saying that I don’t think cross-country comparisons are fruitful because they are too aggregated to tell us what we want to know. Furthermore, they typically lack any theoretical foundation and so the coefficients they report are not useful for anything. I gave an example of this sort of problem in my last post.
It is certainly the case that after the welfare reform of 96, the percentage of single mothers working rose rapidly through the following years and has stayed at a new, higher plateau ever since. This may not have decreased poverty, but it did get those women working (if the increase really was due to the welfare law). Among the unemployed, job acquisition always spikes in the week that unemployment benefits run out; which is a clear indication of the effect of incentives. So program structure probably does affect behavior.
You are absolutely right about the duration of welfare use. Most use is temporary, as is most poverty. I don’t know if this is as true when one looks at the population of welfare recipients in slums. The purpose of the TANF reform was as you say, but the reason there was a reform was because there were a subset of people living on welfare long-term.
So in summary, it sounds like we agree on all the basic facts. I think you should be more skeptical of cross-country comparisons. And, as far as I can tell, neither of us knows of any compelling empirical evidence proving effective ways to reinvigorate inner cities.
As a champion of institutions, surely your _point_ is suspect. You said:
My main point is that one of the reasons the Church would never do this (at least not in the foreseeable future) is because most members of the Church tend to be very individual-oriented in their understanding of causality.
My reply: However, if the LDS Church (i.e. Prophet, etc) made a statement saying that _individual members_ should support cause _X_ then…wouldn’t you predict this institutional call for change to have some effect & make such a move into housing for the poor, etc. possible?
However, I have to wonder if such an event did happen, if the _conservative_ church members would whine as much as the _liberal_ ones have re: the _socio-moral_ issues the Church does promote civic engagement in. My guess is yes…but not as much. (but of course I’m biased) :)
It is not really responsive to the issue of inner cities, but I am very curious if you (Frank and Brayden) have looked at all of the work of Hernando de Soto. He looks at global poverty as being in some sense a failure of property rights. He makes two points:
1. The poor of the developing world do not lack for entrepreneurial instincts, hence we can reject Weberian, cultural explanations of poverty.
2. The collective real value of the assets accumulated by the poorest of the poor in developing countries is huge, but they cannot use these assets as capital because of disfunctional legal regimes.
His second point is the one that strikes me as very interesting. In particular, he looked land. What he found was that the vast majority of people in places like San Paulo or rural Peru are squatters who do not have legal right to the land that they live on or farm. Nevertheless, they have made substantial improvements to this land. The lack of de jure ownership has a couple of really harmful effects. It limits one’s ability to contract to those who can contract on the basis of reputation. Because the land is out of the legal system it cannot be attached to satisfy debts. The presence of siezable assets generally acts as a surrogate for reputation in contracting (think secured credit). This means that the poor lack access to impersonal capital markets.
De Soto argues that if you created a functioning legal regime that titled the poor to their property it would be the equivalent of a multi-billion dollar capital infusion. He currently has a contract with the government of Egypt to develop a workable legal regime for titling the poorest of the poor in places like Cairo (give people in the City of the Dead title to their homes, etc.). Provided that he can come up with a system that is simple and inexpensive enough for the poor to use, that they learn of the existence and benefits of the system, and provided that they actually trust the government enough to “go legal” (all big ifs to be sure), De Soto’s work looks interesting.
Anyway, I would be interested in your impressions.
want to create an ‘institutional’ solution to poverty? Or at least give all the poor folks a way to make money & then honestly blame them if they blow it? Why not create a legal “regime/institution” that gives ownership to people not only of their land…but their information/data! (supermarket purchases, store purchases, travel info, etc).
Make personal information the “private property” of each individual; who can then sell…or refuse to sell, “their” information, on the open market. As Nate/De Soto suggest…private property is a great way to get poor folks capital…which was one of Marx’s principal attacks on capitalism…denying the poor access to capital.
Lyle: If you start giving people property rights in information about themselves, then I think that we are going to start running into free speech problems pretty soon. “I want to say that Bill Clinton cheated on his wife.” “No, you can’t say that. It is his property!” etc.
Nate: Good point. Yet, like most constitutional conflicts…there is always balancing and a line to be drawn. Frankly, I don’t think your example is persuasive.
First, it could be limited to economic information only. (yes, I know you can argue re: book deals & publishing rights over any info/statement re: an affair by a president). Second, money is speech. Or at least so think some folks that you are familar with.
Third, it seems there is a big difference between saying something with “words”, which is “information,” and making a purchase or a decision which is not a literal speech act.
p.s. I put up an initial post re: Workplace Religious Freedom Act (S. 893) on my site. Perhaps something more legal/rigorous is forthcoming on your blog?
I’m enjoying the various discussions on this thread, and was hoping to get back to the original question: why don’t we see more progressive social programs run by local wards and stakes?
Though surely the limitations of a lay leadership are an issue, another factor is that local bishops and stake presidents are already overburdened trying to run the official church programs. They don’t have much time or energy left to come up with innovative solutions to local societal problems. They are so busy running wards and stakes that the larger questions almost never get asked.
And if they did get asked, they aren’t given a lot of encouragement or authority to make up their own programs. I’m afraid that we are a long way from the days when a Stake President Lee could invent a welfare program in his stake.
Bishops and Stake Presidents are managers in a buearacracy that does not usually sanction, let alone reward, creative management. They are told that we already have enough programs, we just need to run the ones they have been given from Salt Lake.
Good bishops have to follow their Stake Presidents, who have to answer to Area Authorities. If Bishops and Stake Presidents are ever going to do more than run the established programs, they’ll need authorization from Salt Lake.
Rob makes a great point. However, I’m not sure that “authorization” is the big stopper. Bishops/Stake President’s don’t have enough resources (i.e. active members who dedicate enough time) to run _existing_ programs. Perhaps if individual Saints repent, spend more of their covenant/consecrated time doing home, visiting teaching, boy scouts & other Church programs…
then the Bishop/Stake President can spend their time on creating new, local programs to address the “deficiencies” mentioned above. Til then…they’ll have to waste their time trying to motive enough individual Saints to do what we’ve already been asked to do (but find more interesting to put off so that we can blog! :)
I’ve read de Soto’s Other Path but not Mystery of Capital. He is perfectly correct about the legal barriers in these countries. Peru actually did go on a bout of title giving, although I don’t know what the outcome was. But title giving was only one, perhas not the most serious of the problems. Peru is still (I think) drowning in bureaucracy that encourages corruption, both of which kill incentives, with or without a capital market.
Sorry it’s taking me so long to respond. I’ve been teaching all morning and have had limited time to blog the past few days.
Frank – Re: holding unemployment constant. Yes, this is an important issue. You are arguing, I think, that unemployment is endogenous to welfare policies and that a more complicated statistical procedure is needed to detect the causality of poverty – something like a 2-stage LS model. Since this is a good point, I imagine that economists have done this, but I don’t have time right now to do a lit review on the subject. I’ll concede that this is a real issue in any statistical analysis of poverty creation/reduction.
This brings us back to your other main issue with my argument – most of these studies are conducted at the national level. We know much less about regional, state, or city-level differences in poverty change. Let’s just assume that in neighborhoods with similar unemployment levels, welfare transfers do nothing to increase or reduce poverty levels (this is a safe assumption although probably not exactly true). Independent of welfare transfers, wouldn’t poverty potentially be reduced by activist intervention to develop those neighborhoods in order to bring more employment opportunities to the poor? I think so. Even if welfare entitlements reduce the desire to work, the amount of wealth that might be accrued by staying on welfare are likely outweighed by the benefits that would be obtained through secure employment. This is why I think that, net of all this welfare stuff that we’ve somehow become so focused on (my bad), we need more intervention at the community level to create new jobs so that the poor have real options. I don’t think that jobs will simply appear because willing workers are available. Just check out some of the depressed communities in the Midwest and Northeast where the number of available workers regularly exceeds the number of available jobs. It isn’t a question of motivation, it’s a matter of the economic vitality of these communities.
We don’t need a “strong” state to solve all these problems. The “third way” of Democratic liberalism or the faith-based initiatives of the Republican party are based on the idea that the government can provide incentives for private actors to do the dirty work of creating jobs. Increasing consumer power may help (but as you noted, I overstated the case for Keynesian economics), but in depressed communities we need specific incentives that would encourage capital to settle there and invest in the community. It’s nice for middle-class consumers that many jobs are outsourced, but for the sake of the poor in the U.S. at least a few jobs need to be preserved. I wouldn’t argue that we should employ protectionist measures, but creating the conditions for community rebuilding would help bring in new employment opportunities for the working poor.
It’s interesting that our church has not responded positively to calls for faith-based initiatives. I’m not saying that we should but it does follow that one reason we don’t is because our church fosters a particular perspective that favors individual-level change over meso- or macro-level changes. I’m sorry if I didn’t state that clearly earlier.
Nate – I haven’t read de Soto but it sounds interesting. I’d have to read more about it before I could comment intelligently. Even then, there’s no guarantee that what leaves my lips (or my fingers, in this setting) would be intelligent.
Drawing back from the crime discussion and the welfare and jobs discussion, let me put forward my (unsubstantiated) view on the subject of slum improvement.
I think that widespread intervention can be productive but can be destructive. I think that two people who look identical to a policymaker may need radically different treatment. One needs a shoulder to cry on, another needs a few months of cash, another needs a kick in the pants. The policymaker can’t tell them apart. Thus we have case workers whose job it is to tell them apart. Some of them may do this well. Many others probably don’t. Unaccountable discretion in resource disbursement is a surefire way to encourage corruption. But discretion is exactly what is needed, in order to differentiate between individuals. Thus the problem.
The Church welfare program relies upon bishops and RS Presidents who have some discretion and some spiritual guidance. I believe that this discretion/information problem is the reason why there is a strong push to deal with problems at the family level, then the church, then the city level. The farther removed one is, the less one’s individual-level information and thus ability to implement solutions that work. Families are particularly good because of their massive amount of person-specific knowledge. They also have the stewardhsip. Of course, families may lack resources.
In principle, I have nothing against community efforts to improve neighborhoods. There are theoretically good reasons to think that neighborhoods can get caught in poverty traps. I just don’t know of any empirical evidence showing this, nor any evidence showing what works. Theory without evidence is no better than evidence without theory. You can (and often do) end up with garbage in either case.
I know for a fact that many times people try to just do something and the end result is not very effective. Sometimes the results are disastrous, but perhaps only the government has the power to do anything widescale that could really hurt people unintentionally.
So I am all for people helping other people. I think this is where the battle must be fought. I flatter myself that this is part of what President Benson was getting at. Poverty and idleness is most effectively dealt with individually.
I find nothing in the sciptures condemning people for being poor, though we are to help the widow and orphan. I find much to condemn idleness. Better poor and working than getting by and idle. I think that fostering idleness is the danger of a great deal of welfare policy, which the 90s reforms tried to work on.
Your comment bring us back to the central point I was trying to get at in my post.
Due to hyper-correlation, it often seem like wards have decreasing autonomy. I wonder, however, how much of this is just perception?
For example, the singles’ wards in Cambridge have developed the Books and Basketball program to tutor and befriend kids who need extra help (both LDS and non-LDS). Books and Basketball is a weekly program that requires an enormous level of commitment from the volunteer graduate students in Boston, but they’ve carried it off for successfully for several years. Perhaps more of this kind of volunteer work is being done by individuals in local wards than we know precisely because these kinds of activities are not sponsored by Salt Lake?
It may be true that some Bishops and Stake Presidents are more inclined to be passive about broad community involvement than others, but individual members can always initiate these kind of activities themselves.
Frank: I would be curious about your reaction to “Charity and the Ex Ante/Ex Post Dilema” which is a post on a related topic from before your discover of T&S.
Thanks for pointing out the previous post. I think it might be worth typing up something at some point on God’s use of self-imposed credibility constraints in meting out repentance.
I think the posts there highlight how important individual-specific information can be in fixing these problems. Some people think we should be generous because people are basically good and won’t abuse aid. Others think there is a huge amount of abuse such that aid fosters idleness. It is a big world, so there are people for whom one theory is true and those for whom the other is. The advantage of the Bishop and RS President is to develop a long-term relationship to gather useful information. They take backseat to family members, who have even better information.
In both cases, if there is a sever information problem, this is a very good reason to funnel all donations through those with the knowledge that can be trusted. Shy of a spiritual prompting, I think random handouts should be eliminated in favor of institutional giving to the Church or other trustworthy organizations.