Conservative leaders are beginning to present their policy ideas for the post-Obama era.
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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) just made a college education speech, presenting ideas about making college affordable. Arthur C. Brooks, head of the American Enterprise Institute, just wrote a “conservative social-justice” piece for Commentary magazine; he wants conservatives to address programs for the poor.
Frankly, Rubio and Brooks’ take are underwhelming. We aren’t going to fix the broken college education system with a band-aid like employers financing their employees. And we aren’t going to solve the poverty problem with a shuffling of government programs.
We’ve got to think first about the big picture. The big picture for the liberal authoritarian welfare state was that a large-minded elite would develop a rational plan for lifting up the poor; politics and government, led by the educated and the evolved, would bring order to the chaos created by the industrial revolution.
Except that they didn’t. The liberal welfare state has demolished poor families and plunged them into multi-generational dependency. Talk about chaos.
Here’s my big idea for raising up the poor in the conservative social-justice state: It is the responsibility of everyone to participate in person in lifting up the poor, with time and money. Our own time, and our own money.
Let’s think how to apply this big idea.
What do the the poor think they need? According to Arthur Brooks, the poor think they need “transformation, relief, and opportunity.”
They need transformation, relief, and opportunity—in that order. On these three pillars, conservatives and advocates for free enterprise can build the basics of the social-justice agenda that America deserves.
Transformation means moral transformation. So government is out on that, because of the First Amendment and its prohibition of an establishment of religion. Moral transformation works person to person, heart to heart, just as conservatives would assume.
Then there is relief. Well, the government and politicians have done a miserable job on that so far, mainly because relief has got mixed up with buying votes at election time. Back in the bad old 19th century they had an ABCDEFG system for relief, as I discuss here. It started with “Affiliation,” meaning family. Poor people are generally separated from the relatives that could help them. It ends with Employment, Freedom, and God. So relief must be organized person by person, by individuals working with the poor.
Finally opportunity. Writes Brooks:
An opportunity society has two basic building blocks: Universal education to create a base of human capital and an economic system that rewards hard work, merit, innovation, and personal responsibility.
And the answer is school choice? Please, Mr. Brooks. Here’s a better idea. Child Labor. Yes, let’s send the kids to work with David Copperfield at the blacking factory, and not just poor kids.
Look, right now, children labor daily at school — at government child custodial facilities with zero tolerance policies — and they get paid squat. Then they labor at home on stupid homework and get paid squat.
Then kids get into the workforce and don’t know how to work.
In the future we must raise children by combining work and learning, making each individual adult responsible for the growth of the children that come under their care for work or for learning.
To help the poor as conservatives, we must really implement the vision of Deuteronomy, quoted by Brooks: “Therefore I command you to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” “You” means you and me.
Big government help for the poor has failed. Now it’s time to try something different.
Christopher Chantrill, @chrischantrill, runs the go-to site on U.S. government finances, usgovernmentspending.com. Also see his American Manifesto and get his Road to the Middle Class.