Today at work, half of the office was locked, so the customer service department is sharing the call center cubicle space. One of their coworkers called in because she’s having a baby in a couple weeks and isn’t feeling well today; this started a discussion amongst them about babies in general. A German woman told them all about how in Germany they’ll pay you 150 euros for each German child you produce, and give you 3 years’ maternity leave with complete job assurance for both mother and father. From there the customer service employees began praising Germany for being so “cool” and talking about how they all want to move to Germany to find a spouse. Jarom remarked to the call center employees on our side of the divider that Germany is not the only country to provide incentives for having children, and many countries – including the U.S. – will cover much of the cost of child-bearing for poor families.
Our fellow call center representative remarked that this is a mistake, because it produces a whole new generation of couch potatoes.
I have quite a few disagreements with her statement. First is the assumption that poor people intentionally have children in order to get government assistance. Of course I can’t argue that no one does that; I’m sure there are some people who do. But research has proven that many families who receive financial aid are more likely to work hard in order to raise their standard of living and get off welfare. When provided with some degree of hope, the poor take the opportunities presented to them and try to improve their circumstances. In one of my classes last semester the teacher mentioned that specific types of welfare have been shown to decrease the average number of children per family.
Disagreement #2 is that poor people in general are lazy. I think this is part of the idea that the poor are suffering from their own bad choices and lack of work ethic. And it always comes back to Mosiah 4:17-19.
“Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just— But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?”
Whether or not the poor are there because of their own mistakes is not for us to decide. We have a responsibility to help them no matter what. I do think that we’re also obligated to carefully plan and carry out effective ways of helping, and maybe that’s the big argument against welfare in America. But it still seems foolish to me to believe that everyone successful has succeeded solely by their own merits, and everyone poor has failed solely by their own lack of merits. It’s too black and white.
I guess that’s the end of my disagreement list, but it certainly got me riled up. It’s disappointing to find that people are so critical and disdainful of those who are less fortunate and who need our compassion, not our contempt.
Comments welcome. (As always.) I’m not very good at arguing my point, so feel free to bring up inconsistencies, things you disagree with, and so on.
by Malcolm Gladwell