Did you know that for 250 years Americans lovingly provided all social welfare, charity and education for the nation with virtually no taxes or government bureaucracy? This American miracle was accomplished locally through families, churches and private associations. In sharp contrast, in America today confiscatory, compulsory taxation and overspending by big government are crippling our productivity and debasing our dollar. America’s Comptroller General warns that our government programs are on a “burning platform” and unsustainable.
The good news is that there are real lasting solutions. Professor Marvin Olasky, perhaps the foremost social policy expert in America, in his landmark book, The Tragedy 0f American Compassion, says “the key to the future, as always, is understanding the past.” He shows, using historical documentation, how we can greatly decrease much of our government’s bloated welfare budgets, which are our largest expenditures (next to military costs), through privately directed compassion, thereby saving our social welfare net from bankruptcy and collapse.
America, from its inception, was a Christian experiment. Every institution, including charity for the truly needy, for the elderly, the sick and for education was based upon biblical values. From the time of the Pilgrims, the colonies were a shining example to the world, “a City on a Hill. ”With very little government and very low taxes they managed to create the world’s greatest nation out of a barren wilderness in two centuries.
Marvin Olasky says, “By the 1840’s and 1850’s [private] societies to help the ‘worthy poor’...were springing up in every major American city.” To this day the best and most effective care comes from America’s army of Christian charities, many of which were founded in the 19th century.
Throughout most of the 19th century, 90% of all charity and welfare was Christian and private. This care provided spiritual renewal, teaching in character skills and occupational training needed to promote upward economic mobility for the needy. All this cost the taxpayer little, since it was accomplished on a local, personal level. With a low tax rate and economic freedom, the standard of living increased 900% in the 19th century.
But by the 1850’s, an age-old destructive philosophy that promoted a coercive, powerful government began seeping into the American psyche through men like Horace Greeley, the founder of the New York Tribune, and a Universalist (one who believes that all men are saved and good). Greeley promoted the idea that private wealth should be divided up by the government to level the playing field (a form of theft). He also believed that government should be entrusted with caring for the poor. Greeley’s ideas were radical socialism, even before Karl Marx came on the scene.
Henry Raymond, a devout Christian and editor of the New York Times, challenged Greeley to a debate which lasted 12 weeks on the front pages of their respective newspapers. Raymond argued powerfully that compassionate charity which cared for the truly needy was best accomplished through individuals and private organizations. He documented that the way to fight poverty was through the personal reformation of individuals through God’s regenerating power. But he warned that government control of charity would lead to corruption, bureaucracy and the end of liberty for all. Raymond believed, as did our founders, that because of the sin nature of man, large governments always become corrupt and enslave the people. Thomas Jefferson warned us 200 years ago that “The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents.”
Read the rest at World History Institute