28 May 2008

Religious Generosity

This is a bit of a follow-up to our note about social conservative philanthropic attitudes toward lesser developed countries. The Journal Editorial Report brought the Hudson Institute's Index of Global Philanthropy to our attention. Among other things, this report showed that private organizations sent more than $35 billion to other nations with $8.8 billion coming from U.S. religious charity.

This report highlights a key difference between the liberal and conservative approach to charity, philanthropy and aid. Conservatives are often criticized for their skepticism of large government programs which will supposedly help the poor domestically or internationally.

It's not that conservatives don't have the bleeding hearts of their liberal friends, it's that we don't see appropriating someone else's money and creating vast government programs to spend it, while patting ourselves on the back, to be all that grand of an idea.

It's easy spending someone else's money--the "rich," for example--try spending a little of your own.

Government programs like the ones Clinton & Obama champion are simply liberal guilt for not giving, expressed in yet another bloated bureaucracy. These bloated bureaucracies serve only to create more job opportunities for self-righteous young progressives who shun the selfish and greedy business world. You know this world--the one that creates all the wealth and prosperity that allows them to fund their quest for a liberal, multi-cultural, hand-holding utopia.

Next time someone tries to peddle the canard that liberals are the only ones who care about the poor and suffering and that conservatives just want to get "theirs," well, remember that it is conservatives who actually give theirs while liberals want to spend yours.


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10 comments:

RD said...

Jake - as always, well argued. A good correction to my glaring oversight about conservative altruism. Also, a good analysis of the American guilt complex, what Paul Krugman calls fastidiousness.

I do think, however, that poverty is linked to national security and is, therefore, not only a concern for the private sector but also for government. The debate about aid is very complicated. Two crucial readings for understanding this debate are The End of Poverty by Jeff Sachs and The White Man's Burden by William Easterly. While both advocate aid, they make different arguments about how it should be done. Your view is closest to Easterly's. He argues that complex programs by Western governments - Big Plans - just don't work, and that a ground up approach is necessary. He doesn't, however, argue that governments shouldn't be involved. Rather, rich world governments should provide the funds but leave more of the decisionmaking to indigenous experts.

Regardless, the Western world has committed itself, as individual countries, to spending .7% of GDP on aid. The US is still the farthest from reaching this target, to which it has committed itself on numerous occasions. Scandinavian countries have surpassed it with other European countries close behind. Poverty reduction is at the top of the agenda for most developed countries, and I hope Americans may someday recognize the connection between relative deprivation and national security. It's not just a matter of a bleeding heart; it's also a matter of realist foreign policy (and, of course, keeping commitments).

That all said, the argument that conservatives believe in giving without the government connection fails to address my point about paradox. Conservatives believe that the government should be involved in the morality of life (abortion) but not the morality of economic fairness (also scripturally mandated)? Why not leave the abortion choice to the private conscience as well? What is the difference? My point was about the inconsistency of the conservative argument.

Ben Treasure said...

Yeah Jake you're right. All conservatives give with a good heart, and all liberals only do it through government channels for self aggrandizing reasons. I'm waiting for your discovery that liberal and conservative DNA is different, thus defining two distinct species within the human race.

I've noticed lately that everything on here stinks of one person's opinion, with little analysis and a point of view meant, it seems, to do nothing other than paint a picture of Americans pitted against one another--with the "liberal" faction hating everything that is worthy of doing in good conscience. It stinks, and it's out of touch.

kannie said...

Hmm... RD, I'm not certain what specifically you mean by "economic fairness" that you see mandated in scripture. Could you please get a bit more specific on what you believe is involved in economica fairness? (I'm not being critical - only asking for clarification...)

RD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RD said...

I'm talking about how Jesus and King Benjamin and all the prophets talk about giving to the poor regardless of what you think their motives are. The problem of economic inequality is a central theme of both the Book of Mormon and the Bible - it is inextricably linked with pride. The sign of the Zion society is that there were no rich or poor. There is no scriptural support for unrestrained capitalism - unless you cite the principle of free agency, which would undermine the Right's position on abortion, gay marriage, etc.

When this is brought up in a political conversation with a religious Conservative, you will often hear something like, "yes, but that's a personal commandment. It doesn't mean that it's the government's responsibility to redistribute wealth." Fair enough.

Likewise, the scriptures put high value on life - hence the motivation for the pro-life stance of the religious Right. This is a highly charged issue when it relates to religion. The Right doesn't support government involvement in the first item - economic matters - because it's religion and not politics, preferring to leave the matter to the individual conscience. Why, then, is the Right not willing to leave other matters of religion or morality up to the private conscience?

I'm not taking sides on either issue. I'm simply pointing out the inconsistency in the logic. The only reason I can think of for that inconsistency is that one issue deals with the pocket book while the other does not.

The most ironic thing is that poverty, which is how this debate began, is closely linked to life, the principle that Conservatives hold so dear. We push for anti-abortion legislation because it is tied to life; but poverty, which certainly takes more lives than abortion each year, isn't discussed on the same terms. Why not? Is one American fetus' life worth more than a million Africans? Or are all lives of equal worth?

Morgan said...

rd-

i don't really have anything meaningful to add to this discussion. i simply want to let you know that i really enjoy reading your comments and the way they encourage me to look at topics from various points of view. thanks.

kannie said...

Thanks, RD! My apologies for the delayed response - as it is, I'm entertaining a toddler while typing, LOL...

You're absolutely right that we're commanded to give to the poor. The ideal society in scripture is summarily described as "...and there were no poor among them" - speaking in both spiritual and temporal terms.

I don't think we need to restrain economic freedom - we need to restore integrity to the individual (since any restraint imposed will be flawed). Our Constitutional government was designed to allow individuals to thrive. Our citizenry is still able to thrive in many cases because enough people are still "good." (I have to note that "thriving" and "good" groups do not always coincide.)

However, through worldwide corruption, the biggest accomplishment of government has commonly become enriching some while impoverishing most. Even government aid is grossly misused - whether it's food being hoarded by juntas, Oil for Food scandals, warlords in Africa, or UN Peacekeepers' unofficial "Sex-for-Food" policies. Talk about EVIL.

But poverty isn't killing people; corruption is. Between the governments and the Janjaweed, for example, evil men in Africa are terrorizing people and undoing every step of progress that the persecuted individuals make. Mosquito tents and vital vaccines are confiscated and sold on the black market. That's corruption killing people, not poverty.

Successful programs are not bureaucracies that lead to power concentration and corruption; they lift and strengthen the individual by taking aid DIRECTLY there. It's almost like the trials in scripture where the burdens are not lifted, but the people are strengthened to bear them. (I might add that I'm ENTIRELY in favor of lifting burdens of whatever kind entirely, where possible). Local well-drilling, teaching farming techniques, microloans - these are lightening burdens and empowering people all over the world, while their governments are still abominable.

Regarding the inconsistency on "life" priority: assuming a basic difference between action and inaction, I believe the government has the right to forbid certain actions (like stealing and murder); but not the right to force actions. They can keep you from stealing your neighbor's car, but they can't force you to steal (or, apparently, keep themselves from stealing by raising and wasting taxes on corrupt programs ;-). Of course, the line between forbidding action and forcing action blurs in philosophical debate, but at a common-sense level, I'm comfortable with it. That's why I believe it's okay to restrict abortion, but not okay to confiscate individuals' resources for redistribution, even if the net result arguably could be somewhat helpful.

And I have to echo Morgan - thanks to both the blog author and you for helping me think through these issues - not only is it enlightening, but it is FUN.

RD said...

Jake does indeed provide a valuable forum and stimulating discussion. As always, thanks Jake. And Kannie, it's nice to have you around. I haven't seen you comment much. You're a thoughtful commentator.

That said, we must adopt my family rules for monopoly, "no matter what happens during the game, we have to be friends again after", and continue the debate--because you have made some important and thought-provoking arguments. Forgive me if I get long winded (I usually do, it's a weakness).

I will address what I think are your two main points: (1) Poverty does not kill people; corruption kills people and, therefore, aid is not going to fix the problems of poverty, and (2) government has the authority/responsibility to prevent us from doing bad things, but not to require us to do good things.

I think your first point is substantially lacking in supporting evidence. This is actually the most common argument of the right: poor people are dying because of corrupt leadership, and aid doesn’t fix that. However, many economists and political scientists would disagree with that assessment—chief among them the eminent Jeffrey Sachs. While it is true that many leaders of poverty-stricken countries are corrupt and that aid often isn’t effective, it is also true that many other countries have leaders who aren’t corrupt and, yet, are still extremely poor. Some of these countries are Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal (Botswana from time to time as well). The proponents of this explanation tend to (1) ignore the poor countries that are moderately or well governed, (2) ignore the possibility (and substantial evidence) of reverse causality (i.e., poverty causing corruption), and (3) ignore the multitude of ways that aid can reach those who need it despite corrupt regimes—as you say, “taking aid DIRECTLY there.” This is how many NGOs work, and many of them receive the government funding I’m talking about it. Corruption, it turns out, is often merely an excuse for not giving. Said Sachs,

I work a lot in Africa and the first thing that comes to mind for many people is that African countries are poor because they’re corrupt. But when I look at countries like Senegal or Mali or Ghana or Tanzania which are very poor, the level of corruption does not seem out of line with the levels of corruption of much richer countries or growing economies. Although corruption is harmful, we shouldn’t attribute all suffering and misery or economic failures to corruption. Some places are suffering because of malaria or an AIDS pandemic, others because of a water crisis or because they are landlocked. This is not a license for them to be corrupt, but it is to say that their main problem may not be corruption.

This is one of those topics that pundits and politicians tend to, as I say, “superficialize”, acting like the corruption problem is a valid excuse for failing to meet commitments (specifically those I discussed in my last comment). While it is easy to cite the failures of aid (you are right, there are many), it requires far more effort to do the research and understand its successes and the complexity of the argument. Some essential readings for this are, of course, Sachs’ The End of Poverty and Common Wealth, Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden, Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom, Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion, or anything by Jagdish Bhagwati or Joseph Stiglitz. Readings that won’t provide balanced analysis (or any analysis at all) include anything by someone you’ve heard of on conservative or liberal talk radio (think Hannity and Moore).

It turns out that while corruption is a factor, regardless of corruption poor countries still need significant assistance with infrastructure investment, education, food production, legal institutions, currency stabilization, and a whole host of everything else. Economists are now virtually unanimous, despite what the Hannity’s will tell you, that the ladder of free markets is usually well above the head of those who need it. Markets do increase wealth, but not when basic fundamentals are in place first. This is demonstrated empirically as well as theoretically (think Pareto efficiency and factor endowments). Finally, while it is easy to deny assistance because we don’t trust how it will be spent, King Benjamin reminds us, “if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth (italics mine, of course). While it is vitally important that we improve the efficiency of the international aid system (this is Easterly’s main argument), refusing to give to every country due to corruption in some countries is probably not a very good excuse for inaction.

As for your second argument, I find the distinction between sins of commission and sins of omission to be a bit tenuous. Despite the obvious problems with it within a religious setting, it is also a difficult issue for public policy. Are you saying that you disagree with all forms of taxes, military drafts, the requirement that vehicles be in working shape, the requirement that public corporations report financial information to the public, laws about putting your children in school, etc. etc. etc.? To me, it seems that there is little difference between the government asking you to do good things, the omission of which could result in mass death and suffering (you tell a starving, malaria-infested child in Malawi with intestinal worms crawling through his nose and sores that poverty doesn’t cause death; that’s a preposterous stretch); and the government asking you not to do bad things, the commission of which could lead to mass death and suffering (actually, things like abortion and gay marriage lead to significantly less suffering than poverty). This isn’t getting philosophical; this seems pretty “common sense” to me.

Further, the government confiscates your resources on a regular basis to build roads, provide national defense, build schools, subsidize college education, promote research and development, etc. etc. etc. How do you feel about this redistribution of wealth? While we may argue on the specifics, most people (except, perhaps, Ron Paul) like roads, schools, and at least some defense, despite their limited inclusion in the Constitution. These needed services must be provided by governments due to the simple yet powerful "tragedy of the commons." Beyond its moral implications, poverty is a national security issue as well. After we left Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion, we chose not to build roads, schools, and clean water facilities, leaving the country ripe for the rescuing influence of the Taliban. Chronic poverty breeds a culture of anger; the people who fly plains into buildings aren't always poor, but the cultures they come from usually are. Europe, which has less to worry about when it comes to terrorism, still understands the connection between national security and inequality. So do scholars of international relations and economics. There is a whole theory of conflict built around it called "relative deprivation." Why don’t American conservatives see it?

While you argue that the government has no right to confiscate your personal resources for redistribution, the scriptures and prophets tell us that none of it is yours to begin with. Meanwhile, pro-choice activists argue that the government can’t interfere with a woman’s body, but as Christians we know that her body and that of her baby are just like our wealth: they belong to God, and only human selfishness believes that we can “own” God’s creations.

As a side note, there is a growing body of evidence indicating that abortion laws don’t even affect the number of abortions that occur in a country-—but they do affect how many mothers die during the process. Ironically, it turns out that the methods of the religious right—-laws and abstinence—-fail, while the methods of the left—-contraception and real education—-actually have preventative power. This leads to a whole new debate, similar to your argument about the futility of aid, about whether it’s a good idea to even push for ineffective laws. A more pragmatic, comprehensive approach is probably necessary (as I’ve argued elsewhere).

So, while your arguments seem fine on the surface, I think they lack evidence. Your logic on aid has little empirical support, and your logic on government compulsion requires that you lobby for the government to stop taking your money to pave your street and requiring your children to attend school. One of the most disturbing things about American political culture is that rather than examining issues, we assume there are only two sides and we choose one of them. As a conservative, I think we can do better than say that governments, including ours, are corrupt and that we will therefore not support them in anything. Rather, it seems that we should strive to be consistent in our moral principles while working to improve institutional and cultural inefficiencies.

Brigham Young said, "The Latter-day Saints will never accomplish their mission until this inequality shall cease on the earth." With nearly a billion people living in extreme poverty, we are light years away from that condition. While NGOs and individual contributions are vitally important, only governments have the ability to contribute what is really needed (Jake's $44 billion is just not enough). What's more, the US government can easily afford to meet aid commitments--0.7% of GDP--without the average citizen even noticing. It's time for America to catch up with the rest of the rich world and use some of our wealth for what God intends. At the very least we can become educated about the real problems - beyond what we hear from Bill O'Reilly and Glen Beck. As economist Paul Krugman argues, "when the hopes of hundreds of millions are at stake, thinking things through is not just good intellectual practice. It is a moral duty."

kannie said...

I suppose I shouldn't have edited my response for what brevity there was, LOL, as you picked up on one big aspect of the argument that I left out in the interest of reading space (namely, addressing organizational aid instead of individual aid); and one thing I think I actually said, evidently didn't get communicated quite effectively. :-) I'm (obviously) normally quite long-winded myself, so no worries on that count! ;-)

Your points are well-argued (along with your other positions, many of which I agree with), and I appreciate that. I'm trying to find what's right, to the best of my knowledge, since that's the only way I feel one can live each day with a relatively clear conscience, so I love learning, debating, and evaluating more information as it comes. FWIW, I'm a new visitor - referred by a friend with similar interests.

(Side note: for whatever reason, most of my best friends are very liberal, in today's politico-speak; so yep, "family Monopoly rules" work for me ;-)

First, my main points were:
1. Corruption, not poverty, kills people; (I didn't mention that I do NOT excuse myself from helping because of corruption, since I figured that went without saying...)
2. Successful programs (yes, which already exist) are those that are NOT official government aid;
3. Government cannot force you to take any particular action.

That said, you are entirely correct pointing out that corruption is not the sole cause of poverty and/or suffering. In my focus on that as the main factor in suffering, I did not give any acknowledgment to the genuinely raw deals that some people get in life.

Second, I wasn't keen on being lumped in with general perceptions of what pundits may think - even with the "often" and "tend to" caveats - although with my short reply, that association is understandable. I (and I must say they, in some cases) give more thought to the issues than widely acknowledged, and personally do more good than gets news coverage. (For the record, I'm a Glenn Beck fan, but I do see more complexity to some of the points than he's able to bring out on his program.) However, since you respond to some points that I did not actually make, due to that association, I'll need to point out what I did and did not say ;-).

I did say: Corruption is killing people, not poverty. (I left out that you can blame some current poverty on historical corruption from European powers as well...they sure did a number on that continent. As previously mentioned, I also failed to acknowledge that there are indeed other factors.)

I did not say: Since organizations are corrupt, we shouldn't give them anything or keep our commitments.

I did not say: Aid doesn't (at least help) fix any problems.

I did not say: Since aid doesn't work, we shouldn't give them anything or keep our commitments.

As I mentioned in my summary list above (Point #1), I failed to state explicitly that corruption does not excuse us from the commandment and moral obligation to help our fellow man. Speaking for myself, I help out, regardless of the level of corruption I believe is present; I just don't expect that aid to be quite so effective if it's going to the government instead of, say, the church.

Also, as we agree, many NGOs already exist that are doing wonderful things. Love that! (I'd also assert that an NGO would be even more effective if it didn't have the hassle of government bureaucracy...) Individuals, mission efforts of many faiths, and educational institutions do wonderful things, as well. But where there are corrupt people, at whatever level of control, the innocent suffer more than they otherwise would.

Another aspect of corruption, which I did not address previously, is that corruption is not solely the province of warlords and governments. The hearts of so many better-off individuals have grown cold with the deterioration of society; we can't worship God and mammon, and much of society has made its choice.

Your point about not all struggling countries being corrupt is well-taken - this goes back to corruption not being the only possible reason for suffering, even if it's a major factor in how massive the suffering is. However, I don't quite trust any government to be 100% corruption-free. (I might say I'll believe it when I see it - and I'd love to see it! ;-). Hence, I'm a big fan of checks and balances. I'd rather have governmental paralysis than hyper-activism - "first, do no harm" should be a maxim for government as much as doctors. Individuals can do what government cannot.

I've also heard the argument that poverty causes corruption before, and I reject it on principle. (Is it the love of money or the lack of it that is the root of all evil? ;-) Even in the segment that you quote from Sachs, he says that corruption/crime rates "do not seem out of line with the levels of corruption of much richer countries or growing economies..." It seems that a certain level of corruption is normal. (Good and bad news, eh? ;-) In addition, it trivializes agency by making people, largely, reactors to circumstances instead of actors.

Regarding "the complexity of the argument," I agree that it takes more effort to research and understand the actual problem than to grab a convenient excuse to ignore it. You have a vast body of knowledge from which to understand the argument, and it's helpful! However, it also takes effort to learn and acknowledge that another may have legitimately reached a different conclusion than ourselves, whether presented with the same information or not. You and Benjamin call "straw man" arguments when you see them, but to say that proponents of the corruption theory take the easy way out and "refus[e] to give to every country due to corruption in some" is a GIANT straw man. And "governments... are corrupt and we will therefore not support them in anything?" What an absurd thing to project, and on a personal level, it's offensive: you get a broad policy of "withholding our substance" - a specifically-condemned sin - from a belief that corruption is thwarting aid efforts and more to blame for suffering? The facts on charitable giving don't even support that assertion.

On a different topic for a moment, I disagree with your point about Europe having less to worry about when it comes to terrorism - we don't have cartoonists going into hiding in this country (AFAIK), and controversial movie makers aren't stabbed to death in the streets for offending people. Police in the US can generally quell riots instead of running in fear of armed and angry teenage boys, although that's changing. We aren't being asked to adopt Sharia yet. The evidence I've seen leads me to think that Europe actually has more to worry about.

Now I'll address the "all our substance belonging to God, anyway" point.

First, it's true.

Second, that doesn't invalidate the law of possession. Scriptures also condemn stealing, greed, and excessive taxation. They condemn selfishness, but nowhere do they say that forced confiscation through taxes and government are the answer. My rights to what I'll call my "stewardship" are not lessened by the commandment to help others; in fact, my obligation to be productive and bless others with my stewardship is increased.

As for the conflict theory of "relative deprivation," (which sounds like envy to me...), I agree that it can happen, (yes, American conservatives can see it ;-), but though understandable, it's NOT a legitimate reason for conflict. Let's put us on the lower end of the equation for a minute. Right and wrong still apply. I do not have the privilege of trashing my neighbor's car because he has a Lexus and I have to walk or bike everywhere. And really, I don't *want* to trash his Lexus. I might hope to have one someday, but I do not begrudge him his success. I don't think good people around the world do, either. Destroying someone else's possession does not enrich the destroyer; it's an evil, vengeful thing to do - remember that the poor were chastised for pride, as well. It's a human struggle, not just a "rich person's" struggle.

Then, let's examine the "fruits of our labor" perspective: since all of our substance belongs to God, does where your paycheck goes, matter? It does in our world. Should a single person making good money be required to send their income to my family, instead, since we have more people to feed and relatively cramped living space? Absolutely not. Even the Law of Consecration works on a voluntary basis, and I'm not ready to let a mortal mandate what the Lord only asks (and that, not now! ;-).

But the government rarely asks. Misguided/corrupt/ignorant individuals pass horrid legislation, mandating new burdens on the rest of us. (Just one example: Light bulbs phasing out in favor of mercury ones that will be "better for the planet"???) We don't need to worry about what we yield to the Lord; but we should worry about what we yield to mortal rulers, as well as the consequences of yielding it.

Which, I suppose, leads to this quasi-conflicted point where I'm afraid you may write me off as irredeemable, (if you haven't already, but I'm hoping not! LOL ;-) - on my "government doesn't ask - it tells" point, since you asked:

I DO object to the government telling me I have to keep my car in such-and-such order or send my children to such-and-such school (which they can't always do right now, thank goodness - and yes, I grew up in the public school system, but I'll spare you my rant on education ;-).

I DO object to raising spending on already-ineffective government programs. I'd rather find alternate solutions with non-governmental entities.

For the sake of long-dead brevity, I'll stop there with the objections.

What I'm for, is a truly Constitutional government. Defense is totally fine, and I acknowledge that realistically, building highways is a convenient and likely-legitimate extension of regulating interstate commerce. But education? Oy! It's here, and it more or less serves the public good (although so does wearing deodorant, and perish the day we have a law and taxes for that...); I know it's not realistic to undo all the "scope creep" we've seen in governmental power, but I'd sure like to preserve what we have left of empowerment and accountability ;-). I do see a difference between outright redistribution and covering our collective rear end, and I only object to one of them. And human nature being what it is, I love the checks and balances that are built into the Constitution, as well.

What I'm also for, is "bring[ing] to pass many things of [our] own free will."

Wrapping up, I agree with your point that, "[i]t's time for America to... use [more] of our wealth for what God intends." We are immeasurably blessed with all manner of resources, and with the freedom to make the best of them to bless our lives and others'. Going back to the Sachs quote, some problems he names have simple solutions - and we're working on them (should be faster). For the others, that's where cooperation and help come in - some people really do get a VERY raw deal in this life, and it's our privilege to help them. Everything is indeed the Lord's, and all He does is bless us with it; we're responsible to learn to do the same.

RD said...

I guess at this point I’m wondering what exactly your argument is. From the start, my argument has been that the US government (and those of other developing countries) has made commitments regarding foreign aid, and that, for several reasons, we should keep those commitments. Some of these reasons are national security, morality, and honesty. What is your argument? Is it that governments should never be involved in foreign aid? Or is it that they should be somewhat involved? The latter is my argument precisely; 0.7% of GDP, our promised commitment, is hardly a massive government involvement when compared with other programs (including conservative-led programs like ‘defense’ spending).

I originally interpreted your argument to be that corruption makes aid futile and, therefore, the government shouldn’t be giving it.

Some various points:

My argument about corruption was not as simple as you think. If you read Sachs’ book, you’ll find that his claims about corruption are controlling for income. The data (and common sense) certainly shows a causal relationship between poverty and corruption. Poor countries have poor media, poor infrastructure, and lack of government accountability. People who work sunup to sundown to find food or deal with illness don’t have time to be involved in civic participation. These things make fertile ground for corruption. The causation goes both ways, but to pretend that the poor would not be poor without corruption is preposterous. It is much, much more complicated than that. Africa suffers from lack of useful resources, colonial exploitation (from which America, not just Europe, has profited significantly) and mismanagement, Cold War proxy situations (for which the US is at least 50% responsible), and various other factors. Some of the most corrupt and brutal African dictators the world has known were installed and propped up by US funding (the most obvious, and heinous, being Mugabe) due to mostly conservative ideology about communism. We must get beyond this Fox News level analysis and recognize that (1) poverty has deeper causes than corruption, (2) poverty is much bigger than what NGOs can address on their own, and (3) the US has benefited from policies that have deepened Africa’s poverty. On balance, corruption is more a result of the African quagmire than it is a cause. It perpetuates it, but it didn't necessarily cause it. This doesn’t excuse corrupt leaders for their actions, but it should cause us to examine our assumptions about the causes of corruption—and not hold citizens accountable for the actions of their leaders (many times forced upon them by the West).

My argument about relative deprivation was not a normative one. I was not saying it’s ok for deprivation to result in conflict; I was simply arguing that it happens. The US lives in the real world, and whether we like it or not, we must respond to real situations (this is called pragmatism, and is largely nonexistent on both sides of the political spectrum). Regardless of normative arguments, relative deprivation does often result in conflict (the sociology, anthropology, economics, and political science empirical evidence for this is absolutely massive). In the very long term, a key element of the solution to terrorism will be dealing effectively with relative deprivation. This is why poverty is a national security concern. The rise of the Taliban should be evidence enough, in addition to volumes of it elsewhere. This doesn’t excuse the perpetrators of the conflict; but, likewise, your normative arguments about relative deprivation don’t excuse the US for ignoring this basic fact.

Your arguments about government use of resources are difficult to decipher. The reason the government requires cars to be in reasonable shape is to prevent accidents that can involve innocent individuals (the exact same reason driving while drunk is illegal; the same reason we have speed limits). Conservatives are quick to point out that the government shouldn’t use our money for most things, but conservatives are the quickest on the bandwagon when it comes to invading Iraq and other defense spending. Why the inconsistency? Why don’t we rely on NGOs to invade Iraq instead of using government resources? I think that you have failed to consider some of the implications of your position. Where do you draw the line between “outright redistribution and covering our collective rear end”? Does Iraq count as covering our rear end? What about Afghanistan? What about the numerous proxy wars of the Cold War (including Vietnam)? The War on Terror? A lot of people were forced to give money to these efforts against their will, but I didn’t hear many conservatives complaining about it. And roads and highways? Your argument on this point is incredibly superficial. This is basic, obvious, public good economics; “tragedy of the commons” stuff.

Essentially, your distinction between the government requiring you to do good things and preventing you from doing bad things is not very useful. It works for conservatives when it comes to abortion and gay marriage, but it falls apart when it comes to conservative projects like massive defense spending and public goods (like roads and schools). Would you rather leave defense, road building, education, and law enforcement to the private sector? These are public goods, and every economist on the planet will tell you that without government, public goods are undersupplied (if at all). Read some game theory if you need to.

As to your argument #2: “Successful programs (yes, which already exist) are those that are NOT official government aid.” Wow, that is quite a claim. Do you have evidence to support that? Have you heard of PEPFAR? USAID? World Bank loans? That kind of a claim probably relies more on traditional conservative dogma than it does on evidence. Yes, governments are usually inefficient to some degree. But the assumption that they are almost always bad is na├»ve. Few serious observers would agree with that.

Finally, you have fallen back on the morally inconsistent argument I’ve discussed before. Your discussion of the Law of Consecration aptly reminds us that gospel principles are meant to be voluntary. So how do we rationalize abortion and gay marriage policy? Aren’t the commandments dealing with those issues also voluntary? Your only defense for distinguishing between these issues regarding government power is a very fuzzy definition of prevention vs. compulsion; sins of omission vs. sins of comission, a distinction that Christian doctrine tells us is nonexistent.

But, that all said, I’m still confused about what you are arguing for. No government involvement in poverty reduction? Some government involvement? If the latter is your wish, we are in agreement. If it is the former, you should defend it based on stronger moral grounds and address the national security aspect.

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