The sand at the ocean's edge

Everyone needs a three-part personal strategy to fight poverty

Robert D. Lupton has lived in Atlanta for 40 years among the poor fighting poverty.

He has written two books

Charity Detox: What Charity Would Look Like If We Cared About Results (2015)

Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, And How to Reverse It (2012)

This is a long and powerful quote from the chapter 2 of Charity Detox (my emphases):

“After four decades of service, the romance is gone. I am left with an unvarnished view of the realities of urban poverty. But the divine calling imposed upon me to become a neighbor to the poor has never been lifted. And because my commitment and voice and heart remain on the side of the poor, my Democratic friends want to embrace me as a fellow liberal, although one with a few right-wing tendencies! And because I have seen the destructive effects of subsidizing poverty and oppose dependency-producing entitlements, I am accepted by Republican friends as a fellow conservative, although one with a bleeding heart.

Ever since I came out of the closet with Toxic Charity, however, I fear that maintaining this delicate balance is beginning to be perceived as a “list to the starboard,” or tilt to the right. But all I’m doing is paying attention to what actually moves people out of poverty. I have begun to publicly declare that the only thing that will enable the poor to emerge from poverty is a decent job. And the primary creators of decent jobs are businesspeople who believe deeply in the free-enterprise system.

For-profits and not-for-profits represent two fundamental divisions of our economy: wealth creation and wealth transfer. Business is the wealth creator; the rest of the economy operates on the transfer of that wealth. I began to realize how strange it was that business creators, so essential to our well-being, are so often viewed as somehow less spiritual, less compassionate than those who live off the wealth those businesspeople produce! Strange, too, how we esteem sacrificial nonprofit “servants” but malign as greedy capitalists the for-profit producers who underwrite their charities. Why are people in my line of work so comfortable seeing these two groups in such contrasting ways?

As I have said before, I have become convinced that the only thing that will enable the poor to emerge from poverty is a decent job. I am further convinced that free-market capitalists—the so-called wealth creators—offer the best chance of creating decent jobs. You can’t serve a community out of poverty. Don’t get me wrong—services are important. A first-rate school, quality health care, vibrant churches, abundant parks and recreation, good city services—these are characteristics of a healthy community. They are very important. But they are not sufficient. They are all by-products of a healthy economy. Without a viable economy, communities will not prosper.

For some reason, the religious and social service sectors often seem to miss this. They have somehow overlooked the fact that it is business that creates the wealth that funds all our human service governmental/ cultural/ religious/ educational institutions. Wealth-creating industries (historically, fishing, farming, mining, and manufacturing) are the wellsprings from which our employment and quality of life emerge. Our churches, hospitals, universities, libraries, art centers—marks of a prosperous nation—exist only because we are blessed with an abundance of business entrepreneurs and a land rich with resources (and, of course, a stable government). We can build interstate highways, create city-center parks, equip a top-notch military, all thanks to our wealth-producing business class. Our mission trips, our community service projects, our donated food and clothing surpluses—all our charitable efforts—are made possible by those who every day risk their resources in the marketplace.

Do I sound too much like a right-wing capitalist? Perhaps. But what I have learned comes out of decades of wrestling with the problem of what really moves people out of poverty. I don’t care about political and cultural labels. I care about results.” 

Bob back again:

Every one needs a three-part personal strategy to fight poverty.

First, we need to know what we will do when an apartment building burns down in our town and 150 people are homeless, when a hurricane hits the city in our nation, or when an earthquake strikes another part of our world. We need to know where we will give to meet these need and we need to hold charities accountable.

Secondly, we need to support job creation.  We need to support government policies that promote job creation and we need to invest in companies that are strategic in job growth.

Thirdly, we need to consider how we spend money each day.  Each day we can choose farmers’ markets, shops, restaurants, and other local businesses that create jobs in our communities.  We need to look at the priorities and strategies of the retail chains in our cities.  We need to spend our money with an agenda.

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