Benjamin Franklin – … Management of the Poor

In an essay entitled “On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor” published in 1776 (cool year to publish stuff). Ben talks about how taxes and tariffs are hurting the farmers. He discusses how if Corn is not allowed to be exportable, then other items should also not be exportable. Why keep the price of one item low, and allow another item to go up due to heavy supply. You can read the full essay at founding.com.

The main point I want to bring out is his idea of welfare and how to treat the poor among us. He states:

“For my own part, I am not so well satisfied of the goodness of this thing. I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer. There is no country in the world where so many provisions are established for them; so many hospitals to receive them when they are sick or lame, founded and maintained by voluntary charities; so many alms-houses for the aged of both sexes, together with a solemn general law made by the rich to subject their estates to a heavy tax for the support of the poor. Under all these obligations, are our poor modest, humble, and thankful; and do they use their best endeavors to maintain themselves, and lighten our shoulders of this burthen? On the contrary, I affirm that there is no country in the world in which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken, and insolent. The day you passed that act, you took away from before their eyes the greatest of all inducements to industry, frugality, and sobriety, by giving them a dependence on somewhat else than a careful accumulation during youth and health, for support in age or sickness. In short, you offered a premium for the encouragement of idleness, and you should not now wonder that it has had its effect in the increase of poverty. Repeal that law, and you will soon see a change in their manners. St. Monday, and St. Tuesday, will cease to be holidays. SIX days shalt thou labour, though one of the old commandments long treated as out of date, will again be looked upon as a respectable precept; industry will increase, and with it plenty among the lower people; their circumstances will mend, and more will be done for their happiness by inuring them to provide for themselves, than could be done by dividing all your estates among them.”

What I believe he is saying is that you need to make it uncomfortable for the poor, or they will remain poor. If they have to pull themselves up, then they will. It is in the best interest of society to not enable the poor. This also relates to a previous post I made entitled “Benjamin Franklin – Pleasure and Pain“. Everything we do is driven by pain or being uncomfortable. If we make welfare a comfortable state (which current and passed policies have done), then there is no reason for action. But if we make being poor uncomfortable, or painful, the we as humans will resort to action to minimize or eliminate the unprofitableness of it.

To many programs for the poor, keep the poor poor. A welfare state has never encouraged anyone to become more than a welfare state.

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