Ryan T. Anderson of The Public Discourse draws from Lawrence Mead’s work From Prophecy To Charity: How To Help The Poor to argue that lifestyle choices, not economics is the underlying issue cause of why the poor remain poor. The economic troubles of the poor are a result of their lifestyle choices as well as political and cultural pressures. As Christians we have a moral responsibility to manifest God’s goodness and to lead by example.
The primary focus of the common good is community morality: helping others to be moral beings, promoting respect for the inalienable rights for the human person and the social well-being of various groups. The redistribution of wealth by the State is not an essential element of the common good. The common good consists of the redistribution of charity in love. Charity in love is incompatible with the State forcing people to pay taxes against their will. Giving has to be an act of the will, a free act of choice, to fulfill the essential aspect of charity in love.
The common good refers to a “good” that is shared, beneficial to all members of a given community, which is in pursuit of virtue while living in accordance with the moral law.
Here the Catechism gives the Church’s definition of the common good:
1906 By common good is to be understood “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily. The common good concerns the life of all. It calls for prudence from each, and even more from those who exercise the office of authority. It consists of three essential elements:
1907 First, the common good presupposes respect for the person as such. In the name of the common good, public authorities are bound to respect the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person. Society should permit each of its members to fulfill his vocation. In particular, the common good resides in the conditions for the exercise of the natural freedoms indispensable for the development of the human vocation, such as “the right to act according to a sound norm of conscience and to safeguard . . . privacy, and rightful freedom also in matters of religion.”
1908 Second, the common good requires the social well-being and development of the group itself. Development is the epitome of all social duties. Certainly, it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a family, and so on.
1909 Finally, the common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order. It presupposes that authority should ensure by morally acceptable means the security of society and its members. It is the basis of the right to legitimate personal and collective defense.
Ryan T. Anderson is critical of both the libertarian and liberals views on how to fight poverty. He notes that ‘A sound political philosophy would hold that the state should be concerned about the welfare of all people. This means that our obligation to the poor has to be tied to their well-being, and thus necessarily connected to influencing their behavior.” He points out that in early political philosophy that being concerned for persons “moral and behavioral infrastructure” in addition to the physical infrastructure was known as the common good. He notes: “The critical questions for Mead are these: What do the poor really need? How can we effectively meet that need? Money comes second to what Mead argues the poor truly deserve: a lifestyle transformation. “Progress against poverty,” he insists, “requires programs with the capacity to redirect lives, not just transfer resources.” In reaching that goal, he adds, “recent conservative policies are more effective than what came before, and it would be a mistake to abandon them.”’
“Mead self-consciously argues against those who “have contended that the poor are entitled to aid regardless of lifestyle or, alternatively, that they should get nothing at all from government.” Instead Mead’s main focus is on “right relationships”. “In an affluent society like ours, Mead argues, “poverty is not usually forced on people for very long by conditions.” Rather, “most have become poor, at least in part, due to not working, having children outside marriage, abusing drugs, or breaking the law.” Simply doling out more money does not counter these underlying causes of poverty, which call for behavior changes that encourage law-abiding, productive lives.”
Why do healthy working-age people makeup most of those who are poor? ‘Mead argues that “poor families typically arise when parents have children without marrying and then do not work regularly to support them.” This pattern provokes a vicious cycle: children reared in these circumstances grow up to be poor themselves because they are more likely to drop out of school, get involved in crime and drugs, become sexually active at a young age, and never learn the value of an honest day’s work. “By these routes,” he says, “women end up early as single mothers on welfare while men go to prison. … Despite having children, neither men nor women usually attempt to marry or work regularly. That is the immediate reason they usually become poor.” If one graduates from high school, gets a job, marries, and then has kids—in that order—there is very little chance of falling into poverty.”‘
Mead points out that the 1996 Welfare Reform worked. It worked because there were strings attached. Those who received the money were required to work.
“According to Mead, “Most experts opposed reform, believing that few poor could work, given the barriers they faced. But most welfare mothers successfully left the rolls for jobs, with most of the leavers emerging better off.” This confirmed Mead’s central insight that cultural (and political) expectations, not economic barriers, prevented employment.”
Then he points out the reason why liberal policies have failed to help the poor move up the economic ladder in society. He writes “It is indeed true that liberal social programs have been counterproductive, but that is chiefly because they are permissive, giving no clear guidance about how recipients ought to behave.”
Mead argues that a second round of welfare reform should include effective programs that put nonworking men in the workforce and paternalism.
“Mead argues that the most effective welfare programs administered by the states “all set clearer rules for client behavior and back them up with oversight. Evaluations confirm that paternalistic programs generally perform better than nondirective ones.” Religious and other non-governmental partnerships can play an important role in this, Mead suggests.”