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February 16, 2009

A Conservative Solution for Henrietta Hughes


At a Florida political rally designed to address the dwindling support for President Barack Obama’s so-called “stimulus” package, a woman by the name of Henrietta Hughes went up to the microphone and explained:


“I have an urgent need, unemployment and homelessness, a very small vehicle for my family and (me) to live in. The housing authority has two years’ waiting lists, and we need something more than the vehicle and the parks to go to. We need our own kitchen and our own bathroom. Please help.”


Predictably, Obama responded, “OK, Ms. Hughes, well we’re gonna do everything we can to help you.” The rally, full of Obama fans, exploded in cheers.


For the purposes of this column, let us put aside the compelling reports that Hughes has lied about her circumstances. Let us assume that Henrietta and her grown son have truly been homeless for a long time and would truly work hard to escape poverty. What can be done about it?


The answer has been tried and observed. Only conservative policies can improve the lives of the overwhelming majority of Americans in the short-run, and all Americans in the long run, pulling people like Henrietta up from the grip of poverty.


The most important action is the implementation of school choice in every county in America. It is quite astounding that Americans are currently forced to pay for, and if financially disadvantaged, forced to attend, schools handpicked by the government. School choice policies, which would be swiftly implemented once the selfish teachers unions are bypassed, would allow Americans to attend academically superior schools for a lower cost than that incurred currently through taxation. They would give us a generation of a more educated, internationally competitive workforce that is far less likely to have future Henriettas sleeping in their cars.


Another crucial, and more immediate action, is a commitment to cut all taxes, especially the popular ones. Current U.S. corporate taxes, which are among the highest in the world, are passed on to consumers through higher prices, and to employees through lower wages. This is not to mention that they encourage corporations to move abroad, and crucially, discourage foreign corporations from moving here. Cutting corporate taxes would benefit Henrietta through lower prices at the store, increased chances of employment in more U.S. and foreign corporations, and higher wages once she is employed. Further, cutting taxes for the “rich,” however that word is arbitrarily defined today, would also lead to increased investment in new and existing businesses, almost immediately reducing unemployment.


Aggressive and maximal expansion of free trade would give Henrietta access both to cheaper products and to greater opportunity for employment by U.S. firms selling more abroad. Cutting corporate welfare, such as agricultural subsidies, would not only reduce taxes for Henrietta and her employer, but would also reduce the arbitrarily inflated prices of food and other products. Removing obstacles for Americans wishing to purchase health insurance across state lines, and curtailing mandates for insurance companies, would give Henrietta and her employer significantly cheaper access to insurance.


These policies would not eliminate poverty in America (none ever could), but they would most certainly be the most successful at reducing it drastically. Would some people, for lack of effort or luck, fall through the cracks? Yes. As we have seen worldwide and for over decades, however, government is simply incapable of helping them effectively. This is where the private sector comes in again to save the day.


Rewind to the rally. Believe it or not, on its face, Obama’s response to Henrietta could be either a big government, liberal response or a small government, conservative answer. It entirely depends on what Obama means by the word “we.”


“We’re gonna do everything we can to help you,” Obama says. Had those words been uttered by an economic conservative (as opposed to a Bush-style “compassionate conservative”), they likely would have meant: “My family, your friends, your neighbors, our Church, charitable organizations and I are gonna scrape some money together and help find you some housing, until you’re ready to get back on your feet after the job training we’ll get you.”


But Obama is no economic conservative. By “we,” Obama means “government.” And by “help,” he means: “Congress and I will make sure to tax a third party, funnel the money through our agencies and get some of it to you. You’re welcome. You can thank us by giving us your vote in the next election, even though we simply gave you hard-earned money that we forcefully taxed away from someone else.”


Note the distinction between public and private charity that too many Americans seem to neglect. The government does not create wealth, it simply redistributes it. So why don’t those Americans who support big government “compassion” give their money directly to the poor or to private organizations that help the poor? Why perform charity through perpetually inefficient government? The answer is easy – the government forces other people to pay for the charities you believe are worthy. You clear your conscience, and you’re out less money than other people and the “rich.” It’s a win-win situation for you.


This is the mentality of those people who cheered wildly when Obama announced that “we” would help Henrietta. Has anyone asked them why, since they were standing within feet of her, they could not help her out themselves? Unfortunately, “we” means “other people.” And indeed, it turns out that a conservative woman ended up giving Henrietta a house to live in rent-free.


This is no anecdote. In his book Who Really Cares, Arthur Brooks reveals unsurprising research demonstrating that, although liberal families’ incomes average six percent more than those of conservative families, the latter give, on average, 30 percent more to charity. And it’s not limited to money – conservatives also donate more of their blood and time. Further, research finds that those Americans who believe that government has the role of “reducing income inequality” give a quarter of the amount donated by those who rebuff that principle.


Obama and Democratic leaders have proven that they will overlook the principles of small government and private charity that form the recipe for Henrietta’s escape from poverty. And their cheering supporters won’t mind – to them, nothing is better than making a sacrifice for Henrietta, except, well, forcing others to make a sacrifice for Henrietta.

© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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