On November 29, Values and Capitalism program manager Josh Good spoke with a group of students, faculty members and friends of Vanguard University on the topic, “Helping Without Hurting: How Free Enterprise Reframes U.S. Social Policy.” The lecture challenged students to think carefully about current anti-poverty spending, especially in light of the poverty rate at the outset of LBJ’s Great Society program (16.3 percent), which is quite close to today’s poverty rate (15.7 percent).

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The lecture began with a review of our current federal anti-poverty spending. These programs include Medicaid ($405 billion), the Earned Income Tax Credit ($51 billion), Supplemental Security Income ($47 billion), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ($84 billion) and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families ($21 billion). Moreover, the fast-rising pace at which some of these programs are growing is alarming: In 2000, the cost of our national food stamps program (SNAP) was $19.8 billion; in 2011, it was $84.6 billion—a 427 percent increase in just 11 years.

The lecture challenged students and faculty members to think beyond increasing our deficit spending each year, and to instead consider biblical principles that encourage more personal expressions of help for the poor—in ways that harness individual talent, the role of community, and positive and negative incentive structures. Possible reforms include a mandatory work component in SSI and undoing remaining marriage or fatherhood penalties in our current federal programs. Ultimately, the free enterprise system offers the most sustainable long-term solution to assisting the poor, and Christian churches and other civil society organizations can play a leading role in communicating new tools that promote work, encourage individual responsibility, and strengthen marriage and fatherhood in low-income populations.

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Dr. Ed Clarke, chair of Vanguard’s sociology department (center-left), offered a formal response to the lecture, and professors of history and political science Dr. Kevin Miller (left) and Dr. Darrin Guerra (right) moderated a thoughtful student Q&A session that followed.

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