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by Marvin Olasky

Pub Date: May 7th, 1996
ISBN: 0-684-83000-0
Publisher: Free Press

 Only the deserving poor should be helped, argues Olasky (Journalism/Univ. of Texas), as he makes the case for a return to 19th-century welfare strategies and ``traditional American values.'' When President Franklin Pierce in 1854 vetoed mental health legislation inspired by Dorothea Dix's impassioned pleas, he argued that even worthwhile appropriations would push the federal government down a slippery slope and that ``the foundations of charity will be dried up at home.'' For Olasky this event exemplifies the contrast between the true American values of neighborly charity noted by de Tocqueville and the very different movement toward federal welfare that triumphed in Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. Olasky sees the 19th century as an ideal era, at least insofar as private charities both helped individuals on a more personal level and challenged them to change. Most such charities had a religious basis. The author believes in shame as an important force to turn people toward hard work and self- sufficiency. The Puritan work ethic is prominent in these pages: Olasky explicitly bases his views on what he calls a ``biblical'' theology, which is in fact narrowly Calvinist, asserting human depravity and wary of universalism in any form. This book contains the usual stock themes of the present debate, with references to dependency and wasteful bureaucracy, but Olasky argues that welfare should not be left totally to the altruism of individuals. He is opposed to block grants, which could be misused, and he supports the move toward reducing the federal tax burden while at the same time raising state taxes for ``social welfare purposes.'' One could be exempted from the state tax by giving the equivalent in cash or time to local poverty-fighting organizations. A useful but not profound contribution to the current debate.