Culture > Notable Books

During December many newspapers run articles on the plights of homeless individuals and others among the poor. Many of our readers know of WORLD editor-in-chief Marvin Olasky's books on poverty-fighting, such as The Tragedy of American Compassion and Compassionate Conservatism. Here are his recommendations concerning five little-known books on the subject.

The Dream and the Nightmare

CONTENT Magnet readably explains how liberal ideological constructs concerning work, mental illness, and education produced awful consequences for the poor; they did for the rich also, but a wealthy single mom had far more options than her counterpart. He skewers warm fictions about homelessness leading to crime, noting that criminal behavior usually comes first.

GIST One of the books President Bush said helped him to understand the need to substitute a culture of responsibility for the false id.

Poor Policy

CONTENT Schansberg shows the illogic of most of the usual poverty remedies, including government-mandated redistribution, minimum-wage laws, governmental job training programs, rent control or other housing policies, and governmental foreign aid. He sharply but accurately describes how government has mandated a pathetic level of education, and maps out the road to recovery.

GIST A readable, biblically based economic analysis of how and why governmental anti-poverty policies have often produced the opposite of what they intended.

Overcoming Welfare

CONTENT Payne clearly explains why government cannot maintain the kind of tough love that leads people out of poverty. He shows that sympathy is cheap, and exchange-expecting something in return for assistance given, from those capable of working-is crucial. The subtitle-Expecting More from the Poor and from Ourselves-suggests the need for more volunteering by the non-needy.

GIST A strongly written analysis of the difference between "sympathetic giving" and "expectant giving."

What Makes Charity Work?

CONTENT Howard Husock's "How the Agency Saved My Father" and Brian Anderson's "How Catholic Charities Lost Its Soul" show the positives and negatives of action by religious organizations, and the danger of governmental strings. Heather MacDonald's articles, with titles like "The Billions of Dollars That Make Things Worse," are clear-eyed analyses of good intentions going awry.

GIST Articles from New York's City Journal showing how welfare programs treat the poor as victims and assume fatalistically that they'll stay that way.

The Theology of Welfare

CONTENT The mix of participants (a liberal Catholic and a traditional Catholic, a Reform Jew and an Orthodox Jew, two liberal and two conservative Protestants) produced both heat and light on the four building-block topics: What Is Human Nature? What Is Evil? What Is the Purpose of Government and Civic Life? What Would a Biblical Welfare Program Look Like?

GIST The Discovery Institute brought together eight people to spend two days discussing and showing how particular presuppositions lead to clashing positions on welfare.


Americans are looking for ways to help the poor that differ from the left's failed strategies. Even voters in liberal San Francisco last month showed their appetite for change by voting to reduce the monthly, no-questions-asked cash allowance for homeless single adults from at least $320 to $59. Politicians even in Santa Monica, Madison, and other liberal strongholds are buying into the key compassionate conservative concept that the welfare state is stingy when it merely passes out cash to the poor and ignores psychological and spiritual problems.

Books that display new thinking, along with those listed above, include:

Restorers of Hope (Crossway, 1997), Loving Your Neighbor (Capital Research Center, 1995), and Transforming Welfare (Acton Institute, 1997). The first book, by Amy Sherman, profiles Christian charities around the country and discusses church-government partnerships.

The latter two are collections of papers and articles that show how and why some secular liberal projects have gone awry and some church-based attempts have succeeded.


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