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So some folks are nostalgic for a time before the New Deal, when charity worked: ""Before the rise of the massive welfare state, Americans gave massive amounts of charity.…"
"In 1926, religious congregations spent more than $150 million on projects other than church maintenance and upkeep, with state governments spending just $23 million and local governments spending $37 million" dailysignal.com/2019/03/13/wha…
Before you say "oh he's just a crank," note he cites an actual academic paper to support his case: nber.org/papers/w11332
Gruber and Hungerman find that New Deal relief spending crowded out church charitable spending.
That is, once the federal government took up the business of aid to the poor, people stopped having churches do it.
Now, one's reaction to that might be "good; the ability to get relief should depend on need, and not on membership in or proximity to one or another church."
In fact that's my reaction.
But Hungerman and Gruber worry that the state might not be as efficient at providing relief as private agencies.
"If churches are superior providers of social services, then the government is imposing a sizeable cost by providing those services itself"
The historians out here are probably saying to themselves "that's one heck of an 'if,' my economist friends."
In fact, many of us historians are probably thinking, that "if," that's the kind of question that might be answered by a bit of research, or if you will grubbing for facts
I mean, *were* churches superior providers of social services in the Great Depression? we could ask them, you know
or rather, we could pull off the shelf a book or two in which historians have already done the hard work of asking them, like @AlisonGreene 's fine NO DEPRESSION IN HEAVEN …
in which we find churchfolk welcoming New Deal relief. Here's a Baptist minister in June 1933: "We should whole-heartedly assist and co-operate with our virile president for a new deal. In all things he is right, except in the repeal of the 18th Amendment."
We can read about the Arkansas Catholic priest who said the New Deal represented the "great cause of recovery by social justice"
Greene points out the shift to public funding for what had been private relief was not only welcomed, but was "something many religious leaders had urged" for the obvious reason that "Religious, ethnic, and civic organizations could not meet the exigencies of the depression."
Hungerman and Gruber's data may be right in showing that folks were giving the same share of their income right through the Great Depression before the New Deal.
But those incomes were plummeting while the need was skyrocketing; it was, after all, the *Great* Depression.
Hoover operated on the logic of private efficiency, continuing to push public funds through private agencies through the last months of his presidency. But when Roosevelt came in, that changed. As one New Deal relief official, a social worker named Josephine Brown, explained,
"the financing and administration of public benefits for persons in need was definitely established as being the responsibility of government and not of private citizens, however organized or however charitably disposed."
Greene notes the crowding-out, too. But she's clear on its need:
She notes that in Memphis, for example, in 1929, relief aid amounted to 41¢ per person, 68% of which came from private sources.
That rose to 88¢ per person, 85% from private sources, in 1931.
But in 1933, the expenditure was $4.36 per person, of which only 9.3% came from private sources.
The need of relief was greater than charity could meet.
The inadequacy of charities in the face of the Depression is, in fact, super well known. You could pick up Lizabeth Cohen's MAKING A NEW DEAL and find it there: "private charities could not handle the enormous need."
In Chicago (the city Cohen researched) religious charities flat failed. "Our waiting rooms are full of people.… But our pocket books are empty," the staff of a Jewish charity lamented.
Catholic congregations (which Hungerman and Gruber's data don't cover) despaired and even grew resentful at the Church's charitable failures, saying of the Church's fine real estate, "See what a swell place we pay to keep up."
If the New Deal "crowded out" charities, it's because the charities were literally bankrupt and unable to do their jobs.
No wonder Roosevelt adopted the religious language of "social justice" in describing the purpose of his campaign, saying "social justice" must guide "social action."
He remarked indirectly on the alleged efficiency of private charity in summarizing the "two theories of prosperity and of well-being":
"first, the theory that if we make the rich richer, somehow they will let a part of their prosperity trickle through to the rest of us"
And then, of course, there was the other theory: "if we make the average of mankind comfortable and secure their prosperity it will rise upward just as yeast rises upward through the ranks."
For that, he proposed increased funding for public health, workers' compensation, old-age insurance, programs to help the mentally and physically disabled live in the community rather than in asylums, national unemployment insurance.
Charity is, of course, an instance of the first, spectacularly failed, "trickle down" theory. Public funding for the general welfare is what folks voted for when they voted for the New Deal.
Why yes, you can read more about that theory of public welfare and its centrality to the earliest New Deal in the chapter "Social Justice Warrior" of the book WINTER WAR: basicbooks.com/titles/eric-ra…
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