I wasn’t sure if I’d post this because even if it was heavily relevant to anarchism I didn’t get a good grade on it (a C) but I made some corrections to it and am interested in some constructive criticism of it.
To see the sources I linked copy and paste them into Google is what I’d recommend, I couldn’t transfer the links on to the page.
WRI 105 L
11 November 2009
Who should care for the poor?
Poverty is a huge issue around the world and not only in the world but in America as well and there has always been a particular interest in how best to solve it. The issue of poverty matters because how the poor are treated doing economically reflects on society at large. If the poor are not well cared for or are suffering it stands to reason that the rich are not that well treated either. And if the poor are not well off or taken care of so they can get back on their feet this reveals an economic instability in society. Not only this, but such economic instability can lead to greater social instability. Such instability does not seem that far away if as according to the 2009 census poverty is, “…14.3 percent—up from 13.2 percent in 2008. This was the second statistically significant annual increase in the poverty rate since 2004.” (Walt, Proctor and Smith) Clearly poverty has not gone away in recent years and is getting worse. In America the safety net is a series of payments and benefits given to the poor through either government or private relief and is supposed to help them out of their low economic status. But it seems since poverty rates have only been increasing in recent years that the safety net is not doing its job.
Instead of relying on this government provided safety net the poor should rely on mutual aid societies that historically have taken care of the poor. Mutual aid societies are voluntary organizations that exist to provide relief for people who are having difficulties with getting basic necessities or exist as a type of insurance. Current examples of mutual aid societies include Wikipedia, Habitat for Humanity and others have been set up ad hoc in times of need throughout history. Mutual aid societies would help create a better and stronger safety net for the poor than government provided assistance. One type of a mutual aid society that specifically catered to black people was The United Order of True Reformers which was led by William Washington Browne and eventually gained national prominence. (Doyle) This society existed from the early 20th century to the time of the Great Depression. Mutual aid societies were not intended to be as large scale as government provided assistance to the poor and so their expenditures were highly disproportionate to governments in most cases. Other examples of mutual-aid societies and how successful they were can be found through the research of David Beito. (Beito, From Mutual Aid to Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services; From Mutual Aid to Welfare State: How Fraternal societies Fought Poverty and Improved Character)
In order to understand what other forms of care for the poor have been attempted it helps to look over noticeable policies that the US government has passed. Dating back to the New Deal policies in the 1930s and expanded in the early 60s with President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty have been bills that offer another way of aiding the poor. Since the war on poverty began one of the biggest policy changes was the 1996 welfare reform bill passed in spite of the opposition in congress. Specific opposition came from such notable political officials as Barack Obama and Rudy Giuliani because of discrimination against immigrants in the bill. (Carpenter; Wallace) One of the new policies that came from the bill was a federal program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This new agency replaced the old federal program Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and TANF is now being used by most low-income households with a single parent. (Conte) The safety net this policy sets up however is susceptible to recessions and depressions and if it would fail would leave the poor to be largely without any financial assistance. In a 2009 article in the USA Today Dennis Cauchon said,” In all, government spending on benefits will top $2 trillion in 2009 — an average of $17,000 provided to each U.S. household, federal data show.” (Dennis) Other problems with the TANF is that some who live in poverty are left out of the benefits it provides. (“Employment Situation Summary”) It would seem however, that TANF and other polices like it should be secure with all of the spending that government puts toward assisting the poor. With all of this money why is the safety net still so unstable? The safety net should be stronger than this if the poor are going to survive and get jobs. The poor will not be able to do this if the safety net they may have to rely on cannot even support them. Alternatives need to be turned to so the stress can be taken off the safety net and the poor can more easily prosper.
Weak alternatives are being used today; private aid is done through charities, homeless shelters, and non-profit organizations. These organizations are being overcrowded and this is quickly becoming one of the biggest problems. (Bailey Jr.) Organizations that get funded through government have a tough time, and the ones that don’t get such funding are struggling more. The truly alternative ones however are completely non-profit and run on only voluntary donations and no government funding. These organizations act within the same spirit of the mutual aid societies of the early 20th century. Mutual aid societies however did not have such a problem. Evidence comes from Roderick T. Long, a professor at Auburn University, who wrote a brief essay on mutual-aid societies called How Government Solved the Health Care Crisis: Medical Insurance That Worked – Until Government “Fixed” It.
In this essay he remarked that:
Most remarkable was the low cost at which these medical services were provided. At the turn of the century, the average cost of “lodge practice” to an individual member was between one and two dollars a year. A day’s wage would pay for a year’s worth of medical care. By contrast, the average cost of medical service on the regular market was between one and two dollars per visit. Yet licensed physicians, particularly those who did not come from “big name” medical schools, competed vigorously for lodge contracts, perhaps because of the security they offered; and this competition continued to keep costs low. (Long)
The low cost and the added resources this gave the poor helped them be able to spend more on themselves and other essentials. With this increased wealth the poor could also help themselves get a better economic standing and contribute better to society and the economy. Long proves here that mutual aid societies have been able to help many people specifically the poor.
However both conservatives and progressives would admonish the idea of no government help to the poor. The idea that the poor should rely on these mutual aid societies would result in those who live in poverty to be in worse conditions. The mutual aid societies in short, would not be able to adapt to the present conditions of society and disappeared over time exactly because they couldn’t. These criticisms are fair; because after all mutual aid societies stopped having a central role in American society back when the Great Depression started. And since mutual aid societies do not have such a prominent role in American society anymore it makes it hard to see how they could readjust to society. Taking another look at history however shows that mutual aid societies weren’t at all hard to access for the poor or to adjust to different times. And to add to this there’s evidence from other articles such as Friendly Societies: Voluntary Social Security and More by John Chodes that these mutual aid societies have been around for even longer than the early 20th century, “Various forms of friendly societies have existed since ancient China, Greece, and Rome. In Britain, they arose out of the guild system. Daniel Defoe wrote in 1697 that friendly societies were “very extensive” in England. In the mid-18th century, as the Industrial Revolution hastened the growth of British towns, the friendly society system became well established.” (Chodes) Mutual aid societies could not only adapt to different times but in different parts of the world. And the fact that mutual aid societies had arisen out of so many different systems and different places shows that they can also help on a large scale basis as well.
Mutual aid societies are a radical alternative to the safety net in the US and throughout history have been a great help to the poor. Mutual aid societies are an alternative to the provided welfare as well as policies like the TANF. They are also a much more viable help for the poor than the weak alternatives of private aid that is assisted by government funding. People in congress and influence policies on giving financial assistance to the poor should take note of this alternative. The idea of mutual aid societies should be shown to people through the discussion and debate among high ranking officials and other people of power. The policies that have tried to better serve the poor have the right idea but are not being implemented correctly and are failing the poor. Mutual aid societies will better help support the poor without the arduous process of instituting countless new laws and with the added benefit that they have historical precedence, especially in the US.
Betio, David. From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services,
1890-1967 (North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1999) Google Books edition, Accessed November 7 2010
Betio, David. “From Mutual Aid to Welfare State: How Fraternal Societies Fought Poverty and
Taught Character,” The Heritage Foundation, July 27 2000, Accessed November 8 2010
Carpenter, Amanda. “Giuliani Oppose Welfare Reform in Order to Protect Illegals,” May 14 2007, Human Events, Accessed November 7 2010
Chodes, John. “Friendly Societies: Voluntary Social Security And More,” The Freeman, March
1990, Volume: 40, Issue: 3, Accessed November 7 2010
Conte, Christopher: “Welfare, Work and the States,” The CQ Researcher, Dec. 6 1996, pp.
1057-1080, Accessed November 7 2010
Davis, Teddy, Wallace, Gregory. “Obama Shifts on Welfare Reform,” July 1 2008, ABC News,
Accessed November 10 2010
DeNavas-Walt, Carmen, Proctor, Bernadette and Smith, Jessica: “Income, Poverty, and Health
Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009,” p.22; Accessed November 7 2010
Cauchon, Dennis , “Benefit spending soars to new high,” USA Today, June 4, 2009, p. A1.,
Accessed November 7 2010
Doyle, Stuart, “Fraternal Lodges: Developing & Expanding the Village in Rural Southern
Virginia,” Chickenbones: A Journal, May 21 2009, Accessed November 7 2010
Bailey Jr. Everton, “Free clinics hit with more patients, less funding,” The Associated Press,
July 20, 2009, Accessed November 7 2010
Long, Roderick: “How Government Solved the Health Care Crisis: Medical Insurance That
Worked – Until Government “Fixed It,” Libertarian Nation Foundation; Volume 1,
Number 2 – issue #2 – (Winter 1993-94) Accessed November 7 2010
N.p., Employment Situation Summary,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2, 2009 Accessed
November 7 2010