The 240 poor people thrown out of Patten Towers in the heart of downtown Chattanooga are as much victims of government intervention and their own poverty of prospect as they are of a dangerous electrical fire in the basement.. The first dollar of any government handout turns the soul of a person into dishrag waiting to soak up the second dollar. A man becomes a gimme. He loses his internal resources.
The federal government’s Section 8 rules to subsidize rents for the poor creates housing market dislocations and malinvestment. Patten Towers violates important concepts of local economy and community. It segregates the poor from the rest of society. It keeps them isolated. Packing them together thwarts any colorful blooms in outlook, makes it difficult for them to expect more of themselves to escape a beggared state. Welfare dependents become stagnant in their thinking. Not encouraged to be entrepreneurial, they receive no motivation to serve others or create a market. In a “food desert,” they are probably overweight and careless; they possess few savings, little capital and are accustomed to satisfying temporal pleasures before thinking long term.
At Patten Towers are people of Christian virtue and other-worldly character, people who pray for neighbors and are caring, attentive. But many are possessed by a short-term perspective that waits keenly on weekend satisfactions. Psychologically and morally crippled; that’s how many clients of the department of housing and urban development clients end up. The dole does not encourage departure. It drains the spirit.
Patten Towers violates local economy in centralizing housing for Uncle Sam’s wards and denying them occasion to mix and mingle with regular people such as you. They dwell in a monoculture, an artificial society. Why suppose interactions with people like you might be important? Because you live in the world, with contacts, connections and ideas they lack. You are productive, cultured; you read; you attend church. You would tend to want to help that person become independent, self-sustaining, employed. Patten Tower residents don’t hear the sort of queries, even sermonizing, they might get from you (or me).
Charity by government agency is statutory, administrative and is based on exertion of procedural rights (and submission of a properly filled form). Because charity under Uncle’s auspices is anonymous, recipients need not have thankful hearts. Nor are they held accountable for their thoughts or actions. Christianity has a long history of benevolence and charity for the deserving poor, with an interest in the soul and self-help.‡
‡ See the works of Marvin Olasky on this point, namely Tragedy of American Compassion.