Two Perspectives on Root Causes
The two perspectives on what constitutes the root causes of poverty and, therefore, how to resolve them, emerged when the six gubernatorial candidates met with the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition. On one side:
Republican John Robitaille, Governor Carcieri’s former communications director, said the large number of single-parent families in poor communities is a key factor contributing to childhood poverty. He said the state needs to streamline access to its social service programs and adopt “targeted and measurable” ways to deal with the root causes of poverty, he said.
And on the other:
Rabbi Alan Flam, a senior fellow at Brown University’s Swearer Center for Public Service, urged attendees to do more than write checks and organize food drives.
While such charitable acts are helpful, they don’t address the roots of poverty — or the ways to end it. Solutions require action in town halls and at the State House, he said. “We must act with a resolve and a belief that we can be a catalyst for change.”
One can fairly infer that Robitaille would decrease government incentives for the behavior that constitutes the root causes, while Flam, in attempting to leverage the government as his “catalyst for change,” would increase them. It’s an old debate, but I’d suggest that if we perpetuate the sense that the indigent have a civil right to government solutions, we’ll perpetuate the adolescent dependency that is primary among the roots.
We do have a moral obligation to assist those who need help, but that assistance must be seen as voluntary charity on our part, not as something that is owed to the recipients.