The more things change…
Upon reading that advocates were–surprise surprise–lamenting that our safety net wasn’t big enough, a paragraph from the 19th century Irish writer/storyteller William Carleton came to mind. The story is the humorous tale, “Phil Purcell, the Pig-driver” and, as Carleton tells it, the events occurred in a time “unaccompanied by the improvements of poverty, sickness, and famine.” With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Carleton continues his ironic portrayal of poverty and a few other “improvements” of his day:
Political economy had not then taught the people how to be poor upon the most scientific principles; free trade had not shown the nation the most approved plan of reducing itself to the lowest possible state of distress; nor liberalism enabled the working classes to scoff at religion, and wisely to stop at the very line that lies between outrage and rebellion.
Many errors and inconveniences, now happily exploded, were then in existence. The people, it is true, were somewhat attached to their landlords, but still they were burdened with the unnecessary appendages of good coats and stout shoes; were tolerably industrious, and had the mortification of being able to pay their rents, and feed in comfort. They were not, as they are now, free from new coats and old prejudices, nor improved by the intellectual march of politics and poverty.
When either a man or a nation starves, it is a luxury to starve in an enlightened manner; and nothing is more consolatory to a person acquainted with public rights and constitutional privileges, than to understand those liberal principles upon which he fasts and goes naked.
I’m not sure if we can take solace or be distressed from the fact that something written about 250 years ago seems so similar to the situation we’re in today. I guess it’s one of those incontrovertible characteristics of human nature: there will always be poor people and there will always be those who know better than the rest of us how to “help” them.