In the mid-18th century, the British Parliament was tampering with the price of various commodities, imposing tariffs and duties on the importing and exporting of these commodities in the American colonies and elsewhere in the Empire. Then, as today, this type of government meddling was ostensibly meant to help the poor. Thankfully, many American patriots realized that these centralizing policies helped no one but the State, and only served to perpetuate the dependency of the poor on their masters.
Check out this scathing commentary from a letter penned by Benjamin Franklin, published in The London Chronicle in 1766, titled “On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor”:
I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.
There is no country in the world where so many provisions are established for them; so many hospitals to receive them when they are sick or lame, founded and maintained by voluntary charities; so many alms-houses for the aged of both sexes, together with a solemn general law made by the rich to subject their estates to a heavy tax for the support of the poor. Under all these obligations, are our poor modest, humble, and thankful; and do they use their best endeavors to maintain themselves, and lighten our shoulders of this burden? On the contrary, I affirm that there is no country in the world in which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken, and insolent. The day you passed that act, you took away from before their eyes the greatest of all inducements to industry, frugality, and sobriety, by giving them a dependence on somewhat else than a careful accumulation during youth and health, for support in age or sickness. In short, you offered a premium for the encouragement of idleness, and you should not now wonder that it has had its effect in the increase of poverty.
[Read the full letter here. It’s great!]
Capitalists and libertarians are often accused of being apathetic toward the condition of the poor. In reality, capitalism remains the best and most effective means of alleviating poverty ever devised. For more on why Christians who are concerned for the poor (and, really, this ought to be a redundant phrase) should be capitalists, I highly recommend Jay Richards’ book Money, Greed, and God (my review).