Does More Spending Equal More Compassion?

Does More Spending Equal More Compassion? July 7, 2011

After watching Jim Wallis and Richard Land debate the budget on Bloggingheads and reading my colleague Jordan Sekulow’s Washington Post piece on the debt disaster, I realized once again that the religious left and the religious right seem to speak different languages when it comes to budgetary policy.

All too often it seems that the religious left virtually takes for granted that the hundreds of billions of dollars spent fighting poverty and funding education (to take two examples) represent money well spent and that cutting that funding is “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor” or “sacrificing our children’s future.”  Yet does more money equal better outcomes?  Consider the chart below:


And for a graphical look at education expenses, click here.

To translate from chart-speak, both show that hundreds of billions of dollars (if not trillions) in spending have not (1) lowered the poverty rate; or (2) improved educational outcomes.

Regarding poverty, the single-best indicator of family outcome is family status.  Simply put, intact families have a low poverty rate.  Single-parent families have a high poverty rate.  And to the extent government funding impacts family status, it often does so negatively — by making single-parent poverty more sustainable over the long term.

Regarding education, there is also strong evidence that family status is a prime predictor of educational outcome.  And anecdotal evidence from successful charter and private schools indicate that strong teaching can overcome even poor families — and this strong teaching comes from schools that have much lower funding levels (on average) than the public school system.

Our poverty and education problems are cultural, not budgetary, and we simply can’t print enough money to cover the social costs of illegitimacy and divorce.  It is a symbol of our nation’s underlying strength that we’ve been able to prosper for decades while diverting astounding amounts of money into ineffective programs, but we can’t afford such waste any longer.


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