A regular Christmas tradition in my family is finding just the right book as a gift; the right book meaning it will be as interesting to the recipient as the giver. So following this tradition, I was finishing up my gift to my brother the other night, Bill Bryson's At Home: A Short History of Private Life and came across a passage on poverty and the plight of the poor, and particularly children, in England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
No one better represented the harsh side of beliefs than the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), whose Essay on the Principle of Population as It Affects the Future Improvements of Society was published anonymously in 1798 and became immediately and resoundingly influential. Malthus blamed the poor for their own hardships and opposed the idea of relief for the masses on the grounds that it simply increased their tendency to idleness. "Even when they have an opportunity of saving," he wrote, "they seldom exercise it for all that is beyond their present necessities goes, generally speaking, to the ale-house. The poor-laws of England may therefore be said to diminish both the power and the will to save among the common people, and thus to weaken one of the strongest incentives to sobriety and industry, and consequently to happiness." He was particularly troubled by the Irish, and believed, as he wrote to a friend in 1817, that "a great part of the population should be swept from the soil." This was not a man with a lot of Christian charity in his heart.
How little things change.
Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) had said in March that Unemployment Benefits insurance "doesn't create new jobs. In fact, if anything, continuing to pay [unemployed] people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work."
Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said in May that extended Unemployment Benefits undermine economic recovery because they "basically keep an economy that encourages people to, rather than go out and look for work, to stay on unemployment."
At a June hearing on long-term unemployment, Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.) said, "Even when businesses are willing to hire, nearly two years of unemployment benefits are too much of an allure for some," and: "The evidence is mounting that so-called stimulus policies rammed through Congress are doing more harm than good."
And the real topper:
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah): "You know, we should not be giving cash to people who basically are just going to blow it on drugs."
There's not a lot of Christian charity in the hearts of modern-day conservatives, either, apparently. Next step, poor houses.