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What About Bob?


It’s not that I don’t want to help the poor.  I just don’t want the government, or anyone else, telling me that I have to.  I also want to make sure it goes to someone who might actually need it rather than someone who’s just too lazy to fend for themselves.


Imagine you have a friend named Bob.  Bob has a crappy job and his wife just had a baby so he asks you for a few bucks so he can get food for the family.  Being a nice person, you lend… no, you give Bob some money.


A couple weeks later, Bob hits you up again.  This time it’s the light bill that needs paying.  “Sure, buddy!,” you say.  “I’d hate to see you and the family without power.”  And you give him some more money.


Time goes by and this becomes a ritual.  Every couple weeks, Bob hits you up for some cash.  Maybe it’s the gas bill this time, maybe his car needs fixed.  Maybe the baby’s sick and Bob doesn’t have health insurance at his crappy job.  Every couple weeks, you’re writing checks for Bob because you’re a nice guy who doesn’t like to see his friend suffer.  Besides, your job pays well enough and the cash going out doesn’t really hurt you and would probably only get wasted on something frivolous anyway.


In the meantime, you’re trying to help Bob in other ways.  You invite him and the family over for dinner about once a week.  You’re constantly on the lookout for better jobs for Bob.  Maybe you buy yourself a new car and give him your old one, which is in better shape than that POS he’s driving around.


You’re helping a friend and you feel good about yourself.  Some things are troubling you, though.  Despite all the job leads you’ve given Bob, he seems content to stay at his same craptastic gig.  If you ask him about it, he gets defensive.  Whenever you guys get together, it’s always at your house, never at his.  One day you run into him in the electronics department of the local Sears store, checking out the big screen TVs.  He seems nervous at first when you start talking to him, then mentions how the TV in his living room isn’t working right and he was here looking for something to replace it, even though he doesn’t have the money.


The hint here is obvious, but you ignore it.  Instead, you tell him about this TV repair place that does good work on the cheap.  He tells you he’ll look into it and goes away looking a little disappointed.


A couple weeks later, you decide to pick up a pizza and a couple six packs and head over to Bob’s place.  He’s surprised and a little defensive when you get there, but lets you in.  What you find there surprises you.  There’s a new stove and refrigerator in the kitchen.  The baby has all new clothes and toys.  Bob’s wife is in the living room playing Skyrim on a new X-Box in glorious HD on the brand new 55 inch flat screen telly.


You’ve got a dilemma now, don’t you?  It’s quite obvious that Bob can get along without the money you’ve been giving him for the past few months.  If you’ve got half a brain, you cut Bob off from your largess.  It’s obvious he doesn’t really need the money and help you’ve been giving him.  It’s also obvious that he’s become more than a little dependent on your help, since he hasn’t done anything to get himself a better job.


Now, since you’ve been giving him money out of the kindness of your heart, you’re free to cut him off when you see he’s been abusing your charity.  On the other hand, if your money is given to him through a government program, you can’t cut him off.  Uncle Sam takes the money from your paycheck before you ever see it and gives it to Bob and millions of others like Bob.


These days, there’s little to no incentive for the Bobs in this country to do something to better themselves.  If you complain about the Bobs buying big screen TVs and carts full of Cheetos with your money, you’re called a heartless bastard not willing to help the poor and downtrodden.


Jerry Pournelle once wrote a great essay about deserving poor and undeserving poor.  The deserving poor are those who are truly in need.  For some reason, perhaps a physical or mental handicap, perhaps a temporary setback like a layoff, perhaps some other reason I haven’t thought of, they can’t provide for themselves.  They want to, though, and are trying to find a way to do so.  These people are deserving of help and, as a society, we should help them.


The undeserving poor are the Bobs of the world.  They don’t want to get better.  They don’t want to provide for themselves.  They simply want the government to give them money so they can eat Cheetos and watch Two and A Half Men on the big screen.  Perhaps they feel they’re entitled to free stuff because the government’s told them they’re a minority or a special needs group.  Perhaps they’re third generation Bobs who’ve never known any other kind of life.  These folks, the Bobs, not only don’t deserve our help, they deserve a swift kick in the morals.


We’ve also got a skewed idea of what poverty is in this country.  I’ve been in countries with true poverty, where families of six or more are living in one room shacks with no running water or electricity.  They work or farm so that they can scrape up enough food so the baby doesn’t cry with hunger.  In America, you’re considered impoverished if you can’t afford cable.


In the meantime, there’s a vet with PTSD living under a bridge somewhere because we can’t afford adequate mental health care in this country.  If we took the money we were giving to Bob and used it to help those who truly needed it, maybe that vet would get the help he needed.


The argument that keeps getting presented is a false one.  It’s not that I’m a cruel and heartless bastard who doesn’t want to help those in need.  I want to help those in need become people who aren’t dependent.  I want to raise them up so they can help themselves.  I want them to feel the pride of working in order to support themselves and their families.  I want them to get to the point where they don’t need help anymore.  I want Bob to become a productive member of society, able to stand on his own and perhaps help someone who needs it like he once did.


Is that really cruel and heartless?

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    Response: Frank Dellaglio
    Carbonados Media - Musings - What About Bob?
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    Response: Frank Dellaglio
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