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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Johnny Knew . . .

From good friend, Allen Jones:

Given the economic storm currently whirling the national landscape, I thought it might be a good time to share one of my favorite moments. One which I believe could impact a major misunderstanding among so many persons in our country.
Tommy Knew

Have you ever had difficulty defining the difference between 'charity' and 'welfare'? I would like to share a story that will forever remove that difficulty for you.

Come back with me to a warm, sunny October afternoon in 1977. We are in a Junior High School classroom in Omaha. Under the auspices of Junior Achievement, I am a small business owner who has volunteered to teach a six week course called Project Business. For one hour each Tuesday, I am presenting a program designed to help these young students better understand basic economics and the free enterprise system.

The windows are opened to a beautiful, blue sky, Nebraska autumn afternoon, and we have just started our fourth weekly session. Suddenly the door at the rear of the room opens and in steps Tommy.

I don't mind the interruption. Tommy always came into class after it started because he first had to report to his regular class of 'slow learners' down the hall and around the corner. Tommy had been selected to receive the 'enrichment experience' of participating in my Project Business class. He usually slipped quietly into a desk near the door, but today the only empty spot was a desk down in the first row, directly in front of me.

During the prior three sessions we had covered such things as pricing, profit and inflation. We learned how the interaction of supply and demand always moved the market toward an equilibrium price. We discovered how little of the price they paid for theirMcBurger was actually going into the owner's pocket. We learned that blaming higher prices for inflation was like blaming wet streets for the rainstorm.

The goal for today's session was, among other things, to teach the difference between charity and welfare.

We covered the recommended text material which dealt with various economically related needs such as housing, medical treatment, and poverty in general. We discussed thedesireability of helping people who were in 'need', and we explored the collectivist slogan, "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need". (Income Redistribution?)

I then said to the class: "We have here an idividual who has a need. It could be any number of things. He hasn't eaten for several days, he has a broken arm that requires medical attention, he is homeless, it doesn't matter. We can all agree he has a genuine need."

"If I reach into my pocket and take out some money to help him deal with his need, what do we call this act?" Immediately and to a student, the class responded "charity!"

"Now", I said, "we have this same person, same need upon which we can all agree is a real need. This time I reach into your pocket to take out some money to help him deal with his need. What do we call this act?"

Again the response was immediate. Like well trained Junior High School students, they shouted out in unison "welfare". . .all except Tommy who said, "No, that's theft!"

A murmur went through the class, "Yes, Tommy's right. When someone takes money out of your pocket to solve another's need, it is theft; welfare is a form of theft!"

Well, the only thing that kept me from hugging Tommy right then and there was the ringing of the bell. Class was over and the youngsters headed out the door into the crowded hallways all abuzz with their new found knowledge.

I don't know what became of Tommy, but I do believe, wherever he is, or whatever he is doing, he had helped me teach one more class of students an important and defining difference between charity and welfare.

Class dismissed!

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