Welcome to my blog where I will post commentary on issues ranging from fiction to public policy. Tucked away in the Idea Boxes are “how to” tips on a variety of projects that have become part of our family’s culture over the years. I hope you’ll find some useful ideas there. My blog will take you through the fantastic journey of writing and publishing fiction, as well as commentary on politics, cultural trends, book reviews and family.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Brooks on Welfare and Character

In last week’s New York Times, David Brooks broached the highly charged topic of welfare and personal responsibility in an article entitled “The Character Factory.”

There are good reasons why politicians and pundits won’t talk about this. In Brooks’ own words, “Nobody wants to be seen as blaming the victim.” And, of course, there is no reason to believe that the poor have less character than the rich.

A perceived lack of compassion for the poor is the biggest obstacle facing the Republican Party and is probably the main reason conservative doctrine has so little appeal for young people, women and immigrants.  Caring for the weak is the most fundamental value of modern progressive political thought.

Brooks wades into this hazardous terrain with a simple premise.  He compares the way we interact with the neediest segment of our population with the way we raise our own children and grandchildren:

“Nearly every parent on earth operates on the assumption that character matters a lot to the life outcomes of their children.  Nearly every government antipoverty program operates on the assumption that it doesn’t.”
Brooks goes on to tap into his considerable knowledge of behavioral science to support the concept that the ability to delay gratification, work hard and control impulsiveness is more important to later achievement than pure cognitive skills.

It’s one thing to agree with this premise and to practice it by means of the influence we have over the children in our own families.  And quite another to assume there’s some way such skills can be imposed by a government agency.

That said, the discussion of character building shouldn’t be off limits in our political discourse.  Those of us who hope to improve our collective future by decreasing the wealth gap and ensuring equal opportunity should not ignore the need for strength of character, not only in our own offspring but throughout society.