NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 1, 2005

According to Marvin Olasky's book, "The Tragedy of American Compassion," one of the results of a growing dependency on government is the charitable equivalent of Gresham's Law -- bad charities drive out good charities.

Consider two options for a homeless family:

  • A church or some other non-governmental entity might offer a homeless family shelter in return for the family performing chores such as cleaning the kitchen, mowing the lawn, and washing windows.
  • A shelter financed by the government might provide that family shelter with no such obligation.

The natural tendency for many homeless families would be to opt for the shelter where they have no obligation to give back. The Gresham's Law feature is the displacement of charity from the local and private level to the state, where the state is unwilling or unable to distinguish between deserving and undeserving need.

But there are other devastating features of a growing dependency on government, says Olaskly:

  • Prior to the 1960s, marriage was a more vital institution than it is today; the support for marriage was so strong that an unmarried woman who became pregnant would usually get married.
  • Nearly 85 percent of teenage mothers in the 1950s were married by the time their babies were born.
  • It has also reduced economic mobility among the poor.
  • Easy access to welfare has made many individuals believe they were better off so far as income, leisure time and family time than they would have been by accepting a low-paying job.

Source: Walter Williams, "Dependency on Government," Fraser Forum, September 2005; based upon: Marvin Olasky, The Tragedy of American Compassion, Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1992.


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues