Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Filling the 'Need Vacuum'

Aftermath of the 1900 Galveston hurricane
Photo Credit: RitaInfo.com

There is a sufficiency in the world for man's need, but not for man's greed.” - Mohandas Gandhi

If you aren't from Texas, you may have never heard of the coastal town of Galveston. Back around the end of the 19th century, Galveston was a thriving port and a booming city. Galveston in the late 1800's was the Houston of today! But on September 8, 1900, the greatest hurricane in America's history hit... the proud Galveston was reduced to rubble, her survivors left battered and homeless.

In the wake of that storm, a vacuum known as 'need' was created. Neighbors who were able helped those who weren't, and folks who had gave to those who had not. The federal government was not called upon for financial aid. Within three weeks, telegraph, water, and public transportation systems were restored!

Fast-forward 105 years and go a little east to examine Hurricane Katrina. There are two lessons here to take from that disaster:

  1. When the government puts their hands on, people take their hands off. People will not act where they are not needed. Given enough time, a sense of entitlement takes over and, rather than the gratitude seen in 1900, we end up with news-media, talking heads, and politicians, all crying foul over how Washington didn't act fast enough or on a large enough scale.
  2. Despite point #1, people everywhere flocked to help! Human beings are WIRED TO FILL NEEDS!!! Donations poured in and people came out to help rebuild. I say that, if our federal government hadn't lifted a finger or spent a dime, New Orleans would have still been rebuilt, because people would have filled the need vacuum.

Consider this: There was a time in America...

  • ...when grandma came home to live with the family because there was no Social Security.
  • ...when people who needed help with medical bills would find it in a caring neighbor, a church congregation, or even the kind doctor who would discount their price to whatever could be afforded.
  • ...when families who needed food and clothing did not get them from child tax credits and food stamps, but from the kindness and help of others.

That time is today! Even though it is on a lesser scale, there are still needs, so people still fill them. Take away every government subsidy and welfare program, and a giant need vacuum will open up... but people will fill it, because they want to and are wired to!

The best things about people helping people are the millions of small scale 'need-transactions' that are each individually held to accountability. If your neighbor is truly unable to work, you would feel good about helping them, right? But would you help someone who just didn't feel like getting out of bed to look for a job? Of course not! People helping people has accountability built into the personal nature of it. Talk about a solution to welfare abuse!

What do you think? If we weaned our nation off its addiction to government aid, would people step up to fill the needs of their fellow Americans?


  1. Interesting take. Although I agree with most of your article, I believe that, as you mentioned,"...its on a lesser scale". This, of course, is referring to the benevolence shown by others in our day and age in the face of tragedy.

    While I am a firm believer that America will help/volunteer aid when tragedy strikes (i.e. New Orleans, Japan, Haiti, Chile), I do not think the same attention will be afforded to those in financial need. As a society we have become way too cynical of our fellow man. We don't just give out money to neighbors in need without thinking if it would be mismanaged.

    Although government hand outs should merit the same attention--I'm always short about 20% of my gross take home--it seems that it doesn't hurt our pocketbooks as much when we did not directly give to those in need.

    There should definitely be more oversight on the part of the government to prevent abuse. My suggestions would be to limit aid to 6 months and use a fair tax (don't know if you heard of this).

    Just in case you have not heard of the fair tax, there are few premises: 1) Your gross is your take home, 2) You are taxed about 20% on goods and services you purchase, and 3)Since everyone buys goods and services, everyone pays into a system that they can use if they are in need.

    I feel better knowing that if someone fell on hard times and is using money in the system, they at least contributed to it.

    Good post Jim. You have become quite the writer.

  2. Thanks, Will! I had not heard the term "fair tax" before, but it basically sounds like replacing the income tax with a large sales tax. This is not a bad idea at all, and it reminds me of a line Joe Pesci had in the movie With Honors: "Actually, I am a taxpayer... I believe there's a federal, state, and local tax on liquor."

    I'm of the mindset that people would help each other and hold each other accountable because of the personal relationship. Even local churches and charities would have a far better clue as to how their help was being utilized than a bloated government agency that sends out tens of thousands of checks each month.

    The more local and personal giving gets, the less likely it is to be abused. Those guilty of welfare abuse don't see it as abuse because they aren't truly held accountable (at which point, it switches to being an entitlement).

    I think you are right about our general cynicism, but I also think that is a byproduct of our sense of entitlement. The paradigm shift would not happen overnight, but I truly do believe that people will fill whatever 'need vacuum' is out there (and will avoid supporting those who are simply slackers wanting a free ride).

    You make very, very solid points, Will. Thanks again!