10.26.2006

Better For Even Better

In one of my new favorite books, Revolution at the Roots, William Eggers and John O'Leary call into question a recent best-selling government administration book's claim that if a government program can help but one person, it's worth it.  That claim, according to Eggers and O'Leary, neglects the fact that public resources were consumed in helping that one person, resources that might be better consumed elsewhere or not taken out of the public's pocket in the first place.  So the appropriate comparison isn't one person helped versus no one helped, but one person helped in Program A versus how many people could have been helped in Program B, or how many people could have been helped if no programs were done and the public had more of its own money to do positive things.

I say this not to beat my fiscally conservative drum -- although keep this in mind the next time advocates of a government program on the chopping block try to say how negative it will be to zero out a program that is helping people.  I say this to say how easy it is to give into this mindset when it comes to our perishable assets, namely time and money.  How quickly we'll give a little time and money here and there, considering only whether it will make a difference, rather than whether it is the best way we can make a difference.  

Let's be careful here: Jesus told a story about two religious people who didn't help a person in need and a "good Samaritan" who did to remind His listeners that sometimes we don't dictate when and how we're being called to positive action.  Nevertheless, that lesson doesn't negate the value of the opposite lesson, that we do worse for ourselves and for the Kingdom of God if, when given a chance to do positive, we take it because it's positive, instead of considering if greater positive can be done elsewhere.  It's this sort of careless thinking that causes too many of us to short-shrift the rest we need, and to diffuse our impact to the point of making no impact.  We can do better.
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