In 1996, President Clinton signed a bill ending welfare as we know it; however, its true demise remains
yet to be seen according to James Payne. In his new book, Overcoming Welfare: Expecting More
From the Poor–and From Ourselves, Payne explains the problems with government operated
welfare programs. The bill signed by President Clinton is not the first attempt at welfare reform. Payne
argues that after more than a century of welfare reform efforts, we continue to develop and implement
the same type of public assistance–hand-outs. He explains that our welfare system has resulted in a
segment of our population expecting something for nothing; which, in Payne’s eye, is not charitable but
harmful both socially and morally.
The author defines two types of assistance–a right and a wrong way to provide for the needy. The first
type is sympathetic giving as exemplified by government-operated welfare programs. Sympathetic
giving is providing for those who are in need without expecting anything in return. The opposite
approach is expectant giving–providing for the needy, but expecting something from them as well.
Payne argues in his book that the latter type is more beneficial to the recipient and that our welfare
system is a disservice to those it serves. Unfortunately, sympathetic giving weakens the social
disapproval of harmful behavior by appearing to endorse it. He points out that must forms of such giving
are done with good intentions but creates dependence.
Payne analyzes the philosophy of nineteenth-century charitable workers, or what he likes to call,
“charitable theorists.” They believed that personal interaction with the needy and the requirement of
some action in exchange for aid was the best way to serve the poor. Requiring some form of “payment”
they maintained, provided the needy person with dignity and a sense of self-worth, while the personal
interaction provided the needy with an incentive to meet the payment requirement. According to Payne,
charitable workers said that effective help, required genuine, voluntary, personal relationships between
helper and helped, not giveaways of material assistance, for these, they believe perpetuated or even
compounded misfortune. Their aid was future-oriented, directed at improving the character of recipients
and their ability to thrive and achieve. The systems of assistance organized by charity workers operate
One example Payne uses to illustrate the difference in the two types of giving is the Toys for Tots
program which collects toys at Christmas to give to needy children. People believe they are doing a
good thing; however, Payne argues that this type of program is our typical approach of providing for the
poor which is pervasive in our public assistance programs. The parents get something for nothing and,
as Payne argues, “The children’s realization that their parents are not supplying the toys can undermine
parental confidence and authority.” In contrast, Pride for Parents, a program in Raleigh, North Carolina,
offers toys parents can buy at a reduced price which allows the parents to feel good about providing for
their children. The children can also feel good about their parents.
Payne believes we must get personally involved with those in need. He thinks that providing material
things alone is not the best way to help people but providing opportunities and guidance is the answer.
We tend to give money to compensate for our lack of effort to get involved, but this type of giving
perpetuates the idleness and “give me” attitude prevalent among recipients of welfare assistance. Many
will say they do not have time to volunteer, but Payne predicts that advances in technology, a larger
population of retirees, and more leisure time should allow us more time. As a country we have simply
forgotten how to volunteer.
Throughout the book, Payne weaves personal quotes and excerpts from the writings of
nineteenth-century charity workers. This approach is illuminating because it illustrates how far removed
from this model our attitude toward giving has become. Today’s social programs are weighed down by
government regulations and rules}programs must serve everyone equally. Payne argues that should not
be the case. He compares and contrasts the methods and effectiveness of private charities or
organizations that have embraced the concept of expectant giving and the government’s system of
Payne’s book is thought provoking and insightful. He