So, Utah decided to just give the homeless places to live.  The results are what anyone with sense, or who has followed the topic would expect:

Utah’s Housing First program cost between $10,000 and $12,000 per person, about half of the $20,000 it cost to treat and care for homeless people on the street.

Imagine that.

The right thing to do is almost always cheaper and gives better results, at least if the welfare of people is your concern.

If people are poor, give them money.  If people don’t have a house, get them a house.  If people are sick, get them health care.

The fact is, though, that you have to want to do the right thing. People tend to get down on the Church of Latter Day Saints, but for all their issues, I’ve always had a soft spot for them because I’ve heard many stories like this:

The church donated all of this,” Bate says. “Before we opened up, volunteers from the local Mormon ward came over and assembled all the furniture. It was overwhelming. For the first several years we were open, the LDS church made weekly food deliveries—everything from meat to butter and cheese. It wasn’t just dried beans—it was good stuff.” (The Utah Food Bank now makes weekly deliveries.)

I ask him if this is why the programs work so well in Utah—because of church donations.

“If the LDS church was not into it, the money would be missed, for sure,” he says, “but it’s church leadership that’s immensely important. If the word gets out that the church is behind something, it removes a lot of barriers.”…


“Why do you think they do it?” I ask(my emphasis)

“Oh,” he says, “I think they believe all that stuff in the New Testament about helping the poor. That’s kind of crazy for a religion, I know, but I think they take it quite seriously.”

A major driver of the social welfare movement in the United States was the social gospel.  The ending of sweatshops, the huge work programs of the 30s, the provision of Medicare and Social Security was driven in large part by Christian crusaders who believed that what they did to the poor, they did to Jesus.

You have to want to do the right thing.

This is just as true when dealing with matters like inequality.  FDR and the politicians of the 50s ran marginal tax rates for high earners at 90% or so because they, and the American people, genuinely believed that no one should have that much money.  They believed that it was earned by the efforts of other people: a rich person is someone who gets rich on other people’s work, with very rare exceptions, and even they get rich because of the society they are in.  (For a complete explanation of that, something most people refuse to understand, read “It’s Not Your Money.”)

Ethics and mores; belief, is why people do things.  It doesn’t exactly come before material circumstances (the two influence each other, with material circumstances, including technology, determining a range of possibilities), but within what is possible, belief in what we should do determines what we actually do.

In the world today we have the resources not just to feed everyone, but to give them a decent life, with education, entertainment, and housing that is warm in the winter and at least not unbearable in the summer.  We can cloth everyone well.  We have had the ability to do this for at least a hundred years or so, in theory, we’ve had it in practice since the recovery from World War II.

To do so, however, we must believe that we should, and we must be willing to act on that belief.  There will be sacrifices (a lot fewer billionaires, a lot less McMansions), but in the end even most of those who complain would be objectively better off, because inequality is robustly associated with worse health and less happiness, even for those who are the richest.  The top .01%, if they were still the top .01% but had far less money and power, would be happier and healthier in such a world.

As such, the battleground of belief; of ideology, is as important as that of technology. It is belief, mediated by power and turned into behaviour, which determines what actually happens in this world.

More on that later.

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