In 1958, the late political scientist and Harvard professor Edward C. Banfield wrote an insightful book called The Moral Basis of a Backward Society. Banfield spent two years during the 1950s living in Montegrano, Italy, a small village of 3,400 poor farmers and laborers. The farmers’ work was seasonal, and although they were very busy during the planting and harvest season, they had a lot of free time during other parts of the year. Despite this availability of free labor, he noticed that the locals made no effort to help out with the local orphanage or repair a crumbling monastery. The citizens took no action to improve local schools or health care services. Unless someone was family, he or she could expect no help from a neighbor.
By comparison, Banfield looked at St. George, Utah, then a small town of 4,500. Compared to the temperate climate in Italy, St. George was not a natural location for growing crops. There were limited natural resources in the area. I guess no one told the residents of St. George that they should wallow in their poverty. Banfield noted that in just one issue of the local paper there was a variety of public-spirited activities. The Red Cross was conducting a membership drive. A local women’s club was raising funds to build another dorm for the local junior college. A local business had contributed an encyclopedia to the school district. The Chamber of Commerce was working on getting support to build a paved road to two nearby towns. A local church was collecting pennies to support a hospital 350 miles away. Parents participated in local Parent Teacher Association meetings at the schools.
Banfield concluded that Montegrano remained mired in poverty because its citizens had no concept of giving. Meanwhile, St. George was thriving because its citizens knew that giving was a basic primary value.
Recently, Pope Francis was selected by Time Magazine as their 2013 Person of the Year. Given Time's leftward leaning, he was not chosen for his stand against abortion or his views on not ordaining women to the priesthood or allowing priests to marry. Rather he was selected because of the great example he has been in looking after the poor and not living an extravagant lifestyle. At this season of the year where much of the focus is on commercialism and spending money on extravagant gifts for people far from need, it is great to see a high profile example of looking after the needs of the less fortunate before the wants of those who live in affluence.
When giving is local and personal as opposed to Federal via forced taxes, the results are always better. Thank you Pope Francis for setting a great personal example.
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