Punishment or Encouragement — Which One Works Best?

As a parent, if you actually care about your kids, you soon learn that you cannot punish to teach them anything. Yes, punishment can show them what NOT to do, but punishment can never show them what TO DO. If your child is not doing well at school, punishing them for a "D" makes them hate learning. If you take the time to sit with them, encourage their learning, then what can result is the self-pride that comes with a better grade. Learning can't be taught with punishment. Ask any teacher worth his or her salt, learning is taught by enthusing kids, making them proud of what they learn, opening their minds, not closing it with fear or hatred for being punished.

Now think about this: Removing anyone's safety net of welfare, social security, Medicare, Medicaid or child insurance is punishment. It cannot be seen or felt in any other way. Let's take a worst-case example. A bunch of teen-agers, dropped out of school, living in poverty, living off food stamps and welfare, doing drugs… can you honestly say punishing or scaring them "straight" back into being useful members of society, getting jobs, getting off welfare will work? It won't. Punishment will simply reinforce the anti-societal feelings they already have and turn them into criminals or worse.

Ask yourself this: Why are kids attracted to being gang members? I had an author, nick-names the chief mob-hunter in NYC by the NY Times; Remo Franschini. He told me the way the Mafia works is to give down-and-outs respect and reward for being a responsible part of a family, a gang family. No one told them they were too stupid or a waste of space. Nope, the Mafia understood that if you give them respect – even if that respect is for criminal activity – if you reward them for be a responsible member of a closed society – even if that society was murderous and criminal – they responded with loyalty and good worth ethic.

Prisons as punishment are not the answer. You can't really scare somebody straight once they are locked up. The only people inside a prison giving inmates any respect are the bosses amongst the crooks. Guards abuse them, the system abuses them, they are being punished. Okay, granted, some may come out not wanting to go back in, but 65% of all inmates return… ask yourself if punishment is really working. In prisons across the rest of the world, programs for rehab and education in prisons are having dramatic effect. In Germany only 15% of inmates ever return to crime.

So it is with poor people too… if you do not know how exhausting it is to be poor, try it for a week, just a week. Have little heat, no TV, live on $19 per person in food stamps a week. Just a week. You'll be so tired you won't want to get out of bed. What does society say? Get up! Get a job! Stop freeloading! Sure, and if you don't do as society says they'll cut off what little lifeline you have and punish you straight. "Entitlements" is a loaded word meaning freeloading, let's not pretend otherwise.

Cutting people off cold-turkey doesn't work with welfare any more than it does with dope. And with the young, such rejection by society makes them vulnerable to criminal gangs and quick-rich schemes that come with someone telling them they deserve respect when they rob a store or deal drugs.

No, if you want to help the poor, feed them, clothe them, all the while teach them a trade in a fixed-term program. Education IS the answer. Opportunity follows. If a single parent has kids, let him or her have free nursery care for the training schedule. As the saying goes, "You give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." All true. But in order to fish, you need to be able to sustain yourself while you learn. It's a two part solution, but it is the only permanent solution. Importantly, it is the decent and moral solution for what ails America's poor. Oh, and it's cheaper for the nation in the long run (but not as vote-getting as singling out freeloaders being to blame).