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The Tragedy of American Compassion

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  165 Ratings  ·  28 Reviews
Examines America's dismal welfare state and challenges the church to return to its biblical role as guardian of the poor.
Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 1st 1995 by Crossway Books (first published March 1st 1992)
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Bill Nohmer
Nov 18, 2008 Bill Nohmer rated it really liked it
Olasky outlines the history of 'compassion' for the downtrodden in the U.S. starting at the outset of the new nation. He outlines how the help came from neighbors, then from work houses and groups of people to, finally, the public coffers. This migration is not new. The English already had a form of welfare state at the founding of this nation. The fathers of our nation found it distasteful and damaging to those it was design to help. Look at us now!

Mr. Olasky took on the role of a homeless man
Mar 04, 2012 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-culture
Olasky writes in great and well documented detail of the origins of welfare in America, and shows how welfare that works has seven major elements to it: affiliation with families, neighbors or ethnic groups; bonding with volunteers; careful categorization along with the realization that charities did not have to treat everyone equally; discernment on the part of charity workers, realizing the deviousness of the human heart, to prevent fraud; long-term employment of all able-bodied household head ...more
May 18, 2013 JP rated it it was amazing
More than anything else, this book refutes the frequent argument that government has to look after the indigent because private charity won't or doesn't know how. Olasky takes us through the full history of charity in this country, showing the ideas that shaped it at each step in it's devolution. Starting with the categorization of workhouses and almshouses, the frequency of woodyards and sewing rooms let charitable providers differentiate the truly needy from the truly lazy. He also points out ...more
Stephen Wolfe
Jul 15, 2012 Stephen Wolfe rated it it was amazing
This book is essential for anyone who wants to understand the history of American "compassion" to the poor. But more broadly, it is important to understand why "doing more" (or to move "forward" as Obama suggests), especially when "more" means furthering the expansion of government bureaucracy and involvement, is actually counterproductive and damaging to the poor. Personal aid with conditions (willing to work and reform character etc.) is the old style of American compassion rooted in the idea ...more
Feb 13, 2012 Furbjr rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: conservatives, liberals, libertartians, anarchists, voluntaryists
Recommended to Furbjr by: Gardner Goldsmith, El G Grande
This book shows how voluntary charity, as opposed through charity where alms are obtained through the point of a gun, are demonstrably better for society. There is a lot of citations in this book, which thoroughly documents the authors research on the topic. With such a body of evidence as collected by the author, it is hard to understand why the author draws the conclusion he does. This book, by far, provides the most comprehensive study of voluntary charity in the United States that I have eve ...more
Skylar Burris
Jan 01, 2008 Skylar Burris rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, sociology
This book had many salient points, but it was slow plodding. People so rarely realize that "conservatives" and "liberals" have the same desire: to see people prosper; we just disagree on how that is best achieved. This book shows how well-meaning compassion, when expressed through state welfare and preferences, can hurt the poor in the long run.
Outstanding treatment of the transformation of aid to the poor in America from private, personal, accountable, effective and tethered to spiritual transformation, to the poverty-sustaining government and statist-driven models that began in the early 20th century but really came into force in the 60s. Helpful and inspiring read.
Milan Homola
This is one of the most thought provoking books I've read...not that I agree with it....but that is what a good book makes you better by thinking about how you think and act. This is incredibly important for those of us serving in compassionate ministry or anything related....Such a great book
Jeff M.
Dec 31, 2008 Jeff M. rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book. It will completely change your view of assistance for the poor and needy. Most of what passes for "compassion" these days does more harm than good. I definitely recommend this book to everyone.
May 07, 2016 Vance rated it really liked it
The author takes you on a trip throughout the history of charity/welfare worldwide.

He provides specific examples of private charity in the 18th and 19th centuries in the US. This changed rather dramatically in the 1930s during the Great Depression. The argument, led by social workers, was that private charity was insufficient and crowding out government's "mandate" to provide for the needy. This set the stage for many government programs. This was expanded again in the 1960s during the civil ri
Jul 28, 2013 Mic rated it did not like it
This book has no data to support his claims, rendering it into a very long opinion piece, lifestyle preference over policy suggestions. Yet it's treated as the latter. The first few chapters are unreadable, just anecdotes and quotes from the turn of the century. When he does introduce data in the later chapters he misrepresents it. For example he writes that, "children almost always are poor because they do not have fathers living with and supporting them." I checked his citation, which stated t ...more
Beth Haynes
Jul 13, 2014 Beth Haynes rated it it was ok
Shelves: economics
May 2014 Not sure if I will finish this book. It's a bit repetitive.
Does offer an important perspective that good intentions aren't enough.
Catalogs a number of the private efforts to address poverty prior to the Progressive Era of Big Government. These efforts were much more effective: small. local groups which insisted on constructive, real, personal interactions which were more meaningful for both recipient and volunteer; holding recipients accountable for action and often sig. change -- but
J. Dale
Aug 06, 2016 J. Dale rated it it was amazing
This book is almost a quarter of a century old - and more relevant today that when it was written. The US has become so "compassionate" as a nation that our government-enforced "kindness" has destroyed those truly in need by making them helpless and dependent, and encouraged those who are lazy and dishonest to work "the system" for every penny they can get. Further, corrupt politicians have multiplied the ways they can now "buy" the votes of these people, or continue to receive the huge "campaig ...more
Jan 24, 2016 John rated it liked it
Interesting look at welfare and "compassion" in the United States. I don't know if I agree with everything written in the book, but it is well researched and certainly makes one re-think their stance on welfare.
May 29, 2014 Ian rated it it was amazing
Essential history of American anti-poverty programs, their original religious inspiration and their present-day socialistic corruption.
Jeromy Peacock
5 stars = Yearly re-read
4 stars = Re-read eventually
3 stars = Very Good
2 stars = OK
1 stars = Pass on this one.
0 stars = Couldn't finish it.
Aug 30, 2007 Andrew rated it liked it
Olasky paints a pretty grim history of the evolution of social welfare in America. I found it to be well researched, but unquestionably bias in its presentation of "facts". Some the programs he deems as successes (e.g., Charles Brace's Orphan Trains) are widely regarded as ultimately harmful policy. His arguments dovetail to advocate for social libertarianism - that the "protestant work ethic" has been obliterated by years of government "handouts". While I find myself in opposition to his views, ...more
Nov 24, 2013 Bob rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned some history from here I never learned before, but its argument in favor of private, morally interventionary help to the poor as a opposed to public, morally disengaged welfare options is weakened by a failure to engage with the arguments of his adversaries. He never addresses the argument that trying to reform people may counter-productively shames or angers them. Alcoholics Anonymous are inflexible, even stern, but that program emphasizes the dignity of the recoverer and is noticably ...more
Andy Crooks
Jul 11, 2016 Andy Crooks added it
Shelves: politics
A must read for those of us on the conservative bent.
Kirsten Kinnell
Jul 11, 2007 Kirsten Kinnell rated it did not like it
yeah, it's such a tragedy... americans are so compassionate that we deserve the world's sympathy... whatever.

the guy's point is that the american government is too blunt a tool to address poverty... great-- well observed. but that doesn't mean it's compassionate for the government to STOP mitigating the effects of poverty for its people-- it just means that we (the people) should step up until the government doesn't need to anymore.
Bryn Dunham
Jan 18, 2011 Bryn Dunham rated it it was amazing
A great book about the history of state welfare and organized charity and it's documented effectiveness at relieving poverty (or lack thereof). A really interesting book that traces the effects of indescriminate charity and how it affects the recipiants. The author demonstrates that welfare and indescriminate charity do more harm than good. A real amazing book!
Feb 13, 2012 Dan rated it really liked it
I expected a book providing evidence of how private charity is superior to public charity. But "The Tragedy of American Compassion" goes even further, showing how even private charity frequently fails when it is impersonal and requires nothing on the part of able recipients.
Jun 19, 2016 Heidi rated it liked it
Liked it but it was repetitive. Great for academic study but certainly not a light read. If you want to learn more about the history of the U.S. Welfare system it's worth reading.
Stuart Spitalnic
Oct 24, 2013 Stuart Spitalnic rated it it was ok
Dull, repetitive, and no secrets. Agree with ideas that the nation's charity cases were better off before government made an industry out of welfare. Unearned benefits and entitlements breed senses of entitlement and are self perpetuating and magnifying.
Bryan Fordham
Sep 10, 2012 Bryan Fordham rated it liked it
Good information for the most part. Far too simplistic in the diagnosis for my taste. Worth reading because of its influence, of nothing else.
Jun 11, 2009 Jeanne rated it really liked it
I'm putting this book aside for now. I will pick it up again in the Spring during this component in school.
Sep 04, 2008 Dustin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Dustin by: Dr. Tom Hauff
A very detailed historical insight into the highs and lows of American compassion for the poor and needy.
Dec 11, 2008 Ugonna rated it really liked it
Read this when I was considering going into public administration
Claudia marked it as to-read
Sep 24, 2016
Patrina Palmer Mosley
Patrina Palmer Mosley marked it as to-read
Sep 24, 2016
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