Why Government Handouts Don't Measure Up to Pastor Dennis
AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File
Why Government Handouts Don't Measure Up to Pastor Dennis
AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File
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Dennis came to work for one of my companies in 1994. I owned a chain of fried chicken and biscuit restaurants and needed someone to run them. I sure as hell didn’t know how to. Dennis had worked for Chick-Fil-A. He moved from Atlanta to Richmond. We became fast friends and I handed him the keys and trusted his judgment. Dennis was a regular guy, interested in guy things, like college football and the Braves. Real men like to dis each other and play stupid childish tricks on one another. Dennis had these skills in spades. One day I was back in my office and one of my secretaries knocked on my door and said that the “Sheriff” was here to see me. I didn’t know Earl, but Dennis did. Our policy was that law enforcement ate free at our restaurants, and Earl (who never met a chicken biscuit he didn’t like) took advantage of this policy. Earl asked me to come out into the hallway. By this time, all of my employees had gathered around to see what the commotion was. In front of everyone, Earl slapped the handcuffs on me and in a very audible voice said that I “was under arrest.” As I walked with Earl down to the lobby of my building, Earl busted out laughing and so did everyone else. Dennis was the mastermind, but they were all in on it. It was April Fool’s Day. I had gotten punked. It was a good punk.

Dennis went on to help me in a number of other businesses I owned or subsequently acquired. He was awesome in these roles because he could crawl under a piece of heavy machinery and fix a broken hydraulic system or get cleaned up and meet with a bank president.

Dennis and I liked talking about Christian theology. While I was and am a woeful sinner and a rotten bad apple, Dennis was and is the real deal.  Eventually, he went and got a graduate degree at the Baptist seminary, became a pastor and has led a number of flocks. As an Episcopalian, there are a number of things that the Southern Baptists get right that we don’t. In most of Dennis’ churches, he had a full-time outside job (often helping me in running my businesses). Such a practice keeps the clergy grounded in reality, as opposed to the monolithic group think “bubble-itis” that is so prevalent in many mainline churches. As you good reader may recall, the Apostle Paul was a tent maker.

Dennis is a car guy. A few years ago, he started  M 40 Auto,  a non-profit business and just moved to a larger location. Dennis is the ugly looking goofball in this VIDEO (sorry, it would be unmanly to write an article on Dennis without dissing  him).  Many unfortunate folks are stuck in a dreary world of bare subsistence because they don’t have reliable transportation to climb the economic ladder to better days ahead.  2 years ago, I was mentoring a young woman who had been in a rehab facility and had “matriculated” to a half-way house. The half-way house was on the bus line, but the only job she could get were bus line jobs. She couldn’t get out of the hole and on to the next stage of her life without a car which would allow her to interview and get a much better job. I took her to see Dennis, where immediately he gave her a car on a handshake and a promise to pay him $100/month. It changed her life. I am sure without this hand up, she would’ve been caught in a cycle of depression and would have gone back to using. She got a better job and the quality of her life was vastly enriched. As of today, it is still getting better. Dennis takes donated used cars, fixes them up and titles them over to people in need. It is a hand up and not necessarily a hand out, as Dennis gets to know the recipient’s needs and what if anything they can pay. Not only does transportation allow people to get better jobs and make more money, but it allows the single mother to pick her kids up from school and take them to ballet or soccer practice.  It is a blessing in a multitude of ways.

Dennis, a real guy on the ground has identified a real need and he helps real people enrich their lives in immeasurable fashion. Moreover, his system funds itself.  It produces revenue and of course takes no government funding.

Compare Dennis’ solution to helping people with transportation needs with that of the government. It’s a classic example of the efficiencies associated with freedom compared to the inherent waste of central planning. Here in Richmond, the City spent well over $65 million on the “Pulse,” a 7.6 mile rapid transit bus system. Central planners chose the route which is mostly down Broad Street, an old commercial corridor. Broad Street already had bus service using the same traffic lanes as cars. The new system eliminates traffic lanes for cars, to give fast lanes to rapid transit buses. Thus, the lanes of traffic that did carry cars and buses are now mostly empty with the occasional fast bus speeding by carrying next to no passengers. Thousands of cars are inconvenienced so a few shiny buses can whiz by. Of course, the system was sold to the public as revenue producing. The “brilliant” central planners neglected to put a system in place to audit if passengers were paying for the service or not. No fooling, I didn’t make that up! Because of this and other issues the past couple years, there has been no charge to ride. Even when it charged passengers, it has been reported that a $2.50 fare actually costs the system over $15. It would be cheaper if the City paid for all riders to just take an Uber, and of course this means, the $65 million plus spent was never needed to begin with. And then we have unexpected maintenance costs, like the $2 million recently appropriated to paint the bus lanes red to help prevent the multiple accidents that have occurred due to the confusing layout of the bus lanes. 

Now the beautiful people and the vacuous, empty headed glitterati laud the system simply because they are trained seals to robotically be enthusiastic about public transportation. Interestingly, social scientists have discovered  that the phrase “public transportation” has some sort of orgasmic effect on progressives where they get erotically happy and have this uncontrollable urge to burn stacks of $100 bills.  Kind of the way a man behaves on his first date with a mesmerizing good looking woman, “would you like another bottle of Dom Perignon, want to go by Harry Winston’s and pick out some jewelry?” Both want something so badly, they lose total control of their senses.  In the meantime, without any help from the taxpayer, Dennis is quietly changing people’s lives for the better. The boondoggle of the Pulse system is classic government central planning. A demand economy v. a “freedom” economy. Much like one of Chairman Mao’s 5 year planning efforts, Pulse does not recognize markets and whether or not people even want to work or  live on it’s 7.6 mile route. It only serves a very tiny fraction of residents and land area. Like the women mentioned above, a Pulse user has no access to the 99.5% of the rest of the metropolitan area. The people Dennis helps can make choices about where they want to live, where their children go to school and where they work. His model is built on freedom.

Dennis self-funded all of his startup costs. It was tough sledding at first. Wouldn’t it be better if the Dennises of the world had more money? Couldn’t they do much more good? And now we have arrived at my central point. Just like it is the supply side, not the demand side of economics that propels economies forward, the same principles hold true for “good works.” All of that $65 million came from the private economy, extracted from producers to give to the orgasmic, doe-eyed spenders. The closer the actual need is to the source and genesis of the good works, the more cost effective and efficient the charitable operation. This is almost always true.

One Sunday I was teaching my youth group at church. Some higher ups in the Diocese proclaimed that teenagers in the church should bring in old coats to give away to the needy. The mothers did all the work and the kids just indifferently brought them in because they were told to. As I looked at the pile of coats on the floor, I told the class “none of this means sh#t.” In the Episcopal church, one is allowed to cuss in front of children, at least no come told me I couldn’t. I am a “grace over works guy.” I told the class that unless they love others, good works don’t matter, nor are good works effective without loving hearts. Just like the central planning of the Pulse system, the centrally mandated coat drive was ordered from above, was an inefficient, central planning idea that didn’t do much good. The coats sat around in a church closet for months.

I am a parsimonious scrooge. I hate writing checks to “good works” when I can see waste and inefficiencies. Yet, when I see something like M-40 Auto that does such good work, I want to tell the world about it, which is why I wrote this article. CLICK HERE if you would like to learn more or donate a car.  

Robert C. Smith is Managing Partner of Chartwell Capital Advisors and likes to opine on the Rob Is Right Podcast and Webpage.

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