Despite its long-winded name, the London Society did not distribute charity but specialized in cutting off funds for social welfare. Its leaders believed a distinct line must be drawn between the ‘deserving poor’ (those facing hard times as a result of unfortunate histories) and ‘undeserving paupers,’ namely, the drunk, the lazy, and the whorish members of society for whom aid was considered a reprehensible act of facilitation. Another key underpinning the London Society’s logic was the presumption – for lack of a better term – that paupers outnumbered the deserving poor by a factor of about nine to one.
In reform meetings and from church pulpits, politicians and clerics repeatedly cited this astonishing – though unverified – statistic, which soon became accepted as fact. In time, the public mind became convinced that a mere 10 percent of London’s poor were the crippled and the orphaned, while 90 percent were degenerates. For every one person in London’s slums who genuinely needed aid, popular wisdom said there were nine who required something else entirely: intolerance, punishment, and correction. As a corollary to this line of thinking, logic dictated that 90 percent of the charitable aid previously offered was superfluous. In turn, wallets closed. Suffering increased.
‘Tough love’ was in. Cruelty equaled kindness. Frugality equaled generosity. And all three were not only cheap, but easy.
From Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
by Edward J. Renehan, pages 48-49