Sweet Charity

Save me
The asylums have opened
I’m coming home
Sweet charity

I’m home free…   –Mike Patton

Daisy left a comment to my diatribe on the purpose of government in which she approached it from several angles.  Nevertheless, she didn’t exactly address my point.  This brought something from the deeper recesses of my subconscious into my direct line of vision.

In that post I recounted a snippet of a talk I had with a leftie (which is quite similar to many others I’ve had over the years):

I once had a conversation with a leftie in which I asked her, “Why should I have to help the poor?”

She replied with a long list of reasons:  other people haven’t been as lucky as me, “we’re all in this together”, if a neighborhood has less poverty it increases property values, it’s good to care for my fellow man, Jesus says I should, etc.

I replied, “Those are all great reasons for why I should help the poor, but you didn’t answer my question.  Why should I have to help the poor?”



Unlike Rebecca, Daisy had a response, and a respectful one at that.  However, very much like Rebecca, she didn’t answer the question.  You’ll find that folks on the left rarely will actually answer that question, for it’s an incredibly difficult one to answer without coming across as either a tyrant or a fool.  Furthermore, it goes to the very heart of how their thinking differs from libertarians and most conservatives (certain social conservatives excepted).

(This is part of why I’m not a big fan of attempting to persuade people through writing.  It’s too easy to dance around difficult topics, or if they get too difficult, to disappear entirely.  How many times have you made the world’s best blog comment only to find that you have no idea if the person you so eloquently refuted even read the damn thing?)

Sometimes when you ask this, you’ll get a Colmes-Over, an example of something conservatives like to fund that we have to pay for.  Other times you’ll be accused of heartlessness or simply told “You’re being stupid.”  Subject changes are also common; if you don’t watch it within seconds you’ll somehow be talking about Todd Akin’s moronic rape comment or something else that has nothing to do with anything.

Daisy’s answer to the question is another question.  “First, is poverty a political issue or not?” 

In person, I would refuse to answer her question until she answered mine, and as the conversation progressed we would stumble upon the fundamental difference between how progressives and libertarians/conservatives view morality.  I would point this out and hammer it home.  I might not convince her that I’m right, but she would have to recognize some of her implicit assumptions.

But because this is a blog post, I’ll point out that distinction through answering her questions.  Is poverty a political issue?  Yes, but so is the size of Big Gulps in New York.  However, poverty is broader than that.  It incorporates property rights, regulation, taxation, contract law, criminal justice, and education, all of which are political issues. 

Not only is poverty often political in its causes, it’s political in the sense she cites, its results.  Roving bands of impoverished marauders disturb the general peace and are likely to violate people’s rights as they rob and loot from them.

None of this alters my assertion that the purpose of government is to preserve individual rights, and this is one of the ways in which the left understands us the least.

The left assumes that the solution to poverty is not only political, it’s primarily political, and it’s an activist government that needs to rectify it.  Rare is the leftist who is aware of how the stifling regulation in our inner cities strangles entrepreneurship in its cradle (read Sudhir Venkatesh’s Off the Books for an in-depth description of how the urban poor are forced to survive in the underground economy).  Almost never will you find a liberal who understands that the primary reason that some countries have a stronger middle class than others is that some legal systems respect property rights and others don’t (Hernando de Soto’s Mystery of Capital is a fantastic description of this phenomenon, just try to refrain from assassinating the entire Hatian government after you read it).  The resistance of teachers’ unions to charter schools and other forms of school choice forces poor kids to go to crappy schools.  Leftists don’t understand how competition could improve education for these kids for even less money.  Instead, the solution is for us to spend even more money and to hold the teachers even less accountable.  If government spending solved the problem of poverty, Detroit would be among our nation’s wealthiest cities (it’s not).

(Some on the left are aware of the pernicious effects of crony capitalism on small business, and for this they deserve credit.  Woe to the GOP if it fails to recognize this problem, do something about it, and get credit for it.  Also, the drug war is beyond destructive.  Some on the left get this; we need to, too.)

Furthermore, the left largely discounts the role of culture.  Granted, to many free-market types, everyone on welfare is a drug-addicted loser who spends all day playing X-Box, and that’s not true.  However, to many on the left, everyone on welfare is sincere, upstanding, and hard-working who’s just can’t get a fair break, and that’s not true, either.  Dalrymple’s Life at the Bottom describes life among the white English poor.  These folks have never had to confront racism and live under one of Europe’s most generous welfare states, and with their worldview, there’s no possible way that they could ever be prosperous (save for those few who can run a successful gun-running operation without getting caught).

Yes, conservatives and libertarians seem like they don’t care, but the left has almost entirely forsaken the notion that sometimes people need to be pushed, sometimes sympathy makes them weaker.  Yes, there’s a time for sympathy, but that time isn’t all the time.

Instead, it’s all about welfare, programs, and aid.  Never mind that although slums in our inner cities 100 years ago were often worse than they are today, rarely did families spend more than two generations living in them; there was upward mobility for the poor, largely without government help.  We’re also not supposed to notice that even though South Korea and Egypt were both backwaters in the 1950’s and we’ve given Korea less foreign aid, Korea’s doing far better today in every respect.

Yes, external factors matter.  Racism has played a role.  Raising children to believe that even though they live in the greatest country in the world that they have no hope unless the government gives them almost everything has played a much bigger one.  (And if you want to put all the blame on slavery, please explain how the same thing happens among poor whites in Europe, or how blacks owned more businesses ninety years ago than they do today.  The problems should be getting better as slavery goes farther back into the past.)

Which brings me to Daisy’s assertions regarding morality.  First, in defense of Rand, she did not condemn helping the poor.  She did however condemn using your money to promote that in which you don’t believe.  Gail Wynand became disaffected not because his readers helped a poor person, it bothered him that they helped the undeserving poor instead of an aspiring scientist who would have benefitted from the help instead of squandering it.  Roark’s master work (for which he accepted no payment) was a low-income housing project, and Atlas Shrugged features numerous sympathetic poor people, from Cheryl to the bum who used to work for the USA motor company.

Regarding the Christian ethic, “Christ was very CLEAR on the subject.”  This statement goes straight to my disagreement with Daisy.  I’ll answer with a question:  which subject?

To go back to my question for Rebecca, on the question of “should you help the poor?”, Christ was very clear.  Regarding the question of “should you have to help the poor?”, at no point does he advocate that an Earthly authority force you to do the right thing.  He says you should give the poor guy your cloak, NOT that you should take some other guy’s cloak and give it to the poor guy and then brag about how much you care.  He may deal with you Later if you don’t do what He thinks you should, but the New Testament makes no reference whatsoever to any sort of obligatory social welfare system.

So to me, there are two very distinct questions; to Daisy’s there aren’t.  To the left, you should help the poor, therefore you must.  “Randoids” and Christians differ as to the extent to which we’re morally obligated to help the unfortunate, but both the Randoids and Christians (at least those who happen to have noticed that there’s nothing in the New Testament about making people do what they should) agree that we shouldn’t be forced to.

On the left, your politics largely define your morality.  Europeans give Americans crap because we give far less per capita in foreign aid than they do as they completely disregard that we give far more than they do voluntarily.  Romney and others like him get little credit for all they’ve done for the less fortunate because they oppose raising taxes and forcing others to do the same.  Biden gave something like 1.5% of his income to charity, but he’s a great guy because he’s a Democrat.

Finally, I argue that obligatory charity is anything but charitable, for its effects are pernicious to both the giver and the receiver.  The giver need not care for his community or work in the soup kitchen; he pays so much in taxes that he shouldn’t have to worry about it (and usually doesn’t).  He doesn’t have to be virtuous, for he votes in such a way that he’s making everybody else be moral.

Ever notice how well Europeans tip the waitress?

And something changes in the heart of the receiver, as well.  If he has to go to Father Murphy yet again for a handout, he might feel a stronger need to turn his life around.  He knows that Father Murphy doesn’t have to help him.  He and his parish are doing so because they want to, because they care.  Will there be some people who will take advantage regardless?  Yes, but he’s more likely to be grateful

However, when he’s getting money from a government agency, he may instead feel entitled.  Those are his benefits, the lady giving them to him may know him or care about him, but he might just be a number.  Still, that check is his by law.  And if any politician even hints that those checks might stop coming, it’ll be time to protest like French farmers.

On the right we’re often accused of selfishness, and therefore immorality. It’s our greed that’s making everybody else poor.  However, it’s not us who devised the Robert Taylor homes in Chicago.  Republicans haven’t run Detroit since the early 1960’s.  We’re not the ones who’ve pushed the welfare programs that have decimated the black family, and we’re not the ones insisting those kids go to the same crappy schools.

We have different solutions to these problems, but they’re based on individual liberty and recognize how people respond to incentives.  These solutions have rarely gotten a hearing; you don’t even need to listen to us because we’re mean.

Is poverty political?  Yes, and you lessen it by “preserving” individual rights, not by making other people care.

This entry was posted in Foundations, Politics, Race, Rhetoric. Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Sweet Charity

  1. YOHAMI says:

    Also, it goes to the core. Let’s agree for a minute on the premise that we *must* help the poor. What constitutes help exactly? if you give resources to the poor that equals to financing the poor. Take any poor village and keep everything the same but give them food and resources, after a few years they will have multiplied and need even more food and resources “to stay the same”.

    Help – to what? the help I would be willing to give is to help them to stop being poor. Food is not going to take care of that, and money neither. And sadly, academic education wont help either. Free med care will only make them last longer and reproduce more. To stop being poor you need to address the culture, and give them skills, not just knowledge, and incubate them like some foundations do with small business. To help them would require to *change them*.

    If you feed them as they are, the poor grows.

    Free medcare and clothing and stuff and positive maternal care aint gonna make it. It will make it worse.

    • Help – to what? the help I would be willing to give is to help them to stop being poor.

      I don’t know if you are aware of the Catholic Worker movement or the DIY movement… but I think one way to stop people from being poor is to stop fetishizing material goods (most of which are not even made here in the USA, as they once were), stop idealizing the concept of everyone living a separate house, etc. To some extent, the poor are already more likely to live in extended families than the middle class. But the increasing poverty of the middle classes is also due to STUFF and the obsession with STUFF (I heartily recommend “The Story of Stuff”–which you can watch for free online). An old Marxist prophet, Herbert Marcuse, said capitalism would parasitically destroy the middle class by “creating needs” after basic food/clothing/shelter needs were met, and now we see that this is happening. My own approach is to try to change hearts, minds and values. I don’t know that we can combat the seduction of Madison Avenue with these efforts, but I am willing to give it a shot. The Occupy kids have been a godsend, and this has been their focus. I have learned a great deal from them.

      • Martel says:

        Again, a great case can be made against materialism. It’s much harder to make the case that I have no right to be materialist if I want to be, or that anybody else has the right to purge me of my baser material instincts.

        “My own approach is to try to change hearts, minds and values.” And this is great so long as you’re not trying to use the government to make people change those hearts.

  2. I think my other comment is still in your spam filter.

    Your comments about Christ are parsing the scripture. (Are you Catholic? All that “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” business, comes to mind.) Christ said to help the poor, and that was if you regard yourself as His follower. No, you don’t ‘have to’ be his follower, of course. I meant, if you are.

    I believe this since EVERY holy book on earth says this. (I no longer identify as Catholic or Christian–however IMHO, one does not ‘stop’ being Catholic, as one does not ‘stop’ being a Jew… good luck with that!) If it was just one religious tradition, or two, I might be able to ignore it, the way I ignore the Islamic nonsense about women. (no other religion is as extreme in its sexism; some are pretty liberal, in fact… some religious traditions/texts barely mention sexual behavior/gender at all.) But ALL religions and moral philosophies proclaim that the poor we always have with us, and we will be judged by how we treat them and care for them. This goes back over 10,000 years, at least.

    As I have written over and over, I am terribly nervous when people arrogantly believe themselves superior to history and think they can ignore the accumulated human morality of the ages. (This is what I believe unbridled industrial capitalism has done, in fact.) I criticize Rand because she did this, as Pol Pot also did. I am surprised I have to explain this to a conservative (or conservative-sympathizer), since I think its the right’s strongest point. One of my favorite theories is that socialism is more like tribalism and is far older than capitalism (admittedly lifted the idea from Frantz Fanon) which is why it unaccountably appeals to people on an emotional level. The dicey part of that is nationalism… then again, I am not totally opposed to nationalism (which is where I become non-PC and get kicked out of the Marxist collective). Trotsky had a point with all that “socialism in one country” stuff. (Stalin ruined it for everybody!) But I do try to avoid the blood-letting that this subject engenders on the left… I am telling you for the sake of clarity, so you know where I am coming from.

    Yes, you preserve life, you convict the guilty, you nurse the babies, you help the poor. IF you are a moral person, you must. If you are not, well, I would expect no different.

    That is what all the moral laws of the world have said, throughout human history. And I believe the reasons for this are not *just* bleeding-heart reasons, but TO PROTECT SOCIETY from angry, hungry, teeming mobs. As Bob Marley warned us, a hungry man is an angry man, and I take that to heart.

    This is what Christ said–like Buddha, like Krishna, he gave specific guidelines for his own people. IF YOU WOULD FOLLOW THEM, you will sell everything and follow me (spoken, pointedly, to a rich man), or as Buddha said, you will leave it behind and give it to one who needs it more than you do. This is NOT debatable. As for ‘have to”–if you would follow them, yes, you have to. The rules are clear.

    If you don’t follow them, then I guess you don’t. But I thought I was talking to one who did. 🙂

    • YOHAMI says:

      ” TO PROTECT SOCIETY from angry, hungry, teeming mobs. ”

      So the reason to help (feed) the poor is to prevent them from becoming violent?

      • Yohami, yes, that is a primary reason.

      • YOHAMI says:

        But… that’s a purely selfish reason? that wont help the poor, will just keep them there.

      • Martel says:

        But we can’t assume that government assistance is actually “help”. Yes, you feed the guy for that afternoon, but you often make him less likely to feed himself next month. It’s a cultural change that’s required (like you mentioned in your last comment), but welfare programs usually only change cultures for the worse.

      • Sure its selfish, just as locking up criminals is ‘selfish’–to protect us. Sometimes, selfish acts are sensible.

      • YOHAMI says:

        Locking animals and feeding them, not the kind of help that helps – them.

      • I don’t think starving people helps them either. How does it?

        As a child, my family received food stamps, or I would not be here typing this. I am grateful for that, and wish to extend that to others who find themselves on hard times.

        I will put my multiple decades of work history against yours or anyone else. Receiving food stamps did not teach me NOT to work, quite the contrary. I have worked very hard in my life, and I resent anyone saying that the fact that my family got welfare means that I have not. It just isn’t true.

    • Martel says:

      Again, missing the point. The closest you come is “Christ said to help the poor, and that was if you regard yourself as His follower. No, you don’t ‘have to’ be his follower, of course. I meant, if you are.”

      However, not unlike the way in which we’re not obligated BY OUR GOVERNMENT to follow Christ, we’re not LEGALLY obligated to follow His teachings, either.

      I don’t dispute that there are moral calls to help the poor in just about every religious tradition. On this count I can’t speak for other traditions, but in the New Testament, neither Christ nor Paul nor its other authors call upon people to FORCE other people to follow Christian imperatives.

      Perhaps it will make more sense if I flip the “rights” concept around. Whether or not I’m obliged to help the poor, you have no right to enforce that obligation on me. You may feel called to do everything in your power to persuade me, you can try to convince me, shame me, ostracize me, mock me, but the moment you put a gun to my head (or sanction the government to do it on your behalf), it’s no longer advocacy, it’s your Will to Power versus mine. You’re Will to Power may be ostensibly more “moral” but by enFORCEing it you sabotage your own virtuousness and do nothing to increase mine.

      Furthermore, even if it were more “moral” to have zillions to government programs to help the poor, the programs themselves don’t work very well.

      By your logic it’s a timeless virtuous imperative to oblige people to surrender the fruits of their own labor to foster perpetuate a dependent underclass. I disagree.

      • We will have to agree to disagree. Yes, I do see what you mean about govt force–and that is why I say we have to fall back on democracy.

        I have no problem (unlike the leftist atheist faction) using religious beliefs in the public square, to make our case, or any other case.

      • YOHAMI says:

        Daisy, the subject here is “force”. Do you want to be forced into giving me money? statistically Im poorer than you. Send me some cash so I can have a break and a margarita.

      • Martel says:

        But even under a democracy, it’s force. I am an entity unto myself accountable only to myself, my God, and that to which I choose to be held accountable. Even if a majority of a population wants to make me do something, and even if that majority is more “moral” than I am, it’s still FORCE.

      • Yohami, apparently you are unaware that the USA has given Argentina over 27 million dollars in aid over the last decade. http://gbk.eads.usaidallnet.gov/query/do?_program=/eads/gbk/tablesByCountry&cocode=5ARG

        If you didn’t get any of that, you need to ask your own politicians for your cut. 😀

    • YOHAMI says:

      Im unaware of anything churchy, but Im glad if they are putting the church to use.

      “stop idealizing the concept of everyone living a separate house” cmon.
      “the poor are already more likely to live in extended families than the middle class. ” not by choice.

      I watched the history of stuff. Good stuff. Sad that it doesnt offer any solutions.

      • I grew up relatively poor, in an extended family, and like Andy and Aunt B (dunno if you are an American, but most people get those references around here), even when people in my family finally obtained middle class jobs, they continued living that way just because it was a good working model. When my mother worked, my grandmother took care of us and that was a good arrangement. Better, IMO, than day care, which is what people now must often depend on.

      • YOHAMI says:

        Within a family sure, if they want to live together, that’s fine. Poor people dont have the choice. Kids sleep on the same bed where the parent’s are fucking. The “idealization” of separate houses is pushing it too far. If they have options, then they can get wiser about administrating these options and resources. Poor people dont have the options.

        Sadly just giving them the options, say, giving them houses, it’s not going to fix the problem.

  3. YOHAMI says:

    I live in a pretty good neighborhood. Let’s say every morning when I leave the building I give a 100 bucks bill to every poor person I met. What do you think will happen after 10 years? how many poor people are going to be waiting outside of the building, how much did I decrease poverty?

    • Martel says:

      “What do you think will happen after 10 years?” You’ll have a long line of people outside your house who decided they can live on what you give them instead of getting jobs.

      There WILL undoubtedly be a couple of folks who would use your money to buy their kids some shoes and then pay you back in a few months, but for every person like that you help, you’ll inspire about ten to be more lazy than ever.

  4. YOHAMI says:

    Martel, it is interesting that Daisy keeps avoiding the “force” part. Seems that she thinks force can and should be used as long as they are forcing you to do the right thing, but she wont say it.

    I live in Argentina, which is poorer than the USA. Maybe Daisy should be forced to gimme some money.

    • Martel says:

      Like I’ve said, it’s VERY difficult for anyone on the left to grasp. Their instincts tend away from individualism and towards communitarianism. As such, it’s harder to recognize how the will of the majority (especially if it’s being moral) can and does subvert individual sovereignty.

      Leftist tend to either exaggerate themselves vis-a-vis others or diminish themselves. Rarely will one have the proper balance.

      • The only things I will agree that I think should be “forced” is Obamacare and car insurance, as well as taxes for the things we all depend on, like roads and fire departments.

        However, I do not like paying for endless emergency rooms and Big Pharma robbery, and I am upset with the FORM Obamacare is taking. I like Taiwan’s model: no abuse of emergency rooms; no endless tests and bullshit for hypochondriacs (if you make visiting doctors a habit and have no real diagnosis, they will investigate you and possibly cut you off) and most importantly, none for non-citizens. (Even if you have a work visa, you have to get endless signatures from employers and it only lasts a year.) I wish we had the political will of Japan, Taiwan or Switzerland, I would like our health insurance program to be like theirs. What I wonder is WHY we do not have that political will and they do? They are totally unapologetic about their limits. For instance, in Japan, they have forced Big Pharma to lower prices or cut THEM off too.

        Also, I think Obamacare will put us at a crossroads regarding health choices. None of us will be happy paying for smokers to ruin themselves, and yes, slippery slope ahead. Again, we have good models to follow, Canada, UK, Switzerland, France, Taiwan and Japan, and I’d prefer any of them over ours. They offer people help to lose weight and stop smoking (etc), and if you DON’T, you can lose your health care for other illnesses. I suppose that is also “force”–but I am not opposed to it, so guilty as charged. In fact, that might work when nothing else has. (again, my question is why we drink, eat and smoke more than any other country on the planet?)

        Like I’ve said, it’s VERY difficult for anyone on the left to grasp. Their instincts tend away from individualism and towards communitarianism

        Martel, as one in the most conservative county in the USA (according to Rick Santorum), I am VERY individualistic. It takes a lot to go against the majority, no matter who you are, and I am regarded as the crazy leftist auntie around here. (that is how I ended up on talk radio) So, this statement rubs me the wrong way… around here, Bob Jones University is the local standard. The newbies moving in tend to be high-level BMW and Michelin employees and therefore European. But it is from them I learned so much about the ways national health insurance can work, IF you have the political will to impose limits.

        Most actually regard themselves as conservative, but still defend their health insurance system(s).

      • YOHAMI says:

        Had this discussion with my swiss girlfriend and it also blow her leftist mind.

        Obamacare and the like: free med care for everyone. The reason why it’s free? because it’s expensive and people dont have the money to cover it. But nothing is really free, so who is paying for it? the state. And where is the state getting the money? taxes. But taxes are being taken from the people right? and the people didnt have money to pay for medcare, so who’s really paying for it?

        Richer people and paying for it, and then, debt. The country gets in debt with international banks, so every citizen owes all that money, and that debt will ruin the whole country eventually and inevitably.

        Same for insurance and so on.

        If we go for the reason why people cant pay for med care and need free stuff… the reason is they dont have money. They cannot pay for it. The reason they dont have money is the economy is working badly. Getting into debt and getting free stuff that isnt really free only makes it worse.

        This particular problem, medcare, can be fixed by 1) making more public hospitals, make them cheaper, use volunteers, LOWER prices. and 2) improve the economy.

        If you give them free stuff you’re incentivizing none of that, but making the situation worse.

      • Martel says:

        It’s quite possible to be an individualistic communitarian when “individualistic” refers to one’s insistence on individual beliefs & expression and “communitarian” refers to the belief that we’re all intertwined. More to follow.

  5. Well, as I said, I grew up poor… and when my family had no medical care, I got medicaid. I am grateful for that, or I would not be here.

    As I said in my other comments, I am 55 years old and have worked my whole life… I am willing to bet I’ve worked lots more than you have, for many decades. Please stop repeating the nonsense that having health care (or anything else) paid for, suddenly turns you into some obscene, lazy freeloader. IT JUST ISN’T TRUE.

    • Martel says:

      I’m at work so I can’t keep up with the replies I want, but I will this evening. This merits a thoughtful response.

  6. YOHAMI says:

    Instead of keeping them poor and giving them free stuff they cannot pay for, enable them to make their own money, so they can pay for the stuff they need. And fix the system so the prices are not over inflated. Basic stuff.

  7. Aiyeee, I am back in your spam filter again. It hates hippies!

  8. Pingback: Not All Welfare Recipients Are Like That | Alpha Is Assumed

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