aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Conservatives and the poor

It is a canard among progressives that conservatives hate the poor. This is not only balderdash, a counter-argument can be made that progressives' preferred policies deeply hurt the poor and that conservatives treat the poor with more dignity and respect than progressives do.

In order to understand this argument, let's reduce all the circumstances of poverty to a single example. Let's say somebody is struggling with a terrible disease. Said disease may be acute, or it may be chronic, but in any case it is certainly an affliction to the person suffering it, and that sufferer's entire family is also deeply affected thereby. At the same time, we will let medicine represent all the different sorts of assistance (vouchers, direct payments, training programs, free school lunches, housing assistance, whatever) that a person might need. The moral thesis advanced by progressives is that if you fail to help this sufferer and/or his family, especially when you have the means readily at hand to do so, you are to be judged immoral.

What may surprise you is, conservatives would largely agree with this thesis. Many of them would, in fact, quote the Epistle of James to back up their opinion, where he writes, "What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food [or, in our example, sick], and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what doe sit profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (James 2:14-17). But having said that every person (well, every Christian, anyhow) who sees another in need is obligated to do more than wish that person well doesn't necessarily mean that all the policies of the 21st Century welfare state are therefore validated.

Okay, so I see a sick person. I am obligated to help, as I can. What should I do then? One thing I should not do is steal the means of help from someone else. If I don't have the medicine they need, nor the money at my disposal to help buy it, I can't just go break into a pharmacy to get it for them. Helping them buy what they need, getting people together to buy what they need, even begging those with medicine to sell to discount the price to make it easier to buy, are all legitimate. Taking it by force is not.

Political schemes that attempt to remove the profit motive from drug companies are immoral, besides being ineffective. Those who risk huge amounts of money to discover new drugs should be rewarded when they succeed, so they can pay back all the investors who made it possible -- or else, why invest at all? Likewise, laws that mandate that medical goods and services be repaid at below-market prices -- besides being ineffective -- are an attempt to make suppliers an offer they can't refuse. My point is, confiscatory laws not only wreck the economy (and thus hurt everybody, including the original sick person we're trying to help), but they may also be immoral themselves if they commandeer goods and services and underpay for them (note that even eminent domain laws require fair compensation).

This doesn't mean that conservatives think all schemes that use tax dollars or public regulations are wrong. Conservatives would rather start with encouraging private means of assistance, including churches, public charities, and discount programs by for-profit companies, but in the end they acknowledge that there is a role to play by government to assist those in distress. In our example, all possible forms of distress are represented by sickness, and all possible forms of assistance are represented by medicine. Here is a sick person, likely to die without treatment, and nobody has the means to hand to treat her. In the last resort, will you agree that the state should pay for her treatment? Well, yes -- assuming that we aren't stealing the medicine from someone else and private assistance has proven unavailing, sure.

But then we have to consider the potency of the drugs we're administering. Handing out medicine indiscriminately is not good practice. This particular medicine is extremely addictive. We want to give the minimum dose necessary to help the patient, lest we get the patient hooked on the drug. That would be bad, not only for the patient, but for the patient's family, and even the patient's community. Many studies have shown that the over-prescription of various forms of welfare have deleterious effects upon the recipient and the recipient's family and social setting. Too much public assistance creates a dependency on public assistance that always cries out for more. It also leads to family breakdown and other social ills. So, while conservatives agree that we ought to help, we are wary of helping too much.

Progressives have no such fear. There is no such thing as too much of a good thing, in their opinion. So they gleefully over-prescribe their assistance. They go out of their way to try to get people to sign up for it, to use more of it, to get government to provide more of it and on easier terms. They have gone beyond the practice of medicine, even in a foolish manner, and have become mere drug pushers. And like all pushers, in the end, they equate the good of the pusher with the good of the user. Their election campaigns come down to telling the poor, "Can you imagine living without your fix? Well, vote for us and we'll make sure your supply is never interrupted."

Never mind that too much of what they supply will destroy everything the sufferer cares about. As long as there are people who crave what they can give, they will always have people to vote for them. Conservatives point out that the primary beneficiary of poverty programs is not poor people, but government workers -- all solidly middle class, highly unionized, mostly immune to dismissal, and reliable voters for progressive causes. Take the total amount spent on assisting the poor and divide it among all those defined as poor, and there wouldn't be any poor people any more. Most of the cost of government programs designed to assist the poor goes to hire administrators and case workers and office help and what-all, not direct assistance to the poor.

Conservatives don't hate the poor. They respect the poor, as actual people with inherent human dignity. They want to assist them, first by private means, but secondarily by government -- and then, government at the lowest level effective, closest to the needs of the poor. The "safety net" provided by government should aim to help without making them dependent on our "drug." The goal is to help people become well, not maintain them in the habit we have hooked them on. "Well" people (those who becoming increasingly independent and productive) are happier people, and they contribute to the betterment of society at large.

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