Compassion Subverted

Posted: March 19, 2013 in Charity, Compassion, Conservatism, Economics

scrooge1I’ve encountered the sentiment often, if not the exact words, “Conservatives hate poor people.” The notion is, of course, silly on its face, but there are people who really believe it. To prove it, I Googled “Conservatives hate the poor” and got many hits. One was a Yahoo question that asked, “Why do conservatives hate the poor?” The answer rated best by those polled was this one by this generation’s answer to Thomas Paine:
“they demonize the poor (“poor=lazy”) to give themselves a sense of self-importance while justifying their 19th-century free market economic fundamentalism, and because licking the arses of the filthy rich makes them feel like they are part of the same elite.” Eleven people thought that was good stuff.
Another answer came with penetrating insight into the dark hearts of Republicans:
“because the Republican propaganda machines sells them a dream that one day if they work hard enough they can be rich. But that is only if the socialists don’t prevent their ability to be rich by helping the poor survive.”

The Daily Kos weighed in with a very insightful discussion on the subject titled, “Mommy, why do Republicans hate the poor people,” oddly written by a man. Perhaps from the new kind of family. It is delightfully told from the perspective of a mom, sharing her insight with her daughter, as in former days she might warn her of big, bad wolves. You can see it here, if you have a strong stomach for such things: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/06/15/985340/-Mommy-Why-Do-Conservatives-Hate-the-Poor-People.

But I am not writing this primarily for the primates who have destroyed their brain cells through recreational pharmacology. I am writing this for good people I know who have bought into this notion that conservatives have something against poor people. This is for those good people, who are otherwise right thinking, but believe that it is compassionate to support government handouts to people who did nothing to earn them. Let’s examine the premise and the results of such policy.

The federal government has the means and the responsibility of taking care of every need Americans have. Now everything is regarded as a right of citizenship. Healthcare is not just a good idea, it is your right. But as economist Walter Williams points out, to say that I have a right to healthcare, is to say that I have a right to the time of my doctor and his office. I have a right to the benefit of his years of study and practice. I have right over his time. Healthcare is rather a privilege. More to the point, it is a commodity. It is something I must pay for. I may buy health insurance, or take my chances that I won’t need a doctor or health care provider often enough to justify the cost of insurance and pay out of pocket should something unforeseen arise. I do not (should not) have the right to ignore my responsibility for my own healthcare and expect others to take care of it for me. That is not fair to all those who must subsidize my choice to be irresponsible. If I fail to exercise, choose to smoke and eat a steady diet of junk food, I should not ask those who have been more responsible to help pay the bill for my irresponsibility.

Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornell West have written a book, which they are promoting nationally, called “The Rich and The Rest of Us.” They were on with Bill O’Reilly the other night. O’Reilly asked them how high the minimum wage should be. West offered that if it had kept up with inflation, it would be $16-$20 an hour right now. It was their view that that would help the poor. But when you raise the cost of something, such as entry level work, what happens to the supply of such? That’s right, class, you get less of it. If the minimum wage were to be increased, even by a dollar, much less doubled, those on the lower end of the income scale would suddenly find themselves joining the 23 million Americans out of work.

O’Reilly continued. Okay, now this single mom is getting $19 an hour for her work, what is she going to do with her child?

“We believe there should be free child care.”

And if they can’t find a job they qualify for.

“There should be free job training.”

All of these “solutions” are predicated on the notion that the federal government has a limitless supply of money and it is their responsibility to take care of people. These men have not received the memo that our country is broke. It is not just broke, it is $ 16 trillion in hock. This kind of government largess is unsustainable in a strong economy, much less Obama’s economy.
They are also predicated on the notion that these programs will ultimately be helpful to people and the economy. While everybody would like to make more money, the result of these ideas would be more unemployment, especially for those on the lower ends of the economic scale. But they get credit and positive headlines for “fighting poverty nationwide” (a description of an article in the Huffington Post found on Google). You see, despite the actual results of their policies (were they ever enacted, though not even President Obama would adopt them–at least not in his first term) they get credit and slaps on the back for being compassionate, and for “fighting poverty.” But the policies they push would promote more poverty.

This idea flies in the face of 6,000 years of recorded human history. The composite wisdom of the ages is, “there ain’t no free lunch.” You can give a man a fish, or teach him to fish. “Early to bed, early to rise…” “If any man will not work, neither let him eat.” The bottom line is that it is not compassionate to make men dependent.

The second premise inherent in the fallacy of government as compassion should be obvious. We have so much debt right now that we are putting a burden on our children that is now over $50,000 per person. We cannot continue to fund every giveaway program just because it sounds compassionate.

Liberals love getting credit for having compassion when they propose spending other people’s money to give to those who didn’t earn it. Let’s talk briefly about real compassion. Conservatives, and this is consistent across the nation, give far more of their own money to charity than do Liberals. We know that real compassion means making sacrifices with our own possessions. Conservatives start homeless shelters and crisis pregnancy centers and orphanages in far-flung reaches.

John Fried (among others) has shown that Republicans give significantly more to charity than do Democrats, despite income levels (see here http://tinyurl.com/bwrarn5). It is well known, or perhaps not so well-known, that Red states give a much higher percentage of their income to charity than do blue states. Arthur Brooks of Syracuse University was astounded by the results of his own study on who really gives in America.

“In his book, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservativism (Basic Books, 2006), Brooks discovered that approximately equal percentages of liberals and conservatives give to private charitable causes. However, conservatives gave about 30 percent more money per year to private charitable causes, even though his study found liberal families earned an average of 6 percent more per year in income than did conservative families. This greater generosity among conservative families proved to be true in Brooks’ research for every income group, ‘from poor to middle class to rich.’”

Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/castingstones/2008/04/conservatives-give-more-to-cha.html#ixzz2O073yGHS

This discussion can become silly at some point. Suffice it to say, that on average, conservatives give a higher percent of their income to charitable causes than do liberals. But even if they did not, it would not change the basic argument I am making here. It is not compassionate to entrap people in a cycle of poverty and dependence on government hand-outs.
In the Old Testament of the Bible their was a plan for charitable giving. Farmers were to leave the edges of their fields unharvested. The poor could come and glean from the edges of their neighbors fields. It was not the farmers responsibility to harvest the field and bring the crop to the poor. The responsibility for gathering their food still fell on the beneficiaries of the charity. They had to do some work. Work is good. It is good for the soul. It is good to feel that you have earned your food. The value of that food increases, along with the appreciation for it, when it is won through labor and sweat.
The beneficiaries of any charity should be required to have a hand in paving their own path to independence from it. When we make unemployment benefits, food stamps and other government hand-outs more valuable than an entry level job, we get more people willing to forgo the job market with all its work and sweat and mean bosses who teach hard life lessons, to live the soul-destroying life of a taker. We deprive people of those skills needed to survive and even thrive in a free market society that offers limitless opportunities to those who understand that they were created to achieve significance. We deprive them of the self-respect that comes at the end of a many days of falling and getting back up, learning and growing, of finding their unique gift they can contribute to the rest of society.
Perhaps that is the fear–that if we should treat people with such dignity, they might become conservative.
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