My esteemed colleague, the Heathen Republican, wrote a post that I thought read like a guilty confession, one where the criminal is not all that sorry for what he’s done, but he knows he’s been caught. The post is called “Conservatives, the Poor, and Entitlements.”
It primarily consists of a few questions, and his answers. I will be posting his answers in italics, and my response to certain points in brackets, followed by an overall answer/critique after his answer is complete. So, in overview: his words are in italics, while mine will not be.
Question 1: What responsibility does society have to the poor?
Conservatives value human life [unless you are foreign or found guilty of a crime], so society has an obligation to pick people up when they’re down and care for the people who can’t care for themselves [this is nice sentiment from HR, but I don’t think this is basic conservative ideology… but I don’t want to discourage him from thinking otherwise]. Free markets are the most efficient way to boost the standard of living for everyone in society, and significant interference in the market by government hinders economic growth [Actually, the most unregulated free markets concentrate wealth among the wealthy and impoverish an entire class of people… but this requires studying history and often considering events in other countries, so I can imagine why this isn’t plain fact to Americans]. Policies that keep markets free do the most to put more money in more [I think he misspelled “rich”] people’s pockets. Finally, the golden rule tells us that we should help others in their time of need because we would like help when we are in need, which is consistent with maintaining a basic social safety net [again… I’m perplexed at where this comes from, as HR claims to be an atheist, and I’m not sure about the logic behind introducing this here, but again… I don’t want to discourage this view].
While we have an obligation to pick people up when they're down, society does not have an obligation to lift people out of their poverty [we don’t have an obligation to do either, but we’re better off if we do both… but more on that in a second]. Instead, we can assist them by providing basic necessities, and making sure they have the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty [I think I’ll just cover my response to this below].
To answer the initial question: society has no responsibility to anyone, rich or poor. It is we, the citizens, who determine (based essentially on whim) what our society does, and there is no inherent “should” in the system.
But this is largely a cop out, and an answer I prefer to begin with because I want to make clear that this is not really a question of morality or ethics (it can be, but there is something larger than this at stake). Rather, this is a question about success. Do you want your society to succeed? If so, you would be better off doing what works, like providing the ability of all of your citizens to reach their full potential.
As I’m sure HR would agree, this doesn’t mean everyone will be successful, but the truth is, anyone might be important. If Stephen Hawking had been born into a poor American family, he might be dead. In fact, if they lacked health insurance, he’d almost certainly be dead. There is no way of knowing, from the time a person is born until the moment they die, what someone is capable of accomplishing. There are many important people who were enabled by others to rise from humble – even stunted – beginnings, but an untold number were never given the chance, and we will never know what we as a whole lost in these individuals.
To me, there is an ethical component in helping others, but there is also a cold, heartless fact based only on economic reasoning: we are squandering the abilities of those we neglect, and our society is immeasurably poorer because of it.
Question 2: Who has the responsibility?
The first point of responsibility is with individuals themselves. Individuals are responsible for themselves and their families, and no one should look to government to support them. Sometimes individuals fail, and that’s when society can step in to assist, but we cannot support unhealthy lifestyles and we should not prevent individuals from regaining their ability to care for themselves. [Spoken like a true right-winger who knows nothing about poverty… as if people are lining up to be poor because it’s so great living on welfare, so they have no incentive to earn more money and afford to do things they can’t afford to do on welfare, like… pay their bills on time or eat three whole meals a day. Also, no mention of how millions of people have no choice in the matter, from children of the poor to the disabled and mentally ill… why didn’t you choose to be born rich, able to walk, and mentally stable people?!]
The second point of responsibility is with government. As a society, we’ve decided that government has a role in providing a social safety net, but our Constitution limits how involved government can get. Local and state governments have more flexibility, but the federal government has clear limits. [This is just Republican propaganda, of little substance or meaning. It’s meant to point out an imaginary barrier whereby the states should have the power to do the right thing, but not the federal government, because Nixon courted the racially charged states-rights vote in the 70s, so the right-wing has been chanting “states rights” ever since. It’s constitutional to bail out billionaire bankers, and they did, but to help poor people would be unconstitutional… silly right-wingers and their double standards…]
The final point of responsibility is with local communities. For the things government is prevented from doing, charitable and non-governmental institutions must take over [They don’t and they won’t, but the right would love it if they did, since this would mean less taxes]. If they are unable, we can’t simply expand the role of the federal government without first amending our Constitution. [Blah blah blah]
I don’t like the word “responsibility” here, because it implies we have to do something. We don’t have to, but we do have to deal with the consequences of not doing anything, or not doing enough. What are the consequences of doing nothing? They range from things are harmless as generational poverty and widespread disenfranchisement to eventually armed revolt (which is the inevitable outcome when a people are left to suffer in hopelessness).
But I don’t think we’re facing the more dire consequences, at least not any time soon. I know some are all doom-and-gloom, but Americans have it pretty good on the whole, and we can have it even better if we do the right things. I don’t think we’re on the edge, and I’m confident that the government will do the right thing… at least once they have exhausted all other options (it’s always the solution you try last that works…).
Question 3: How much is society responsible?
Conservatives believe in a limited government[unless it’s the military, or pet projects, or tax breaks for campaign donors… or anything pertaining to gays or a woman’s uterus], so the ability of the federal government to care for the poor is also limited [Only in your head]. We cannot simply expand government indefinitely [Oh my god, a slippery slope leading to massive government! Sure, it looks like we’re just helping the poor, but if we’re not careful, we’ll wake up one morning and they’ll be billionaires, and the rich will be the poor… and up will be down, we’ll all be eating tofu on Thankgiving, then the terrorists will have won! Come on people!]. Government should limit its help to subsistence-level support (e.g. food, shelter, emergency health care), and should not be responsible for boosting people into the middle class (home ownership, wireless internet access, college tuition, etc.). [First of all… where do you live that aid given by the government is lifting anyone into the middle class? Seriously, no claim is more ludicrous than the belief that the poor are being given a free-ride into the middle by welfare. The poor don’t own homes, they rent. But now that you mention it, some of the most successful countries do give away free internet and college tuition, because they don’t want their country to be stupid. You can’t blame Republicans for denying people access to information and education, however… with those two being free, there would be a lot less Republicans.]
Again, that word… responsibility…
It just seems so wrong to me. To me, the word itself evokes “response,” which isn’t what I think we should be doing. We shouldn’t just be responding to problems, we should be solving (but ideally, preventing) them. However, I imagine the word brings up meanings in most people’s heads akin to things like “duty,” or in certain other cases, “culpability” or “blame.”
It’s not our duty to do the right thing, it’s in our best interest. However, I do see it as our fault when there are poor people not getting help, because Americans are responsible for what happens in America. Among industrialized nations, American has an embarrassingly large population of impoverished, optionless, and functionally abandoned individuals. You can include our prison population in that, as well, as this situation is not because we have particularly high crime, but that we have such draconian sentencing (especially pertaining to drugs, where we punish, rather than treat).
That’s about the extent to which I think society is responsible: outcomes. When things go wrong on a national level compared to other nations with similar economic success but different social policies… we are responsible for our failure to adapt to new and improved methods. I wish we would get our shit together and be responsible for us succeeding again, but I don’t see that happening any time very soon; maybe around 2020 (no particular reason for that date, just spitballing).
Question 4: Who are we talking about? Those who cannot help themselves, or those who will not help themselves?
Both. Those who cannot help themselves are the responsibility of society as a whole, both governmental and non-governmental. The federal government has programs as part of a basic social safety net. When the federal government hits its limit, local and state governments can take over, as well as charitable and other non-governmental organizations. [What actually happens: those who are poor don’t get enough, and they sink into debt; their children have zero opportunities to succeed; their children become poor; private charities pocket huge sums of money; rinse and repeat.]
As for those who will not help themselves, we should build a system that assists them to become self-sufficient, but weans them off over time so that they do not drain the resources that should go to those who cannot help themselves. [You know… because when you apply for help, they always ask you to check the box marked “I could support myself, but I choose not to” or “I cannot support myself,” whichever applies to you…] The federal government has a much smaller role here since the bureaucracy is limited in its ability to meet individual needs [gibberish right-wing speak], so local entities must take more responsibility [see also: less will get done, and those from states like Mississippi, that are less wealthy, will remain less wealthy]. The first goal is to get these people to become responsible for themselves since they are capable, given some assistance.
Let’s be honest… this whole questions is just a Republican talking point here. Going back to an earlier example, if Stephen Hawking was given a US education, I doubt he’d be much use to anyone. Instead, he was born into an affluent English family, so even though his disability would make most people in most situations little more than a medical and financial burden, the advantages of his circumstances have allowed him to retain an almost priceless value to humanity, even though he is afflicted with a debilitating disease.
There is no way to measure such nonsensical things as whether a person could or could not be self-sufficient. Apparently, HR doesn’t realize how horrible it is being poor, so he doesn’t realize that no one, anywhere, in any country, under any system, wants to be poor. I imagine pictures of poor people taking cruises and chinking their martini glasses as they laugh at the American tax-payer floating through HR’s head… that and syphilis. Okay, maybe not that last one, but I am at a loss as to how to explain such failure to understand a basic fact: it sucks to be poor. Perhaps he was dropped on his head as an infant? I dunno… oh wait, I forgot about this next question… where we’ll be enlightened…
Question 5: How do we decide who fits each group?
Those who are able-bodied and free of any mental handicaps fall into the category of “will not help themselves.” Even if they are controlled by certain addictions, which we can help them get free of, they are not free of their individual responsibility. [I don’t know where people get the idea that people on welfare are addicts, but I’m guessing it’s Fox News, not reality.]
The level of physical or mental handicap will determine who truly cannot help themselves. Some of them should be asked to care for themselves, based on medical evaluations and the ability of similarly handicapped individuals to care for themselves. [If Stephen Hawking can be so successful without being able to move or speak, clearly these disabled individuals are just playing it up for the sympathy checks…] Many mildly handicapped individuals are able to care for themselves, and modern technology has removed many barriers that prevent the physically handicapped from supporting themselves [Many technologies allow the handicapped to support themselves… like canes, and handrails on stairs! No, seriously, he has a point that more people have more potential, even when having to cope with disabilities, and it’s thanks to diligent efforts by the government… not any free market.]. These are individual decisions, and not something a Washington bureaucrat can decide. [Yeah, only a blogger in Colorado can make this decision, not a duly elected government official who travelled to Washington to do their job, you know, where the Capitol is located… right-wing speak is always ridiculous when you break it down logically. Not that there’s anything wrong with bloggers or Colorado… or HR.]
I propose we simplify this weird system of deciding who can or cannot help themselves by not dividing those seeking help into groups, which would just create more… what’s the word for it… I know there’s a word we use when talking about how politicians try to complicate matters and make arbitrary distinctions from far away without having much understanding of what actually happens on the ground… damnit, it’s on the tip of my tongue… oh right, bureaucracy.
Question 6a: Of those who cannot, is our help to them open-ended?
Our assistance for those who cannot help themselves is open-ended unless they become able to care for themselves (children growing into adults, for example). For those who will forever be unable to care for themselves, our obligation is a lifelong one, but not a bottomless one. They must be cared for in a way that provides a lifestyle that is free from the stresses that come from providing the basic necessities of life (e.g. food, shelter, basic health care). But society is not obligated to provide a luxurious lifestyle, and we should not help so much that it creates an incentive for others to pretend they need the same assistance. [So close… I almost went a whole paragraph where I agreed with him, but then he started imagining a world where people live like kings off the government… I wish I was a poor person in the mind of a Republican; it sounds pretty cushy.]
Let’s put it this way: I’m of the opinion that if you’re poor and can get into the best college in the country, I’m fine with the government paying for it, as well as a computer for you to use while you’re there. Based on previous comments, I am not sure HR would be okay with this, but frankly, it’s a small price to pay to possibly produce a productive member of society. Hell, I’ll even foot the bill for their Adderall habit. We should be so lucky to have the poor taking speed; I’m not even opposed to putting it in the drinking water (why shouldn’t my dog get the benefit of laser-sharp focus?). Little hyperbole there… or is it? [Comment on myself: that is kind of creepy, there… that’s how Herman Cain talks: “Here’s a horrible idea… I’m kidding… unless you’re into it…” This is also known as the “How to introduce weird sexual fetishes to your partner” method of suggestion.]
I get the feeling the affluent blame failure on drug use because they are surrounded by people who have every opportunity, and the only ones who fail when given every opportunity are… well… addicts.
Most poor people aren’t on drugs, but more of them deserve to be. If anyone deserves to be high, it’s the poor, but from studies (and Florida’s experiment in drug testing welfare recipients), we know that the poor are not poor because of drug use, so it’s a complete canard to focus on substance abuse. It’s just easy to believe convenient myths, like that there are legions of drug addicts taking government hand-outs (convenient, if you hate government hand-outs and want a reason to justify hating the poor), or the purely fictional “welfare queen” imagined in Reagan’s empty rhetoric.
Question 6b: Of those who will not, how much help are they entitled to?
Our assistance for those who can help themselves is not open-ended. We should assist them for a short period of time (unemployment compensation, drug rehabilitation, [I love how he will fund people getting off drugs… but education so you can actually make something of yourself? Forget it…] etc.) and expect them to begin supporting themselves as soon as possible. In most cases, the federal government is not well-suited to this kind of assistance because the bureaucracy cannot provide the individual attention needed to ensure people don’t return to their original state [I have to assume he means “drug addiction,” because most of the poor are young and have little job experience, or are elderly and dying… so I assume he doesn’t mean that without oversight, people will age in reverse or ]. As long as it’s consistent with its limited role, government can provide funds to local organizations that can assist individuals to become self-sufficient. [I’m not sure he realizes this largely means churches will get government funding… but I also don’t think he cares, even though he’s an atheist. He’s such a bundle of nonsense, sometimes, especially when he feels he has to tow the Republican party line when it comes to sucking Christianity’s cock while cupping private charity’s balls.]
The social safety net should ensure that no one becomes homeless or dies from their poverty. Even those who will not help themselves should be given assistance with the basics of life, including shelter, food, and emergency health care. This kind of support should not be given to anyone above the poverty line (and the poverty line needs to be a realistic assessment of true poverty). [He’s glad the social safety net is there… he just votes for people who want to eliminate it. But don’t worry, he’s one of the good people ruining America, because he doesn’t agree with the actual policy decisions and funding cuts of the people he supports.]
I understand the desire to get people off social assistance, but you don’t need to push people, you need to broaden their opportunities. Short of education, training, or direct employment through the government, there’s not much else you can do to get someone on their way to financial independence. HR seems to advocate none of these.
And if you’re poor from doing drugs, do the right thing: give up using and start dealing. Kidding… or am I?
Question 7: Since social policy can’t address every individual situation and resources are not infinite, how do we balance compassion with standards to arrive at the right amount of assistance?
While our compassion may be infinite, the dollars available to assist those needing our compassion are not [Lucky for liberals, many countries have more success in this area than we do, and they didn’t require infinite dollars…]. Similarly, while establishing standards for assisting those in need will minimize fraud and focus our efforts on those who need it most, many individuals will fall through the cracks. Government is very good at establishing standards for everyone, but very poor at assisting at the individual level.
Government should be directly involved in and administer programs like unemployment compensation, food stamps, and welfare assistance. Health care, substance abuse programs, homeless shelters and other housing assistance, assisted living facilities, and children’s services are often better handled at the local level by non-governmental or charitable organizations [Really? Brian Gallagher, President and CEO of “The United Way,” pockets over a million dollars a year. Where is the million-per-year politician or government bureaucrat? If there is one, alert me, I want to start a campaign to have the position scrapped. Maybe someone working at the Fed? NASA? Definitely not a social worker, though.] . Government money can flow to these organizations to support their efforts [aka: flow into the pockets of wealthy, private “charity” owners who cannot be voted out of power and can discriminate against who they help], but the programs themselves are better administered outside of government. [Because of course, everything’s better when you hear how awful those at the top are and you can’t do anything about them… because democracy sucks, so there’s no point in preferring your money be used by those you actually voted for… all hail the corporate overlord nobility! Am I the only one reading that between the lines? Figures… I need new glasses.]
I don’t think we have to worry about giving too much; we’re not even close to that right now. I honestly believe we could double what we give and we’d still fall desperately short of what would be needed to provide people not only what they deserve, but need in order for them to achieve financial independence. I would rather hover around giving too much than giving too little. How will we know when we’ve given too much? If we still have the most expensive military in the world, we haven’t given too much.
If you look where the money goes in this country, it’s no wonder we have smart bombs and dumb people.