A Principled – and Flawed – Smokescreen

“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
John Kenneth Galbraith

Political discourse in these days rarely gets deeper than a yard sign, bumper sticker, or tweet.  One of the ideas contributing to our current divide is that assistance from the government to the people unjustly punishes the “haves” in favor of the “have-nots”, and that public largess (seemingly distinct from private largess) provides a disincentive for people to help themselves.

This “disincentive” view is often combined with the belief that members of our society who have “made it” have done so through their personal perseverance, effort, and strength of character, while those who have not “made it” have failed through not just a lack of these characteristics, but because they possess an abundance of laziness, a lack of integrity, and an absence of morals.

But even a cursory thought uncovers that these two ideas are inconsistent.  First, according to this worldview, people at the bottom are there because they lack the good characteristics needed to succeed and possess the bad characteristics that prevent them from succeeding.  So how can providing help remove the incentive to accomplish what they are definitionally incapable of?

Another, shorter way to express the issue is the argument that equality of opportunity does not assure equality of outcome, nor should it.  As Rush Limbaugh so inartfully expressed this recently  “some people are just born to be slaves.”  It is futile and naïve to deny that some successful people have achieved success solely through their effort and character.  And it is just as futile and naïve to deny that some people through bad decisions and bad actions have squandered everything and are responsible for their desperate position in life.  But it should also be acknowledged by anyone who has been senescent for more than a few years that it is at least equally futile and naïve to believe that where someone fits on the economic spectrum is determined solely by his or her individual effort and character.  Yes, a certain percentage of people have succeeded economically because of their effort and character, and an additional percentage of people have failed because of their lack of effort and character.  But for the vast majority of people between these polar outposts, history, logic, and experience suggest that not only are personal characteristics not the determinative factors in success vs. failure, these characteristics are not even the most influential factors.

Nothing can get a tea baggers cholesterol thickened blood pumping faster than the thought of a “welfare Queen”.  Well, you ought to see me when I encounter someone who was born on third base acting like they hit a triple.

I will return to this topic periodically.

Until the next time – YP


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