Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Confusing Cause and Effect

I keep coming across these vaguely libertarian (I've got mine, fuck you!), pseudo-Christian complaints about government social programs. I don't know if this has been going on for years, or if this is something new, but they always strike me as being . . . I don't know. Disingenuous? Obtuse? I'm not sure.

For one thing, if you truly care about feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless, I'm not sure why you would care who does it. Sure, we shouldn't be paying for charity by prostituting children, but why so much fuss about charity done through taxes as opposed to churches? I've heard weak complaints about "waste", but churches pay administrative costs, too, so it's not like 100% of the money is ever going to charity.

To me, it sounds like a combination of two things: a rather childish I don't want to and you can't make me! (but I totally would anyway if you just wouldn't make me) and how dare you take the Jesus out of caring for the poor!

Take this particular post from American Catholic, for example. Basically, the author argues that government social programs are the cause the very social ills they address. As if children were never starving before we came up with WIC, or in this case, as if all the elderly were happily being supported by their families until Social Security came along, and then people stopped caring for their elders and now the elderly are lonely and poor.

Working with a large number of recent immigrants from India, one of the biggest social differences that stands out when family interactions are discussed at work is that in Indian families it is expected that unless they are very rich, when parents retire they will go to live with one of their married children, or circulate from one filial household to another, staying at each for several months out of the year. This is practically unheard of in the US at this time, and it is frequent for US-born people around the office to say, when hearing about this, “I couldn’t stand to have my parents visit for more than a week.” However, such arrangements were far more common both in the US and in Europe before social programs to assure an independent income for the retired rendered such arrangements unnecessary. One can argue that longer distances make for closer families, and certainly, human nature being what it is, enforced closeness can lead to resentment instead of love, but I don’t think it takes a great deal of imagination to see that this is a case where removing the need to care for each other in a practical and financial sense has allowed the erosion of social relationships.

Um, no. The reason Social Security and such were created was because of the large numbers of elderly persons living in extreme poverty because they weren't being supported by their families. Keep in mind, in order to be supported by your children, three things need to happen, (a) you have to have children, (b) those children need to survive to adulthood, not a guaranteed thing when Social Security was created, or even today, and (c) those children need to be doing well enough financially to support you. That's an awful lot to make people depend on, especially people like me who can't children.

I would also like to point something else out. Religious charity existed well before government social programs. The fact that government social programs had to be created is proof of the fact that voluntary religious charity was not enough. If it were enough, we wouldn't need food stamps and WIC and Social Security. Duh.

Oh, and the next person who invokes Scrooge as proof of anything is getting a visit from nihilist hackers. Scrooge is not real, people. Stop it!


  1. Anecdote rather than data, but... among the people I know, the ones who espouse those semi-libertarian viewpoint are almost always the ones who received (and in many cases, continue to receive) an awful lot of monetary (and other) assistance from their parents. So I'm going with either disingenuous, or seriously lacking in basic self-awareness.

  2. I really don’t get how or why people seem to keep confusing Libertarianism/Libertarian principles, and plain selfishness, greed, arrogance, and whatever. I’m not a Libertarian, but their principles are really quite sensible and reasonable, even if I don’t agree with all of them. Hell, check out Ed Brayton’s or Radley Balko’s blogs for prominent examples of staunch Libertarianism; I really don’t get all the hate aimed at it.

    Okay, little semi-off-topic rant over. On-topic: the American Catholic obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about, if he actually thinks social programs hurt people rather than help them (or whatever he meant; it was kinda hard to tell).

  3. It was a little hard to tell.

    I suppose I should make a distinction between pure Libertarian principles and what really gets proposed in real life, though I generally don't.

    Libertarianism is like communism to me: good in theory, bad in practice. Neither philosophy really accounts for how people actually act in real life.

  4. I agree with communism being a valid on paper (and I wonder how many would wanna shoot us doggone commie pinkos for saying that? =P), and it would work perfectly fine in real life it it wasn’t for the inevitable mountains of corruption where all the funds are stripped from the people and used to finance militaries and whatnot. *Sigh*

    Libertarianism, as far as I understand it (though mostly from the two blogs I mentioned earlier), basically advocated giving people the greatest amount of individual freedoms and rights possible whilst staying within reason. It’s pretty much the antithesis of the Nanny State, so-to-speak. It’s not anti-government, but merely anti-governmental interfering.

  5. @ Joé McKen -

    Yes... and if that were how it were presented to me, I would have considerably more respect for it as a movement. In my day-to-day interactions, however, most of the people who self-identify as libertarians:
    A) Either don't know what they're talking about, or apply the philosophy in a suspiciously selective fashion (i.e. social programs actually are okay if and when they benefit me)
    B) Seem little concerned with individual freedoms, and passionately concerned about the possibility that someone, somewhere might be getting something that they haven't earned.

    While I'm sure there are principled libertarians out there, most of the ones I meet seem to be selfish and/or short-sighted people who use the term as a cloak for their fundamental selfishness.

    So for me, at least, the term draws fire not because of the philosophy per se, but because of the real-world attitudes and actions that it gets used to justify.


  6. "Keep in mind, in order to be supported by your children, three things need to happen, (a) you have to have children, (b) those children need to survive to adulthood, not a guaranteed thing when Social Security was created, or even today, and (c) those children need to be doing well enough financially to support you."

    You forgot (d) your children need to be WILLING to support you.

    And so it comes back around to "I would if you didn't make me, but when you don't make me, I still don't"

  7. PF,
    Good post. Before having a conversation with Libertarians/ ultra conservative types, have them sign the following pledge.
    You may have seen this. I stole this from somewhere on the internet- can't remember where:

    Socialist-Free Purity Pledge
    I, ________________________________, do solemnly swear to uphold the principles of a socialism-free society and heretofore pledge my word that I shall strictly adhere to the following:
    I pledge to eliminate all government intervention in my life. I will abstain from the use of and participation in any socialist goods and services including but not limited to the following:
    Social Security
    Unemployment Insurance
    State Children’s Health Insurance Programs (SCHIP)
    Police, Fire, and Emergency Services
    US Postal Service
    Roads and Highways
    Air Travel (regulated by the socialist FAA)
    The US Railway System
    Public Subways and Metro Systems
    Public Bus and Lightrail Systems
    Rest Areas on Highways
    All Government-Funded Local/State Projects (e.g., see Iowa 2009federal senate appropriations–http://grassley.senate.gov/issues/upload/Master-Approps-73109.pdf)
    Public Water and Sewer Services (goodbye socialist toilet, shower, dishwasher, kitchen sink, outdoor hose!)
    Public and State Universities and Colleges
    Public Primary and Secondary Schools
    Sesame Street
    Publicly Funded Anti-Drug Use Education for Children
    Public Museums
    Public Parksand Beaches
    State and National Parks
    Public Zoos
    Unemployment Insurance
    Municipal Garbage and Recycling Services
    Treatment at Any Hospital or Clinic That Ever Received Funding From Local, Stateor Federal Government (pretty much all of them)
    Medical Services and Medications That Were Created or Derived From Any Government Grant or Research Funding (again, pretty much all of them)
    Socialist Byproducts of Government Investment Such as Duct Tape and Velcro (Nazi-NASA Inventions)
    Use of the Internets, email, and networked computers, as the DoD’s ARPANET was the basis for subsequent computer networking
    Foodstuffs, Meats, Produce and Crops That Were Grown With, Fed With, Raised With or That Contain Inputs From Crops Grown With Government Subsidies


  8. Cont'd

    Clothing Made from Crops (e.g. cotton) That Were Grown With or That Contain Inputs From Government Subsidies
    If a veteran of the government-run socialist US military, I will forego my VA benefits and insist on paying for my own medical care
    I will not tour socialist government buildings like the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
    I pledge to never take myself, my family, or my children on a tour of the following types of socialist
    locations, including but not limited to:
    Smithsonian Museums such as the Air and Space Museum or Museum of American History
    The socialist Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson Monuments
    The government-operated Statue of Liberty
    The Grand Canyon
    The socialist World War II and Vietnam Veterans Memorials
    The government-run socialist-propaganda location known as Arlington National Cemetery
    All other public-funded socialist sites, whether it be in my state or in Washington, DC
    I will urge my Member of Congress and Senators to forego their government salary and government-provided healthcare.
    I will oppose and condemn the government-funded and therefore socialist military of the United States of America.
    I will boycott the products of socialist defense contractors such as GE, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Humana, FedEx, General Motors, Honeywell, and hundreds of others that are paid by our socialist government to produce goods for our socialist army.
    I will protest socialist security departments such as the Pentagon, FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, TSA, Department of Justice and their socialist employees.
    Upon reaching eligible retirement age, I will tear up my socialist Social Security checks.
    Upon reaching age 65, I will forego Medicare and pay for my own private health insurance until I die.
    SWORN ON A BIBLE AND SIGNED THIS DAY OF ____________ IN THE YEAR ______________.

  9. The problem really is just the interplay of religion and science. People who might otherwise be libertarian for political reasons are connecting it with their religion. It isn't fundamentally different than when liberal Christians point to the Bible as a reason to support welfare or such. The primary difference is that you (and probably most of your readers for that matter) don't mind the liberal Christian as much and so we sort of let it slide. They are also a bit less in your face and dogmatic about it. But the difference really is one of degree not of kind.


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