Thursday, January 25, 2007

How We See Poverty

I thought this was a very interesting way of phrasing the differences between conservatives and liberals on the topic of wealth and poverty, using the SOTU and Sen. Webb's response:
President Bush's proposals tend to target various aspects of what might be called absolute poverty. By contrast, Sen. Webb is interested in relative poverty.

Corresponding to the emphasis on absolute poverty and relative poverty are feelings of altruism and envy respectively.

President Bush seeks to inspire altruism by encouraging Americans to compare themselves with those who have less[...]

Sen. Webb, by contrast, encourages Americans to compare themselves to those who have more, and feel envy.
I've always hated the "relative wealth" argument, and love hearing it only because it means that we're so prosperous as a nation that populists can't point to the terrible conditions of the lower classes any more as some kind of problem that needs big (socialist) fixing. In fact, the great unwashed masses apparently in need of all this government rescue have it pretty darn good.

Most conservatives I know don't oppose some kind of safety net, such that even those who have spent their life making terrible choices aren't freezing to death in the gutter. (Most of us do ask that the people seeking the net at least stop the behavior that put them in the gutter in the first place, or that they take up some part of the responsibility of getting help.) Likewise, most of us agree that helping those truly unable to help themselves - children, the truly mentally ill, the very elderly - is a proper role of the (state and local) government.

But to extend that net to a working class that is more well off than at any time and in any place in the history of the planet, simply because a few people make even MORE money, is absurd. Robbing from the rich to give to the poor may make for fun movies, but it's a terrible way to run an economy, or more importantly, protect individual freedoms.

1 comment:

Cato said...

There is evidence that having a low position in the pecking order produces stress, and there are good arguments to be made that at extremely high levels of inequality democracy is threatened, either by the power of the elite or the revolutionary impulses of the lower classes.

Nevertheless, the relative wealth arguments make my flesh creep.