• Jim Kelly

Does the left really care about the poor?

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

If you want an example of genuine caring, look at how responsible parents treat their children. They provide resources, but not to the point of spoiling the child. They recognize that after the first couple of years children are autonomous creatures who must make real choices in their lives. To become functioning adults, they can't be bubble wrapped and insulated from consequences of their choices. Although it might be painful to watch, responsible parents know they have to let their children succeed and fail and learn their own lessons. Even the most protective is reminded constantly that a lot of their children's choices are beyond their control as a practical matter.

Caring parents are curious. They read books and take classes on parenting. They may obsess over whether peanut butter is good or bad. They keep tabs on what their kids are getting up to.

By contrast, consider the left's instincts toward the poor. If you're compassionate toward the poor, you support a bottomless well of handouts for them. You don't recognize any line beyond which aid programs are "too generous." You'll criticize anyone suggesting that as heartless.

The left's compassion is usually at arm's length, and involves no personal work to minister to the poor directly, nor even to choose charities that will. It's sufficient to sweep the entire matter into the government's inbox. Anonymous bureaucrats, they imagine, will extract money from someone, figure out how to help the poor, and execute aid programs responsibly.

Where is the curiosity?

When Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in 1965, he envisioned it reducing welfare spending as people became self sufficient. In the intervening years we’ve spent tens of trillions fighting poverty--more than has ever been spent in human history--and we’ve succeeded only in making the problem worse. Poverty used to be something families worked their way out of from one generation to the next. Now America has a permanent underclass stuck in intergenerational poverty.

How did the war on poverty fail so catastrophically? The left not only doesn't have the answer, it would never occur to them to ask the question. They’ve long forgotten LBJ’s goal of getting people on their feet. Shoveling money at the poor is no longer a means to an end, it’s an act of piety, a virtuous deed in its own right that needs no further rationale.

The left is notably uncurious about the effects of the programs they advocate. They don’t evaluate so-called safety net programs critically, and they’ll denounce anyone doing so as lacking human decency. They’re utterly blase about demanding the government seize trillions to fund the programs, without asking what impacts that might have on average people trying to make a living.

Nor are they concerned what happens when the money inevitably runs out. Entitlement programs now consume two thirds of the federal budget and have promised to pay many times that in the future. The poor are often not the recipients of that money, but they’re always the justification. Seniors are in fact the wealthiest age group in America, but we can’t reform Social Security because Grandma would have to eat cat food.

The government has promised future grandmas $128 trillion in excess of what it can afford at current tax rates. That’s over $380K per citizen, well beyond what the average American is equipped to pay no matter the tax rates. The government will have to bleed Grandma throughout her working years to fund benefits for older generations, and it will still renege on its promises to her in retirement. Americans simply do not produce enough to keep the “safety net” in the air.

What happens to the poor then? Hopefully Grandma can survive on leftist outrage, because there will certainly be plenty of that to go around.

Hardworking basket cases?

We humans aren’t well equipped to reason about millions of people we’ve never met. We lack the attention to pore over minute statistics, so most people conjure a persona representing the “typical poor person.” The left imagines a character out of a Dickens novel--virtuous, hard-working, but conspired against by circumstances and institutional injustice and left perpetually suffering.

In other words they embrace a weird duality. On the one hand a poor person is a capable person like you and me, just trying to get above water. On the other hand they’re a helpless victim, whose choices played no part in creating their fortunes and can play no part in improving them. Suggest the poor make choices or respond to financial incentives and you’ll quickly be denounced for “blaming the victim.”

Throughout history the poor have struggled to stay ahead of starvation. America has so thoroughly demolished food scarcity that we now have an abundance problem: an obesity epidemic, especially among the poor. The left cannot credit the poor with control over their most basic personal decisions, so they have to blame institutional factors such as “food deserts” for the poor overeating.

In effect they grant the “typical poor person” less agency than a two year old. A toddler didn’t create much of his reality, but he certainly makes choices and will make many more of them in the future. Caring for him involves providing resources, but no one would consider a parent responsible who didn’t also help him learn to make good choices.

Since the left rules out the possibility of the poor making better choices, they must demand the rest of the world shape itself around the poor. Consumers desperately need a health care industry that responds to their choices and matches its offerings to their budgets. But we must do without, because the left cannot abide market reforms. The poor don’t have money, so we can’t have a health care industry that runs on money. Never mind that a three trillion dollar industry can’t conceivably run on anything else. We’ll have politicians take it over, because they promise to run it on “compassion.”

Likewise, we can’t have consenting adults renting each other apartments on mutually agreeable terms. A poor tenant might get evicted by a mustache-twirling landlord. So government must rewrite lease contracts to impose whatever terms it deems “fair.” Never mind that that inevitably means fewer apartments available to the poor.

Is this really what caring looks like?

The left certainly claims to care deeply about the poor--indeed, to hear them tell it one would think they have a monopoly on compassion.

But do they really? We can’t read minds, but we can certainly interpret actions, and we’ve all seen many examples of genuine caring in our own lives. Is “caring” really the right word to describe how the left treats the poor?

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