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No Virtue

Last week, noted New York Times columnist, Nobel Prize winning economist, and renowned asshat Paul Krugman published a column that got a lot of attention. In it, Krugman discussed the relative morality of the left and the right, in the context of public assistance and support and welfare.

This, naturally, was picked up and run with by the left (for example, this twit) to argue that Republicans are innately morally inferior to Democrats. On the other hand, Protein Wisdom's Darleen Click appropriately mocked the whole notion.

I don't intend to weigh in on the particulars of Krugman's column, but reading Darleen's piece started me thinking in a related theme. The crux of the left's argument here is that it is moral and virtuous for the government to provide assistance to the less fortunate, to provide a "safety net" that keeps the poor from becoming the starving, the freezing, the doomed.

Only the extremists would reject the notion that basic premise there -- that would argue that the government has no obligation or duty towards those among its citizens who are in truly great need. Likewise, only the extremists on the left would argue that the government's role is to set hard "floors" for income and standard of living, and hard "ceilings" for income and wealth. No, the argument is where to draw the lines.

But there is a fundamental assumption at play, especially on the left, that needs to be challenged. And that is the notion that supporting government welfare programs is somehow virtuous.

One fact that must never be forgotten is that, almost exclusively, the government has no money of its own. With almost no exceptions, the only income the government has is that which it takes from us by force of law.

The "generosity" the left boasts of is their willingness not to give of their own resources, but of all our resources. They are patting themselves on the back for giving away other people's money.

To me, and pretty much every other source I've checked, that is not "virtuous." "Virtue" implies choice. One must choose to act virtuously. If one is coerced into an action, then it is not virtuous.

Oh, it might be the right and necessary and appropriate thing, but it is in no way virtuous or noble.

The great compassion and generosity the left likes to boast of, such as in the above example, is easy for them -- because they aren't giving away their own money. No, they've decided that we all should pay for their generosity.

Which tends to explain all the studies that have shown that, on average, conservatives give more to charity than liberals. One factor has to be that the liberals figure they do their part when they vote for higher taxes and social programs, so they don't have to do anything personally.

Speaking personally, I don't mind admitting I'm not that well off. I could manage my money better, but I pretty much live paycheck to paycheck. And my income has largely stagnated the last couple of years, while the cost of living has risen, so my standard of living has slipped a bit. So I don't give money to charity.

But I still do what I can. I've been a blood donor of varying frequency for over 20 years, and just gave my 60th donation. That means I'm halfway to my 8-gallon pin, and have cumulatively given about five times my body's total blood supply. (Probably slightly less, as I'm not exactly petite, but it's a good whole number.) That my blood type is O+ is a bonus; the Red Cross likes me, because in a pinch my blood can be used by anyone with Rh+ blood (O+, A+, B+, AB+).

But I do so by choice. On the rare occasions I feel the need to brag, I feel entitled to do so. (I wear my seven-gallon pin with pride, and can't wait to upgrade it to an 8.) On the other hand, I feel no sense of pride in whatever good deeds are done by my tax dollars -- as I have virtually no say in how much I contribute, and how it is spent.

Yes, such programs are necessary. Yes, they do good. But in no way can they be argued to be "virtuous." Because they are the results of coercion. Do not ascribe any virtues to them, or those who mandate them. 

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Comments (19)

The other dimension to the ... (Below threshold)
Busterdog:

The other dimension to the argument is the question of federalism. If we do have to have these programs, what level of the government should create, run, and pay for them. I say get the feds out of the business entirely. Let us have 57 experiments running simultaneously. Different discussion I know, but that is where I generally end up.

It's always easy to be gene... (Below threshold)
TexBob:

It's always easy to be generous with other people's money and that's what libtards do.

The hypocrites are downright stingy when it comes to doing charitable things with their own time & money so they have no moral authority whatsoever.

The crux of the le... (Below threshold)
sam:
The crux of the left's argument here is that it is moral and virtuous for the government to provide assistance to the less fortunate, to provide a "safety net" that keeps the poor from becoming the starving, the freezing, the doomed.

Only the extremists would ... argue that the government has no obligation or duty towards those among its citizens who are in truly great need.

When we talk of duty and obligation, we are perforce talking about the realm of the moral. If the government does have the duty and obligation the provide for the needy, then we as citizens have a duty and obligation to support those government programs. Now, one could argue that the government could raise the money for the programs from sources other than personal taxation. But alternate forms of financing would not relieve us of the responsibility of supporting those programs if government requires us to. How would you characterize someone who says:

Yes, government programs to aid the needy are moral, and we as citizens have a duty and an obligation to support them. But I will not support them. In fact, I will do everything in my power to avoid supporting them.

Would not the actions of such a person in avoiding his duty and obligation be fairly described as immoral, as unvirtuous? If it's true that we, as citizens, have a duty and obligation to support these government programs, because these programs accomplish a moral good, then the question of coercion does not arise. If I act out of a sense of duty and obligation, I am not acting under coercion. Coercion would arise only in the case where someone attempted to avoid his duty and obligation.


Another part of the argumen... (Below threshold)
yttik:

Another part of the argument is that how you help people is very important. There is nothing virtuous about giving somebody another 8 bucks in food stamps and trapping them in crappy government housing. They deserve a well paying job and the opportunity to do for themselves, just like anybody else.

Extending unemployment benefits for example, was a feel good moment, more about feeling all self righteous and virtuous, than it was about genuinely helping people. Unemployment benefits are billed to employers and because of all the extensions, many employers now can't afford to hire anybody. We went and gave people a fish so they could eat for a day, when what we should have been doing was teaching them how to fish so they could eat long term. What people really need is jobs. What people really need is government to create a climate where they are able to provide for themselves.

OK Sam, so as long as you d... (Below threshold)
epador:

OK Sam, so as long as you do what you are supposed to do, you aren't being coerced, but if you don't then expect to be coerced into doing it?

"OK Sam, so as long as you ... (Below threshold)
sam:

"OK Sam, so as long as you do what you are supposed to do, you aren't being coerced, but if you don't then expect to be coerced into doing it?"

Well, I don't know about "expect". But if I have a duty to act in certain ways, and fail to act in those ways, wouldn't you agree that sanctions are in order?

Apparently, the argument on... (Below threshold)
Weegie:

Apparently, the argument on the side of government programs is that it is the government's job to force citizens to be virtuous and moral.

Yet, I cannot find any support for this belief in the Constitution, which is supposed to be the law of the land, and which was intended to limit federal government power.

That doesn't seem like a very strong or reasonable argument.

"Would not the actions of s... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

"Would not the actions of such a person in avoiding his duty and obligation be fairly described as immoral, as unvirtuous?"

WHO determines the "duty and obligation", and to what extent? And WHO defines 'the less fortunate'?

Pew did a study of "US poor" some time ago. You'd be surprised what 'the poor' in this country own.

"Another part of the argume... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

"Another part of the argument is that how you help people is very important. There is nothing virtuous about giving somebody another 8 bucks in food stamps and trapping them in crappy government housing...."

^ this ^

Allowing able-bodied people spend their lives or even a large percentage of their lives on welfare is not helping them; in fact, it is actively harmful to them. There need to be concrete short-term limits on all gov't aid to people.

What is the argument agains... (Below threshold)
hcddbz:

What is the argument against abortion? You cannot legislate morality!

Over the last 200 years we seen charity shift out of communities and local Churches to be more tightly regulated by government . We been promised the Great Society. However we still have poor in fact certain realms of society we have institutionalized poverty in certain areas. The housing projects have become know of negative connotations of Ghetto.
We have SS but we hear the horror stories of Old People eating cat food.
These Federal programs invite large fraud and abuse.
If we really want to "help" people we kneed to examine all Federal and State and City programs.
Eliminate duplication, eliminate ones that do not work, Make sure that no greater 8% of budget is spent on overhead so that majority is spent on taking care of people. Encouragement of private charities to do the work where possible. Finally if people want to contribute to these programs it should be optional.

My Federal Taxes should go to the enumerated powers. State and city Taxes should work on helping the people in their own communities. The reason is the closer to problem you are the better equipped one is to deal with the problem.


it is moral and virtuous... (Below threshold)
Jay Guevara:

it is moral and virtuous for the government to provide assistance to the less fortunate, to provide a "safety net" that keeps the poor from becoming the starving...

As a voice crying out in the wilderness, I say again: where are these starving people? Where? When's the last time any of us saw a person who looked underfed? When? (Supermodels don't count.)

Pew did a study of "US poor" some time ago. You'd be surprised what 'the poor' in this country own.

GF, I cited some stats in debating another libtard here awhile ago. Something like >98% of the households in America own a color TV. Anyone who can afford to have a color TV is not starving, freezing, or living under a bridge.

And speaking of morality, what is the moral position of an able-bodied person who lives parasitically off of the labor of others? Isn't that...uh...theft? How does that person differ from a thief, except in having the government take others' possessions, instead of taking them himself?

I should clarify a point: "... (Below threshold)

I should clarify a point: "not moral" is not necessarily "immoral." It can also be "amoral -- neither moral or immoral. That is how I would classify a lot of these things.

J.

But..but...but....JT, if no... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

But..but...but....JT, if not IMMORAL, the left loses their superiority from the 'moral high ground'.

How often do we hear a new and improved social program is of vital necessity 'because a wealthy nation OWES IT to..........(fill in)'.

But we're not wealthy at th... (Below threshold)
JLawson:

But we're not wealthy at this point, Garandfan. We're at a 7-1 debt to earnings ratio and adding between $1 and $2 trillion a year to that debt.

We shouldn't be buying any more goodies for a LONG time to come.

You say: "Only the extremis... (Below threshold)
Bob:

You say: "Only the extremists would reject the notion that basic premise there -- that would argue that the government has no obligation or duty towards those among its citizens who are in truly great need." I disagree.

The fact that some are "in truly great need" does not give the government the right to take from others by force (or threat of force) to give to the needy. Christianity advocates a duty to assist the poor and needy, which for the first 1900 years meant personally helping, not delegating such a duty to the state. We then entered the Progressive Era, in which assistance is instead provided by many types of government agencies. Since taxpayers are unwilling to pay the high cost of these programs, we have borrowed trillions from unborn generations to satisfy the demands of so-called "entitlement programs."

While eliminating all social welfare programs tomorrow would be outrageously immoral, a program to gradually eliminate them would not. Knowing that there was no government-sponsored "free lunch" would stimulate voluntary charitable efforts more likely to effectively assist the truly needy and shun the less-than-truly-needy, who receive a great deal of government assistance now.

The truth is most of the pr... (Below threshold)
hcddbz:

The truth is most of the programs are about two things power and control. Like when TARP occurred when the Government gives money the Government get to dictate the terms.

Also the more people who are un programs the more power the Fed gets. Why do you think the work so hard at "De-Stigmatization of welfare" These programs need administrators, managers and etc so the more people in the program the bigger the personal assigned to the programs. The larger the unions are.
If it were not so the Trillions spent on social programs would have eliminated poverty.
It like tarp. 750 Billion could have bought everyone a home. There would have been not homeless. We pay farmers not to plant food or to use food for fuel. If we want to feed our poor wouldn't we seek to use the surplus to feed the poor?

Jobs Americans would do? Why not put the able bodied poor on those jobs?
We know why it not that simple. Yet we are told the simple answer is to let government take my money and the problems will go away.

My old friend the "small-'l... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

My old friend the "small-'l' libertarian" ophthalmologist and independent candidate for US Senate from Virginia (in 1978; he failed to garner enough signatures to make the ballot because the Republican front-runner and later nominee was a great Reagan conservative, Richard Obenshain - who later died in a plane crash and was replaced on the ballot by John Warner, too late for Gorman to qualify) Tom Gorman explained it well (I may paraphrase, but it's close).

There are two possible ways to fund any activity: voluntary or by coercion. The free market operates upon the voluntary system - you don't have to buy a Ford or Crest toothpaste if you don't want to. The only sectors of society which fund their activities through coercive funding are the political class and the criminal class.

It must be observed that voluntary actions are of a higher nature than coercive ones, since they result from free choice.

So if an individual/family ... (Below threshold)
Olsoljer:

So if an individual/family is barely getting by, and the government decides to fund another social program, it is either funded directly or indirectly by a tax increase. That tax increase is on the individual, his business, or in the necessities they purchase creating a higher cost of living. The individual/family is now not able to "get by" forcing them to declare bankruptcy, close businesses, and seek social welfare relief, which means more tax dollars are needed as the program expands, which means a tax increase.............

Was it 'virtuous' of the Ma... (Below threshold)
eaglewingz08:

Was it 'virtuous' of the Mafia to contribute ill gotten gains to churches? Was it 'virtuous' of Robin Hood to steal from the rich and give to the poor? There is no virtue in thievery to benefit the institution of your choice; there is only self righteousness and narcissism in using those means.




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