Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Coercive Compassion Knows No Party

     The greatest instances of foolishness arise from the unwillingness to look beyond the surface – to ask “Why is this so,” to understand the process involved, and to accept that the process determines the outcome. Thomas Sowell was scathing on this point:

     [I]f the temperature has risen by ten degrees since dawn today, an extrapolation will show that we will all be burned to a crisp by the end of the month if this trend continues....In the real world, everything depends on where we are now, at what rate we are moving, in what direction, and – most important of all – what is the specific process generating the numbers being extrapolated. Obviously, if the rise in temperature is being caused by the spinning of the earth taking us into the sunlight, then the continuation of that spinning will take us out of the sunlight again and cause temperatures to fall when night comes.

     “Data” divorced from the relevant processes can be tortured into supporting any imaginable argument. The processes themselves are far more resistant to such abuse.

     This is on my mind because of yet another fatuous article about “income inequality:”

     Reactionary populism in its most dangerous form will tear at the very fabric of our society if we do not address the challenge of economic inequality. We see the scourge of authoritarian populist movements across the globe and believe there is a moral and economic imperative to reduce this widening gap.

     Note that the headline on this article is about income equality: the longstanding phenomenon of some out-earning others. Note also the use of the words “reactionary” and “authoritarian” to transform populism – majority sentiment as a force for political change – into a dark, destructive force. But note especially the deceitful use of religion as groundwork for coercive government intervention into the national economy:

     Both of our faiths teach us to care for the poor. Jesus taught us to be radical in our service. Gandhi drew inspiration from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and said his goal was to “unify the teaching of the [Bhagavad] Gita and the Sermon on the Mount.” He believed Jesus was one of the world’s greatest teachers.

     St. Peter’s recent successors call on us to focus on decreasing economic inequality. John Paul II’s encyclical, "Centesimus Annus" declared that “the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs”, but “there are many human needs which find no place on the market.” In his 2013 New Year message, Pope Benedict XVI said he was alarmed “to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor” and called for a new approach to the economy.

     Do you think either of the authors of this piece has ever read a basic economics textbook – or (dare I suggest such an absurdity) Henry Hazlitt’s The Conquest of Poverty?

     Nope, me neither.

     Let us ask the question that Francis Rooney and Ro Khanna have failed to ask:

What processes lie behind income inequality?

     The answers are very well known. They start from observable differences in human beings:

  1. Differences in ambition and energy;
  2. Differences in creativity;
  3. Differences in ability;
  4. Differences in luck.

     Sometimes a single characteristic will determine the course of a man’s life. A serious enough physical handicap can do that. Yet there are cases of even the most severely afflicted persons rising to fame and fortune. Consider writer John Milton (blind), activist Helen Keller (blind and deaf), pitcher Jim Abbott (one hand), and physicist Stephen Hawking (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). So it would be a step too far to posit that such handicaps must be determinative. However, he who lacks all four of the “success characteristics” will have to win the lottery...and then be wise enough not to squander the proceeds.

     Let it be stipulated that nothing short of complete totalitarian control over all income-earning activities could possibly equalize incomes. Is that what Rooney and Khanna seek? Possibly not...but look at what they advocate:

  1. “[C]reate more career and technical training (CTE) opportunities, invest in rural broadband, expand small business loans to rural entrepreneurs and fund infrastructure improvements.”
  2. “[F]acilitate job creation, entrepreneurial opportunities and increased community involvement.”
  3. “Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)”

     All of these things have been tried, and there has been no reduction in income differences. Are Rooney and Khanna prepared to admit that? What would their response be? Likely that “we didn’t do it right,” or alternately, “we have to do it bigger!” That’s what coercive compassionists do, you know. They never admit that their nostrums have failed; they merely agitate for more. Snake-oil salesmen did much the same, back when. So do today’s socialists.

     But we haven’t got to the fun part yet.

     What is the relationship among:

  1. Income inequality;
  2. Economic inequality;
  3. Inequality of well-being?

     Does any one of the three cause the other two? Do any two in concert cause the third? Has anyone bothered to ask?

     Don’t bother to put those questions to a coercive compassionist. He’ll denounce you by reflex: “You must hate the poor!” It’s a silly sort of stroke that alienates more people than it persuades, but that’s what they do. However, people who strive to understand socioeconomic processes will ask – and they’ll do their damnedest to find the answers.

     First, income inequality is only loosely coupled to overall economic inequality. What matters is the balance between income and outgo: i.e., whether the individual under consideration spends less than, as much as, or more than he gets. One who outspends his income will fall ever deeper into debt, no matter how much he earns. One who spends every cent he gets will make no economic progress. One who spends less than he gets – i.e., one who saves — will steadily rise in economic assets and the security they confer. Over time his well-being will increase.

     Op-ed writer Fred Reed once noted that among those who are economically afflicted in this era, there’s a distinct lack of what he called “the skills required to be successfully poor.” Reed was spot-on: it is possible to have a low income and yet not fear the wolf at the door. It takes self-restraint, the development of certain skills that are ever less common in our time, the readiness to capitalize on opportunities, and a grasp of the toxic power of the all-too-often misapplied word “need.”

     The successfully poor – i.e., those with a low income who nevertheless meet their actual needs and the needs of their dependents – seldom remain poor. They struggle, sometimes for decades, but they make progress. Granted that some are laid low by happenstance: accidents, diseases, other phenomena individuals can neither predict nor control – but these are a minority among the successfully poor.

     One of the scurrilities of our time is coercive compassionists’ refusal to address the economic mobility of the successfully poor. It’s understandable, as it undermines their case for government meddling in the economy, but it’s evil nonetheless. The metric of interest should be what fraction of those arbitrarily classified as currently poor are making progress, not whether they make as much money as the CEO of a Fortune 100 corporation.

     Allow me a few words about Rooney’s and Khanna’s invocation of their respective religions as rationales for their prescriptions. Once again:

     Both of our faiths teach us to care for the poor. Jesus taught us to be radical in our service. Gandhi drew inspiration from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and said his goal was to “unify the teaching of the [Bhagavad] Gita and the Sermon on the Mount.” He believed Jesus was one of the world’s greatest teachers.

     But what did these “great teachers” teach? Individual action taken for the love of one’s neighbor. This is a far cry from the route preferred by the coercive compassionist, who would prefer to say “As long as you vote for the right social programs, you’ll go to heaven, no sweat!”

     Citing the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as a foundation for government economic meddling – a course that has always done more harm than good – is a slander against the Son of God and Savior of Mankind. I can’t think of any bigger self-indictment. If your faith has taught you to “care for the poor, Republican-Catholic Congressman Francis Rooney, are you doing so with your own assets? Actually, I’d bet that you are...but that is not a license to prescribe that others should open their wallets to Big Government’s ever-grasping hand for more programs of the sort that have already been tried and have failed.

     Here is what Jesus said about charity:

     When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
     Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
     Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
     And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
     Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
     Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
     Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

     [Matthew 25:31-45]

     Not a word about government or government programs can be found there. As for Democrat-Hindu Congressman Khanna’s faith, I shall refrain from comment.

     No one has made the case against the coercive compassionist as well as Isabel Paterson:

     If the full roll of sincere philanthropists were called, from the beginning of time, it would be found that all of them together by their strictly philanthropic activities have never conferred upon humanity one-tenth of the benefit derived from the normally self-interested efforts of Thomas Alva Edison, to say nothing of the greater minds who worked out the scientific principles which Edison applied. Innumerable speculative thinkers, inventors, and organizers, have contributed to the comfort, health, and happiness of their fellow men—because that was not their objective....
     The philanthropist, the politician, and the pimp are inevitably found in alliance because they have the same motives, they seek the same ends, to exist for, through, and by others. And the good people cannot be exonerated for supporting them. Neither can it be believed that the good people are wholly unaware of what actually happens. But when the good people do know, as they certainly do, that three million persons (at the least estimate) were starved to death in one year by the methods they approve, why do they still fraternize with the murderers and support the measures? Because they have been told that the lingering death of the three millions might ultimately benefit a greater number. The argument applies equally well to cannibalism.

     [From The God of the Machine]

     It cannot be put better than that. The Rooneys and Khannas should reflect on it. The rest of us should tune them out until they’ve absorbed the lesson.



In Judaism, charity is a charge and a mandate. "Tikkun olam" - to heal the world - is a mandate. But it's also an INDIVIDUAL mandate. The SJWs have taken it as a rationalization for all they want to do: open borders, refugees, welfare, etc. (Just like the command "Welcome the stranger" has been hijacked; implicit in this is that the stranger will dwell by your laws and assimilate, and not do you harm.)

Every Friday night before we light the Shabbat candles I give the kids a quarter to put into the charity (tzedakah) box. When it's full they get to choose where it goes to give them a dog in the hunt on it. My personal vote is for a local food bank but ultimately, it's their choice. Right now the older one said "Ukraine resistance to Russia", which is where it's gone in the past.

Linda Fox said...

When I hear the "We must do more to help the poor", I answer:

GREAT! Take out your OWN wallet, and give the contents away. That would include not just cash (which hardly anyone has in their wallet, but also their ATM card, credit cards, gift cards - ALL of it.

If they are working, they can just hunker down for a month, and go back to their regular spending at that point. But, it would show commitment.

Linda Fox said...

Great class lesson for those times when the Young & Stupid (YAS) lecture us about our unwillingness to impoverish ourselves to help the "poor".

1) Ask those without a cell phone - or a working cell phone - to come up front. These are the Needy.

2) Get a big cardboard box, and direct all the rest of them to put their phones in the box. If they resist, ask them - look around, everyone ELSE was willing to do their part.

3) Reach in, and hold up a phone. Likely, the owner will recognize it. Motion one of the Needy closer, and say, "Now, because you have spoken about your willingness to help those without, I'm sure you won't mind this person receiving your phone."

4) Wear earplugs to keep the anguished screams from hurting you.

If someone objects, pick up another phone (the fancy ones are good - likely the owner has an emotional attachment to their phone). Continue until the point is made. Thank all students involved in the experiment.

Now, I'm PRETTY sure you'd get fired, so - don't try this unless you have some savings.

This would also work with car keys, or personal computers/tablets, etc.