You Can Be Compassionate Without Supporting Big Government

Contrary to what Eugene Robinson and Paul Krugman argue today, compassion does not require one to support government social welfare programs.

Eugene Robinson has a column out today about  the mini-controversy that arose after Monday’s debate when Ron Paul was asked about the fate of an uninsured man needing medical care in a libertarian society:

In Paul’s vision of America, “our neighbors, our friends, our churches” would choose to assume the man’s care — with government bearing no responsibility and playing no role.

(…)

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told the Pharisees that God commands us to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” There is no asterisk making this obligation null and void if circumstances require its fulfillment via government.

Of course, there is no addition to Christ’s statement along  the lines of “therefore, thy must support massive government spending programs,” either. Being compassionate, loving thy neighbor, and providing assistance to people in need through no fault of their own are all good things about which there is, I would submit very little disagreement. The fact that Americans are among the most charitable persons on the planet, not only on behalf of people in need within their own borders, but also victims of tragedy and circumstances in other parts of the world. The mid-80s Ethiopian famine, the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, last year’s earthquake in Haiti, and this year’s earthquake in Japan were all followed by examples of private charity by American citizens toward people that they’d never met. It’s an admirable thing to say the least.

Robinson, though, doesn’t see it that way. For him, the only compassion that matters, is the “compassion” that comes when government decides to take Peters money and give it to Paul:

Government is more than a machine for collecting and spending money, more than an instrument of war, a book of laws or a shield to guarantee and protect individual rights. Government is also an expression of our collective values and aspirations. There’s a reason the Constitution begins “We the people . . .” rather than “We the unconnected individuals who couldn’t care less about one another . . . .”

I believe the Republican candidates’ pinched, crabby view of government’s nature and role is immoral. I believe the fact that poverty has risen sharply over the past decade — as shown by new census data — while the richest Americans have seen their incomes soar is unacceptable. I believe that writing off whole classes of citizens — the long-term unemployed whose skills are becoming out of date, thousands of former offenders who have paid their debt to society, millions of low-income youth ill-served by inadequate schools — is unconscionable.

Perhaps there are situations where only government action can address a situation. In this country, we’ve more or less got a social compact that accepts the existence of a basic safety net for the indigent that enjoys wide popular support. However, Robinson wants to go further than that, his basic argument that the only charity that matters is government “charity” and that opposing government action to “help” the poor is equivalent to hoping that they die. This is, with all due respect to Robinson, an utterly ridiculous example of the kind of close-minded thinking one sees far too often from political pundits. Agreeing that the poor should be helped is where the compassion comes in. Disagreeing about how that should be done does not make one uncompassionate, and it’s both insulting and stupid for Robinson to argue otherwise. The fact that someone opposes the latest government program that will supposedly help the poor, leaving out the fact that there is a long history of such programs not helping the poor at all, does not make that person uncompassionate. Finally, bringing Christ into the mix is simply absurd, because there’s not a word in the New Testament that tells us how the poor are to be helped, or that it must come from the state. Bringing up the words of Matthew was little more than Robinson’s cheap attempt to insinuate that anyone who disagrees with him isn’t really a Christian.

Don Boudreaux puts it exactly right:

Reasonable people can disagree over whether or not voluntary charity would be sufficient.  It’s a mistake, however, to classify coerced ‘giving’ as “compassion,” and downright bizarre to accuse those of us who would rely more upon genuine compassion – evidenced by people giving from the goodness of their hearts rather than from a desire to avoid imprisonment – as endorsing a society without compassion.

Paul Krugman is also out with a column about this today, and his take on the matters is, no surprisingly, similar to Robinson’s:

In the past, conservatives accepted the need for a government-provided safety net on humanitarian grounds. Don’t take it from me, take it from Friedrich Hayek, the conservative intellectual hero, who specifically declared in “The Road to Serfdom” his support for “a comprehensive system of social insurance” to protect citizens against “the common hazards of life,” and singled out health in particular.

Given the agreed-upon desirability of protecting citizens against the worst, the question then became one of costs and benefits — and health care was one of those areas where even conservatives used to be willing to accept government intervention in the name of compassion, given the clear evidence that covering the uninsured would not, in fact, cost very much money. As many observers have pointed out, the Obama health care plan was largely based on past Republican plans, and is virtually identical to Mitt Romney’s health reform in Massachusetts.

Now, however, compassion is out of fashion — indeed, lack of compassion has become a matter of principle, at least among the G.O.P.’s base.

And what this means is that modern conservatism is actually a deeply radical movement, one that is hostile to the kind of society we’ve had for the past three generations — that is, a society that, acting through the government, tries to mitigate some of the “common hazards of life” through such programs as Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.

I don’t consider myself a conservative, so Krugman’s attacks on the movement mean little to me. However, it’s worth noting that Krugman makes the same mistake in assuming that Ron Paul is a conservative when it’s fairly obvious that his philosophy is firmly rooted in libertarianism.

In any event, Krugman’s error is as egregious as Robinson’s, and just as unsurprising. Compassion for the poor and needy does not require one to support government programs that are supposed to help them. In fact, to the extent that those programs have been shown to actually harm the poor more than it hurts them, such as the devastating critique of 70s-era welfare programs laid out by Charles Murray in his groundbreaking book Losing Ground then I would submit that compassion requires one to oppose those programs and advocate for their repeal or reform. There is no compassion, I would submit, in creating generation after generation of dependency on government. Leaving aside the cost of such policies, the dependency itself has a demonstrable negative impact on the people it is supposed to help, primarily because it’s not the state that human beings were ever meant to live in.

Why, then, can’t Robinson and Krugman see that compassion exists even if one doesn’t advocate and support more and more government. The answer, I think, lies in the fact that what we’re really talking about here is a fundamental divide in American politics:

One of the biggest challenges of the Left-Right debate about the proper size and scope of government is that we are, in some fundamental sense, not speaking the same language as the Left — and because Big Government basically won the 20th century, the language of the Left has been internalized to a certain extent by all of us. In a world where the reflexive response is to equate government with society, folks may quite literally lack the vocabulary to understand conservative principles.

From my perspective, I would submit that we’re dealing with something that’s more complicated than a divide between left and right, conservative and liberal. There are nuances in between these two philosophies that encompass entire schools of thought, which makes the entire “left/right divide” talk far too simplistic. However, I think it’s fairly true that the left has come to view compassion as something that can only really be exercised collectively through the government, and that anyone who doesn’t support those policies lacks compassion. It’s a false dichotomy, and it leads to the kind of demonization that Robinson and Krugman have displayed today.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Religion, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. WR says:

    How much “compassion” did Ron Paul show when his top fund raiser — a man who had brought in tens of millions of dollars to his campaigns, who made his national campaigns possible — was dying because he couldn’t get health insurance? How much “compassion” did he show when the poor man’s mother was handed a bill for $400,000?

    The big lie of the libertarian movement is that if only the big bad government would stop forcing compassion down everyone’s throats, people would step up and help each other out.

    This is the reality of your fantasy. One of the most important forces in the history of your movement lay dying. His compassionate boss couldn’t be bothered to provide health insurance to the people who made his existence on a national level possible. His friends, neighbors, the church — they didn’t come to his rescue. He died, broke and alone.

    Oh, but when he was dead, all the libertarians gathered around for a fund raiser to retire his $400,000 hospital bill so his mother wouldn’t have to pay it.

    They raised less than a tenth of it.

    The only good news is that the hospital decided not to sue the mother for the money she didn’t have. So we as a society get to swallow the bill.

    That’s the reality of “libertarian compassion.” Strip away social protections and pretend we’ll all be better off. But the bottom line is that none of you gives a damn about what happens to anyone but yourselves.

  2. Moosebreath says:

    Doug,

    What did that straw man do to you to make you beat him up that much? Can you actually point to anyone saying private charity does not count?

    For that matter, does the actual experience in this country of a decades-long period of libertarians’ wet dreams being national policy (roughly from 1870 to 1929) matter in your mind? Since liberals are saying we as a society made a decision, based on that history, that private charity is not enough and we need a government safety net, it might behoove you to look to that history and explain to the voters why we should prefer the society of that era to the present one.

  3. I posted back in 2003 that we should be very wary of GW Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.” Alas, too late. The post is, “Beware the compassion police.”

    Personal charity and works of compassion are basic requirement of Christian ethics. But Christian people with best of intentions go awry when they attempt to make their personal ethics public policy. Compassion is bad public policy. …

    Individuals exercise compassion, defined by the Oxford dictionary as “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others.” Governments and social arrangements exercise justice. Justice is only accidentally compassionate because justice, to be justice, must balance the valid, competing needs of persons and groups within society. Justice attempts to answer, “What is right, what is fair?” Justice is enforced against the will of at least one of the contending parties. Hence, justice is at its foundation coercive.

    Compassion, though, seeks to alleviate shortcoming, suffering or pain, to heal in body, mind or soul. Compassion cannot be enforced. I could not compel a stranded motorist named one day to accept my aid, because it would have been literally criminal to do so. In offering aid, I did not have to balance competing claims for my time and money because there were no claims and could not be any. The issue of aid was not what was right or fair, but what was possible. …

    Justice attempts to make right or compensate wrongs done by persons or groups against others. Compassion attempts to make more level the relationships of resources or care between persons or groups of persons.

    Reinhold Niebuhr, a professor of Christian ethics, was one of the most influential theologians of the last century. In his work, Moral Man in Immoral Society, Niebuhr explained that while individual persons live generally moral lives, high morality is difficult, if not impossible, for human societies and social groups as a whole. Very rarely does a group of persons comport itself better than individuals do in personal relationships. When human beings engage in collective activity, Niebuhr said, they are overwhelmed by an inability to be moral. The larger the group, the greater this inability is.

    Niebuhr was specifically addressing Just War theory in the works I cite here, but I think the same train of thought applies to issues of justice and compassion within societies.

    Niebuhr concluded [in “Must We Do Nothing?” in The Christian Century, 3-30-1932], “The hope of attaining an ethical goal for society by purely ethical means, without coercion . . . is an illusion” of the “comfortable classes” of society. There never will be enough love and unselfishness among nations [or persons] to resolve the conflicts of history [or societies] only by ethical [or compassionate] means, even though there may be occasional successes now and then. It is part of humanity’s “moral conceit” to think that human sin will not overwhelm individual morality [and compassion] when persons act collectively.

  4. steve says:

    “. However, I think it’s fairly true that the left has come to view compassion as something that can only really be exercised collectively through the government”

    Nope. Compassion is an individual thing. Many people, left and right, express it through acts of charity and giving. Caring for those who cannot care for themselves is something different. It is a matter of economics. Having enough resources and the ability to distribute them is what matters. Libertarians tend to believe this is best achieved by charity. If it worked, it would be great. I think that if you study history, what you really see is that when you rely upon charity, needs are met very inadequately. Read classical literature. Talk to your elders who lived through the Great Depression. Last of all, our demographics have changed in a way the von Mises, Hayek et al could never have foreseen. We have many more people living past 65 than ever before. We also have much smaller families.

    I think a lot of this goes back to the libertarian tendency to view the 1800s as some kind of Golden Age. When I look back at those years they seem to have a lot of “liberty” for a very few people, and little for the rest.

    Steve

  5. samwide says:

    @Doug

    However, Robinson wants to go further than that, his basic argument that the only charity that matters is government “charity” and that opposing government action to “help” the poor is equivalent to hoping that they die.

    Can you point to any place, any place, in his column where he either says or implies this?

  6. Vast Variety says:

    If a person is sick and dieing becuase they can’t afford the healthcare needed to make them well again I’m all in favor of genuine compassion and giving being the primary source to help that person. But when that fails to supply the need where is that person supposed to turn to?

    And no, I don’t think simply letting them die is the answer.

  7. @samwide:

    The manner in which Robinson dismisses out of hand Paul’s response to the question and any role for private charity makes the implication rather clear, in my opinion.

  8. MBunge says:

    @Moosebreath: “For that matter, does the actual experience in this country of a decades-long period of libertarians’ wet dreams being national policy (roughly from 1870 to 1929) matter in your mind?”

    This is the fundamental root of the degeneration in modern conservative thinking. They start from the principle that the America of today was arbitrarily created by some secret authority and then imposed on everyone else. The America of today exists because when confronted with problems of public welfare, conservatives either refused to try and fix them or couldn’t imagine how to fix them. What was the conservative alternative to the New Deal? The Great Society? The Civil Rights Movement? The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts?

    Mike

  9. Hey Norm says:

    Compassion does not require that there be laws requiring emergency room treatment, or government to spend money on SS, or Medicare.
    At the same time a government that does not do those things is not very compassionate.

    Keep in mind that we have Medicare because the private sector was not insuring the elderly…the elderly were getting fisted by the invisible hand. Medicare was a compassionate response to a serious problem. Saying churches and other charitable organizations can fill that role instead of the government is a fantasy not based on any actual examples of it happening on the colosal scale required.

    I tend to be sympathetic to the ideas of Paul and the Libertarians in the abstract. They just tend to fall apart when you look at specific examples in the real world.

  10. MBunge says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Your inference is not the same thing as Robinson’s implication.

    Mike

  11. ponce says:

    Darn that Jesus,

    The Republican Christians In Name Only are having such a hard time explaining how their hatred of the poor is comparable with his teachings.

    No worries, though.

    I’m sure Jimmy Swaggart and Pat Robertson will put in a good word for the CINOs when they’re trying to get into heaven.

  12. Given that for the vast majority of voters, a voter for bigger government is a vote to spend someone else’s money, I’m not sure how that qualifies as compassion. The fact that someone is willing to do something only as long as there is little to no personal cost in doing so doesn’t seem much of a virtue to me.

    The person who volunteers time at the food bank or who spends time raising money for cancer research is compassionate. The person who votes to raise taxes on Warren Buffet and pay someone else to do it, not so much.

  13. Fog says:

    Is Hayek not considered a real libertarian?
    “there is no reason why…the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance.”
    The welfare debate in the 90s is a good place to start. The conservatives made the argument that good intentions and liberal ideals do not count, only results (a reality-based argument). It was a winning argument, and welfare was reformed. If you want to use the welfare argument on the subject of Social Security or Medicare, you need to demonstrate how SS has resulted in a great increase in poverty among seniors, or that Medicare has resulted in a great decrease in the health and welfare of seniors. Otherwise all you have are your libertarian ideals and good intentions, which are worth no more than liberal ideals in this context.

  14. samwide says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The manner in which Robinson dismisses out of hand Paul’s response to the question and any role for private charity makes the implication rather clear, in my opinion.

    You and I read this differently:

    Paul, a physician, went on to say that, no, the hypothetical comatose man should not be allowed to die. But in Paul’s vision of America, “our neighbors, our friends, our churches” would choose to assume the man’s care — with government bearing no responsibility and playing no role.

    I don’t read that as dismissive, rather as a simple statement of fact about Paul’s philosophy. Are you denying it’s accurate? Moreover, where is the denial of any role for private charity? I think you have it backwards — the absolutism is on Paul’s side, not Robinson’s.

  15. WR says:

    @Doug Mataconis: How well did private charity do when Paul’s employee was dying because he didn’t have health insurance?

  16. WR says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Social Security and Medicare don’t exist to make the people who pay taxes feel better about themselves. They’re not about ennobling the spirit of the “givers.” They exist to make sure that the poorest and weakest of our society are not casually destroyed when their lives can easily be made better. They exist because we as a society decided it is better that everyone has a fundamental quality of life than it is that a few people amass all the cash available.

    If you want a program that makes you feel better about yourself as a human being, then go ahead and volunteer at a food bank — do some individual good in the world. But don’t pretend that individual good compares to what we choose to do as a society.

  17. Stan says:

    Private charity is hit or miss. It works in a small town if a person needing help is reasonably well known and reasonably popular, or if the person is a member of a family that keeps in touch. But most of us don’t live in small towns, many of us have nobody in our family to turn to, and some of us are without close friends. It’s pure fantasy to think that private charity can replace the present government safety net, despite the nostalgia Doug and others feel for the world of Grover’s Corners.

  18. @WR:

    Social Security and Medicare don’t exist to make the people who pay taxes feel better about themselves.

    Precisely my point. So if you agree with me, why do people like you and Krugman keep arguing the opposite?

    There may be practical reasons for the programs, but that’s not the basis their supporters argue for them on. They argue on the basis of morality, as though moral virtue can accrue to an individual through osmosis.

  19. Fiona says:

    However, I think it’s fairly true that the left has come to view compassion as something that can only really be exercised collectively through the government, and that anyone who doesn’t support those policies lacks compassion. It’s a false dichotomy, and it leads to the kind of demonization that Robinson and Krugman have displayed today.

    Are you kidding? I don’t see how either the Krugman or Robinson article leads to that conclusion. Nowhere do they say that compassion can only be exercised through the government or that charity should not play a role in alleviating the misfortunes of the poor. Their message is that charity is not now and has never been enough, which is why government social welfare programs are necessary. The reforms of the Progressive era and New Deal did not arise in a vacuum–they were promoted because of economic conditions that gave rise to great suffering.

    A lot of today’s GOP candidates seem like they’d be happy to go back to the Gilded Age and do away with all social programs in the hopes that big business and charitable organizations will step up to the plate. Fat chance.

  20. Scott F. says:

    Reasonable people can disagree over whether or not voluntary charity would be sufficient.

    Boudreaux’ claim, and your agreement with it, is the crux of it and the entire libertarian argument hangs on it. Therefore, one would think the reasonable person believing charity would be sufficient should be able to cite evidence leading to that reasonable belief. The best you’ve offered here is the fact that Americans are the most charitable citizens compared to those of other nations. But, of course, that says exactly nothing about sufficiency. In fact, it rather suggests insufficiency in that for all the examples you list, massive government assistance was also needed to alleviate these tragedies.

    As others here have noted, history, empirical data and even anecdotal evidence all demonstrate that voluntary charity can not come close to serving the need on the scale it exists. Without the dubious claim to the contrary, the demonization fits.

  21. mantis says:

    We can be compassionate as individuals, and we can be compassionate as a society. The government is not needed for the former, but is essential to the latter. If we rely only on the compassion of individuals to deal with the plight of the poor and unfortunate, we condemn a great number of people to misery and death. Can a compassionate person support such a society? It’s hard to imagine one doing so.

  22. anjin-san says:

    How well did private charity do when Paul’s employee was dying because he didn’t have health insurance?

    And this is a reasonably prominent, well connected person. A real cautionary tale about our society.

    Apparently in tea party land, when that forgotten little old lady that lives in a crappy apartment on the edge of town can’t pay for her meds or keep the phone turned on, the entire town rallies and holds a crab feed to help her out.

  23. john personna says:

    You can support uninformed compassion, or worse, fantasy compassion, or worse yet, fake compassion, without a genuine safety net.

    But I’m pretty sure that for genuine compassion, you need a genuine safety net.

  24. Jay says:

    @Fog: The small-gov objection to Medicare is not that it doesn’t help the elderly, the objection is that it helps them at great cost to our healthcare system and in a way that creates perverse insurance incentives. The theory is that there are ways to help old people without disrupting the market so much.

  25. @mantis:

    We can be compassionate as individuals, and we can be compassionate as a society.

    No we can’t be compassionate as a society. The fact you were standing nearby when someone else did something compassionate does not give you some of the credit for their virtue. The fact that most people only help out under the threat of physical force implies our society is not particularly compassionate, no matter how good our entitlement programs may become.

  26. mantis says:

    Have a look at this story:

    At 101-years-old, Texana Hollis is completely broken hearted.

    She has good reason to be. She was evicted from her Southwest Detroit home where she has lived for the past 58 years.

    In a wheelchair and suffering from high blood pressure and heart trouble – neighbors say court officers kicked her out of her home and left her sitting on the sidewalk, alongside all of her furniture and belongings.

    Texana’s close friend and neighbor, Laurie Ridgell says, “We don’t even treat animals like that in the city of Detroit.”

    That saddest part, is that Texana and her late husband Ira Sr., owned this home outright. So it was bought and paid for.

    But in 2003, Texana’s son Warren admits he convinced his mom to sign that house over to a “reverse mortgage” company in return for a sum of $32,000.

    Money he claims would go to repair the house.

    But that money went to more than just the house. Warren admits he bought a car, made a donation to the church and spent the remaining five thousand dollars on other things.

    So where is Texana living now? Well, right now, she is being cared for at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

    She was rushed by ambulance to the hospital last night, suffering from severe anxiety.
    And who owns her house? Texana’s home now belongs to HUD, The US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    Multiple organizations are stepping in to try and help Texana.

    What a terrible story. Clearly, this was her son’s fault, and in part hers for letting him borrow on the house. So what should happen here? Should the 101 year-old lady be thrown in the street, as she was? The libertarians among us think so, though the real sweet ones think some other entity should step up and help, maybe. If they don’t, oh well, not our problem!

    Good thing we still have a bit of compassion in our government:

    HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan told The Detroit News on Wednesday that the department would pay the taxes, remove the padlocks from the doors and let Texana Hollis return to the home.

    “We were absolutely thunderstruck when we understood that a 101-year-old woman was put out of her home,” Sullivan told the Free Press.

    Sullivan said the department has told family members that Hollis can return to the house as soon as she is released from Henry Ford Hospital, where she was taken after the eviction.

    Warren Hollis said he and his mother were “overjoyed” at the word from HUD.

    “It boosted her spirits quite a bit,” he said

    This is, of course, an affront to the ideals of libertarians and like-minded conservatives. Hollis should be thrown in the streets to fend for herself with nothing, because freedom, that’s why.

    This is the stark difference between a uncompassionate society and an compassionate one. One allows the old lady to be thrown out in the street, and one does not. The sick thing is, the first one, and the one that Doug and his ilk advocate, thinks that such behavior is right and just. How soulless can you get?

  27. Tlaloc says:

    In Paul’s vision of America, “our neighbors, our friends, our churches” would choose to assume the man’s care

    The problem with that view, as always, is that those groups have neither the inclination nor the experience to actually know who needs help, how much, and of what kind. That’s why we need an organized force to do it- because it’s a ridiculously hard job that needs to be run by professionals. Foisting it off on a bunch of well intentioned incompetents only insures that resources are wasted.

  28. Rob in CT says:

    This country tried the “rely on private charity” route. It was found lacking.

    There are days, Doug, when I wonder if you realize what you’re playing with. If you actually get what you want, you may well find that it fuels your worst nightmare: the revival of real Leftist populism. You know, the type of stuff this country hasn’t seen in mainstream politics since… well the early 20th century (hmm, I wonder why that is?).

    I don’t want that any more than you do. It would be bad news. You know how you neuter that? You compromise & co-opt. There was this guy. His name was Franklin Roosevelt…

    But ya’ll think he was a screwup (or worse), and want to pull down the New Deal (not just the Great Society, which is a given, but the New Deal too). Have you considered the possible outcomes? Does it even occur to you that the result could be serious hardship for many and their response might not be “oh, well, gosh I deserve it” or “I shall redouble my efforts!” but, instead “hey, screw this!”

  29. WR says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Yes, I will argue on for these programs on the basis of morality. Because I don’t believe moral imperatives exist to make us feel good about ourselves — that’s why they’re called imperatives. What Krugman et al argue is that we have an obligation as a society to help out those with less power and money. Beyond that there is a practical imperative — we have seen what cultures are like where a tiny number of people have vast wealth and a million times that suffer in extreme poverty and we do not want to live that way.

    None of this has anything to do with how morally good we feel about having these systems in place. That’s not what I pay taxes for.

  30. mantis says:

    No we can’t be compassionate as a society.

    Yes we can. Through government policies.

    The fact you were standing nearby when someone else did something compassionate does not give you some of the credit for their virtue. The fact that most people only help out under the threat of physical force implies our society is not particularly compassionate, no matter how good our entitlement programs may become.

    No, it shows that some individuals are not compassionate, but collectively we still can be. I don’t know where you get the idea that people only “help out under the threat of physical force,” but you libertarians spout incomprehensible shit regularly, so no surprise there.

  31. @mantis:

    This is the stark difference between a uncompassionate society and an compassionate one. One allows the old lady to be thrown out in the street, and one does not.

    You’re right. Compassionate people would not let that lady be thrown out on the street. But compassionate people would stop it from happening voluntarily. The reason we have to be forced to do so is because we AREN’T by and large compassionate. And no amount of mandatory charity is going to change that.

  32. WR says:

    @anjin-san: Libertarianism works just fine in fiction and maybe even in theory. But it doesn’t work at all in reality. Which is why we’ll never see Doug actually addressing the case of Ron Paul’s fundraiser — because it proves his philosophy is a fraud, and there’s no way to counter that except by ignoring it.

  33. WR says:

    @Jay: That may be the theory, but it is never accompanied by any explanation of how exactly that would work — except to say that it would.

  34. WR says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Exactly! So we’ve enacted these programs so that people who are in trouble don’t have to depend on people who may or may not turn out to be compassionate. That’s why we have SS and Medicare instead relying on charity.

  35. Rob in CT says:

    The reason we have to be forced to do so is because we AREN’T by and large compassionate. And no amount of mandatory charity is going to change that.

    Pretty much, yeah. And?

  36. Jay Tea says:

    OK, I’m officially convinced. The best — if not the only — way to support charity is to pay higher taxes, and let government bureaucrats decide who needs what and who gets it — after they take their cut and the rest of the government “overhead.” In fact, I’m so convinced that I’m going to stop any and all charity giving on my own — if they need something, let them go to the government and persuade those experts that they deserve it.

    And if those charities are smart, they’ll hire lobbyists so they’ll know just whose campaign re-election funds need paying off to grease the wheels a bit.

    J.

  37. @WR:

    As I said earlier, there may be practical reasons for these programs. My complaint is the assertion that having them makes society in general or people who support them in particular compassionate. If we really were compassionate, Ron Paul would be right about not needing those programs.

  38. mantis says:

    But compassionate people would stop it from happening voluntarily.

    That assumes that some are around and capable of doing so.

    The reason we have to be forced to do so is because we AREN’T by and large compassionate. And no amount of mandatory charity is going to change that.

    Actually, it will. There are a great number of modern industrialized countries with robust social safety nets that prevent exactly that sort of thing from happening. How many old ladies do you think are thrown out in the street in Denmark or Sweden?

    The fact that we are so much wealthier, as a nation, than any of those countries is what makes the state of our society so lamentably pathetic. We could prevent these things from happening, but we don’t. And why don’t we? Because far too many Americans have the same attitude that you do: if we keep terrible things from happening to the unfortunate among us, it’s tyranny. Like I said, soulless.

    Yes, we have to be “forced” to do so (by paying our taxes, which are apparently collected from you at gunpoint), and it’s not tyranny, my friend. It is a compassionate society that compels the uncompassionate to chip in for the greater good and the well being of the least fortunate. That’s the society I want to live in. Pity you don’t.

  39. To put it another way, Ron Paul is arguing:

    1. If we were compassionate, all our social needs could be met through private charity.
    2. We are compassionate.
    3. Therefore all our social needs can be met through private charity.

    Krugman is arguing that point #1 is wrong but point #2 is right. I’m arguing point #2 is wrong but point #1 is right. In either case the conclusion is wrong, but I think it’s an important philosophical distinction.

  40. mantis says:

    In fact, I’m so convinced that I’m going to stop any and all charity giving on my own

    Like anyone believes you’re a charitable person to begin with. Oh, how will those charities survive without Jay’s largesse!

  41. @mantis:

    Yes, we have to be “forced” to do so (by paying our taxes, which are apparently collected from you at gunpoint), and it’s not tyranny, my friend.

    I didn’t say it was tyranny. I just said it doesn’t make your morally virtuous. An act not performed voluntarily cannot be either good or evil.

  42. john personna says:

    As an aside, Krugman is actually late to the “let em die” reaction, but from my reading it seems wide, and potentially lasting.

    That Florida debate was a bad moment for opponents of government assistance, because it showed a dark underside. The moderates are horrified. And of course liberals will not want them to forget.

  43. mantis says:

    Ok, Stormy, you are correct. Life is nasty, brutish, and short, and most people are not charitable, compassionate souls.

    The difference is you want life to be kept as nasty, brutish, and short as possible for those less fortunate than yourself. Some of us think that society exists for the opposite purpose.

    Go live with the animals if you like the law of the jungle so damned much.

  44. mantis says:

    I just said it doesn’t make your morally virtuous.

    Oh, so just tearing down a strawman then? Ok, carry on…

  45. anjin-san says:

    Oh, how will those charities survive without Jay’s largesse!

    Yea, the mind boggles to think of the size of those checks he has been cutting.

  46. Rick DeMent says:

    To me the notion of what is and isn’t compassion is the wrong way of looking at the larger notion of the government’s role in a society. To me the question is how do we organize our society in a way that provides the greatest benefit to the most people while at the same time preserving individual liberty and protecting those who are unable to provide for themselves. We don’t have a “Free market” never have, never will. “The market” is created by humans and thus will benefit those who are in power and who write the rules disproportionally. “Liberal” ideas such as a social safety net, progressive taxation are, at best blunt instruments to even out distortions that are introduced into an economy by those who have made it their life’s ambition to gain power and wealth for its own sake and who, in turn, game the system to further those aims at the expense of everyone else.

    No, the economy is not a “zero sum game“, but it’s not bandwidth on demand either and you would have to be absent basic math skills to ignore the transfer of wealth from the working poor and the middle class to the wealthy to ignore the huge zero sum transfer that has been taking place in this country since the 70’s. The systemic dismantling of the social safety net, the destruction of the unions and the attack on public workers, trial lawyers, and the gerrymandering of legal system by big banks, big oil, big agriculture for their own self-aggrandizement, with the full throated support of those who have the least to gain, has been nothing short of stunning.

    I don’t support government programs out of any sense of compassion; I support them precisely because I’m not a communist. We want an economy that requires a vast population of poor people so that some can be fabulously wealthy. That is a fact, and if our economy cannot provide the jobs so that people of moistest talents can live a decent respectable life with a small amount of dignity and security then the riches among us are just going to have to give of some of their pile in order to provide it though taxes or else there will be a revolt and that is never a good thing.

  47. @mantis:

    That assumes that some are around and capable of doing so.

    You mean like the neighbors who saw her just sitting on the sidewalk and whose only response seems to have been “Well, that’s a damn shame”? Nwo if one have them had offered to let her stay with them while this got sorted out THAT would have been compassionate.

  48. Janis Gore says:

    If you’re rich enough your personal compassion can encompass a large enough scale to make a damn.

    What happens if you aren’t and the good, dependable, hard-working man who does your lawn, among other things, ignores adequate liquid intake and has a heat stroke, entailing three days in ICU?

    Kidney failure, I’m told, isn’t a hard way to go. One drifts off into oblivion.

    Should we have let him die? This 55-year-old Southern African-American will never be part of the information economy.

  49. WR says:

    @Jay Tea: I don’t believe for a second you’ve ever given a penny to any charity. But that doesn’t matter. Because Social Security and Medicare aren’t charities. They are insurance programs.

    So go ahead and continue ignoring charity. (And no, that subscription to National Review doesn’t count, although it’s true that Johah Goldberg and the rest would starve without wingnut welfare.) The three or four dollars you might be able to afford won’t save the world.

    And besides, the vast majority of our seniors don’t need your grudging charity. Because they’ve got Social Security and Medicare. As will you.

  50. WR says:

    @Stormy Dragon: With all due respect, I’m not sure what we’re disagreeing about, unless it’s simply semantics…

  51. mantis says:

    You mean like the neighbors who saw her just sitting on the sidewalk and whose only response seems to have been “Well, that’s a damn shame”?

    You have no evidence this was the case. The woman ended up in the hospital. She’s not still sitting on the street.

    Nwo if one have them had offered to let her stay with them while this got sorted out THAT would have been compassionate.

    There is no reason to believe, absent the action that HUD took, that is would have been “sorted out” at all. The 101 year-old woman lost her house. She was out on the street with nothing. What would “sort that out” for her?

  52. john personna says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    You mean like the neighbors who saw her just sitting on the sidewalk and whose only response seems to have been “Well, that’s a damn shame”? Nwo if one have them had offered to let her stay with them while this got sorted out THAT would have been compassionate.

    But saying “what-if” is only quasi-compassionate.

  53. WR says:

    @mantis: I’m not sure that’s what Stormy is arguing. I haven’t seen him calling for an elimination of these programs, only that we shouldn’t use them as an excuse to call ourselves compassionate?

    Am I finally understanding you, Stormy?

  54. Rick DeMent says:

    @Jay:

    The small-gov objection to Medicare is not that it doesn’t help the elderly, the objection is that it helps them at great cost to our healthcare system and in a way that creates perverse insurance incentives. The theory is that there are ways to help old people without disrupting the market so much.

    Actually there is, But it means making choices about who gets what kind of care and when. When even the tiniest measures were proposed to do just that the Republicans when on a summer long freak out about “Death Panels”. The problems with Medicare cane be addressed by simply acknowledging that throwing every bit of medical technology know to medical science at an 88 year old with massive coronary issues is not a good use of health care dollars.

  55. jan says:

    Reasonable people can disagree over whether or not voluntary charity would be sufficient. It’s a mistake, however, to classify coerced ‘giving’ as “compassion,” and downright bizarre to accuse those of us who would rely more upon genuine compassion – evidenced by people giving from the goodness of their hearts rather than from a desire to avoid imprisonment – as endorsing a society without compassion.

    I’ve only scanned Doug’s column here. But the title, along with the above excerpt is totally spot on. And, I give him credit for posting it, as, without reading the comment section, there will be probably be disagreement.

    It’s what I’ve put forth here, though, since posting on this blog, only to be rebutted by those who make blanket, hostile statements to the contrary. To have the government be the “heart” of society is a crazy notion.

  56. WR says:

    @Rick DeMent: Beautifully said.

  57. WR says:

    @jan: Why is it a crazy notion for the government in a democracy to be the heart of a society? The government — in a nation where the citizens govern themselves, as in ours — is exactly where the society comes together to make choices for ourselves.

    What other institution exists to serve this purpose?

  58. @Rick DeMent:

    To me the question is how do we organize our society in a way that provides the greatest benefit to the most people while at the same time preserving individual liberty and protecting those who are unable to provide for themselves. We don’t have a “Free market” never have, never will.

    That’s nice in theory, but there’s two major obstacles to it in practice. First is that the impossibility of making accurate interpesonal utility comparisons (c.f. Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem) makes “greatest benefit to the most people” an incredibly subjective term. Secondly, even if we could accurately measure collective benefit, while most people like utilitarianism at the margin, I doubt most of us would agree to take it to the logical conclusions.

    The amounts most of us spend on recreation could be used to provide basic necessities for dozens of impoverished people around the world. Should we ban all entertainment in the name of the greatest benefit to the most people?

    There’s also the “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” extreme. Suppose we could make life a utopia for everyone at the expense of making it an inhuman hell for one person. Would it be moral to subject that one person to that in the name of the greatest benefit?

  59. Ben Wolf says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The amounts most of us spend on recreation could be used to provide basic necessities for dozens of impoverished people around the world. Should we ban all entertainment in the name of the greatest benefit to the most people?

    There’s also the “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” extreme. Suppose we could make life a utopia for everyone at the expense of making it an inhuman hell for one person. Would it be moral to subject that one person to that in the name of the greatest benefit?

    You need to read more carefully:

    To me the question is how do we organize our society in a way that provides the greatest benefit to the most people while at the same time preserving individual liberty and protecting those who are unable to provide for themselves. We don’t have a “Free market” never have, never will.

    Rick already addressed the straw man you are vigorously attacking.

  60. @Ben Wolf:

    Saying “We need to do A while at the same time doing not A” doesn’t really address it without some sort of elaboration on how the two are to be balanced.

  61. Jay says:

    @Rick DeMent: Rationing is a necessity if we’re going to insist on a socialized system like Medicare, I agree, and I also agree that it is crazy for Repubs to support Medicare while simultaneously calling reasonable cost controls socialist overreach or whatever. BUT, my point was that there are fiscal problems with the existence of Medicare that can be helped but not solved by price controls, I.e. the UK still has runaway healthcare cost inflation despite serious price controls, so while we should probably stop throwing $$ at 88 year olds, that wouldn’t make medicare solvent.

  62. Jay Tea says:

    @mantis: I got a seven-gallon donor’s pin from the Red Cross, chum. That’s 56+ donations. You wanna match that?

    J.

  63. @Jay Tea:

    I got a seven-gallon donor’s pin from the Red Cross, chum. That’s 56+ donations. You wanna match that?

    Some of us can’t because people like you have banned us from donating (because once again, the Tea Party loves big government as long as it’s being used to make thing difficult for homosexuals).

  64. Janis Gore says:

    Fine, Jay Tea, but people also need to change sheets, bathe people, empty porta-potties or clean them up after bowel movements.

    You in for that?

  65. @WR:

    Am I finally understanding you, Stormy?

    Yes. =)

  66. WR says:

    @Stormy Dragon: It seems you’re saying that because there is no way to establish a perfect formula for everyone, no one should attempt anything. Whatever choices we make are going to be compromises — is that a reason for not doing anything?

  67. Hey Norm says:

    @ Jan…

    To have the government be the “heart” of society is a crazy notion.

    That’s why government is not the heart of society. It is the mechanism through which the heart of society acts.
    Again – in the case of Medicare – Seniors could not purchase insurance. Society recognized a serious problem and through government enacted a compassionate solution to that problem. Now Teavangelicals seem to have lost their heart and want to abolish Medicare and Social Security. The reasons for this can be debated…I see it as completely selfish in motivation. In any case, I believe that is a small faction of our society, but that is what elections are for. We shall see if we have become a heartless society, which Perry the Apostle hypocrittically represents…or a society that still has a heart.

  68. gVOR08 says:

    @Stormy Dragon: You are providing a good example of a basic difference between liberals and conservatives. If a liberal wants to help the poor, he wants the poor helped. If a conservative wants to help the poor, he wants to feel good about his own personal virtue, and doesn’t much care if the poor are effectively helped.

  69. anjin-san says:

    Fine, Jay Tea, but people also need to change sheets, bathe people, empty porta-potties or clean them up after bowel movements.

    Yep. 24/7/365. Year in and year out.

    Helping to care for someone who has lost a leg, is partially paralyzed and is bedridden was a real eye opener for me.

    How many people have you carried to the bathroom today Jay? Ever have to wipe someone elses rear end because they just could not manage themselves it that day?

  70. @WR:

    I’m not saying nothing should be attempted, I’m just wary of using utilitarianism as an organizing principle, particularly without some idea of what the limits of that utilitarianism are. Pareto efficiency is a great way of optomizing the tension between conflicting goals, but I worry when people try to make it a goal in and of itself.

    It basically comes down to one of primary tenets of my personal moral philosophy is “individuals exist for their own ends”. Most forms of evil begin with a decision to reduce another individual to a mere instrument for the pursuit of someone else’s ends. Utilitarianism is in many ways the philosophy that individuals are nothing but instruments.

  71. mantis says:

    I got a seven-gallon donor’s pin from the Red Cross, chum. That’s 56+ donations. You wanna match that?

    Most of my charity until recently has been donations of my time, rather than money (because I didn’t have money to give). For instance, I volunteer at the VA and I teach basic computer skills to unemployed adults. I don’t have Red Cross pins, because I regularly give blood to the Heartland Blood Center in Chicago, for which I help organize blood drives several times a year. In recent years, my monetary giving has largely gone toward educational causes, both here in the US and abroad. Oh, and I just last weekend donated to and participated in an event benefitting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, at my dropzone.

    But I, like you, am a pseudonymous/anonymous blog commenter. The idea that we can or should have a pissing match over who gives more when either or both of us could be lying is quite silly.

    And guess what, even though I happily donate my time and money to charitable causes, I still think we need a social safety net and am fine with paying my taxes for that purpose, and will vote accordingly. I do not take an absolutist view that we can have individual charity or government support, but not both, because freedom, or something.

  72. Moderate Mom says:

    I don’t think that anyone disagrees that a basic social safety net is needed to care for those most in need, whether due to temporary misfortune or a true inability to support themselves due to physical or mental limitations. Where the disagreement lies seems to be is how deep should that safety net be and who should be in it.

    What conservatives see is where these programs have failed, and the generational poverty that has arisen due to the unending aspect of governmental help. It’s one thing to give a man a hand up, it’s another to lift him up and then continue to pay for him to refuse to help himself. It’s frustrating to realize that, given the enormous amounts of money that have been poured into anti-poverty programs since the start of LBJ’s Great Society, the number of people living in “poverty” hasn’t changed that much over the years. It goes up a little, it comes down a little, but seems to hover at about the same percent of the population. And the poverty statistics are skewed, given that government benefits are not included when calculating whether or not someone is truly poor. Additionally, our poor are not like the poor in any other part of the world. I’m sure a poor person in any third world country would consider themselves rich if they could live like a poor person in America.

    A number of studies over the years have shown that conservatives provide more money to private charity that supports the welfare of the poor than liberals do. That right there shows the difference between the two outlooks. Conservatives tend to give more out of their own pockets and liberals want to give with someone else’s money.

  73. Janis Gore says:

    And what can they accomplish? Three days in ICU will cost conservatively $60,000.

  74. Jay says:

    @WR: I wouldn’t be surprised if there has never been a clear statement of how a less aggressive medicare might look from a politician, but there is some academic interest in the subject. Fuchs has written a lot about how we might divorce the price controls and tax shelters from the actual delivery of care.

  75. mantis says:

    I don’t think that anyone disagrees that a basic social safety net is needed

    Ron Paul disagrees. As do his followers, and several commenters on this site. Pay attention.

    A number of studies over the years have shown that conservatives provide more money to private charity that supports the welfare of the poor than liberals do.

    Any studies other than the one put out by AEI, a conservative think tank with an obvious agenda? You can read a critique of Brooks’s cherry-picking of data and faulty assumptions here.

  76. pcbedamned says:

    I have often wondered just how much $ those on the far right would actually be charitable with if they could not claim a deduction on their taxes…

  77. Hey Norm says:

    @ Moderate Mom…

    “…What conservatives see is where these programs have failed, and the generational poverty that has arisen due to the unending aspect of governmental help…”

    No – what conservatives see is money they think would be better spent on giving tax cuts to the richest amongst us. That is exactly what Ryan’s budget (the Tea Party Manifesto) proposes…to abolish Medicare and use the money for tax cuts. This is not even contestable if you read the budget instead of listening to Limbaugh/Hannity/Beck/etc.

  78. @pcbedamned:

    I have often wondered just how much $ those on the far right would actually be charitable with if they could not claim a deduction on their taxes…

    The idea people are only giving to charity for the deduction doesn’t make sense. Even if your at the highest rate, giving 100 cents to charity for a 40 cent reduction on your taxes still loses you 60 cents, so there’s no financial incentive to be had from doing it.

  79. Rob in CT says:

    I got a seven-gallon donor’s pin from the Red Cross, chum. That’s 56+ donations. You wanna match that?

    I just about spit soda all over my keyboard when I read this. LET’S GIVE JAY A FREAKING MEDAL, folks, he gives blood!

    I give blood too, 5x/year at work. I’m probably up to about 2 gallons at this point. It takes maybe an hour, total, out of my day, 5 times a year. Holy shit! What sacrifice!

    Not. It’s one of the easiest things you can do. Me, I’m in it for the free sandwiches (j/k, of course).

    The safety net != charity. It may be one way our society expresses compassion, but that’s not all it is. You’re buying something with that money, folks, and it’s not just warm fuzzies.

  80. Moosebreath says:

    Stormy,

    “The idea people are only giving to charity for the deduction doesn’t make sense. Even if your at the highest rate, giving 100 cents to charity for a 40 cent reduction on your taxes still loses you 60 cents, so there’s no financial incentive to be had from doing it. ”

    On the other hand, the reaction of charities to any proposal to cap (let alone do away with) the deduction speaks volumes as to whether they believe it creates such an incentive.

  81. @Moosebreath:

    It gives an incentive in that if someone decideds reduces the cost of that donation (again using the previous example, the rich guy can donate a dollar to charity for only 60 cents of personal reduction in their incomes), but only if they wanted to give to charity for some other reason to begin with. If their only goal is to maximize their personal income, they wouldn’t donate anything whether there was a deduction or not.

  82. Rob in CT says:

    I don’t give to charity so I can get a deduction.

    And yet, the deduction clearly makes the charitable contribution less painful. Charitable giving is subsidized.

    It doesn’t have to be THE reason. It just needs to be a contributing factor, and I’m sure it is for lots of people.

  83. WR says:

    @Moderate Mom: I don’t blame you for believing the lie that the War on Poverty had little or not effect — “conservatives” have been repeating it for years. The fact is in the decade after it began, poverty in this country dropped from 17.3 per cent to 11.1 percent. No, it didn’t wipe poverty off the face of the earth, but it raised millions of people up from despair.

    Now of course we see poverty skyrocketing. Because our compassionate government — yes, led by Clinton — ended welfare programs and replaced them with nothing. And now that there are so many unemployed, there’s no safety net for them.

  84. WR says:

    @Rob in CT: Sandwiches? Holy moley — all I ever got was a little cookie and some orange juice!

  85. Rick DeMent says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    That’s nice in theory, but there’s two major obstacles to it in practice. First is that the impossibility of making accurate interpesonal utility comparisons (c.f. Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem) makes “greatest benefit to the most people” an incredibly subjective term.

    Sure but “free market” is an incredibly subjective term, free for who, to do what? Right now we have people with no jobs, no health care, no home, seems to me there are a few things that are pretty objective that seem to be fairly easy to quantify yet the only solution republicans have on the table is less regulation, less spending, bust unions, raid public pension funds and fire public workers. I’m not sure how that is benefiting anyone but a very narrow demographic. So let revers that process and take the largess from those who have been benefiting in a way that can’t be justified any theory of a truly free market, and as least give those people who have not benefited some relief.

  86. JohnMcC says:

    Interesting that no one has suggested that the US is NOT the most charitable of nations, which happens to be true. In an analysis of national polls done by the Guardian, Americans ranked 6th in charitable giving behind Australia, NewZealand, Ireland, Canada and Switzerland. All of these have much more robust ‘safety nets’ and more thorough-going gov’t assistance than we find here. So Mr Tea’s earlier remarks only apply to him. The general run of mankind is more generous than he.

    The central point, again not mentioned at all, is whether there actually is a RIGHT to assistance. There IS a right to healthcare. Reagan signed the EMTALA act which gave Kent Snyder the ‘right’ to have his pneumonia treated even though he’d never had employer-based health insurance in his 20-odd years working for Ron Paul. So who was ‘compassionate’? Ron Paul or the US Gov’t?

    Do the homeless have a ‘right’ to shelter? Do the hungry have a ‘right’ to eat? Jesus seems to most of us to imply that they do. Why are those ‘rights’ not the business of government?

  87. Hey Norm says:

    @ WR…

    “…ended welfare programs and replaced them with nothing…”

    Actually the Earned Income Tax Credit replaced, or filled the gap left by ending welfare as the largest cash assistance program targeted at low-income families. But when so-called-conservatives like Jan and JTea rant about 47% of the people not paying income taxes they are actually attacking the EITC. So there you see the compassion of so-called-conservatives…those poor, sick, and elderly people don’t pay enough taxes!!!

  88. gVOR08 says:

    @Moderate Mom: See my response to Stormy Dragon at 12:59 for an explanation of this.

  89. Pug says:

    @MBunge:

    What was the conservative alternative to the New Deal? The Great Society? The Civil Rights Movement? The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts?

    The answer to that is quite simple: Tax cuts and deregulation.

  90. @Rick DeMent:

    In general there’s two types of freedom:

    1. Liberty – the freedom from outside coersion
    2. License – the freedom from negative consequences.

    Unfortunately, these two types of freedom are largely in conflict with each other, in that (while it’s certainly possible to make a society that has neither) a particular society cannot maximize both. The question of how to trade off between the two is one of the major philosophical debates in many countries and I can’t say I have a clue what the proper answer is (although I admit that my personal leanings are more to the liberty side than the license side of things).

  91. As an example of the above, a solitary person roaming the plains in the neolithic age would have had pretty much all the liberty they’d like as there would be no one around to stop them from doing whatever they want. But pretty much all their time would have to be spent trying to survive and any mistake or misfortune would likely lead to their death. By contrast someone living in the Soviet Union would have have pretty much no liberty, but for more oppurtunities for recreation, career options, etc.

    Neither extreme seems particularly optimal.

  92. gVOR08 says:

    @JohnMcC: You are correct. I wanted to add, though, that I find “right” to be a very slippery word. Like “freedom, it’s used so broadly as to have lost meaning. A somewhat fine distinction, but I wouldn’t say so much that people have a right to shelter or a right to eat, as that we, collectively, have an obligation to provide. There, I used the c word. I suppose I’ll be accused of being a socialist. Another word that has lost all meaning in current political discourse.

  93. Jay Tea says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Stormy, the ban on gays was a damned good idea when implemented. But it’s certainly time for re-evaluation. And the ban was NOT a form of discrimination or hatred or bigotry, but plain common sense — people getting transfusions are already in really bad shape, and don’t need more complications. Screening out people who are, demographically, at a higher risk for such nasty bugs as HIV and hepatitis was sound policy — no tests are perfect, and I’d rather err on the side of caution. I was excluded, briefly, for a while, and it bugged me — but I realized it was not about me, and got past it.

    Rob In CT, calculating your donation level is pretty easy. Every 8 donations is a gallon, every 10-12 is your body’s total volume. And I don’t want a medal — I got my little pin, and that’s more than enough for me. My main purpose is to get people to ask about it, and hopefully inspire others to do the same — and it’s worked. I have two friends who donate regularly after I bullied them into starting.

    Finally, I brought it up only after being directly challenged. I think this is maybe the third or fourth time I’ve brought it up online in about eight years.

    J.

  94. @Jay Tea:

    Yeah, but as an example, I’ve been (involuntarily) celibate for nearly 8 years now, but am banned from donating blood. Meanwhile a college fratboy who gets drunk and hooks up with a different girl every weekend can donate all the blood they like.

    To suggest that has anything to do with a legitimate concern about risk is bullshit. And everytime someone tries to change it, it’s the right that stops it.

  95. DRE says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    The reason we have to be forced to do so is because we AREN’T by and large compassionate. And no amount of mandatory charity is going to change that.

    You seem to be under the impression that the point of social insurance programs is to make society more virtuous. The point is to protect people in need. The only reason virtue and compassion enter the discussion is that for many compassionate people it seems obvious that the only reliable way to prevent the worst is through action as a community or society, and not just as individuals. Certainly not everyone agrees, but it is hard to understand why a compassionate person would actively oppose such action.

  96. @DRE:

    You seem to be under the impression that the point of social insurance programs is to make society more virtuous.

    I’m not under that impression; Krugman is. Or at least that’s the argument he seems to be making in his column.

  97. Jay Tea says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Let me repeat myself, Stormy: that policy should be reviewed. I just have a bit of a flinch reflex when some folks talk about donating blood as a “right” they’re being denied.

    They especially like me because I’m O+. My best friend, though — they practically stalk him. He’s O-.

    J.

  98. @Jay Tea:

    Let me repeat myself, Stormy: that policy should be reviewed.

    Let me repeat myself: it’s easy to say that in the comments section of OTB. But the fact remains, your political allies are the primary obstacle to that review occuring. So what action are you taking to get it reviewed?

    And I don’t think I have a “Right” to donate blood, but the fact remains that people Iike me would like to donate and there’s many places who have indicated they’d like to take the donations. Why is the government standing in the way? And why is the Tea Party not giving this the attention they pay to other bad government regulations, particularly when this is a case where it would be far easier to get something done than many of the other areas they do spend time on?

    And again, while this limit was justified in the 80’s, it continues not because of safety, but because of intolerance. The regulation recognizes that hetersexual sex runs a wide gammut from risky and promiscuous hookups to long term monogamy (and even then, you can go quite far to the risky side before you’re banned from donating), but acts as though ALL gay sex must be of the former nature.

    It’s an implicit dig at my moral character, and I’m rightfully angered to have it embodied in our nation’s law.

  99. DRE says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    I’m not under that impression; Krugman is. Or at least that’s the argument he seems to be making in his column.

    I don’t think he is. I think he is making the point that I did in the rest of my reply.

  100. Jay Tea says:

    @Stormy Dragon: The Tea Party, by and large, avoids social issues, as far as I have seen. (Been to two events.) I think that’s a smart move, as I agree with their priorities, and getting into social issues would take attention off the main issues — government power and spending.

    I dunno what I could do to push for a review, but I’d be glad to hear suggestions. But the Red Cross is a bureaucracy, and with bureaucracies, it’s almost always safer for them to “stay the course” and not make changes than risk changing something — and getting into trouble over it.

    Not excusing it, just trying to show that I don’t think it’s malicious.

    J.

  101. john personna says:

    @Moderate Mom:

    I don’t think that anyone disagrees that a basic social safety net is needed to care for those most in need, whether due to temporary misfortune or a true inability to support themselves due to physical or mental limitations. Where the disagreement lies seems to be is how deep should that safety net be and who should be in it.

    No, this is what the Florida moment was all about. It was applause for “no net.”

    A lot of people above have become distracted into side discussions about how much charity can do, but we know it cannot be a complete, and universal, safety net.

    Eyes back on the ball.

  102. @Jay Tea:

    Both the Red Cross and the Association of Blood Banks have been lobbying to get the restriction lifted in recent years. The sticking point is the FDA and H&HS. And I should also note, that while I’m not allowed to donate blood, I am allowed to be an organ donor, which again makes no sense if this is really about safety.

    And perhaps where you live (New Hampshire, IIRC?) the Tea Party is avoiding social issues, but I think that’s more a reflection of the political realities of where you live. The movement as a whole certainly isn’t. I mean really, are you seriously going to argue that, say, Michele Bachmann is avoiding social issues?

  103. Jay Tea says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Michele Bachman is NOT the Tea Party.

    And NH is a very odd case. We’re very conservative, but we also legalized gay marriage.

    Hmm… FDA & H&HS. I don’t think I have much sway there under the current administration… not that I had a lot before, but even less now, I think.

    J.

  104. @Jay Tea:

    It should also be noted that the fact you recognize the MSM blood donation issue is a “social issue” rather undermines your argument that it’s primarily about safety rather than maliciousness.

  105. Jay Tea says:

    @john personna: Actually, the Florida discussion started off about this guy who consciously and deliberately chose to go without insurance, and then got very, very sick and ran up a huge bill.

    J.

  106. @Jay Tea:

    Hmm… FDA & H&HS. I don’t think I have much sway there under the current administration… not that I had a lot before, but even less now, I think.

    Well, I’ll give you a hint: guess which party has put limits in the appropriation bills that prevent either from spending money on studies to determine how changes to the MSM lifetime ban would affect the safety of the blood supply?

  107. WR says:

    @Jay Tea: Michelle Bachman is the leader of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress. Perhaps you missed that fact.

  108. Janis Gore says:

    Make a decision. Black Americans are a net plus or a net minus. Get on with it. I see a hundred comments skirting the issue.

  109. Scott F. says:

    @Jay Tea:

    I’m O- as well and give every 8 weeks like clockwork. Never thought of it as a charitable contribution though.

  110. Rick DeMent says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Unfortunately, these two types of freedom are largely in conflict with each other, in that (while it’s certainly possible to make a society that has neither) a particular society cannot maximize both. The question of how to trade off between the two is one of the major philosophical debates in many countries…

    Yes, almost every issue can be reduced to a slider that ultimately balances out those two principals. The way I look at it if the slider goes too far two one side then it starts to disproportionately favor one group of people or another. I happen to think that is a much bigger problem for the concept of liberty because coercion comes not just from the government’ but the economic movers and shakers left to run amok devoid of regulation, oversight, or the ability to sue is a monumentally bad idea (or when unions had so much power for that matter).

    But addressing your point, most debates over these concepts are, when closely examined, are not that far apart. For example, notion that the 3.5% additional tax on income north of 200k is laughably small where the grand issues of Liberty & License are concerned. And as for outside coercion, our live are forced into things every day by forces that have nothing to do with the policies of a Conservative or Liberal government. The larger the divide between rich and poor becomes, the less ability anyone who doesn’t have the cash to buy votes will have to control their lives.

    Which is why my strategy will always be to try and strike a balance between the two in most matters of policy and I understand that we won’t get it right all of the time. Following a specific ideological path in all matters won’t make outcomes any less certain or reduce the number of times we’ll get it wrong.

  111. steve says:

    OT, but just wanted to thank all of those who are donating blood. We went through over 20 units on an emergency on an 18 y/o last night. She is alive and doing well so far and all of that blood was needed.

    Steve

  112. john personna says:

    @Jay Tea:

    @john personna: Actually, the Florida discussion started off about this guy who consciously and deliberately chose to go without insurance, and then got very, very sick and ran up a huge bill.

    People make a lot of dumb decisions. The fact that people can be dumb, either momentarily or for longer duration, is one of the reasons to support a true safety net.

    So as you remind us, the applause was that dumb people should not get treatment?

  113. john personna says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    In general there’s two types of freedom:

    1. Liberty – the freedom from outside coersion
    2. License – the freedom from negative consequences.

    Unfortunately, these two types of freedom are largely in conflict with each other, in that (while it’s certainly possible to make a society that has neither) a particular society cannot maximize both.

    But let’s remember the somewhat contrived definition of “coercion” here.

    Tax rate 22% .. freedom.

    Tax rate 28% … coercion.

  114. anita says:

    How much “compassion” did he show when the poor man’s mother was handed a bill for $400,000?

    In what world is one’s parent responsible for one’s medical bills when one is an adult? Get your facts straight.

  115. john personna says:

    @anita:

    You know the bill collectors called the mother. That is our world. Now, could she have tried to screen their phone calls for the next few years? Sure.

  116. Racehorse says:

    The government should provide temporary “safety nets”, not a permanent “hammock”. The term “poverty” and the “poverty line” started in the ’60’s as a result of the “War on Poverty”. Millions of people were labeled and had never thought of themselves as being poor until the government came out with welfare, food stamps, subsidized housing “projects”, free lunch, and dozens of other programs. This was done to control these people and get votes. These people knew that they weren’t as well off as others, but were content and happy as they worked for what they had and felt that with hard work, they could get ahead. Now what we have is 40+ million people on food stamps and whole generations who will never know what it is to draw a paycheck for their efforts. This is the age of “entitlements”. With this came the decline of the neighborhoods, with gangs and other creeps taking over.

  117. john personna says:

    @Racehorse:

    The government should provide temporary “safety nets”, not a permanent “hammock”.

    What do you do with .. let’s be harsh and call them “serial screw-ups?”

    It’s a hard thing to prevent permanent slackers from developing, while at the same time helping some poor person who keeps on plugging, to no good effect.

    Related:

    The aim of this work is to suggest political and social solutions that take us in a direction in which it is clear that jobs are no longer the solution, that we must find another way to ensure a just standard of living for all. (xii)

    Accordingly, if unwork is fated to be no longer the exception to the rule of nearly full employment, we need an entirely new approach to the social wage and, more generally, “welfare” policy. If there is work to be done, everyone should do some of it; additional remuneration would depend on the kind of work an individual performs. (353)

  118. john personna says:

    Also related, a Marketplace episode on people giving up on job search in their 60’s.

  119. Jay Tea says:

    @john personna: That’s certainly one way of looking at it. Here’s another: this guy chose to not buy insurance, comfortable in the knowledge that should the worst happen, he could count on everyone else to pick up the slack for him. The cheering was for telling the guy “hey, pal — tough luck. You bet and you lost; we ain’t getting stuck with your tab.”

    Here’s yet another: “He made a conscious, deliberate choice, and that was his right. Next time, maybe he’ll choose better. Or, at least, others will see that he screwed up and learn from his mistakes. Either way, we ain’t sending the message that you can be as stupid or selfish or reckless as you like, and we’ll protect you from the consequences.”

    Experience is what keeps us from making bad decisions. Bad decisions are how we get experience. The more you keep people from making mistakes, the less they learn how to avoid them in the future.

    But just because you’re willing to surrender your own freedom to make your own choices out of fear doesn’t give you the right to give away others’ rights, too. Your don’t get to define your level of stupidity/recklessness/carelessness/foolishness as the legal mandated standard.

    J.

  120. john personna says:

    @Jay Tea:

    But just because you’re willing to surrender your own freedom to make your own choices out of fear doesn’t give you the right to give away others’ rights, too. Your don’t get to define your level of stupidity/recklessness/carelessness/foolishness as the legal mandated standard.

    I assume you and I are OK. We are talking about whether we should help [all] those who through whatever folly or bad luck have broken upon the rocks of ill-fortune.

    Telling stories about some of them might have “deserved” it does more to classify you than them.

    [When you start winnowing it down, to helping some but not others, it is no longer a safety net. Assistance becomes catch as catch-can.]

  121. Ben Wolf says:

    @Racehorse: Your post is easily falsifiable because you ignore the giant elephant in the room hitting you with its trunk. I’ll give you a hint: it has to do with involuntary unemployment.

  122. anjin-san says:

    In what world is one’s parent responsible for one’s medical bills when one is an adult? Get your facts straight.

    The mother may not be legally responsible, but a collection agency will absolutely harass a parent over the unpaid bills of an adult child. Just what a grieving parent needs, eh?

  123. Lyn says:

    Big government and the welfare safety net that our taxes pay for have nothing to do with compassion. Charity like church food pantries or ministries programs that help people pay their utility bills/cut off notices is compassionate.

    Both, though, are misguided. America has a permanent underclass that has no intention of bettering itself. Instead, they live their lives and have kids they can’t afford, and they do all of this while our taxes subsidize them. Many of these people also take advantage of churches and their programs, too. This permanent underclass feels it is entitled to all of this and actually feels cheated that it isn’t given more. And they pay none of the consequences for their lifestyles or choices.

    I appreciate the article but I think it missed the point. Both charity and welfare are being taken advantage of by rotters.

  124. john personna says:

    What’s actually going on with this?

    Federal reforms in 1996 eliminated the entitlement to welfare and limited benefits to a maximum of five years in a lifetime. States can exempt up to 20 percent of their caseload from the federal time limit. Moreover, they can extend the time limit beyond five years, as long as benefits are paid with state dollars.

    If limits are in place, we don’t actually have permanent enrollees, in hammocks.

  125. Ben Wolf says:

    @Lyn:

    Both, though, are misguided. America has a permanent underclass that has no intention of bettering itself. Instead, they live their lives and have kids they can’t afford, and they do all of this while our taxes subsidize them. Many of these people also take advantage of churches and their programs, too. This permanent underclass feels it is entitled to all of this and actually feels cheated that it isn’t given more.

    Who are they? How many of the poor think the way you describe? What are their names? Where did you come by the data to make your determination? What sort of controls did you enact to ensure your own bias isn’t at play? How many people are in this underclass as a whole? I’ll wait while you get those answers for us.

  126. @john personna:

    Personally, I would like to see all of the Bush tax cuts expire. My feeling is that as long as we’re running a deficit, cutting taxes is just an accounting trick that replaces visible taxation with invisible taxation in the form of inflation.

  127. Eric Florack says:

    Christ himself said:

    ” Give unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar’s and give unto God, that which is God’s.”

    There’s a rather thick line, drawn between charity and government.

    Confiscation, you see, is not charity, and it is certainly not the act of an individual. Charity is the realm of God, and the individual….not of government…. Whereas when a leftist speaks of a “charitable society” and “our responsibility to reach out and help others” they’re talking about GOVERNMENT taking that role.

    Charity is giving your own money, not money you’ve stolen from someone else.

  128. Eric Florack says:

    The mother may not be legally responsible, but a collection agency will absolutely harass a parent over the unpaid bills of an adult child. Just what a grieving parent needs, eh?

    Let’s try it this way;

    If you can force me to pay for your healthcare, what prevents you from being able to force me to pick your cotton?

  129. An Interested Party says:

    If you can force me to pay for your healthcare, what prevents you from being able to force me to pick your cotton?

    Oh lawdy, lawdy, Eric is now comparing himself to slaves…the poor victimized dear…I wonder if he will belt out a Negro spiritual soon…

  130. Barry says:

    @Eric Florack: No, that doesn’t follow at all.

  131. Barry says:

    Doug: “Of course, there is no addition to Christ’s statement along the lines of “therefore, thy must support massive government spending programs,” either. ”

    What I find interesting about this statement is that the religious right doesn’t feel bound by that when ‘God’s will’ conincides with their interests. They are generally quite OK with using the government to back their religious feelings.

    And that’s aside from the rather poor logic of your statement.

  132. Barry says:

    @anjin-san: Also, it’s likely that the hospital leaned on her to cosign the bills, in order to get her son treated (in a highly deniable way, of course).

  133. anjin-san says:

    If you can force me to pay for your healthcare

    God only knows how many slackers are living off of the vast bithead fortune…

  134. Eric Florack says:

    No, that doesn’t follow at all.

    Oh, yes it does.
    Try it this way; Explain to us all why one is involuntary servitude and the other is not. Be sure to use examples from history to back your position.

  135. Eric Florack says:

    @anjin-san:

    At the moment, the labor Dept suggests that there are 1.75 workers for every person collecting from social security. You can figure from there on SS. As to outside of SS, I don’t have the data to hand, but given that around 65% of my after -SS income goes to government when all levels of government are considered…. how many would YOU say?

  136. anjin-san says:

    So tell me bit, let’s say, God forbid, that you suffer a catastrophic accident or illness. Do you have the means to pay your way? I know someone who is recovering from a very serious illness. He is at home, getting nursing care and has domestic help coming in. 20k a month. He is pretty well off, but that is not chicken feed, even by his standards.

    Do you have a quarter of a million cash on hand in case you need that kind of care for a year?

    What if you needed it every year for the rest of your life? Well, there is a convalescent hospital. Where I live that will only set you back 7k a month.

    If thats not in your budget, well, I will be paying your tab. The difference between you and me is that I won’t whine about it, and despite the fact that I think you are a zero as a human being, I will think you deserve some compassion and dignity because I believe everyone deserves these things.

  137. Eric Florack says:

    So tell me bit, let’s say, God forbid, that you suffer a catastrophic accident or illness. Do you have the means to pay your way?

    I am responsible enough to have health coverage which I pay for. I don’t depend on government to do it for me. I recognize that concept is beyond you….

  138. Eric Florack says:

    And let’s make sure everyone understands, here, Anjin…. Are you really defending big government, here? Yes/No?

  139. Barry says:

    @Eric Florack: I would say that I hope that you don’t lose your job, and have to go insuranceless, but I really don’t care.

    And you might find out just what your insurances if worth, if things go badly.

  140. Barry says:

    @Eric Florack: Yes.

    Any problems with that?

  141. anjin-san says:

    I am responsible enough to have health coverage which I pay for

    So if you were in the situation where you needed 7-20k a month of convalescent care, you are confident your insurance will cover it? How about a retrofit to your house if a wheelchair is involved? Your insurer will step up and cover that?

  142. anjin-san says:

    And let’s make sure everyone understands, here, Anjin…. Are you really defending big government, here? Yes/No?

    I would be happy to answer that. First though, you have to write an essay defining exactly what you mean by “big government”. Explain exactly what the correct size is for a government, and define at what point it becomes “big” and why that is a bad thing.

    Be sure to use examples from history to back your position

  143. anjin-san says:

    And you might find out just what your insurances if worth, if things go badly.

    Barry – you are not saying that an insurance company might screw a customer who has been paying premiums month after month, year after year, in good faith, are you?

    How long have you been a communist?

  144. Barry says:

    @Eric Florack: [Deleted for language not in compliance with comment policies — DM] Yes.

    Any problems?

  145. Eric Florack says:

    @Barry: My insurance would be worth a good deal more absent government over-involvement with it.

  146. anjin-san says:

    My insurance would be worth a good deal more absent government over-involvement with it.

    Just one more incidence of the government holding you back – if they would just get out of the way, you might become the most interesting man in the world…

    As it is, you are the least.

  147. Eric Florack says:

    Just one more incidence of the government holding you back – if they would just get out of the way, you might become the most interesting man in the world…

    Cute.
    In reality, government is holding us all back.

  148. Barry says:

    @anjin-san: @Eric Florack: Eric Florack says:

    “@Barry: My insurance would be worth a good deal more absent government over-involvement with it. ”

    This is what should be called ‘glibertarianism’. A comment made with no (even casual) support, just repeating a ideological line.

  149. Jib says:

    The issue is that people in the GOP CHEER the idea that a person without health care would be allowed to die instead of getting treatment. They CHEER the idea that the person ‘got what was coming to them’.

    That is fine, it is a political position, and it is a free country and you are allowed to have and campaign and vote on any political position you want.

    But I also have the right to disagree, to find that position morally repugnant, fundamentally anti-christian (anyone who thinks WWJD would be to let the man die has never read the bible) and to do everything in my power to make sure people who think like that never, NEVER, have any power over my life.

    Lets get this on, let the fools run on their immoral ideology. If they win the election then we will get what we deserve. Now is the time to fight back. You can not say afterward that you were not warned how bad it would be.

  150. Goin Galt, beeyatches says:

    I got mine, screw you buddy, I am closing the door behind me.

    That’s the glibertarian worldview in a nutshell.

    Thankfully, all these dorks will remain in the closet. Their policies will never ever be implemented on a national scale.

    I think all these people were maladjusted children who never got over getting tormented by the jocks in middle and high school. They got their books knocked out of their hands one too many times, yet being spindly little losers, they couldn’t fight back.

    Chances are they were smarter than their peers, but completely socially inept and couldn’t build any lasting relationships. No wonder they all loved Atlas Shrugged…it’s the perfect nerd revenge fantasy porn for their bitterness and hostility towards a world that never embraced them they way they wanted.

  151. BobN says:

    If private charity can deal with the problems of the poor and disabled, point me to a place and time where they do.

  152. Eric Florack says:

    Bob;
    They used to. Then government got involved.

  153. John says:

    @WR: That was spot on and well said. I truly do not believe that people’s voluntary generosity would come even close to the amount given by the federal government to those in desperate need year after year.

  154. Ted Coillter says:

    Wow. How does one go through college and law school and still not be able to comprehend pieces of short, simple prose.

    Your shocking reinvention of what Eugene Robinson is what is “insulting and stupid,” Mr. Mataconis. As you may be familiar, yours is a classic example of the straw man argument, i.e., create an intentionally distorted and false understanding of another’s point and then proceed to knock down that make believe version of the debate. (Final steps if you are of the conservative right: (a) parade your sense of superiority with the greatest degree of smugness possible and (b) close your ears to all those pointing out the duplicity of your arguments.)

    Feel free to cite to anything EVER written by Mr. Robinson to support your claims that (1) “his basic argument that the only charity that matters is government ‘charity’,” (2) “[f]or him, the only compassion that matters, is the “compassion” that comes when government decides to take Peters money and give it to Paul.”

    Cites please?

    I don’t know if you’re a Christian or not, but it is of no matter, as in our society, as in the vast majority of all communities and religions in the world, lying is considered immoral. Enlighten me? Do “Randians” or libertarians so similarly believe?

    A couple other things. That quote from Don Boudreaux re whether reasonable minds can disagree about whether private charity can be adequate to provide medical care for the uninsured? Its wrong. WRONG. Demonstrably wrong. Reasonable minds could not so disagree because the evidence is plain to see everywhere you look. Is there, or has there ever been evidence for the “charity can take care of this problem” claim? Anywhere in the world? Obviously no. So how could a “reasonable” mind so claim.

    Finally, if you think that “The People” — organized under the Constitution in the form of our government — have no business caring for or developing programs so that our fellow citizens do not die from preventable disease and injury merely because they cannot qualify for health insurance then that is your business. But please spare us these self-righteous screeds railing against anyone who judges the morality of such a view. I thought you John Galt Uber-men were so proud of your thick skins.