Playing God with the Poor


Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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102 Responses

  1. Avatar Kevin Carson says:

    Your point concerning presumptive claims on current holdings is a good one. It also casts some doubt on Caplan’s inclusion of “insubordination” as a criterion for undesert. Would you consider a peasant undeserving if he got evicted from his land for “insubordination” to the feudal landlord he was paying rent to? Insubordination to robbers and oppressors is obedience to God, to coin a phrase.Report

    • Avatar Hyena in reply to Kevin Carson says:

      The inclusion of “insubordination” is a good indicator that Caplan’s theory is more culturally defined than anything else. Conceivably, all single mothers are deserving because a large swath of the population believes they shouldn’t work at all.Report

  2. Avatar Hyena says:

    Caplan would argue that burdening the poor would make poverty relatively more expensive and give better incentives to move up.Report

  3. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    I’m always amused by the phrase “playing God”. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. The parables of Christ are replete with the undeserving, both rich and poor. The man forgiven a fortune in Matthew 18 turns on a man who owes him little, threatening him with the law. His fellow servants, outraged, run to the master who forgave the debt and justice in the parable is served by his irate master un-forgiving his debt and throwing him in prison.

    America’s always had a priggish, puritan sense of charity, though it has always been generous. Charity engenders its own sense of moral superiority and with that sense comes some remarkably uncharitable and un-God-like assertions about the beneficiary.

    If the Libertarian is to be honest, and he very seldom is, he’d make his argument for charity on the basis of staving off civil unrest. No society has ever survived the formation of a hard core of disaffected poverty and unemployment. Anciently, even the slave had work to do and was fed, however meagerly.

    Massive unemployment, not some sudden enlightenment for democratic principles, drive the revolutions we see in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria and the like. These revolutions will all fail, lapsing into vast Somalia-esque horrors unless some meaningful work is found for an entire generation which grew to adulthood under the Strong Men. We see this also in Iraq, where the moribund and incompetent government of Baghdad either cannot or will not lay the economic groundwork for employing its youth.

    The Libertarian has the cart before the horse. The poor are poor for many reasons, laziness being the least of them. Everyone wants meaningful work to do: insofar as a man has lost hope, yes, he will lapse into what might be perceived as laziness, but this man is the most dangerous man alive. That man is more likely to lapse into crime, where risk also equals profit and if he goes to jail, he feels neither shame nor isolation. The state will feed and house him and there he will make friends after a fashion, living according to the grim rules of the prison, where the prisoners, not the warden, enforce the rules.

    Society is that prison writ large and the Libertarian forgets this fact at his peril. The veneer of society is very thin. I have come to believe it does not exist. Once the elites feared the poor and with good reason: once the Enclosure Acts had closed off the commons and done away with croft, the hapless tenants were generally transported overseas before they could form Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free. That yearning is mostly for rebellion and reprisal and it is a constant in the history of mankind.

    Be done with all this twaddle about distinctions between Deserving and Undeserving. If you Libertarians wish to preach your thin gruel of a gospel, be sure to spice it with a certain amount of elitism, no bad thing and do not be ashamed of it, for elitism at least has the good sense to realize a poor man is a dangerous man and society is best served when he has meaningful employment.Report

  4. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    It seems like theoretically the question of can be dealt withpretty directly by simply stipulating (if one will) that there is a floor of material condition below which no one ever *deserves* to be left if there is a community of people around them that can prevent it. After all, while our prison system in fact routinely denies actual provision of them, if I am not mistaken, outside of those whom we condemn to death, we at least *say* that prisoners of all kinds are due a roof over their heads, a bed of sorts, and at least nominal protection of the law against personal invasion by other prisoners.

    However, as with all formsof welfare, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine basic human desert as the proposed level of public provision rises. At some point, surely merit comes into play when deciding what comforts (sic) people deserve. Contra some recent commentary, to deny this really does begin to invoke communism. Somewhere btween the danger of denying truly basic aid to certain people in the community based on imperfect judgments of desert and the danger of denying that certain material enjoyments are surely beyond the scope of universal desert, while still being legitimately available to those who can attain them by legally acquired means, lies an area in which there will be difficult arguments about whether a given benefit we might hope to say that many deserve public aid to help attain, might still be morally alienable to people who commit certain moral offenses (even if due process wouldn’t allow us to actually institute such tests as a matter of policy).

    In other words, it is quite easy to simply say that no one can in fact deserve not to enjoy the most basic human necessities. If one is willing to stop his account of human desert at that point, then it can remain that simple. But if one wants to go further to say that in a very rich society human desert goes further than the most basic necessities, then as a moral matter it will take a much more involved argument to prove that the point at which that desert gives way to a morality of merit is perfectly uniform across all people regardless of personal merit. I’m not saying I don’t intuitively feel this to be the case. I’m just unsure how I would try to argue for it against someone who saw not just obvious luxuries, but also some things that we might agree are beyond absolute necessities, but still basic enough that we would want to potentially provide public assistance for, as things subject to some kind of negative test of desert – i.e. as privileges one can lose by doing wrong but is presumptively afforded by society — as opposed to necessities, or as opposed to pure luxuries one simply acquires only if one amasses sufficient wealth to do so, but with no presumption that one ever will.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Michael Drew says:

      To stipulate to some floor of material condition might imply such a floor exists. In the game of Economic Limbo, how low can you go? In the archaeology of Pompeii and Herculaneum, it was easy to distinguish the slaves from everyone else: people enslaved in childhood were made to lift heavy loads. It shows up in the origins and insertions of their biceps and muscles of the femur, the lack of calcium in the bones and teeth, the characteristic kyphosis and injuries to cervical vertebrae.

      All this talk about Merit supposes luxuries come only to those who deserve them. This is just more of this panglossian pseudo-ethical bosh where not only do ends justify means, ends provide recursive and retroactive justifications for the nine-tenths of the law under which all possession is justified. The terminus of all this post-hoc hooey is Objectivism, raw and unvarnished. “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

      Though these Objectivist types might call them Communists, to oppose this line of rhetoric is not a brief for communism. Communism heaped abuse upon the rich but never contemplated the absurdity of people pretending to work and the State pretending to pay them. Objectivism never contemplated why people were poor but blamed them for their poverty. Life is not fair, that much is true. Riches and poverty alike are meted out to the deserving and undeserving.

      The poor you will have with you always, said Jesus Christ. The same seems true of the rich. The inequities of life obey the laws of entropy: impoverished nobility wearing their brave state out of memory, the nouveau riche in their garish splendor, the working man loses his house and the speculator is redeemed 100 cents on the dollar for his follies and financial crimes. Shogyo mujo, nothing is fixed, they rise and fall.

      If there is any justice in the world, it will always declare for equality under law. As I have never seen such equality, it seems safe to presume it does not exist. Inequality will always have its well-paid advocates and when the issue of what we deserve arises, they will declare for their clients and not for the poor.Report

    • After all, while our prison system in fact routinely denies actual provision of them, if I am not mistaken, outside of those whom we condemn to death, we at least *say* that prisoners of all kinds are due a roof over their heads, a bed of sorts, and at least nominal protection of the law against personal invasion by other prisoners.

      I just want to say that this is a point I specifically tried to work into this essay about five times before I gave up. It is an important one, as well. I had to drop it since I couldn’t figure out a way of introducing it without making this essay exceedingly long.

      It is critical: both the moral and the practical problems of making the act of being an “undeserving” poor person for all intents and purposes warrant a harsher punishment than an actual crime are immense. To an extent, of course, we even do this already: gang violence and urban crime exist in no small part because even with the risk of prison and homicide, criminality is a better option than just struggling to make ends meet.Report

  5. Avatar Jon Rowe says:

    “Such people are likely more common than Caplan would acknowledge, as we know that poverty itself is often a cycle in which lack of opportunity gives way to despair which in turn gives way to potentially self-destructive behavior.”

    I’d like to see “lack of opportunity” as it pertains to life circumstances more meaningfully explored. Is getting caught up in a culture of bad choices = to “lack of opportunity.” Human beings being the broken creatures we are, perhaps it is. Discipline is not easy.

    Though poverty is overwhelmingly caused by unwed mothers choosing to have a child in her teens, before finishing high-school and without getting married/having a working father. As I noted in an earlier thread, the men are equally to blame.

    “…We restrict the type of foods that may be purchased with food stamps, resulting in regulatory capture of mammoth proportions. We disproportionately focus on poor neighborhoods in fighting the War on Drugs, turning them into war zones in the process. Likewise our unemployment agencies exist in no small part to make sure that no one deemed “undeserving” receives unemployment benefits; the administrative costs of doing so are far from insignificant. There is a growing movement to require mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients to make sure that “undeserving” drug users don’t receive welfare benefits; the costs of such testing on the “deserving” is hardly negligible.”

    I’m not sure what I would do here. I don’t believe in nannying people; but social workers/nanny state, it could be argued, are softer on folks in the “safety net” than potential alternatives. I wouldn’t mind experimenting with privatizing welfare and letting charities, religious or secular bid for the services. A Catholic nunnery or Mormon group home would probably shape people up better than social workers.

    My own perspective on homeless folks evolved over time. When I was really young, I’d give them $$ because I thought they were victims of society. When I got older, they were lazy who didn’t work because they wouldn’t work. I began to realize they had some chronic issues that put them on the street and that yes, they were using their $$ to get a buzz, but I returned to giving them $$, because if this is how you survive and do your best to get by and feel good, I’m not gonna judge. I get buzzed too when I get home sometimes.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jon Rowe says:

      Most of the long term homeless belong in some sort of institution where they can cleaned up and get on their meds. When Reagan emptied out the mental institutions there was a flood of them hitting the street in their 30s. They’re now quite elderly, many of them die in situ, in their boxes. John Doe deaths are way up in metro areas.

      Most of the homeless I’m seeing have been evicted when they couldn’t pay their mortgages. They’re living in their cars, sometimes in motels.Report

      • Avatar Jon Rowe in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Only time will tell but I seriously doubt folks getting evicted from not paying their mortgages will lead to any kind of chronic long term homeless issue.

        We actually have a lot of unused “space” in our middle classes houses, some of which are McMansions. These desperate times are more likely to lead to a turn away from the “individual” nuclear family model of living and look more like the extended family models of more group oriented non-Western nations. That is, it sucks to lose your home, but a lot of folks do have somewhere to go other than the streets, adults moving back in with their parents, with their adult siblings and so on.

        Even if they have to pack into houses and share rooms; I know that sucks. But it beats the street.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jon Rowe says:

          It’s going to be a problem for the long term. I’m not even counting the people now doubling up.Report

          • Avatar Jon Rowe in reply to BlaiseP says:

            These are interesting times. Though I think desperate home losers will find a private solution like packing houses and doubling up to escape the streets. Only time will tell.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jon Rowe says:

              No room at the inn, I’m afraid. Those with relatives have already filled in those Private Solution blanks. These people are eating out of dumpsters, right down the block from me. That’s another interesting thing about family poverty in the burbs, it tends to congregate around fast food dumpsters.Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jon Rowe says:

          > These desperate times are more likely to lead to
          > a turn away from the “individual” nuclear family
          > model of living and look more like the extended
          > family models of more group oriented non-
          > Western nations.

          Yeah, as Blaise alludes below (zoning problems), there are a rather large number of barriers to entry here.

          Car insurance? Adults in the home. Homeowners insurance? Good luck getting a policy with three families packed into one house… and you’ve got a mortgage, so you have to have homeowners insurance. Run with it and hope you don’t get caught? Now you’re paying for insurance you can’t use if something actually does happen, because your claim is rejected out of hand.

          The system is (not precisely, but close enough) designed for single families to dwell in a building together. The system does not appreciate exceptions to the rule.Report

          • Avatar Jon Rowe in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

            This sounds like something from the upper middle class, risk averse paranoia perspective. And I should know, I was raised in it. Though we do lived in a fucked up world where shit happens and paranoids have enemies. I’ve owned my home for 6 years and only had to use my homeowners insurance once, a freak thing that happened to the outside of my house that actually turned out to be a blessing because I got free aluminum siding out of it. There were no shenanigans going on in the inside of my house; but were there and it wouldn’t have affected the outcome.

            My upper middle class family has plenty of surplus room-age in the real estate we own; but we aren’t charity business. We might actually be, but the fear of risks that unknown transients pose would probably scare us off. No one in our family, thank God, is in the precarious circumstance of falling through cracks, facing the streets.

            But for lower middle class, working class types, if a family member is about to fall through the cracks, you’ll take them in as opposed to letting them go to the streets and worry about the risks from things like homeowner’s insurance later. Different immigrant communities currently do this with their “borrowing” of addresses and so on.

            Sometimes they get screwed by private insurance bureaucracy. Shit does happen. But as long as the abuses aren’t blatant, chances are, nothing will happen. Your house will not burn down and your cousin who is driving the car but not on the insurance policy will make it home safely.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jon Rowe says:

              Don’t kid yerself. If you lived in an upper middle class neighborhood, you’d know the neighbors will turn you in if you start hosting a bunch of people in your house. Property values, doncha know.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jon Rowe says:

              > But as long as the abuses aren’t blatant,
              > chances are, nothing will happen. Your
              > house will not burn down and your cousin
              > who is driving the car but not on the
              > insurance policy will make it home safely.

              Er, I read this: “These desperate times are more likely to lead to a turn away from the “individual” nuclear family model of living and look more like the extended family models of more group oriented non-Western nations.” as you were just saying this was going to become commonplace as a sea change. Ergo, the abuses will become much more commonplace.

              I take it you don’t think that after all? Now I’m confused.Report

              • Avatar Jon Rowe in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                I don’t think we properly defined “abuses.”

                Right now I’m think of my crazy aunt who lives about 20 minutes away in a townhouse in a likewise middle class, somewhat upper, but probably not as upper as where I live. We both live in Bucks County. There are a lot of Russian immigrants in her neighborhood. She is a bit of a gossip and was telling me that she witnessed strange people taking mattresses in and out of a neighboring townhouse. She is also a devout pro-life Roman Catholic and told me she thought the mattresses were used to perform illegal abortions, that she was thinking about telling her Monsignor about this. I told her if they aren’t bothering her to keep her mouth shut. But those mattresses probably weren’t used for abortions.Report

    • Avatar NoPublic in reply to Jon Rowe says:

      “Though poverty is overwhelmingly caused by unwed mothers choosing to have a child in her teens, before finishing high-school and without getting married/having a working father. As I noted in an earlier thread, the men are equally to blame.”

      What’s that correlation/causation fallacy called again?Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jon Rowe says:

      > A Catholic nunnery or Mormon group home would
      > probably shape people up better than social workers.

      There are a number of people in Ireland who grew up in Catholic adoption homes who would (probably quite cheerfully) beat the snot out of you for that statement. (Not that violence is an answer or that I’m advocating it, mind you).

      You cannot solve a problem of audit by outsourcing your audit requirements with your actual process. You’ve just moved the malfeasance domain two steps to the left. It lets you wash your hands, but the problem is not going away.Report

      • Avatar Jon Rowe in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        Not sure if that’s a reference to Roman Catholic Priest troublemakers. I have old fashion nuns in mind as my social workers and pardon me for thinking, as I still do, they’d do a better job than government social workers.Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jon Rowe says:

          Jon, this may hurt, but you’re least I think so. I’ve read a number of very positive stories of children being raised in orphanges, Catholic or not, that were properly cared for, fed, schooled, nutured, developed life long friendships and led perfectly normal lives.
          I think if we hung the pedophiles when we catch ’em, the incidences of abuse would fall dramatically.Report

        • Avatar Matty in reply to Jon Rowe says:

          Not sure if that’s a reference to Roman Catholic Priest troublemakers.

          More likely the Magdalene Laundries where “old fashioned nuns” had free reign to deal with social problems like unmarried mothers and (at least according to this source) did take in children as well.Report

          • Avatar Jon Rowe in reply to Matty says:

            I’m a libertarian; so I consider myself the anti-thesis of a virtue scold. Likewise I admire the way authoritarian Asian nations from Japan-Singapore can keep their people in line, but I myself am not a big fan of “shame” and consider authoritarianism too mean spirited for my taste. I’m certainly not, at all, an authoritarian kind of personality.

            Still, perhaps human nature being what it is, a deterrent effect arguably is needed to prevent folks, especially youngish ones, from making bad decisions. You don’t want to end up with those mean old nuns; don’t have children out of wedlock before you are 20 and before you finish high school.

            I actually don’t even have a problem with babies born out of wedlock, Murphy Browns and gay parenting as long as the parties who engage in such alternate child raising do so on their own financial dime.

            If you raise people right as children, they probably won’t make bad decisions, and therein lies the problem.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    We restrict the type of foods that may be purchased with food stamps, resulting in regulatory capture of mammoth proportions.

    Where’s Stillwater?

    In any case, I think that the attitudes toward food stamps, or the war on drugs hitting hardest in “welfare” neighborhoods, or drug testing for recipients of help is an unintended consequence of the attitude that “We, as a society, have interconnected responsibilities to each other!”

    This particular cudgel has been used to get folks to help others for so long that, I suspect, the “helpers” have internalized it and see that the “helped” have a whole bunch of responsibilities of their own.

    And if you add into the equation that money is fungible…

    Sure, you can have food stamps, but you have to buy healthy food.
    Sure, you can have a government check, but you shouldn’t have cable or smoke cigarettes and you *CERTAINLY* shouldn’t do drugs! If you have enough money for weed, you don’t need my money. Use your own money.

    And we get the cops involved because of the interconnected responsibilities that the “helped” have to us. Kick in the door. Shoot the dog. Get child protective services involved to take kids away from moms who smoke pot. (We’re doing this for the children, remember?) So on and so forth and so much intrusion into the lives of others… why?

    Because we, as a society, have decided that we all have interconnected responsibilities to each other.

    Yeah, I know. That wasn’t the original intention. The original plan had the best of intentions. “How did we get here from there?” “One step at a time.”Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

      (Anyway, one of the threads you may be pleased that you missed can be found here. In it you can see me try, and fail, to get people to agree that society, in general, doesn’t like the idea of food stamps being used for cigarettes. I was trying, and failing, to say many of the things you successfully said here.)Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Jaybird says:

        [Sound of head banging against desk]

        Yeah, I’m glad I missed that. Nonetheless:

        1. I am not yet certain that I have had more success at this than you had in that thread.

        2. For some reason whenever the words “libertarian” and “welfare” or “social safety net” or anything of the like exist in relatively close proximity, it seems that some folks will automatically be interpreted as “I, the libertarian, have no obligation to assist the poor. They should rot in Hell.” This is true even if the libertarian in question is saying almost the opposite, that “By meeting my obligations to assist the poor, the poor do not, or at least ought not, incur any special obligations to me. That such special obligations occur nonetheless in practice and are wildly popular with the American public is morally problematic and destructive of the poor.”

        3. I have not yet figured out how to communicate with those who read in that manner. I have also not figured out how to communicate with their counterparts on the Right. For the most part I have learned it is best not to try very hard to communicate with such persons (at least not much beyond a snarky “Dude! Reading Comprehension!”) and to instead focus on communicating with those who are literate in my personal dialect of English.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

        If there is anything that was missed from that thread, which i haven’t reread, and Mark’s post its the tendency of libertarian peeps to see both parties as the same. However most of the onerous, humiliating measures aimed at the poor like drug tests are passed by R’s many of whom come straight out and say they think “welfare” recipients are unworthy. It is just not possible to determine one national attitude towards the poor or anything else for that matter.

        Oh and slippery slope fallacy rulz.Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to greginak says:

          I’m not so sure about this, actually. Frankly, most self-described libertarians would probably fall directly in line with the views espoused by Caplan – certainly he seems to think they do, and I have no reason to believe otherwise. If that’s true, then it’s probably no small part of why libertarians as a group tend to vote R far more than D. It’s also a major reason why I still view the liberaltarian project as important – libertarians need to see the way in which such policies and preferences in fact expand the power of the state. That they largely do not, I would argue, demonstrates the corrupting effect of libertarianism’s institutional alliance with the Right.

          For me, personally, I have no doubt that the Rs are generally worse than the Ds on this issue, though the Ds are probably worse specifically on the issue of demanding the poor purchase only certain types of foodstuffs.

          But the party which is worse is not really relevant to my post. And, to the extent it’s relevant to the thread Jaybird referenced, that relevance is basically negated by the fact that these restrictions are usually quite popular within society writ large. At best, it is probably only the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” that meaningfully opposes them.Report

          • Avatar 62across in reply to Mark Thompson says:

            One has to ask why restrictions on welfare is so popular with the society writ large. The poor as unworthy meme has supporters.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to 62across says:

              When charity was tied to religion, it was an end in itself. You gave because God told you to. Treasures in heaven and whatnot. Lazarus and the Rich Man. So on and so forth.

              Now that we are much more enlightened, we know that the reason we give charity is to *HELP* people.

              We give them food stamps so that they get enough nutrition… and we make sure that food stamps can only purchase things that are official members of the Food Pyramid. We’re helping them eat better by making sure that they can’t buy Pepsi, or Doritos, or McDonald’s with the food stamps *FOR THEIR OWN GOOD*. We want them to have decent nutrition, after all.

              When it comes to WIC, we look at why we created WIC in the first place and, of course, the answer is “The Children”. So we make certain that the WIC vouchers are used only on things for The Children. Formula. Milk. Diapers. We don’t give them money for the mothers to buy cigarettes or jewelry, after all. We want to ensure that The Children are cared for. So we make sure that WIC is used for Women, Infants, and Children (rather than on Whims, Impulses, and Conceits).

              We give charity for the *GOOD* of the people who receive it.

              Whether they like it or not.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                The problem is the poor don’t want our charity. They want a job. A properly-oriented charity views itself as a runway for both crippled aircraft on approach, to get safely down, and as a launching point for that aircraft to get in the air again.

                That’s what’s lacking in the vision of most charities and why most fail in their mission.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to BlaiseP says:

                A properly-oriented charity views itself as a runway for both crippled aircraft on approach, to get safely down, and as a launching point for that aircraft to get in the air again.

                Perhaps. But I don’t think providing a launching point ought equate to demanding that a particular launching point be used. And certainly not if they are, as is the government, the charity of last resort.*

                *I realize that in practice, many/most turn first to the government rather than to private charity for assistance. This is not what I mean by “last resort,” though. What I mean is that the government’s role is that of ultimate guarantor, the place to which one may always turn if the strings attached to private charity are too burdensome.Report

              • To continue with the analogy, the safe landing is a prerequisite for there to be a re-launch. While part of assisting may well be providing tools and a location for that re-launch, insisting upon a promise that a particular set of tools or a particular location be used for re-launch as a prerequisite for providing the safe landing in the first place is morally reprehensible. The legal doctrine of duress is called to mind.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                Wha-wha-what? Where did all that come from? I have run charities for quite some time now, mostly handling refugees. Duress my ass, a refugee will put down anywhere there’s a runway and he needs a long one. He’s been in a refugee camp for years. I finally got him a visa. Me, not you. So don’t you worry your head about what’s morally reprehensible, that is complete bullshit and I’m calling you on it. I’m not trying to convert him or tell him where to fly when he leaves. He will take off again from my runway because that’s where he landed.Report

              • Dude, calm down – you are reading something that is not there.

                My point is explicitly that it’s morally reprehensible for the government, the charity of last resort, to require someone to accept various positive obligations as a pre-condition to the government providing that person with badly needed assistance. Making such a demand on the person in need of assistance is pretty reprehensible in and of itself, even if it would be outweighed by the moral good of providing the assistance in the first place. It is even more reprehensible with respect to those who are unable to meet those preconditions and thus go without having their needs met at all.

                But none of this is directed at you personally, nor is it for the most part directed even at private charities, at least to the extent that the person to be helped has some option of last resort. And even if it were applicable to private charities, you’re pretty clearly not making the kinds of demands that I’m concerned about here.

                I simply don’t understand how you could have interpreted what I wrote as “You, BlaiseP, are morally reprehensible.”Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                Nothing in #27 would lead me to believe you had not included private charity. There are charities who make someone sit through a sermon before giving him a meal and a bed for the night. I don’t, but I make no bones about the form and substance of my charity, it is done in the name of Jesus Christ. You might see how I could conflate #27 with what I’ve encountered in the world of religious philanthropy. Muslim charities only help Muslims, to my endless aggravation, because they come to me for donations and I won’t help them, for the very reasons you’ve outlined in your essay: we must either conclude all the poor are deserving, or none.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                Ugh, sorry, #29Report

              • So we are in complete agreement, then.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                Yes we are in agreement, what with that distinction made.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to BlaiseP says:


                “The problem is the poor don’t want our charity. They want a job.”

                Really, I hear that farmers turn to migrates and illegals b/c so few others will take the job they are offering. Sounds to me that they want the job they want, not any job at all. How about the generations that live in public housing and make no attempt to to better themselves or stop living off the gov’t?Report

              • Avatar 62across in reply to Scott says:

                Is what you hear backed up by any data? Specifically, do you have the percentage of unemployed people who won’t take “any job at all” or public housing residents who “make no attempt to better themselves”?

                Or have you accepted “the poor aren’t trying hard enough” myth based solely on stories told around the campfire.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Scott says:

                That’s not true. The day labor organizations, the legit ones, are doing land office business. People will take the jobs.

                Jeebus, I wish some of y’all would actually meet some poor people and talk to them before coming to conclusions like this.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Scott says:

                Most poor people are rural or on the peripheries of the suburbs. They don’t live in public housing. Here’s how it goes. They get evicted. They live in the state park for a while, trying to keep the old car going, working odd jobs. They finally get into a trailer park. They buy a second car, they work more odd jobs. Their credit is ruined, they aren’t accepted into decent rental properties. Not once along the line were they on “welfare”. They don’t stay in poverty long and they bounce in and out of poverty when their odd jobs disappear and others reappear. They’re on the move a lot.

                That’s the real picture of poverty in the USA. The public housing projects were an attempt to warehouse the poor. They’re all being destroyed now. You need to get out of whatever rock you’ve been under since the 1970s. Times have changed and so has poverty.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                The question then comes whether The Gummint is capable of being a properly-oriented charity.

                I know which way my suspicions lie…Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’d say it depends on what the people will permit. Which pretty much brings us back to your open borders/welfare state/multi-culturalism trilemma. As I’ll hopefully show later, I’m now just about entirely convinced that this trilemma is both real and universal rather than confined to the Old World. This thread was what convinced me.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                Awesome. (lemme know if you want me to throw something together)Report

              • I will let you know for sure. I’m quickly understanding why AFAIK you’ve never elaborated too much at any one time on the underpinnings for it. It’s a beast of an argument since it requires evaluating three separate scenarios in order to show that a fourth scenario is impossible.

                It seems to me that it boils down to an issue of intra-national trust.

                The big hangup for me right now is figuring out how multi-culturalism + welfare state can come into existence, what it looks like in the real world and most importantly why it can work. I’m trying to avoid specific case studies in the post itself (won’t be able to go into them in enough depth to make it worthwhile), but it’d be helpful to at least have an example in mind.

                That said, there is one country I have in mind that may have gone through all three scenarios in the last century. A lot of research would be required to show this, though, and I’m not at all certain that it would prove as good an example as I suspect.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                Another problem I’ve run into is the whole “strong vs. weak” problem for each of those.

                Strong multiculturalism vs. weak multiculturalism… what’s the lower boundary of strong multiculturalism? (I pretty much figure “language laws” are a good, verifiable, measurement of that but it’s unsatisfactory for a handful of reasons.)

                Strong social safety net vs. weak social safety net… where’s the floor for that? I mean, *MY* inclination is to say that we have a strong social safety net in the US (and I would have said this before Congress’s Affordable Care Act) but I’m crazy. What’s a good, verifiable, measurement that we can use to use as a “floor” for a strong social safety net?

                What’s the floor for “open immigration”? Ellis Island level stuff where the only rule is that your last name be pronounceable by WASPs? (It’s measurable, anyway) Easy for someone with a Master’s degree to become a citizen? Easy for someone with a Bachelor’s degree to become a citizen? Easy for someone with a High School diploma to become a citizen?

                It’s a pain coming up with something that feels like a solid place to distinguish *THIS* from *THAT* for all three.Report

              • Interesting – we seem to have pretty different definitions that we’re working with here, though the outcome is probably the same. So, I would say that we have a pretty weak welfare state – expensive perhaps, but weak nonetheless, if only because it is not terribly successful (the problems described in this post are a pretty good starting point). I’d say that we are a relatively open borders country despite our official policy to the contrary for the simple reason that culturally we are pretty good at making sure that policy is not enforced (regardless of whether popular rhetoric is to the contrary). And as I’ve argued a million times before, multi-culturalism is at the core of the American character (for me, multi-culturalism winds up being pretty synonymous with cultural dynamism).

                It strikes me, however, that Canada may form a pretty powerful counterargument. Multi-culturalism and open borders are alive and well there, and the welfare state seems to be pretty strong. Then again, I just read something arguing that multi-culturalism is actually a fairly new phenomenon in Canada, dating only to the 60s or 70s. So if this has weakened the effectiveness of the Canadian welfare state, it would possibly still validate the hypothesis.

                I think the disconnect is that your typology looks primarily at policy, whereas mine would look primarily at practice. So rather than looking at immigration policy, I’d look instead at raw numbers of immigrants in relation to country size. I’d probably not look much at whether multi-cultural policies are in place as much as I’d look at how easily other cultures are absorbed into (and simultaneously influence) the host culture. And lastly, I’d look not so much at size of the welfare state as I would look at effectiveness of and satisfaction with the welfare state.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                Way back when, in the mists of pre-9/11, Maribou and I looked into me immigrating to Canada.

                We hammered out, after much agonizing, that it would be easier for Maribou to move here (and get a job, and make a life) than for me (as just a kid with a philosophy degree) to move to Canada and get a job, and make a life.

                Now that I’m all grown up with a resume and everything, it’s pretty easy for me to move to Canada… but it was easier as a kid in love to move to the US than it was for a kid in love to move to Canada.

                Pre-9/11, anyway.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’d rather have an inefficient government actually tackles the problem than private charity, where the rich man or pious man’s conscience has been eased far before the hunger in the poor man’s stomach.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                No you don’t. There’s only one effective yardstick for charities, the percentage they spend on themselves, salaries, administration etc. The government charities come in dead last. Worst of all is the UN: UNICEF and UNHCR are the most inefficient and self serving. The most efficient (of the large ones) is the Salvation Army.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                That said, some of the worst are the religious charities, especially some of these church charities. Check in with the Journal of Philanthropy.

                I once ran across a charity, a family of musicians, regulars on Jim and Tammy Fae’s 700 Club. They were raising money for a trip to help children in Mexico. They’d tour around in this big fancy bus to this church and that. They were the cutest things, sawing away on those violins and cellos, with their stagedoor parents supervising the show. All that money was turned into a Cancun vacation: the children they were helping were themselves.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Perhaps “the poor” don’t want our charity but… wait for it…

                WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?

                We, as a society, have a responsibility to ensure that The Children get enough nutrition, get enough edumacation, and have a drug-free living environment and if their parents won’t give them one, their foster parents sure as hell will.

                Like it or not.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jay, you should come up with a quick abbreviation for this comment. You use it so often and in ever possible thread. Think of all the time savings.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                Is there a point that I am usually making when I make the comment?

                Is it usually the case that I’m throwing it out there as a Laugh-In-esque catch phrase like someone saying “Sock It To Me” after someone else gives a perfect setup line (“I’m trying to set up my domain controller but windows can’t obtain the name… it says that ‘a socket operation was attempted to an unreachable host'”)?

                Because, if it’s the latter, I’ll see if I can’t start using “WATC”. If it’s the former, however, I can’t help but notice that you left the comment you did instead of addressing the point that was made.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Mark Thompson says:

            I don’t particularly disagree with what you say here. I think there is a significant qualitative difference between saying you can’t buy cigarettes with food stamps and the punitive, humiliating measures often suggested by R’s. However, as you say, that is not relevant to your original post.

            I think one of the key underlying beliefs separating right/libertarian from many on the left is whether one believes wealth/money is evidence of virtue. Most of us Lib’s see a tenuous connection, having money does not necessarily mean you are more hard working or better. It might be evidence of that, but just as often is also a bunch of other things. A lot of people on the right and many, many libertarians seem to view poverty as evidence of lack of virtue and wealth as a shiny heavenly halo. If libertarians tend to side with the R’s, that is the reason.Report

            • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to greginak says:

              I think one of the key underlying beliefs separating right/libertarian from many on the left is whether one believes wealth/money is evidence of virtue. Most of us Lib’s see a tenuous connection, having money does not necessarily mean you are more hard working or better.

              I mostly agree, with a major caveat. The notion that wealth/money is evidence of virtue is an inherently conservative concept; I don’t think it is inherent in libertarianism, Ayn Rand and Co. be damned, even if it is a view held by many/most libertarians in practice. I say it is inherently conservative because it rests on the assumption that that which is, is that which is just. In order for a libertarian to view wealth/money as evidence of virtue, they first have to assume that the conditions in which that wealth/money were gained were relatively close to a libertarian ideal. Yet the US has almost never been the libertarian paradise it is often portrayed as (the first American libertarians were 19th century anarchists, more radical leftists than right-wingers). That so many libertarians seem to think otherwise is to me testament to the influence of the alliance with the Right forged during and after the New Deal.

              Also, while it is probably not characteristic of the modern Left as a whole, there are certainly plenty on the Left who in practice (though not necessarily word) view wealth/money not only as having a tenuous connection with virtue, but as actively having a strong connection with lack of virtue.

              A lot of people on the right and many, many libertarians seem to view poverty as evidence of lack of virtue and wealth as a shiny heavenly halo. If libertarians tend to side with the R’s, that is the reason.

              This is probably a chicken-or-the-egg question.Report

  7. Avatar 62across says:

    Excellent points, Mark.

    I’d add that for those who think it is important to distinguish between the deserving and undeserving poor the value is not to be found in the elimination of “wasted” tax dollars. Identifying examples (real or otherwise) of the undeserving welfare recipient really pays dividends when it comes to undermining the whole idea of safety nets. The myth of the Cadillac Driving Welfare Queen was priceless when it came time to divert funds from social services to the Defense Department in the ’80s.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Oh, one analogy that might help people see things from the other side: School Vouchers being used at Parochial institutions.

    Specifically, whether School Vouchers, if enacted, should be allowed to be used at Catholic Schools.

    (I do not bring this up because I am interested in having the Voucher discussion (in this thread, anyway) but because I think it may give an example of the thinking behind strings being attached to funding.)

    When I’ve discussed Vouchers in the past and the idea of Catholic Schools came up, one of the arguments I’ve seen given regularly against it is that such violates separation of Church and State. When I asked about stuff like how small the religious instruction portion is when compared to such things as the three R’s, they said that the violation of the ideal of separation of church and state wasn’t an ideal that was okay to only break “a little bit”. (The argument had a lot more stuff going on in it than this and it went on much longer but those are the relevant points for this example.)

    Those of you who don’t understand why someone might have strings attached to Food Stamps or WIC or Welfare, can you understand why someone might have strings attached to school vouchers (assuming school vouchers)?

    Because I suspect that the dynamic is similar here.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

      Who pays for these Vouchers? Why not just cut to the chase, eliminate public school education entirely? Don’t pussyfoot around the Three Rs. Vouchers, schmouchers, it’s tax money collected from property owners. When those property owners were young, before they had kids, they paid close attention to the school district in which they would raise their kids. A good school system drove up property values, so they were glad to pay those school taxes.

      But when their kids grew up, they took a markedly different tone on those taxes, howling and pissing and moaning among themselves about how blatantly unfair it was to pay for public schools for the hellspawn sired upon the lowlifes now moving into Lilywhite Acres, speshully what with those Librul Teechers and their Goddamn Multiculturalism. Never mind that their own grandparents had faced ethnic and religious prejudice, that their parents had endured the Great Depression. Blankly ignorant of history, even their own, these credulous chumps want to return to the world of their great-grandfathers, where the only viable education was to be had at the parish church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Toiletbowl, the bastion of every enemy of science for centuries.

      Though they loudly praise and worship the Founding Fathers, buns-up kneeling, they will not read what they had to say about the public school, especially not Benjamin Franklin.Report

      • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Let’s play Count the Strawmen.

        Better yet, let’s make it a drinking game.

        Never mind. My liver couldn’t take it.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

          Let’s pretend you didn’t bring up the issue of vouchers. Do it again and you’ll get referred back here. Think of it as an Ended Argument: we’ll label it Godzilla versus the Voucher Monster.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Yeah, I’m not particularly interested in the voucher debate at this particular Time t, but maybe Time t + tsub1 would be good.

        The main thing I was hoping for was an analogy that would get people to understand how, even if they agreed in some particular end, that a particular government program that ostensibly provided this end would be something that they’d be willing to fight tooth and nail against while, at the same time, they could very well still support the particular end.

        I’m pleased that I found one.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

      Similar, yeah.

      But I can see a disconnect, in that the beneficiary of the food stamp is an individual. We can argue whether or not we should be imposing limitations on the beneficiary, but whether we audit it or not, we’re giving resources to a person.

      Vouchers have two beneficiaries, the student… and the organization that has accessed the funds behind the voucher.

      I think the “establishment” argument against vouchers is pretty weak sauce, but there is a difference.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        Do food stamps get food at a discount from a grocery store?

        I mean, if it would cost me 98 cents for a can of red beans, does the grocery store trade in food stamps to the gummint worth 98 cents for giving that exact same can to folks with a food stamps card?

        If so, I think that you could argue that Grand Union, Safeway, and Kroger all benefit from taking food stamps in the same way that schools benefit from taking vouchers.

        (Assuming, of course, that food stamps are the equivalent of money when it comes to accounting time for the guys in corporate.)Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

          I’ve done some retail point of systems work and the back end integration. Food stamps are a major pain in the ass, because it interferes with discounting merchandise under WIC, etc.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

            So food stamps don’t get exchanged to the government 1:1 for food items?

            Interesting. I didn’t know that.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

              It gets quite weird. Because the large stores sorta have to accept WIC and food stamps, there’s overhead involved. It’s almost like running two stores on the same system. If the store runs a loyalty card discount on an item like milk, the discount can’t be applied with a WIC or food stamps payment. It’s a mess.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

          … and furthermore, food stamps are usually rung up as a separate transaction, complicating the checkout artiste’s life. You have to set up the transaction up front as WIC or food stamps, so the POS system can kick out ineligible items.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

            I’ve stood in line behind enough folks to know that… I’ve seen people be told that this particular item isn’t covered but this other one was… so the guy and the cashier were shuffling the food on the belt like they were doing a math problem (well, that’s exactly what was going on).

            All to make sure that this particular cut of meat was bought with his own money.Report

  9. Avatar greginak says:

    @ Jay- It comes off as a Sock it to me or generic limbaughesq “feminazi” quip. You have a reasonable point in noting liberals overuse histrionic fears. However the same point can be raised at libertarians or conservatives: “What about the FREEDOM.” Its easy to throw up quick lines without addressing the nature of the claim. You don’t address if there are actual real concerns for THE CHILDREN. Is child physical or sexual abuse an actual concern? Can someone raise the issue? What are the expected and unexpected outcomes of the gov not doing anything about real concerns about THE CHILDREN. Maybe you mean it differently but it reads, and i’ve read it many, many times, like a quick swipe not an actual thought.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

      Greg, under what circumstances did the “WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?” question originally get asked the most? When was it used most in debates?

      It seems to me that the answer is every inch “in the War on Poverty”.

      When it comes to why food stamps have to be used for Nutritious Food?

      The Children.

      When it comes to why WIC was created? It’s even in the *NAME*, Greg.

      When it comes to all of these “like it or not” institutions that are used to not only ensure a bare minimum life standard but also some degree of virtue? Do you know why they are the way that they are?

      Do you want a hint?Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

        They are the way they are for a lot of reasons, some pragmatic and data based, some based on whether whatever admin is in power hates poor people or not, etc. Yeah I know what WIC stands for, but is it possible there is an actual concern about children. Can you believe a) people actually believe somethings are better or worse for kids and b) that some things actually may affect kids? It seems like you use your generic quip to elide those questions. Of course virtue is considered by many people, i’ve said that it is up thread. But people consider it in different ways. It seems like you are trying to shoe horn a massive debate about all sorts of issues into one simple clean framework that suits your argument.Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to greginak says:

          Ultimately, though, it boils down to this: we, collectively, the people of the United States of America, have determined that we must ensure that food stamps are used for what we deem to be Nutritious Food because we, collectively, have determined that people who are so poor as to require the assistance of food stamps are incapable of making their own decisions as to the type of food that their children should eat. As such, we, the people of the United States, through our agents, the United States Congress, have delegated the task of determining the diets of poor children everywhere to the farm lobby.

          That the data may say a particular diet is healthier is mostly irrelevant – no one is demanding, by and large, that middle and upper class parents have similar restrictions placed on their food budgets. Implicitly we have deemed upper and middle class parents sufficiently trustworthy to ensure their children eat Nutritious Foods.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

          but is it possible there is an actual concern about children.

          Greg, this is *EXACTLY* why. It has to do with actual concern about children.

          Why do food stamps make it so they can’t be used for cigarettes?
          The children.
          Why does WIC only allow formula and diapers and baby carrots?
          The children.

          You know, “an actual concern about children.”

          You ask here: Can you believe a) people actually believe somethings are better or worse for kids and b) that some things actually may affect kids?


          Jesus fucking Christ.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

            You absolutely hate the suggestion that don’t care about children. It makes you rant in bold and all caps. You hate it but you seem incapable of separating histrionic claims from serious claims. Well we have SWAT teams doing stupid things in the name of the children. We also have insurance programs that get kids health care when they wouild have none. See the difference Jay, one thing hurts kids and one thing helps them.

            You mention Foster Homes Jay. Fine, maybe you are just naive. You know one gigantic reason why we have foster homes and child protective services. Because some dads fuck their kids, some moms burn their infants with cigarettes, some dads yank on an infants arm so hard in breaks in multiple places, some parents are collapsed on the floor drunk while their babies sit in shit for 24 hours. So what is the solution Jay? Are you going with keep the evil gov out of peoples lives? If so then don’t whine about people accusing of not caring about kids. I don’t think you believe that. But if you agree the gov has some responsibility then some bureaucracy and some people have to make really fucking hard decisions where somebody is going to hate them.

            But all you got is “WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN!!” This is more then just philosophy. Pick a stance and own up the obvious things that will lead to.

            A big part of what your WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN line sounds like to me is that you just dig criticizing other people beliefs. Well if you think somebody has to protect a 8 year old child who, ohh lets say, was tossed out their house to walk several miles because their parents wanted to get drunk in the middle of the Alaskan winter then you are just like the rest of us who have beliefs about what to do for children.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

              And so we come back to Libya.

              Your argument for bombing Libya is that Kadhaffi is killing his own people and that if someone “really cares” about Kadhaffi killing his own people, they’d support shooting missiles into Libya and putting boots on the ground to *PROTECT* the children of Libya who, may I point out, Kadhaffi is killing.

              If you are opposed to shooting missiles into Libya, mind, you are, objectively, supporting the murder of children.

              Sure, Greg.

              You people firing missiles are the only people who care about children.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

              And there is something that I want to point out:

              You say: You know one gigantic reason why we have foster homes and child protective services. Because some dads fuck their kids, some moms burn their infants with cigarettes, some dads yank on an infants arm so hard in breaks in multiple places, some parents are collapsed on the floor drunk while their babies sit in shit for 24 hours. So what is the solution Jay? Are you going with keep the evil gov out of peoples lives?

              I say this:

              Foster care has a staggeringly high rate of abuse (higher than is found in the country, ironically).

              So saying “well, we’re going to take kids out of their parents homes, where they are abused, into Foster Care!” with tears streaming down your face at your own moral fortitude while you ignore that foster care has hugely high rates of abuse is, at best, obtuse.

              I know, I know. At least you care about The Children… by putting them in systems where they will be abused by strangers and shuffled from stranger to stranger to stranger.

              But, of course, at least you care.

              Some of the numbers I’ve looked up indicate that kids die in foster homes at a rate five times that of kids who aren’t in foster homes.

              But, of course, at least you care.

              You preen and smile at your own fortitude in knowing why Foster Care was created without really giving a shit about what happens to The Children after they’re shuffled off to strangers.

              But, of course, at least you care.

              At least.


              • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well yeah i care, but more important i’m willing to state what i would do in response. But what would you do Jay? Come on what is your specific idea to deal with child abuse or lack or insurance or any damn thing? i don’t see that. I don’t see the pluses and minuses of your suggestions. Of course when you get down to details and implementation nothing is ever perfect, nothing is free or easy. Well except avoiding the issue and making it personal.

                Oh the “at least you care” line. Heard it, been there. Its so sly. It turns a debate on what, if anything, to do about a problem into a personal issue about me or whoever you are debating. Sweet. No messy details, no having to lay down what you think should be done or deal with the potential mess of not doing anything. Turning debates personal is a slick way of avoiding it. You’re to slick for a straight up insult. Well played.

                So Jay what is your solution to deal with child abuse. What evidence do you have to back up your ideas? What are the benefits and potential problems? We could actually debate data about FC or whatever. I’ve had a fair amount of experience on the fringe of the FC system so i am well aware of its problems.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                more important i’m willing to state what i would do in response

                Really? You not only care, you’re willing to say something?

                Would that more people were willing to not only care but say things, Greg.

                Truly, you are an inspiration to us all.

                As for the rest of your post, I’d settle for the automatic assumption on your part being something other than “I am the only one who cares enough to talk”.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to greginak says:

                > Come on what is your specific idea to
                > deal with child abuse or lack or
                > insurance or any damn thing?

                A side note.

                Acknowledging that a problem exists is indeed a first step. Acknowledging the problem exists does not in any way automatically get you to, “And because there is a problem, there must be a solution.”

                It also doesn’t get you from, “If there is a solution, it can be implemented systemically.”

                Finally, it doesn’t get you from “The systemic solution can resolve the problem without pulling necessary resources from some other problem that has equal or greater bad effects.”

                There’s a lot of heavy lifting that needs to be done before you even get to discussing whose systemic solution is better.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to greginak says:

      I will offer an anecdote as an intellectual exercise.

      My mother is still, basically a hippie at heart. She’s not as Left as Freddie, maybe, but she’d probably growl at Blaise about how he’s too centrist for her taste. Context set.

      She was *more* liberal when I was a young tot. When we lived in the first home we lived in outside of my grandmother’s house, it was not a great neighborhood. Back then there were a lot of new families on the block, and they were all very young as was the norm in the very early 1970s. They were also very broke, and the stress level was high.

      Put stressed out young people who are broke in a house with squalling infants and toddlers, and child abuse rates are going to be pretty high.

      One of the kids who lived a couple of doors down routinely got abused by their male parent. After some relatively small N times, Mom called the cops.

      They showed up, drove away with the child, and brought them back a week later. After which point the abusive parent beat the everliving shit out of that poor kid. Mom was convinced, thirty years later when she told me this story, that this was as much a message to the neighborhood, and whoever had ratted the abuser out, as it was a pattern of violent behavior.

      “I didn’t agree with meddling with people’s families any more, after that. Whatever that poor kid had to go through to get through their childhood, trying to make it better was only going to make it worse.”

      Now, this is an experience of one, obviously. An anecdote. I can’t say that Ma’s recollection of all the details was accurate, after thirty years.

      However, I can say that if there ever was a person on this earth who would have been all behind taking that kid out of that home, and would have supported the government actually doing it… it was my mother. And whatever she saw or thought she saw inside that family dynamic convinced her that in that particular case, doing nothing was going to be less likely to get that kid killed than trying to do something.

      She may have been right, she may have been wrong. I can’t say for sure. But I can say that family dynamics are vastly different from one family to another. I can say that it is very difficult to prove child abuse using a standard of evidence that isn’t also going to catch people who aren’t abusing their child. And short of the death penalty, I can’t imagine a more horrifying injustice than having someone with the authority of the state wrongly take apart your family. So I’m feeling pretty okay about saying that whatever it is that should or shouldn’t be done in a case of child abuse, there is very little in the way of generalizable knowledge out of that single case that can be usefully applied to the next N cases of child abuse.

      So, on the particular case of child abuse, I break down here: “If there is a solution, it can be implemented systemically.” I don’t think this is true. I don’t think you can formalize it in a way that you can codify it in law and enforce it and audit it and do anything that will produce measurably consistently better results. That sucks. It sucks hard.

      Some things in life are like that.Report

      • I’m on board with the fact that I might be wrong, though. But you’re going to have to show me a systemic design that might work.

        I generally find giant systemic designs to have big holes you can drive trucks through. Fortunately, a lot of times those big holes are okay in big systemic designs because the number of sneaky people in the world is fairly low, and many big systemic designs have a small payout even for the big holes. You don’t have to bother with audit because either most people play by the rules, or the agents in the system aren’t independent ones with their own agenda in the first place.

        Big systemic designs for dealing with a population already known to consist largely of people who are actively assaulting the mechanism on account o’ they’re the Bad Guys (TM), on the other hand, are often giant freaking wastes of time.Report

  10. Avatar tom van dyke says:

    Geez, it’s sure hard to help the poor without being morally reprehensible.

    But there’s nothing moral about ignoring the foreseeable consequences of one’s actions, or perpetuating misery, or treating the “deserving” and “undeserving” the same: what is good for Jim the unemployed father might not be good for Joan the drug addict.

    There’s nothing wrong with making Joan jump through some hoops: even a categorical imperative would say that if I were in my right mind, I wouldn’t want another person to make it easy for me to be out of it.

    And the concept of “deserving” itself is problematic: by asserting there’s a right to charity, we obviate the very concept of charity itself. Nor do we do anybody any favors by giving them such a sense of entitlement.

    Yes, I have my share of anecdotes too, having run a business in LA’s mission district for a half-dozen years. These are the hard core, perennial homeless, and their story is not the same as Jim the unemployed father’s. To blur necessary distinctions with a broad ideological or “moral” brush is unwise, wisdom being one of the cardinal virtues.;col1

    Odessa regards welfare “as part of God’s bounty.” Cheri, with a more secular bent, “regarded welfare as an entitlement in the strictest sense of the word.” When counseling the members of her poor people’s movement, she tells them to make no apologies for their welfare-dependent status. “Until society created conditions where the poor were provided with housing and jobs, she said, they had every right to take the government’s money.”Report

  11. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    I’m immediately reminded of Transplanted Lawyer’s Tennessee Taxonomy; the “deserving versus undeserving poor” seems like an example of applying Labor Class values to Entitlement Class people.Report

  12. Avatar Jib says:

    Now if we could only get libertarians to admit there are deserving and undeserving rich then I might join back up.

    What we need is a way to id the undeserving rich and id the deserving poor and then make the undeserving rich pay for the deserving poor (at whatever the cost, if that makes them no longer rich then considered it a feature, not a bug). That would leave the rest of us to live in a perfect libertarian world where we dont have to take care of anyone but ourselves.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Jib says:

      I’ll go one further. There are not only deserving and undeserving rich, but the undeserving rich are a proportionately far greater percentage of their respective class.Report

      • Avatar 62across in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        And I’d argue, by virtue of that greater proportion and the more destructive tools at their disposal (such as fraud and regulatory capture), the undeserving rich cost the taxpayers an exponentially far greater amount of money.Report

  13. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    So, I’ve got a regular teaching gig here in the US of A this semester and I’ve rented a room in order to be on campus during the week. It’s about $250/ month in a “bad” neighborhood and the first floor and the landlord are all Scientologists (nice people though). At any rate, my roommate “Dave” is a 49 year old guy on welfare, unemployed former auto worker, and a man with a lot more troubles than I’ve ever had. I couldn’t possibly tell you if welfare helps him, but in the absence of it, I think he’d still be drunk and screaming in agony at the television set at 4 am. I think the real problem with this discussion is the belief people seem to have that damage or illness of your body makes you “deserving” of help while mental illness makes you “undeserving”.Report