Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Anti-poverty measures

I got a few responses from yesterday's post on social justice. One writes:

The thing that always keeps me fundamentally a liberal, despite having so many
points of disagreement with the liberals and Democrats on a variety of issues,
is this: there are people who were born into a position so low that their merits
simply don't matter. No matter how smart, hard- working, honest, and thrifty
they are, they simply do not have the opportunity to succeed. Furthermore, these
people are not a tiny minority: they are, in fact, the vast majority of the world.

This is a typical liberal viewpoint. It starts with the assumption that economic freedom (and the inequality that it inevitably creates) is the polar opposite of helping the poorest of the poor. Both conservatives and liberals concern themselves with helping the poor; they just have radically different philosophies about how to do it. The liberal answer is, in a nutshell: let's build a government that takes care of everyone. The conservative answer is, in a nutshell: this is too important to leave in the hands of the government -- WE need to take care of this problem.

I know, all the liberals are groaning: "Oh, God, don't get started with that compassionate conservatism crap." But consider this: conservatives give more time and money to charitable causes than their liberal peers, at all economic levels. American economic freedom has created lots of greedy, self-centered millionaires; it has also created generous people who give freely to help others. Conservatives are not uncaring souls who don't care about the poor: conservatives really believe that government cannot address social and economic woes as well as individuals and private organizations . . . and they put their money where their mouths are.

This is why Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are my all-American heroes. Instead of futzing about with U.S. politics (which, in the grand scheme, is rather like carping about Imus) they are quietly channelling billions of dollars to help the poorest of the poor. They demonstrate that it is possible to use capitalistic freedom to create wealth and then share it with those who need it most.

The conservative and liberal philosophies on social justice have other key disagreements, most notably about the importance of economic freedom. I think most liberals believe that world poverty is caused by evil capitalist corporations who exploit the world's resources and people. The vast majority of the world is living in poverty because men with guns oppress them. Thugs, warlords, militias, armies, governments oppress people. These men are not capitalists, trying to create wealth; they are thieves who take wealth. The people are poor because anything they try to build of lasting value can (and is) taken away from them. All the other ills of the world -- disease, hunger, ignorance -- ultimately flow from a lack of basic civil rights, especially property rights. Capitalist corporations might be complicit with this oppression, standing on the sidelines or maybe even supporting the dictators . . . but it's the dictators, or the rebel warlords trying to become dictators, who are the real oppressors.

(That doesn't mean that unfettered capitalism is always good. It is possible for capitalism to oppress and destroy. I just think the evils of capitalism are miniscule compared to the evils of, well, evil: bands of men using their power to steal, kill, and rape.)

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