Jeremy re "Is Bush a Commie?"

The topic of how different economic systems benefit and hurt society is vast and rewarding. For now, I'll limit myself to a few points:

1. You say that those who have ability and who have worked to earn wealth deserve that wealth on account of their ability and work. Throughout history, however, those with privilege (of which wealth is one type) have always said that they deserved that privilege for one reason or another:

because they were of God's chosen people
because they were of a tribe that had privileges
because they were of a
race whose destiny and proper place is to rule
because they (royals) had the divine right to rule
because it was nature's law that they (men) should lead and women follow
because they were high-caste

Every claim by those with privilege that they deserve the privilege must first be viewed with skepticism because, simply, we've heard it before.

You start with deserving as a premise, whereas deserving is suspect until it is a conclusion. Admirably, you address why ability and work may be proper criteria for deserving privilege later in your response.

2. You say that compassion is not an evolutionary trait. Stated so broadly, this statement is simply false. The statement could, however, be refined into something true that supports your point.

Compassion is indeed an evolutionary trait. In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins explains why "selfish genes" sometimes program phenotypes (you and me, for example) to be compassionate. The species-oriented compassion that Edward O. Wilson touts in Sociobiology is bogus, but self-serving compassion is common among social animals that are capable of recognizing each other as individuals. Basically, compassion works when it helps those who share your genes and when it elicits compassion in return from neighbors. Compassion favors survival enough that a general capacity for compassion helps survival even when it sometimes doesn't generate any genetic or compensatory benefit to the compassionate organism.

What's not an evolutionary trait is the bloodless, intellectual compassion that we see in welfare. A tendency to help others who were nearby helped our ancestors prosper. Writing a check to the IRS, part of which goes to welfare recipients is pretty far removed from the personal compassion that evolution has programmed into us.

3. You say that a problem with welfare is that those who receive welfare have little incentive to contribute to the society on which they are dependent. That's true. Welfare disincentivizes work in two ways: by reducing the recipient's lack or need, and by reducing the reward for working (since earning income reduces the welfare payment). But you only address welfare payments, and there's another way that pinkos like to take money from hard-working citizens to benefit the poor. Programs such as public libraries, schools, transportation, and job training all take tax money from those you say deserve it, but they don't disincentivize the poor from working and contributing to society. Indeed, they can make it easier for the poor to get jobs and contribute. You don't say whether these programs are bad, as they take money from those who deserve it, or good, as they help the poor without paying them not to work.

4. The dichotomy between tax-payers and welfare recipients is largely false. Most welfare recipients are also tax-payers at some other point in their lives. When I was young and broke, I got a check from the state of Illinois, nominally to help pay for my energy bill. By now, I've repaid that check in taxes many times over. I also know other people with similar stories. To an extent largely unacknowledged, welfare represents shifting of wealth through time, with people getting money out of the system when they need it and paying money into the system when they're doing well.

In fact, the whole dichotomy between rich and poor, which seems so clear in statistics, isn't clear at all. Since individuals often earn higher incomes and accumulate wealth as they get older, the "rich" and the "poor" are sometimes the very same people, just at different ages.

5. Why should we care to facilitate the next step in human evolution?

November 2001

other responses to "Bush"