Conservatives are not just morally bankrupt, they’re also incredibly lazy. Their whole raison d’etre is to figure out how to justify cruelty…so they won’t have to lift a finger to help people who are less fortunate. If it weren’t so disgusting, it would be amusing.
I’m not merely saying that “bad behavior is bad for you.” I’m saying that bad behavior is a major cause of poverty. If I’m right about this, there is a great, neglected remedy for poverty: Poor people should stop engaging in bad behavior. If this seems flippant, that’s not my intention. Poverty: Who To Blame will largely be a work of economic philosophy. Part of my project is to provide intellectual foundations for what I perceive as Americans’ justified frustration with welfare recipients.
I think such meritocratic moral intuitions are sound, and ought to guide public policy as well as private conscience. If people are poor because they’re behaving irresponsibly, they should be far down our queue of people to help – if they belong on the queue at all. That said, I also happen to think that reducing the generosity of the welfare state and making assistance conditional on good behavior will (eventually) reduce bad behavior. Whether I’m right or wrong on this point, though, the fact that poor people are often the authors of their own destitution is morally significant and sadly neglected.
This reasoning is almost adorably childlike. Unfortunately, it’s backwards thinking. Poverty is not caused by bad behavior; instead “bad behavior” is caused by poverty, which tends to become institutionalized after a generation or so. Horrible people like Caplan like to point to people who escape from the institution of poverty as proof that these are the good folks who just–by god– pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. That ignores the fact that these people are not just extraordinary, they’re often extraordinarily lucky. Why are the poor the only class of people we demand be extraordinary?