“I Don’t Even,” As the Youths Say

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?

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12 thoughts on ““I Don’t Even,” As the Youths Say

  1. 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.

    He gets it exactly ass-backwards, rich people should stop engaging in bad behavior- they should pay living wages, pay for upgrades to their facilities which reduce environmental impacts, and stop playing the lower and middle classes against each other.

    I left a little bit of advice on that plant a couple of posts ago.

    • State-by-state variations in poverty — implying variations in the human propensity for vice — also suggest that one of these bad behaviours for which the poor can be blamed consists of “voting Republican”.

  2. “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.”

    Oh yeah, that worked SO well in 18th century England — where you couldn’t even walk down a street at night without armed guards. Jeez, don’t these people — and I use the term “people” advisedly — ever see anything that isn’t in front of their noses?

  3. Once again, I think they should all change their affilation to the I Don’t Want to Feel Bad About Anything Party. So who is to blame? Anyone but them!

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