Monday, May 20, 2013

Pro-life and Pro-state?

My Purple Wisconsin colleague Alex Runner has written a nice post about what he sees as the implications of being pro-life. To be truly pro-life, in Alex' view, requires the support of some level of government support for persons with unwanted pregnancies and other redistributive programs.

Up to a point, of course, very few people disagree with that. While Democrats act like Republicans want to completely abolish "social safety net programs," I have run across precious few who actually do. (My own view is that such programs should be generous, temporary and contingent; but that's another topic.)

What Alex means is that, to be more effectively pro-life, Republicans ought to support more goverment spending than they do.

It seems to me that relatively little of our current political squabbles are about the social safety net, by which I mean support for person who, without aid, would be in poverty. ObamaCare, Social Security, Medicare, public employee collective bargaining, tax rates - all of these may touch upon social safety net programs but they are primarily about persons who are not poor. Indeed, neither political party spends much time talking about poor people.

So I might stipulate that effective anti-poverty measures are a good thing. But that leaves much to talk about. Here are a few points that I would raise in response to Alex' thoughtful post.

First, there is no necessary moral connection between insisting that human life not be taken and one's willingness to cover the costs associated with not taking it. It may well be expensive - and hard - for you not to kill your child. That doesn't meant that society has to hold you harmless for doing the right thing.

Second, the most effective anti-poverty program has been capitalism. There is no close second. Government subsidies will always be a poor subsitute for a prosperous society. The War on Poverty pulled very few people out of poverty. While it certainly offered some amelioration of the condition of poor persons, it did so quite inefficiently and in a way that has done little to improve the long term prospect of beneficiaries. To the extent that high levels of taxation and redistribution retard economic growth, they may be more likely to create than reduce poverty.

Third, safety net programs are not an unalloyed good. They can foster dependency and retard family formation. To the extent that they do this, they often an awful bargain - immediate relief in exchange for long term destitution. In the great run of cases, the goverment will never be able to do for you what you can do for yourself. It will never be able to provide the support that a family can.

Indeed, I would argue that one of the tragedies of modern liberalism is it's willingness to believe that the state can function as a person's family. It cannot. Christian Schneider's excellent report on the state of marriage in Wisconsin and supporting op-ed reflect what is perhaps the largest cause of poverty and dysfunction in our society. Government contributed to it, but, unfortunately, can do little to reverse it.

Finally, assistance to poor persons is not the exclusive province of government. Alex complains that private charity is too often inadequate but, if that is so, the extent to which government "crowds out" the activities of what are sometimes - but not quite accurately - called subsidiary organizations is part of the problem and not solely a solution. My own view is that, while government social programs will probably always be necessary,  we ought to have a strong preference fo private charity. It does not involve coercion and is less likely to foster the kind of dependency and counter-productive behavior associated with public programs - precisely because it can make the kind of moral demands and provide the moral support that a bureaucracy cannot.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin.


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George Mitchell said...


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jp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
George Mitchell said...

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