the conservative idea of personal responsibility

I do not agree that this is the starting point for ‘conservatism.’ Rather, I think that the proper starting point is more along the lines that we are individuals, and that it is not the role of the governement to “step in” for anyone. It is the responsibility of each individual to look out for his own interest, and the option of all to aid those who need (and deserve) it. In my view of ‘conservatism,’ there is no duty to help others, rather it would be a choice for each individual to make on their own.

(Calculus of Logic, feel free to step in any time when you think I’m hijacking your thread)

Thanks for the correction, akennett. It is not so easy to give a fair representation of a standpoint you don’t agree on. Your description does agree with what I’ve heard other people say whom I’d call ‘conservative’ (there must be a better word, but the term seems to vary according to local politics).

The idea of everyone being an individual responsible primarily for him/herself does seem attractive. Still I find some equivocation in you saying “it is not the role of the governement to “step in” for anyone”. Are you saying
[li]it is a violation of the individual’s own responsibility/autonomy if the government steps in,[/li][li]government aid is paid by taxation of others who have no moral duty to aid the individual,[/li][li]helping individuals should not be done by the government but only by other individuals out of the kindness of their own heart, or[/li][li]none of the above?[/li][/ul]
For me as a ‘liberal’ none of the above applies: I believe other people and/or the community and/or the government do have a (weak) moral duty to help strangers in need. The extent of this duty may vary (I do not believe we must use the maximum amount of money available to help everyone around the globe), but I do think we should do something at least. Charity is not a purely free choice but a moral duty.

While I also concur in the argument that aid may be counter-productive (removing incentives to take responsibility), the question of effectiveness of intervention only arises after it is decided that intervention is necessary. You cannot use the fact that in the past some measures have not worked out well as an argument against all state aid in the future, except if you can prove that every possible form of aid will be counterproductive. And even then this argument only works if you concede the primary duty to provide aid if (hypothetically) a form of aid that works would be available. Which would be tantamount to accepting the first part of the liberal premisse.

I stopped reading this thread a few days ago, do what you want with it.

I have no problem with personal responsibility. I am all for personal empowerment and taking control of your life. I am questioning if the SOLE purpose of the cliche is just so people won’t feel guilty for cutting social programs because it justifies social darwinism.

Do thinkers who endorse personal responsibility do it because they think it is good for america and it fits their ideals of independence from government, or do they endorse it because it makes them feel less guilty for cutting social programs, or a mixture of the 2 (i’d guess a mixture).

i’ve never really been exposed to hypocritical blamers who are liberals. I’m not saying htey aren’t out there, just that i do not see them out there. I watch Hannity & colmes, and i don’t see Colmes blaming everything on Bush.

I think “personal responsibility” is but one of the reasons, and not the main one, some people would oppose government social programs. I can try to explain why I feel the way I do.

There are undoubtedly people who are worse off and could use some outside help. Nobody disagrees with that. The question is whether it is more effective to have the government take my money forcibly and administer it as it sees fit, or to let me use my money to help in the way I think best. I believe the second option is far better and this for several reasons, the main one being that I believe it is far more effective. Also, it enhances my freedom. I just do not believe government programs are an effective tool to get people out of poverty and to be productive. Many European governments have had to cut back on social programs when they have become a greater burden than they could carry. Spain is a good case in point. It has very high unemployment numbers but the truth is a bit more complex. There are vast numbers of people who would rather collect unemployment subsidy than be employed. Then they can do some work and get paid under the table. So, you have a situation in Spain where there are vast numbers of people collecting money from the government because they “can’t find a job” and, at the same time, Spain is importing hundreds of thousands of Eastern European, Moroccan and South American workers to do the jobs the Spanish do not want to do. The taxes necessary to sustain the system come from people and businesses which are burdened to the point where many businesses which could be profitable with lower taxes have to close. It is a spiral which just has a tendency to create more unemployment and poverty, not less. If you give people money for not working the inevitable result is more people will not work. No way around that.

Now, if you let the individual keep his money, he has much better knowledge of who in his immediate surrounding can be better helped and who is just a lazy freeloader. So, in practice, personal initiative is always much more effective in helping people. But, on top of that, it is my money and my freedom to give it to whoever I want. Maybe I want to help my cousin the lazy freeloader after all. What I don’t like is the government taking away my freedom to help whoever I want.

The smaller the social group, the more people know each other and know who really will benefit from the help. A small town, a church, can do this much better than a county or a state or the feds. Besides, need is a very relative term. Why draw the line at the federal government? There are millions of human beings in the world who are starving. Do they have a right to the stuff we have in the first world? Why does a starving person in Africa have no right to my bowl of soup and yet a person who is nowhere near starving a state away have any right to my money?

In summary, I do not accept as a given the theory that government social programs achieve the ends for which they are created, just like communism did not achieve the ends for which it was intended. And, if something doesn’t work, the rest of the discussion is completely academic.

Just noticed the other thread Republican? Why?, which covers this issue but is much broader in scope.

(How do those other people manage to keep up with everything on this board, I ask you?)

In the recent posts there is much I can understand or even agree with, but I’m not really sure whether I get the point correctly.

As I interpret emarkp’s post, he seems to say that regardless of the efficacy of one or the other, it is on principle wrong for the government to pay government aid by taxation, in effect forcing people to be charitable. Instead charity should be a voluntary effort.

On the other hand sailor, in a well-reasoned post, holds the position that large-scale government aid will never be as effective as small-scale local, voluntary aid, and states that as his reason for being against government aid.

I’m not saying that this is a contradiction; of course not all ‘conservatives’ need have the same reasons for being against state aid. I still do not fully understand the first position: what is so bad about using taxation to aid people in need? Is this because of a libertarian-like position that everyone is entitled to their own earnings and at most have to contribute to things from which everyone profits (roads, national defence etc.)? Since I do not fully accept the basic assumption of libertarianism, that would explain my problem with this consequence.

Furthermore I still wonder about a supporting argument, to wit that state aid is in a sense a public good as it may contribute to lower crime rate, decreased poverty (and thereby a healthier social environment) and higher national productivity by better education. You may question whether state aid really does have these effects. I’m actually not really sure myself. Still it seems to me that if you properly select the recipients of state aid, monitor whether they are really using it properly and responsibly, it would make some people avoid being trapped in a life of poverty and/or crime. I personally prefer to live in a country with less really poor people around, and consider that a public good. YMMV.

The same with respect to crime. Of course that is a heavily contested issue, and maybe I shouldn’t open that can of worms? Pandora’s box? (there must be a proper metaphor). But I’m not convinced of the effectiveness of heavier punishments if there are no supporting preventive measures. I’m also against capital punishment, which only leaves detention as punishment. The costs of detention to my knowledge are far higher than most social aid measures. You may of course say that we should sober up prison conditions, but from what I’ve heard from people in the field is that this would only increase the probability of prison riots. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that criminals should not be held accountable or that it is all in the environment. I only feel that statistically speaking social aid, when properly applied, does have a dampening effect on crime rates. (I may be biased by having seen too many sappy movies like Bicycle thiefs :slight_smile: ).

With regard to sailor’s post, it appears to be more a matter of factual research to find out who is right or wrong. You are right that if the factual answer is like you say it is, the rest of the discussion is academic. It is also true that at least some projects have turned out bad. Still I do not see that as sufficient reason to stop with state aid alltogether. You may be right that local aid is preferable to more distant ways of distributing resources. However, the one is not directly opposite to the other. You may for example make local government organisations responsible for properly distributing aid to people who really deserve it.

As for the question how well social programs work, I’m not so sure myself. Living in the Netherlands, I find it sometimes hard to digest the fact that a lot of people get state benefits or pensions when they seem to be in a condition that they might still earn their way. I’m talking about early retirement, also hard-to-place psychical diseases. On the other hand, since I do not personally know so many people in such a position, I may be too harsh on them. Is it really possible to have a burn-out and not be able to work, or should we just cut the benefit so they will be forced to work themselves out of their depressive state? I really don’t know (one thing is that too drastic measures may get people tumbling down the social scale fast, which over here is generally considered undeserved). The indiscriminate passing out of benefits may have contributed to the bad name of ‘liberal’ measures. Still I do believe there exists a significant core of people who really deserve the state benefit. Should they go begging on the streets to stay alive? One of the things state benefits have achieved is to take away the stigma of living on charity. Whether this off-sets the side-effect of undeserved living off the state is anybody’s guess.

*it is a violation of the individual’s own responsibility/autonomy if the government steps in,

I would not agree with this statement. There is no violation to liberty/responsibility/autonomy for anyone (or any agency) to offer aid. If it were, it would defeat the ability to provide aid to the needy on a personal level that underpins conservative arguments against government intervention.

This does not apply to coercive actions of givernment, such as seat-belt laws. While premised on the idea of the government looking out for the people, it is an intrusion into the arena of personal autonomy.

*government aid is paid by taxation of others who have no moral duty to aid the individual,

This is part of the problem that I (and I believe other conservatives) have with the governmental aid. We believe that it is an individual’s choice whether or not to help his neighbor and in what manner/to what extent to do so. By forcing an individual to pay taxes, and destributing those taxes in the form of aid, the government has deprived the individual of that decision (at least in part).

*helping individuals should not be done by the government but only by other individuals out of the kindness of their own heart,

Here is the main problem conservatives have with govermental aid. In the conservative view, governments are limited by their constiutive documents (The US Constitution for example). Any over-stepping of the authority of this document is viewed as an userpation of power, a step on the road to tyrrany (yeah, I know that makes me sound like a nut-case, but it’s the truth). While the intentions of these programs is certainly noble, it is still an usurpation, and, after all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

As for the notion that individuals should help out of the kindness of their own hearts, that is certainly part of it. There are also certain social pressures that are applied which can make the individual more likely to give - religious tenents, for instance. But ultimately, yes, conservatives feel that it is up to the individual to make that decision for himself.

My statement that it is not the role of government to aid individuals stems mainly from my belief that governments should be limited in what they can do and then held strictly within those limits.

I understand the belief in a moral duty to aid others. Religion often imparts this on individuals. In fact, I feel this duty myself, probably from my upbringing in a christian household. It is my view (and I believe of most conservatives), though, that this duty can only be applied to individuals, and not to a government. Further, I don’t think that the government has the legitimate power to compel people to attend to moral duties.

I fully agree that the past failures of aid programs can not be used as a sole justification for not entering into future programs. However, these programs need to be examined, and if it is a fundamental crisis - that is, if it can be determined that the failure of the program and the ill effects it created are inherint in aid programs generally - that would be a fairly persuasive reason not to implement further programs. (Note: I do not believe that this has been shown, nor do I think it likely to be done.)

So basically, I think the disagreement between ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ positions on the government aid issue comes down to the question of whether or not the government has (a) the duty to provide such aid, (b) the legitimate power to compel indivdiuals to perform their moral duty, or © neither.

Well, akennett, it looks as if we’ve pinpointed the spot where our opinions diverge. I’m grateful for your carefully argumented presentation of your position. Unfortunately, even while I cannot entirely agree with you, I find it hard to give you proper reasons for it at this moment (this may be because of lack of sleep last night :slight_smile: ).

One thing that may lie at the origin of our difference is that in Europe and in particular in The Netherlands the Lockean idea of a ‘natural’ or constitutionally prescribed restriction on state power has never really taken hold. We do have a constitution and have signed the Rome Treaty for the protection of Human Rights, which provide limits on state power. But as far as I can tell the prevalant ‘philosophy’ is closer to Rousseau, whereby the democratic majority can legislate what they want and even modify the constitution (as long as they do not violate human rights).

Also I find state intervention a logistically easier route, which takes away some of the embarassment of the recipient of the beneficence. I don’t overly mind people being taxed who don’t want to provide charity; I’m used to pay taxes myself for things I do not entirely agree with. The clincher might be for myself that I subconsciously tend to consider state welfare as a kind of ‘insurance’ in case of disasters occuring in life. I know these remarks are not proper arguments, at least not in this form, I’m just trying to give you some insight in why I still do not consider myself logically bound to adopt the ‘conservative’ position.

For the rest there is much that is admirable in your post, as there was in the earlier contributors to this thread. It is nice to read a well-reasoned argument for a position opposite to mine. Even though you still have not convinced me (I’m stubborn this way :slight_smile: ), at least I have come to understand that there are reasons other than purely practical why you should be more critical to state intervention. I guess at this time we can do no more than to agree to disagree.

I think that we are in complete agreement TTT, at least on the fact that we are going to have to agree to disagree. As interesting as these types of debates are I don’t think that they are usually very effective at changing opinions (at least not deeply held ones). I usually come away feeling more strongly in favor of my own opinions both because I have argued for them and because I have heard other’s arguments against them (and usually have found those lacking).

Your description of the Lockean vs. Roussean(?) believes fairly well underpin the conservative vs. liberal debate of the extent of legitimate governmental power. I find that my philosophy (as far as it has been developed) is a mixture of Locke, Mill, and Burke. I have tried to broaden my reading, but usually get turned off by some of the assumptions and arguments of authors whose views are more sympathetic with those of the American left. Oddly, I was also turned off by Rand and her ideology when I first began to read her works - but that may be partly to my distatste at her writing style in her fictional works.

I must add that this thread in particular, and the SDMB in general, seems to be fairly tame and conducive to actual debate than most boards I have visited.

This is true.

Simply put, there aren’t enough high-paying jobs that will support a family available for everyone. Sure, there’s a plethora of seven-dollar-an-hour service positions, but try raising a family, paying a mortgage, health insurance and car payment out of that. Often times, leaving public assistance for one of these jobs would drastically lower a family’s standard of living.

“Yea, the poor will be with you always.” Frankly, we need the poor. We need people who will work at minimum wage to keep the costs of goods and services down. We need a surplus labor pool which can be cut in times of economic slowdown, and we need people to fill positions that no one else wants to do. It’s a zero-sum game. Not everyone can have the patented “American Dream.” Our system is not set up that way.

But you’d never know that from the media or civics class. Our school curriculum is carefully devoid of any mention of social class. Reinforced is the idea that with hard work anyone can become a success. Examples are cited, such as Helen Keller, and those who “pulled themselves up by the bootsraps” and came from humble beginnings to found companies. The concept drilled into people is that if you’re poor, it’s your own fault.

We neglect to mention the factors which conspire to keep people poor. Higher education is primarily for those from the middle and upper classes who can afford it, or those with athletic ability, or stellar academic performance. The kid from a poor family who gets decent grades, but does not truly excell is left behind.

The poor are also handicapped by their socialization. If both mom and dad are working, kids are often robbed of important family time and social training. Many times, they grow up without knowing essential skills which would help them land a better job. For example, how to express yourself politely. Saying “What do you want?” to a customer is a perfectly valid question. It’s only through training in social skills do we learn that it is better to say, “May I help you?”

A certain level of subservience is also needed, especially in the service sector where often an employee is treated with little respect from both customer and managment. For a young person, particularly a minority who has had to deal with racism, it is particularly difficult to grit one’s teeth when a boss treats them with little respect. Pride can get in the way of a paycheck.

Proper clothing is another roadblock. Business attire is expensive, and a lot of the poor do not know how to sew. If a job requires better dress, often a poor person does not have the savings or credit to go out and buy a mass of nice clothing. Poor people have also often had less access to good dental care, and it’s unlikely that a business will hire a secretary or receptionist who is missing her front teeth.

There is also a certain level of a culture of poverty. Sometimes, a person who wants to “better” themselves can be held back by influences of their family and peers. A young man may be seen by his peers as a wimp and be subject to teasing and abuse by them if he struggles to study and get good grades. Sometimes family members are offended by a child’s efforts because they may see it as the child implying that their lifestyle is not good enough. They may also feel hopeless, that it’s not even worth the effort of trying.

Children also slow the progress to financial comfort. The expense of feeding, clothing and doctoring a child are considerable, especially if the mother has no outside help. If she works a low-wage job, she’s struggling just to provide the minimum for her child, and is so busy that climbing upward in life is an unreachable dream.

Good jobs are slowly leaving the cities for the suburbs. An urban family without a car is limited in their options, especially if public transportation is unavailable. It’s the old catch-22: you need a car for a job, and you need a job to pay for a car. Cabs are so expensive as to be unrealistic, and car-pooling is not always an option.

Our culture is disgusted by the poor. They’re seen as lazy, immoral and criminal people who actually prefer to stay that way. We neglect to think of the working poor, who struggle every day, often at two or three low-paying jobs to try to feed their families. No one can say that these people do not work hard, yet the prevalent immage is of a fat, lazy welfare mother who is abusive and neglectful of her children, spending the welfare check on booze or drugs. Yes, such people exist, but they’re not the majority.

Many people on welfare struggle to leave it, and are ashamed of accepting it. One woman I knew wept as she told me about being berated by a fellow customer in a grocery store for buying a cake with her food stamps. It was her son’s birthday. If the poor are to be the “good poor” in our eyes, they must lead a spartan existance, with no creature comforts, or little luxuries. We occasionally see a success story and say to ourselves, “See! If they can do it, so can anyone else!” From our comfortable, middle class homes, it’s easy to judge without facing any of the realities that the poor must struggle with every day.