Dan Popp
The conservative approach to poverty is not a government program
By Dan Popp
January 4, 2015

Most of our rulers will not content themselves with governing the people collectively: it would seem as if they thought themselves responsible for the actions and private condition of their subjects – as if they had undertaken to guide and to instruct each of them in the various incidents of life, and to secure their happiness quite independently of their own consent. – Alexis de Tocqueville

In his New Year's Day article, The 'right deal': the conservative anti-poverty approach Renew America analyst Patrick Garry gave us a piece that I might have expected to see in The Huffington Post or Pravda. I don't recognize much, if anything, conservative in it.

Mr. Garry writes, "Although conservatives criticize liberal social welfare programs, they have no objection to an appropriately devised safety net. Indeed, any humane and civilized society should have a safety net to catch the unfortunate and vulnerable people, preventing them from sliding into an abject poverty they cannot survive." Do you see what's missing in this declaration of universal security? It's government. Of course conservatives want poor people to be helped. What does that have to do with coercion – with the state?
    Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain. – Frederic Bastiat
It's either intellectually sloppy or dishonest to say, "We want to help people, therefore, government programs." Mr. Garry continues:
    But conservatives do object when these safety net programs themselves turn into a trap – trapping people in a state of dependency and preventing them from reclaiming a self-sufficiency that in turn can lead to an independent and dignified life. A conservative safety net serves as a springboard out of poverty, rather than a permanent state of government subsidization. A safety net's goal cannot be the perpetual subsistence of poor Americans in barely tolerable lives – and it cannot discourage work.
But "safety net programs" always "turn into a trap," and they always "discourage work." Human beings are fallen, twisted, and selfish. All government programs expand because (a) people like free stuff and (b) politicians like power, which they can get by giving people free stuff. There is no political solution, left or right, to the Fall of Man. Where there is a picnic there will be ants. You may build some obstacles to slow them down, but if you don't totally cut off their access to the free food, eventually you're covered in ants and the cole slaw is gone.

CommieCons feel they're on very solid ground when they advocate government work-training programs. Who could oppose something that would help individuals become self-sufficient? But these programs don't work. Mr. Garry admits that, but is mistaken about why. He says it's because we train Bob to be a butcher, and then find him a job as a baker. But if Garry had read Charles Murray's Losing Ground more carefully he would have seen that the problem with federal job training is essential, not accidental. The people who are helped most are people who have some work skills already – in other words, the people most likely to succeed in the job market without government training. And, like the educational gains of Head Start children, the economic gains of job trainees are small and vanishing. As Murray observes of one large study, "...the final conclusion is that male trainees increased their earnings between $150 and $500 per year [emphasis Murray's] immediately after training, 'declining to perhaps half this figure after five years.'" (page 38)

Mr. Garry's motto seems to be, "a hand up, not a handout." But if he'd used those words we might have remembered that JFK and the other Great Society leftists pretended that was their intention, too. Conservatives understand that government aid programs do not work because they cannot work. That is because government is the wrong tool for the job.
    For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. (Romans 13:3-6, NKJV)
Contrary to biblical teaching, socialists think that government exists to "help people" and to "solve problems." And that's how Paul Ryan and Patrick Garry and the CommieCons talk. Conservatives know that government's job is to preserve the peace of society as much as possible until the real Ruler comes back. It can't do that by taking one man's property and giving it to another.

Mr. Garry opines, "Given its belief in the biblical tradition of charity, the conservative approach incorporates a moral aspect never recognized by the Left...." But charity is not force. Government is force. Therefore government cannot do charity. And what about the "moral aspect" of the command, "You Shall Not Steal?" It's beyond me where leftists find biblical justification for government almsgiving. It's as if their Bibles contained an extra verse that read, "Then Jesus drew His sword, raised it to the rich man's throat and said, 'Stand and deliver. Thou shalt empty thy pockets into this poor man's purse or thou shalt taste My cold steel.'" The highest "moral aspect" of New Testament giving is that all charity is motivated by a desire to please and honor Jesus. That's not a government thing, unless you want a theocracy. If we render unto Caesar the things that are God's (including alms), we're doing the exact opposite of what Christ instructed. He is not a robber, He said. He's not into redistribution at all. Any coerced "transfer of wealth" is immoral. It's wrong. It's a sin.

So the first step in a true conservative anti-poverty approach would be to end government robbery – to end the income tax. Conservative thinkers like Alan Keyes have advocated that, as have the numerous backers of the Fair Tax. But it won't pass muster for Patrick Garry because it's not "positive." Garry, like the more candid socialists you'll see on TV, plays a word game with "positive" and "negative." Positive is good, you see, and negative is bad. Repeal of the 16th Amendment would help literally everyone in the country. But it wouldn't be a government program, so Garry would call it "negative." The only good government action is a "positive" action, which is a program, which is basically a forced transfer of property with varying details. The transfer, not the benefit, is the point; and the purpose is the resulting shift of power to Washington.

"Reform Conservatives" talk about manipulating the tax code to help poor families, violating the principle of equal justice under the law. Again, I'm for helping poor families, but the government is a justice institution, not a mercy institution. Government should (moral statement) treat everyone the same. It can't do that when it's taking your goods and giving them to me.

And how's this for conservative thought? "Conservative policy should seek to ensure that no one who works full-time and heads a household lives in poverty." I thought it was leftists who wanted to "ensure" outcomes. Once the government starts ensuring economic outcomes, really scary things like FDR's Second Bill of Rights are on the table.

The CommieCons want to reform education. And no doubt school choice would be a vast improvement. But that proposal is only "conservative" in the sense that it's slightly less totalitarian than the state-run monopolistic behemoth now eating our kid's brains. There is still no Enumerated Power granting Congress the authority to educate anyone, or to lend money for education.

Garry and his comrades think that we should create jobs by manipulating wages and making tax carve-outs for employers. But again, where is the Constitutional power to do that?

Mr. Garry can't seem to come up with a program that would strengthen families. I think that's due to his "positive/negative" blind spot. Just as public aid drives out private charity, per Milton Friedman, any time a person goes to a government agency for help rather than to a family member or a church or a volunteer group, government has weakened those pillars of society. We will not achieve the conservative dream of rebuilding the family unless we give up the damnable lie of "government assistance."

Patrick Garry seems to believe that the difference between socialists and conservatives is that these two groups want to use government power to help people in different ways. I believe that the difference is that socialists confuse society with government, mistake force for charity, and define good as whatever we, the good, want; while conservatives don't.

Some might call that "negative."

Fellow conservatives, we cannot allow this ideological infection. The ancient errors of Marx and FDR and LBJ – and of the first Communist, Satan – are inside the gates, parading themselves as new and innovative. We've got to demand that their proponents label their views honestly. CommieCons are not a type of conservative, but only another deformed species of Marxist, and they should be proud enough to say so.

© Dan Popp


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)


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