Sunday, January 27, 2013

Conservatism and caring for the little guy

Hunter Baker makes a good point here, describing a woman he saw at Hardee's:

With great concentration and methodical effort, she scratched away the silver coating on the numbers.  Occasionally, she punctuated her practice with long, ragged ugly coughing noises.
Those lottery tickets she must have spent at least $20 dollars on (more than for the flip flops on her feet) came from the state of Tennessee.  I thought about how she is addicted to gambling thanks to the active assistance of her government.  I also thought about how addicted the rest of us have become to the revenue.
If you want to understand social conservatives, thinking about the woman in Hardee’s scratching away at lottery tickets is a good way to start.  We want to encourage the things in life that help a person grow strong:  faith, work, education, character, duty, and family.  We want to work against the things that seem to shrivel up a soul such as perpetual dependence, reliance on games of chance rather than personal industry, an inability to connect consequences to choices, and the loss of the kind of strong family ties that prepare a person for life in a hard world.
At a minimum, we don’t want to support a government which invites the poor to sacrifice what little they have for a mirage.  We have lost that argument everywhere.  And more’s the pity.
As we Protestant conservatives view with great dismay what seems to us the hair-tearing foolishness of a new generation of young, "emergent" evangelicals spouting the platitudes of the left and getting their priorities all messed up, either abandoning or downplaying the pro-life movement, voting Democrat, and embracing left-wing economics, we need to think of something that cannot be said too often: What the left wants is not what is best for the poor, the weak, the little guy. In fact, we can sometimes even go farther: The left does not want what is best for the poor and the weak. Viz. the Obama administration's willingness to shut down Catholic hospitals, Catholic charities, and anyone else who won't toe the line on his HHS mandate. Viz. the Obama administration's cutting off the Catholic bishops' funding for anti-trafficking, because they wouldn't refer for abortions. Viz. the left's shut-down of adoption agencies that won't place children with homosexual couples. The list goes on and on.

And there is more: The actual economic policies advocated by the left mean fewer jobs, higher prices, and small businesses pushed out by high regulatory costs, all of which is very bad for the people who need jobs the most. We're seeing this right now with the economic burden of Obamacare, but that's only one example. The actual environmental policies advocated by the left are radically anti-human and will result in grave economic harm both to our own country and, even more, to developing countries. I have just been reading a book I hope to write more about later, Merchants of Despair by Robert Zubrin. In it he chronicles case after case after case of leftist policies that have harmed the poorest of the poor in Third-World countries, from coercive population control to crackdowns forcing Third-World countries to eschew the advantages of more nutritious modified grains.

When our young people are growing up we Christians and conservatives often teach them biblical principles, and that is very good. But we also need to teach them economic principles. We need to teach them that there is no free lunch. We need to have them read books like Zubrin's and like Thomas Sowell's The Vision of the Anointed. We need to talk through with them the ways that policies that sound oh-so-kind to "make things free" or "force employers to pay more" or "give health insurance to everyone" actually harm the people they are meant to help. We need to expose to them the viciously anti-human underside of the environmental movement, as well as its empirical fecklessness.

We also need to show them how the undermining of marriage and fatherhood have been disastrous for the poor in our own country and how further promotion of sexual promiscuity and anti-family perversion will only do more harm, how a recovery of conservative values is the only hope for the poor themselves.

It is these kinds of conversations and teachings that will inoculate them against muddle-headed thinking that pits "care for the poor" and "care for the earth," allegedly embodied by the policies of the left, against social conservative issues like abortion and homosexuality which are the concern of the right. Unfortunately, I'm beginning to realize that too many youth pastors and other pastors even in relatively conservative evangelical theological circles are promoting such thinking, no doubt in all sincerity, but to the great detriment of the church itself. For if our young people get their consciences all tied up in knots feeling that they must choose between caring for the born poor and caring for the unborn and for marriage, I'm very much afraid that they will choose the former and functionally abandon the latter, eventually abandoning it altogether and simply becoming social liberals as well. After all, the born poor can be made so very picturesque.

But it's all a completely false dichotomy, and the poor will be the ones most harmed of all by the policies of the left. I'm not sure how young you have to get hold of 'em to prevent them from falling for these confusions, but start as young as you can and teach all of this explicitly.

Update: I just saw this linked from Drudge. In Louisiana, state regulators force retail stores to mark up the price of milk to 6% above the store's invoice costs. Let that sink in a minute. The state regulators came down on a store that was selling milk on a special every week for $2.99 per gallon. Note that this is even above and beyond state price supports to farmers, which are already economically problematic. But this is a further regulation on the price charged to the customer. Retail stores aren't allowed to sell at cost or to take a loss. The regulators give a convoluted reason to the effect that perhaps if one retailer sold at or below cost he could undersell his competitors, drive them out of business, and then raise his own prices. So really, folks, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, this requirement that the retailer make a 6% profit is a way of keeping down profits. By this reasoning, state regulators should do this with all goods as a competition-promotion move. To keep down prices we have to keep up prices. Rrrright. I was saying something about not helping the poor...Sure, this is just one small thing. But it's just one of a million boneheaded things where "government knows best," and the little guy is the one who gets hurt. It was such a perfect illustration that I had to include it.


winteryknight said...

I love the post, so I've linked it from here:

Sorry for my title, if you don't like it. I am terrible with titles.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks _very_ much for the hat-tip, Wintery, and the title is great.

Robert said...

While the majority of liberals probably mean well, but are naive and uncritical in their acceptance of the liberal party line, I can't help but think that people who run systems like the welfare state, or certain NGOs perpetuate this kind of harm by design.

They are like businesses, and human misery is the product that they sell. What business would want to dry up its inventory? So they end up conducting their business in a way that guarantees that human misery will continue or become exacerbated. In Haiti, small businesses are having trouble getting off the ground because NGOs give away food and water for free, and you can't undersell that. Thus by mindlessly throwing money at the problem, people are kept in a perpetual state of independence.

I think Lyndon B. "Great Society" Johnson summed up the intent behind the welfare state best, "We'll have those ****s voting Democrat for the next 200 years".

Lydia McGrew said...

I find it often very difficult to figure out the percentage of malice, non-culpable stupidity, and willful stupidity in the makeup of various liberals. Our President is a particular puzzle to me. On the one hand, it's obvious to me that he hates our country's prosperity and wants to harm it. On the other hand, is this because he is such a wild-eyed ideologue that somehow he believes it is *right* to harm our country's prosperity? I can't fully figure it out. Maybe what happens is that people start out at some earlier point in their lives with truly good and naive intentions and then they come increasingly to accept the destruction of human goods like productivity, prosperity, and so forth as a kind of "collateral damage" necessary for bringing in their own vision of utopia. Once that line has been crossed, they can end up advocating almost anything.

I also think there is probably a fair distinction to be made between liberal economic policies such as requiring this or that to be "free," which in the first instance arise from _sheer_ stupidity and a failure even to begin to grasp TANSTAAFL, and environmental policies. The latter often really are based on a directly anti-human ideology--that human beings are a plague on the planet and all of that. It's impossible not to call the latter malicious in and of itself.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Lydia, I have a friend who is both a Christian and a socialist. Not being very politically savvy myself, I find it hard to know what lines of argument or evidence to use to persuade him that his politics are at odds with his faith. Any suggestions?

Robert said...

"On the other hand, is this because he is such a wild-eyed ideologue that somehow he believes it is *right* to harm our country's prosperity?"

After 20 years of listening to Jeremiah Wright, that would be my guess, even if it means cutting of his nose (the interests of the African Americans) to spite his face.

He doesn't want to let racial tensions of the past go, he'd rather stew in them and have millions of his aggrieved constituents look to him to aid them by fiat.

I think a nation where racial tensions were forgotten, a nation full of Herman Cains and Thomas Sowells, would be anathema to him.

Lydia McGrew said...

Dominic, I think it's more important to convince him that socialism is wrong-headed than to convince him that it is unChristian. No doubt he is drawn to it because he thinks it is a way of being concerned for the poor, which is a Christian imperative.

I suggest that you start out by informing yourself more about economic issues and the ways in which socialistic policies are harmful to the very people they are meant to help. There are some suggestions along these lines in my post. That's the kind of information your friend needs.

One think-tank that might be helpful is The Acton Institute, at They publish a journal called Markets and Morality

which has some archives on-line.

My friend Jay Richards, who used to work for Acton, has several books that would be relevant as well, including

_Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem_


_Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It's Too Late_.

Here is Jay's author page at the blog of the American Enterprise Institute, another think-tank that is a good resource:

Sowell's _Vision of the Anointed_ is also very good, though not specifically Christian.

The Mackinac Institute is a Michigan think-tank that does a lot of really good on-the-ground work in Michigan public policy showing how more free-market economic ideas work out and how, for example, unions are harming the people they are supposed to serve. Their URL is

I had a post on one specific issue based on some info. from Mackinac here:

Though perhaps the tone of that is a little strident for where your friend is at right now. :-) I'm glad to say that the ballot measure I was discussing in that post went down to defeat.

Lydia McGrew said...

Dominic, here is another organization that looks interesting and attempts to apply more entrepreneurial approaches to world poverty:

Here's a specific article by Jay Richards about how not to help the poor and how to help the poor:

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Thanks Lydia, I appreciate it.