Punitive politics: Blame the Puritans

By Neal Gabler
December 24, 2013

‘Tis the season of giving, charity and good will — unless you happen to be a Republican, and then ‘tis the season of pusillanimity, churlishness and bad will.

Congressional Republicans seem hell-bent on denying the most disadvantaged among us healthcare, unemployment benefits and, perhaps worst of all, food stamps, from which the House of Representatives slashed $40 billion last month. Elizabeth Drew, writing in Rolling Stone, calls it “The Republicans’ War on the Poor.”

You can attribute these benefit cuts to plain meanness with a dose of political calculation thrown in, as Drew does. But there may be another explanation than congenital cruelty: Republicans believe they are adhering to a principle that they place above every other value, including compassion. That principle is the need to punish individuals whom they view as undeserving.

Though we Americans love to brag about our decency and concern for others, the punitive gene runs deep in our national DNA. It goes back to the Puritans, who, while professing charitableness and community, had a hard vision of life. They subscribed to the Protestant idea that, since you couldn’t know if you were one of the “elect,” predestined for salvation, you had to look for signs. A major one is a productive life.

The sociologist Max Weber fastened on this Protestant work ethic as the basis of Western civilization’s material success. As he saw it, capitalism was a by-product of the desire for grace. For the Protestants, hard work was not only a potential sign of personal salvation. It became a sign of national salvation.

The United States was particularly fertile ground for this. It was not only a Protestant nation, it took pride in being a classless society, a meritocracy — in which the secular elect would become just as important as the religious. The country’s governing principle was, and still is, that anyone can make it here if he or she is just willing to put in the necessary elbow grease.

This may be why no country seems to worship success as much as the United States. Our success is always perceived to be earned. This is American bedrock — our primary myth remains the social mobility of the Horatio Alger stories.

But if the work ethic was secularized and popularized, it was also politicized. If every individual was responsible for his or her own destiny — short of natural disasters, which some conservatives see as divine punishment for various cultural transgressions — there was no need for government interventions to redress inequalities.

In a world where everyone is on their own, help is not just wasteful; it is ungodly and un-American. If we are responsible for our success, we are also responsible for our failure.

It is impossible to know whether the modern Republican Party exploited self-reliance to destroy big government or sought to destroy big government as a principle of self-reliance. Whichever, this is now deeply embedded in modern conservatism.

When U.S. conservatives cut unemployment benefits, it is because giving the unemployed money allegedly discourages them from working. When they cut food stamps, it is because they claim recipients are gaming the system, though there is virtually no evidence to support this. Representative Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), a Senate candidate, proposed last week that any child receiving lunches through the federal school lunch program be required to work to earn the food.

But Republicans wouldn’t be proposing these hardships if there weren’t a sizable contingent of Americans supporting them. Presumably on the basis that the disadvantaged aren’t really disadvantaged. They are unworthy.

Slashing benefits is only cruel if you are hurting the deserving. But in the conservatives’ view, the poor are never deserving. So you can hack away with a sense of righteousness. Poverty, they insist, is a choice.

This may help explain the conservatives’ anger at anyone who purports to help the poor. Doing so violates the sense of justice for many on the right. It isn’t just that conservatives hate government for taking taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. They hate it because it rewards indolence — where politics conjoins with sinfulness.

This has a powerful appeal. And it goes a long way toward answering the liberal quandary of why so many Americans who could benefit from government programs oppose them and work against their own self-interest.

The answer goes back to those Puritan roots. We are a nation of scolds and scourges. We hate the idea that someone can get something he or she didn’t earn. So what’s the matter with Kansas may just be that many Americans believe in something more important than self-interest, more important than compassion. Punishment.

Many Americans, certainly many Republicans, are more interested in making sure that the “undeserving” are not being rewarded than making sure the deserving are rewarded.

Sure it is punitive. Meting out punishment, however, is something we love to do. Which is why one of our major political parties can subsist on it. The Republican Party is the punishment party.

All this is worth remembering at this time of year. We may say we like giving. But a whole lot of us resent the taking. Or put another way, it is better to give so long as no one needs to receive.

 

PHOTO: House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) (C) is flanked by House Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) (L) and Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) as he speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 15, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

ILLUSTRATION (INSERT): Reuters/Library of Congress

56 comments

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If conservatives hate having to help the poor, then maybe we should take away any government benefits that they receive at the expense of those who are even more rich. It would be quite the ironic twist that our modern-day Puritans happen to be the unmerciful servant described in Matthew 18:21.

Posted by delta5297 | Report as abusive

I agree with everything the article says, except the piece about a ‘sizable portion support this’.

The conservatives have, since the NeoCon days of the Bush administration over-estimated their base. In those days, they insisted that THEY represented America and its values, and those opposed to their values were in the minority.

This continued all the way through Romney’s horrendous trouncing in the election. Republicans (including the shrewdest politician of all — Karl Rove) could literally not believe he had lost…

And, another facet of this same over-estimating, over-confidence factor is: The conservatives support tends to be strong when they stick to high level principles and ideology — but as soon as they get down to detailed specifics on what they intend to cut, their support tends to vanish… (Obamacare is a good example: they ALL opposed the complete package — but most supported the individual pieces of the law)…

Posted by GeorgeBMac | Report as abusive

I agree with everything the article says, except the piece about a ‘sizable portion support this’.

The conservatives have, since the NeoCon days of the Bush administration over-estimated their base. In those days, they insisted that THEY represented America and its values, and those opposed to their values were in the minority.

This continued all the way through Romney’s horrendous trouncing in the election. Republicans (including the shrewdest politician of all — Karl Rove) could literally not believe he had lost…

And, another facet of this same over-estimating, over-confidence factor is: The conservatives support tends to be strong when they stick to high level principles and ideology — but as soon as they get down to detailed specifics on what they intend to cut, their support tends to vanish… (Obamacare is a good example: they ALL opposed the complete package — but most supported the individual pieces of the law)…

Posted by GeorgeBMac | Report as abusive

This is deeply offensive to and just disturbing to me. It’s mean, and it’s a charicature of the Puritans as well as people who believe in fiscal restraint and personal responsibility. Just so sad. I wonder what dark place in your heart it comes from.

Posted by flyover | Report as abusive

Merely anti-Protestant propaganda.

The Puritans are dead: I thought it was supposed to be improper to attack those who are dead.

Posted by Ashok1970 | Report as abusive

Isn’t it merely an example of trendy “loss avoidance”? If you see a false positive (someone who qualifies for welfare when they “shouldn’t”) as more harmful than a false negative (someone who doesn’t qualify for welfare but “should”), then the loss you see will be the waste of money which could be put to better use elsewhere. If you see a false negative as more harmful than a false positive, then the loss you see will be the waste of a productive body. Both losses are ultimately harmful to society, it’s just a matter of taste which you hate more.

This has nothing to to with the Reformation of course – countries such as Germany, even more famed for its work ethic, manage to balance these things. Perhaps in part that is because after an election they spend four months on coalition negotiations?

No, the problem, if there is one, in the US is surely simply the Americans’ desire to live up to and even surpass the bipolar caricature of their politics that Jules Verne portrayed in “Around the World in Eighty Days”? And if that makes them fulfilled (one can’t really say “happy”, can one?), then who are we to judge?

Posted by Ian_Kemmish | Report as abusive

Affluenza: The new republican party identity, added to the stupid party, and others.

Conservatives and republicans are consumed so much with hatred and negativity of others who are less than them that they are becoming the minority.

They know this, and it is why they are finding strength in gerrymandering in falling back to these safe zones.

Though as stated they will not obtain the popular vote of the melting pot that is America, they are attempting to rule from the minority, minority rule, through the House and the states.

Conservatives and republicans are now rejecting their earlier values of personal responsibility in attacking the ACA, family values in rejecting comprehensive immigration reform that maintains family unity, and working families in rejecting a living wage so that work requirements are not just a punishment.

A party with no ideas other than hate and negativity and the same old no taxes and deregulation will die of its own consumption.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

Taking pleasure in the punishment of others is sadism – perversity and Puritanism are deeply intertwined…which may be one explanation for why the war on drugs is deeply satisfying for so many conservatives even though the war on drugs is a clear failure – it has made America the world’s leader in illegal narcotics consumption and imprisoning its own citizens.

Posted by TransWarp101 | Report as abusive

Our government is going broke, because unfortunately there are alot of people who believe it is the government’s responsibility to support the individual (welfare, medicaid, medicare, food stamps).
I believe it is a person’s individual responsiblity to support themselves. If the individual cannot accomplish this, I believe their family should step up and help out. If their family cannot accomplish this, I believe their church or local charities should step in. If no one close to the individual will step in to help support them, and I dont think it should be the US taxpayers responsiblity to support that individual.
There are people in this country, who are unable to support themselves who are having kids they also cannot support and unfortunately the taxpayer is going to be on the hook supporting those kids for the next 18 years.

When poor choices are made (a person cannot support themselves and then having a kid that they also cannot support) usually there are negative consequences for the poor choice. Unfortunately, our system is setup so that poor choices are rewarded with paychecks for 18+ years. And how is this working out for us? Overflowing jails, and growing welfare class. Why are the poor the fastest growing demographic for the last 20 years? BECAUSE WE ARE PAYING THE POOREST PART OF OUR NATION TO REPRODUCE, THATS WHY.

Posted by owll11 | Report as abusive

Since when is the government our legislated method of giving. It stops me from doing personal giving which develops relationships between the haves and the havenots. The government doing it just builds the wall and promotes class envy, strife, and warfare.
it’s a large part of the divide in this country.

Posted by LoDef | Report as abusive

Very well-thought article Mr. Gabler. Lots of room for thought…

Posted by w.burton | Report as abusive

Excellent analysis of a difficult to comprehend conundrum; a topic personally difficult for me to digest with the red states perpetually voting to enshrine Plutocrats from the other side of the tracks who act in their own self interests, while vilifying their electorate.

Posted by sylvan | Report as abusive

The attack on the poor is simply a distraction funded by the rich to focus attention away from their ridiculously low tax rates, and a distraction away from huge tax breaks for corporations. As long as the public is not debating why Wall Street pays 15% or less in taxes on financial investments, while works pay 25 to 35% on wages, or why large corporations in the U.S. pay little or no real taxes. If you can change the subject long enough, you can make alot of money. The Koch brothers are giving $400 million to the Tea Party because the Koch brothers are getting a good return on their investment.

Posted by ideallist2 | Report as abusive

Pfft – market-based economic systems pre-date Protestantism, and every other ‘ism’ too.

Prods do ‘get it’ that there is no virtue in being generous with other people’s money – only with your one’s own.

Posted by MrRFox | Report as abusive

Terrible article. Lots of spin and disinformation. How do I say that? The issue of supposed Republican animus towards the poor does need to be looked at in the context of economic prosperity. However, this article puts the cart before the horse. From their view, Republicans see the immense amount of wealth being spent on poverty programs over the last half century and see no amelioration of the problem. The ‘cure’ is to create jobs. Something the Democrats, as well as Republicans, have been extremely unsuccessful at doing. Charity is always commendable, but not generation after generation.

Posted by aeci | Report as abusive

I agree with UTC. Why would anyone think it to be mean to use math when preparing a budget. Raising a child requires “tuff love” – is that mean – “churlish” – I think not. We give and we give – but until someone wants to help themselves – you can’t give enough, this is true no matter whether they are family of stranger.

Posted by patmax | Report as abusive

Republicans/conservatives give far more (except for democrat billionairs) for charity and the needy. democrats are fond of giving other peoples money.

Posted by nicemike | Report as abusive

Actually, it would be more accurate as a matter to the intellectual history of the United States to view the Puritans as the ideological forebears of Liberal Democrats rather than Conservative Republicans. The Puritans of Massachusetts sent young men back to England to fight on the side of the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War, while the Cavaliers of Virginia sent young men back to England to fight on the side of the Royalists. The churches founded by the Puritans are now known as the Congregationalist and Unitarian churches, which are decided on the left side of the religious ideology spectrum.

Posted by Bob9999 | Report as abusive

Another angle is the common declaration of alleged Christians — “God helps those who help themselves” — even though that phrase is not to be found anywhere in the Bible and was actually included in Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac. And there’s the rub: Americans cannot distinguish between Franklin and Jesus, with the latter’s philosophy of help for the poor, downtrodden, and sick.

In truth, Jesus said that it is more difficult for a wealthy man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Not to mention throwing the money lenders out of the temple.

If today’s American Christians are really the philosophical descendants of the Puritans, then the latter must have been ignorant, hypocritical, religious nuts.

If you wish to worship at the foot of the golden calf, go ahead; just don’t pretend to be a Christian while doing so.

Posted by baroque-quest | Report as abusive

What it is I see from the comments above is a lack of understanding of the causes of poverty and who are those people in poverty.

It is stated or implied by the comments that we have poured money into poverty programs with out results. This may or may not be true, in comparison to funding of other programs and agencies. This can be argued either way. But I believe we can agree their has been no strategy.

What has become apparent recently is that the lack education is the greatest contributor to poverty. The cause for the most part being unequal funding of public education that will only be accentuated more with the push by conservatives for private schools.

All public schools need to be funded to the level of our best public schools.

Recent tests have shown that the areas with the best educational structures and teacher development are in Europe and Pacific Asia. Yet there is resistance to these better practices again by conservatives.

Those in poverty are for the most part are mentally ill, disabled, children, and the elderly. A small portion are the working poor, and an even fewer and smallest part are unemployed or unemployable.

For these people we have really done very little. For the larger part of those in poverty, the mentally ill, we have done nothing. This will be the greatest challenge for Congress because the amount of money that will be needed, they will not be able to pull from other areas, taxes will need to be raised.

As for the working poor, there are no market forces to raise the hourly pay, and all the recent and past productivity gains have gone to the executives, that has created a more dangerous disparity in income and wealth that makes economic mobility harder. There are only two mechanisms for the working poor to get out of welfare and that are unions and living wage legislation.

I just do not see conservative comprehending or addressing this issue and these ideas due to their structured ideology.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

Neal, oh Neal… you wouldn’t be trying to to boost book sales, would you? I agree, you’re analysis is well thought out, but I also agree that your conclusions are unwarranted and, though you may not be in need of mental health counselling [as suggested by one reader], you need to moderate your views about one half of your fellow citizens. You are plainly wrong about congenital cruelty. You know that. But, I have to remember; you have a new book out, right? You really aren’t trying to advance the political dialogue; you’re offering an intentionally inflammatory polemic. You’re marketing a book! Wasn’t it your beloved JFK who said something to the effect that government ought not do for people what they can do for themselves or do by private means? You know as well as I that most Americans want a stop to taxpayer subsidies to the US Postal Service so it can offer “ship anywhere” rates to compete with FedEx and UPS. There are thousands of examples of expenditures by your federal government, such as the purchase of spare parts for discontinued military weapons systems, a health care insurance web site that doesn’t work, bridges to nowhere, etc. that make you look like an idiot for suggesting that Republicans or Americans have any control whatsoever over what their federal government does, but wait, I forget; you’re selling books. Good luck, Neal, and good luck to the weak-minded boobs who believe you’re giving them an insight into the tenor of the times, those innocent souls who really believe think this is about “caring” Lefties vs. “mean” Righties. As to our state of misery, 70% of Americans now fear “big government” more than any other cause. As I said, good luck with the book.

Posted by billbradbrooke | Report as abusive

@Flash1022
“All public schools need to be funded to the level of our best public schools.”

And who will decide the curriculum? Liberals want the time of students to be spent on politically-correct agendas, while conservatives want that time to be spent on religion. Both approaches are wrong. We need to concentrate on math, science, history, English, and foreign languages. Excuses should not be made for athletes who want to spend all of their time on sports.

“Recent tests have shown that the areas with the best educational structures and teacher development are in Europe and Pacific Asia. Yet there is resistance to these better practices again by conservatives.”

There is just as much resistance by liberals. The top three countries tend to be South Korea, Finland, and Japan. These countries do not teach in multiple languages; they teach in their native tongue. Violent students are not tolerated so teachers can concentrate on doing their job without worrying about their personal safety. The basics are taught and students are expected to master them. In Asia, students take many practice tests so they become masters of taking tests. Their student base is homogenous for the most part. In South Korea, many students have tutors in their evening hours, so there is no time for Facebook, texting, sexting, and other worthless endeavors. And parents there expect their children to learn, unlike in the U.S. where parent sue teachers at the drop of a hat.

Posted by baroque-quest | Report as abusive

Curious, the premise of your article is that “failure to give unearned rewards” equates to “punishment.” I think this premise, and thus your conclusion, fails.

That said, social justice should be a plank in the platform of any viable political party. But we should intelligently debate what is “social justice” and what is the role of the various levels of government in furthering social justice. Perhaps care for the needy is not a proper function of a burgeoning and inefficient federal government but is a proper function of municipal or state governments?

Posted by dtill | Report as abusive

@billbradbrooke
“You know as well as I that most Americans want a stop to taxpayer subsidies to the US Postal Service”

In truth, the USPS only receives funding to pay for mailing voter materials to disabled people and overseas Americans. Otherwise the USPS relies solely on postage sales and has done so since 1982. Only the ignorant Tea Party believes differently.

Posted by baroque-quest | Report as abusive

I never understood why someone would think kicking a dog while it is down, will make it heal faster.

Posted by 2Borknot2B | Report as abusive

@2Borknot2B,

Over-simplistic.

All “dogs down” are not still alive and all still alive will not heal, ever.

Thus in the interests of public safety it is sometimes necessary to remove them or at least move them to the side of the public roadway (or the economy) such that the well being of society and the majority are not adversely affected.

In real life, everyone does NOT get a trophy for just showing up.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

“This is American bedrock — our primary myth remains the social mobility of the Horatio Alger stories.”

Has the author read any Horatio Alger? His theme was, “luck & pluck.” LUCK. Luck is not “earned.”

Posted by Bookfan | Report as abusive

There is so much misinformation in these remarks that it is frightening. It seems that the more ridiculous and without evidence a claim is, the more merit it has among the readers.

Its one thing to look at facts, and come to different or even opposing conclusions about what those facts MEAN…that is the basis of robust dialogue; but its an entirely different matter to believe things which have no basis in evidence and no logical merit.

Quick show of hands — How many here are members of the “Flat Earth Society?” (I thought so!)

Posted by kbill | Report as abusive

Is it religious driven when lots have lost that. Or is it there are many who went into debt and feel lose every thing if they have to pay one more cent in taxes or anything else.

Remember there was a real estate bust and half the population owns that and expects that to make them rich or lest take care of them. But is highly leveraged investment a lot cannot afford without paying more. The budgets of many did not have any margin of safety. Plans without that go bad at lest half the time.

Also large close families are their own safety net and most likely do not want support other nets.

There a whole list people who will not support safety nets. Including those who have an insanity that makes them believe they are too strong to need one.

Posted by Samrch | Report as abusive

To support safety nets one has to believe that they or their family may in some unpredictable time need help and also have excess income to give to a safety net.

Believing invulnerability is a common trait. Any surprise in the Peal Harbor attack is due to that trait. Japan and Germany repeatedly attacked nations with more people and resources then they had and assumed they are not taking undue risk. The US, Germany and Japan did not see their own mortality. If one has no vulnerability, there is no need for a safety net.

Posted by Samrch | Report as abusive

@kbill: I agree with your description of the ingredients needed for a “robust” discussion … it would be nice to see these Reuters discussions utilize this structure from time to time.

However, it leads me to a more basic question for those educated in the art of economics: Can a meaningful economic discussion take place when religion is a component of the discussion?

There is not a religion of which I am aware that is based on 100%-proven factual information. So, if you are looking for a meaningful fact-based economic discussion that incorporates religion … well, there’s your problem.

Posted by VirtualThumb | Report as abusive

@baroque-quest

re: USPS subsidies – “…Only the ignorant Tea Party believes differently.”

Good to hear from someone who knows what the Tea Party believes, and believes that the Tea Party knows little. That’s settled.

As for the USPS, what do you call the billions of dollars in annual Post Office operating shortfalls that have been “written off” and now are part of our national debt?

Answer: subsidy

Remember, if the “ship anywhere” business stratagem, advertised so strenuously by the USPS, is successful, both FedEx and UPS will go out of business. That, after all, is the entire point of competition in a market economy. With “ship anywhere” and a blank check from the taxpayer, our own federal government is competing with some of our most successful businesses. Whose side are you on? Do you seriously want the USPS to win, in which case there’d be tens of thousands fewer good jobs and billions more in debt?

Now, let’s talk about the real issue here. Our federal institutions have become dysfunctional, our Executive, his political appointments, their non-political administrative machinery as well as our Congress. Like the Cheshire Cat they’re there, but only “sort of”. They function, but not in a manner we recognize as traditional. The Chairman of the Federal Reserve system and the FOMC now run our economy while we rely evermore on decisions being handed down from the Supreme Court to order our affairs. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.

What can we do? One thing would be to bring all the programs you care about home to administer them at the state level. Support state governments with federal funds, but leave the day-to-day work to the states. Whether we like it or not, this is what is beginning to happen. The states’ rights pendulum still swings.

Is there no role for the feds? Of course there is. On the issues that Neal Gabler believes to be important, caring for those in need, the best job is always done in the community. When you, the responsible neighbor, are eyeball-to-eyeball with the administrator, no one gets overlooked and precious funds are never “misappropriated.”

Posted by billbradbrooke | Report as abusive

@VirtualThumb: Well said!

I’m an optimist. I keep coming to the “Faithworld” section story comments hoping to find glimmers of thought among those who claim a faith, and on occasion it works out to be rewarding.

“Can a meaningful economic discussion take place when religion is a component of the discussion?” I think this is an excellent question, and its a highly flexible question, because the word “economic” could be replaced by virtually any other scientific, legal, political, or ethical descriptor.

For example: “Can a meaningful ‘moral’ discussion take place when religion is a component of the discussion?” The answer is “Discussion, yes…meaningful, no.” Every discussion which tries to include faith and religion as relevant positions with equal footing is constrained, if only in the mind of the believer, by the dogma and tradition of their Faith, whose boundaries the believer will not cross. You might as well ask a “puddle” why it decides to lie on the ground in a particular shape…the answer is always “because.”

Ultimately, if “we” live long enough I suspect all the great questions of humanity will be answered by Physics…I won’t be alive then, but if I were I’m sure I would miss having faith and religion trying to be part of a meaningful discussion, if only for the entertainment value.

Posted by kbill | Report as abusive

@billbradbrooke
“As for the USPS, what do you call the billions of dollars in annual Post Office operating shortfalls that have been ‘written off’ and now are part of our national debt?”

You can repeat your nonsense a million times, but that won’t make it true. Put up (a reliable cite) or shut up.

Read some sources other than Tea Party ones. The USPS is in serious debt for two reasons:
1) Congress requires it to fund pensions far into the future ($5.6 billion owed to the U.S. Treasury for this), and
2) Congress won’t allow it to increase postal rates or adjust operating hours as it sees fit.

“The Chairman of the Federal Reserve system and the FOMC now run our economy”

We have lost millions of jobs due to outsourcing and H-1B visa fictions, all perpetrated mainly by corporate America and our elected politicians. I do not subscribe to the belief that the Fed is the bogeyman.

“Our federal institutions have become dysfunctional … One thing would be to bring all the programs you care about home to administer them at the state level”

The states cannot regulate drugs, as you suggested, for two reasons. First, once into the country there would be no way to stop them from being transported into another state. And second, that pesky Constitution, Article I Section 8: “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater will makes things worse. You think we should eliminate the FDA. Just for once, read a source other than a Tea Party one: search on “FDA thalidomide Frances Oldham Kelsey”. If she had not stopped thalidomide at the border, we would have had thousands of flipper babies. And this is just one example.

Posted by baroque-quest | Report as abusive

@kbill: I respectfully accept your opinion with regards to having a meaningful economic discussion that involves religious ideologies … and, simultaneously, I’m saddened by it.

As a former Catholic (I call myself agnostic these days simply due to the lack of a more applicable faith-based descriptor), I can appreciate the limits that dogma imposes on an individual’s ability to embrace different ideas during a discussion.

However, I still “feel bad” or “am concerned” when I know that my child’s classmate comes to school hungry every morning becuase of a lack of breakfast food in the classmate’s home. Why do I feel bad? It’s not logical to feel bad, becuase:

Pure economic theory (which has no room for morals) suggests that the classmate’s guardians will do “more” to satisfy current market needs so as to obtain more money / credits for food, or else the classmate will starve to death.

Evolutionary (biological?) theory, as I understand it, is similar in that the strongest of the species survive, while the weak or underperforming of the species are desitined to die.

So, in my mind, if the government is supposed to look out for the well being of all of it’s represented citizens, why then is economic / evolutionary theory constantly cited when it comes to the policital debate regarding proper government actions to assist the “less fortunate” members of our society?

Since I (inexplicably) am concerned about the classmate’s well being, I was hoping to piggyback on a religious perspective in order to get societal responsibility incorporated into the general conservative / liberal political debate.

However, since the only acceptable political approaches to societal well-being revolve around (moral-free) economic theory (taxes / wellfare / etc.), religious arguments won’t be considered reasonable in the discussion … so, I’ll just sink back into the darkness, continuing my quest for some kind of socio-economic epiphany.

Posted by VirtualThumb | Report as abusive

.

I tire of these smug, self-righteous, I am better than you because I care more, authors.

.

I will bet that I give more time and money to charity then this author does. Far more time to caring in my community.
.

If this author wants to be so kind, why does he not initiate his own 501 C or join one and give to those in his community. I know I am a board member and a member of some. Why does this author think he has to tell me how to act ?

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When do you all wake up and realize the government is not a charity. We have charities to do charitable acts.

.

The government merely makes me pay a tax, and then gives my money to the charity of their choice. Instead of letting me give my money to a charity of my choice.

. For example, Personally I would rather give my money to build homes for the poor or to wounded veterans rather than an obamaphone.

.

Who do you think is doing a better job with money. The Bill Gates foundation or the US Government ?

We all know the answer.

But many self righteous authors want to pretend they are in the right, and others in the wrong, when all I want to do is give to the charity of my choice, and take government waste out of the equation.

. When do these pompous authors attempt to solve problems instead of creating them.

Here is a problem — In total, the agency failed to prevent 1.1 million potentially fraudulent tax returns for 2011 from being processed, according to an audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. That includes 5,500 fraudulent returns filed by a single tax preparer — for a refund of nearly $27 million — and a payout of $490,000 to an address in Bulgaria that was listed on more than 700 tax returns.

— a payout of $490,000 to an address in Bulgaria that was listed on more than 700 tax returns. —–

Until the government can stop such rediculous fraud, it is best to Keep the government out of most everything until they fix what is wrong.

.

Posted by Alexaisback | Report as abusive

The Puritans came to the new world to have the freedom to live a life of greater restriction. Republicans embody this backward facing, restrictive world view. Add to that their natural bent toward corruption and we have the perfect storm. However, since the Democrats are largely incoherent one might make the assumption that we are doomed. Perhaps it is time to entertain the notion of a parliamentary democracy and junk this republic idea once and for all.

Posted by explorer08 | Report as abusive

It is amazing to me how many do not have an understanding of economics.

First, if states are to fund the programs for the needy an “economy of scale” would be lost. Taxes for funding at state level would be much higher than they would be at the federal level.

Second, this would leave the United States with fifty different programs in a highly mobile society increasing state costs further.

Those that want religious organizations to take the lead for taking care of the needy should understand they do not have the organizational structure or the resources to handle such a large and complex task.

Knowing religious organizations that do provide services in the community the neighbors complain about loitering, littering, and human feces.

Also, be careful how the USPS is criticized. Know this, UPS & FedEx do not want the job the USPS does. Be grateful the USPS is subsidized. Other wise our postage would be closer to $5 an ounce and not fifty cents an ounce and their would not be home delivery six days a week. People not to have this cost savings and service would be screaming.

If you want to criticize subsidies go after Exxon, Shell, GE, etc.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

@baroque-quest
re: @billbradbrooke “As for the USPS, what do you call the billions of dollars in annual Post Office operating shortfalls that have been ‘written off’ and now are part of our national debt?” You can repeat your nonsense a million times, but that won’t make it true. Put up (a reliable cite) or shut up. Read some sources other than Tea Party ones.”

Here’s one citation from the CRS. The Congressional Research Service is part of the Library of Congress, kind of a neutral source, wouldn’t you say?

You have misread or misunderstood much of what I have posted. Is that intentional? I’m a great admirer of Ben Bernanke, Janet Yellen as well; our economy would be in collapse without them. Regulation of interstate commerce is an important function only the federal government can perform, and when you say: “You think we should eliminate the FDA. Just for once, read a source other than a Tea Party one:”, where do I say that?

Neal Gabler is using Reuters to sell books. What are you up to?

Posted by billbradbrooke | Report as abusive

@baroque-quest

Sorry. My citation was in JPEG format. The Reuters blog format doesn’t accept JPEGs. Read Kevin Kosar’s research at:

http://journalistsresource.org/studies/g overnment/budget/us-postal-service-finan cia-sustainability-research-roundup

Bill Bradbrooke

Posted by billbradbrooke | Report as abusive

So what is worse, the opposing views of the two party system in regards to offending half the populous while enriching the other half, or the two party system itself? Denying the sins of Republicans doesn’t make them not true no matter how many times you say it, and it doesn’t erase the sins of the Democrats. Both parties have agreed to abuse the people of The United States for personal, short term gain. Do we really need to fuel the derision with this clap-trap.

“When they cut food stamps, it is because they claim recipients are gaming the system, though there is virtually no evidence to support this.”

Only someone that has never been poor could even think such nonsense. Stay one night on the street and I guarantee you will see people selling their snap cards for drug and booze money. (snap cards are what they call food stamps now. It’s just a credit card for food. There are no such things as food stamps any more. I thought you rich elitists that want to pretend you understand any perspective about the lives of the poor mite want to know that. Singing songs about being on the side of the suffering wont save you when the poor rise up.

Posted by ReverendJim | Report as abusive

@Flash 1022

“It is amazing to me how many do not have an understanding of economics.First, if states are to fund the programs for the needy an “economy of scale” would be lost. Taxes for funding at state level would be much higher than they would be at the federal level.”

Agreed.

If you are responding to my remark: “…One thing would be to bring all the programs you care about home to administer them at the state level….” then understand there is a huge difference between “funding” programs at the state level and “administering” them. That difference may describe the very essence of a federal system.

Words can be tricky, can’t they?

Posted by billbradbrooke | Report as abusive

@ReverendJim

Yes, regrettably, SNAP cards are a form of street money.

Perhaps, if there was community oversight of SNAP accounts, this type of abuse wouldn’t happen. There’d be more to go around. How significant is that?!

To be most effective, who should extend and supervise social services, the federal government or the very communities where the needs are apparent?

The leap from the “street” up to the bottom rung on the social ladder is unbelievably tall, very difficult. IMHO, only the muzzy-headed believe this can be coordinated from Washington, DC.

Posted by billbradbrooke | Report as abusive

I have friends that put off even attempting to try and find new jobs, every time they announced yet another unemployment extension, or tax incentive. When a fairly major natural disaster befell my area, they later estimated that half of the people who took free supplies and tried to make damage claims… didn’t even live in the affected area.

A huge number of people in this country are lazy and have no honor. You give them an excuse not to make an effort and they’ll take it… All ages, all races, all nationalities. You want honest people who don’t take advantage of the system, go to move to Norway or something. You aren’t going to find that mentality in America. Socialism doesn’t work in this country. Don’t believe that… go visit Detroit.

Posted by dd606 | Report as abusive

@dd606

If you do know of people abusing the system for welfare there are channels to report this abuse.

Your failure to report the abuse, assuming you did not state that you did, is guilt of negligence itself, or you are lying.

I find most people who have complained of abuses in the welfare system are unable to provide documentation. That in fact the GAO audits indicate the fraud is less than three percent. My previous career in retail I would receive a pat on the back and a bonus for that shrinkage.

When you say “A huge number of people in this country are lazy and have no honor.”, what is that number that it is so huge?

dd606, you and your conservative friends must learn to provide documentation when making statements.

Stop being irresponsible in making outlandish statements, and take civic responsibility when you see fraud.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

The Prestestant work ethic was a mixed success in Europe where it was born. It was popular in Germany and the Scandinavian countries that were cold, less developed economically and less populated then the rest of Europe but did not take hold well in the more advanced countries of southern and middle Europe. It was grossly intolerant or any form of dissension and persecuted the Catholics from which it sprang in England and elsewhere. But the Catholics were inclined to see their own religion as a set of rites only and to forget any deeper meaning to it. They tended to be the more sophisticated and intellectually advanced societies as well.

Puritanism disgraced itself in the new World because of manias it clung to like the Salem Witch trials that some historians see either as an infestation or Argot that infected the Rye crop or as a nasty war between rival parties of the Salem comunity regarding the selection of a new preacher. But at the same time a scandal had erupted in the Court of France that involved witchcraft. Belief is black magic and witchcraft didn’t really subside until early in the 19th century. That was one of the reasons why “the age of reason” was so important to the development of western thought. The Chinese were not fully capable of quelling popular and dangerous superstitions until the Maoists years. Perhaps the Salem trails were a result of natural poisoning of a crop, a religious rivalry and superstition all at once? A perfect storm of sorts?

The Protestant sects in Britain – and this is very important – tended to break up immediately into rival sects almost from the start while the Catholic Church tended to maintain a unified theology. Both branches of Christianity could be ruthless in that pursuit.

Puritans may have needed their sense of cohesiveness – everyone must work to live – only as long as they were still exploiting an undeveloped hinterland. It had problems as soon as they tried to get above the level of subsistence farming and had to become more developed and even to trade with other countries. As their numbers rose – those devoted to agriculture continued to rise as new territory was expanded – further adding to Protestantism’s tendency to break up into more factions while the merchants and traders created their own urban communities that started to look and act Catholic again. The urban churches were wealthier and tended to be more lavish and ritualized, in a way. Religion was something urban people did on a schedule and the introduction of foreign goods and their exposure to foreign cultures made for a more sophisticated outlook on life. Puritans were very much into themselves and looked foolish, bigoted and very naive anywhere else. The Old testament tended to be more popular with the rural communities, because it stresses individual responsibility – the Story of Abraham and the patriarchal family while urban communities tended to think more about the rest of the book and the New Testament and the ironies and life and the need for communal charity. Catholic Churches tended to be filled with Saints or more contemporary examples of Christan values and were not as eager to spread literacy or higher education among the masses. Protestant churches tended to focus on texts.

Lets face it – religions are as much a part of staying alive and forming community values as any other aspect of living in the community.

Owl11 sounds like OOTS! It’s the same bitter and resentful complaint of the barren field.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

The reason why people sell snap cards for booze and drugs is – when you are very poor it is the only way to feel happy. So they drug themselves into happiness and die of starvation.

The system we live in is also somewhat eager to prey on them to get them out of the way because they want to pursue happiness as cheaply as possible. You can have all the bad habits and lack of qualifications of the job market as the poor and rejected as long as you are strong enough to look like you don’t and are capable of gaming and bluffing the larger economy and the social system. You do not have to be highly intelligent or strong to be very rich and you do not have to be stupid and weak to be very poor.

Feeling unhappy is a curse in itself in a country that believes in being happy and looking like you are or it is a closed loop one can never get out of.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

@paintcan, your second comment is very well said. I agree with it completely.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

Hi TMC – I hope you don’t agree completely with the last line of the second comment. I think the first comment was the better history, but that’s awfully hard to sum up in a few words.

I remember a quote I once read or heard somewhere. I probably read it because most of my life was spent between the covers of a book. “Perfection is never complete and completeness is never perfect.” And there are a few little spelling errors I never seem to see until it’s too late.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

The “american way” of handling any legalities around an act percieved as sinful, is to make the sin as destructive to the sinner as possible and to insinuate it is gods intent. This is why we have illegal prostitution and cannabis use, and why alcohol and tobacco are legal. Prostitution and cannabis are relatively benign if used responsibly, and thus the pain must come from both the punative legal aspects and the black market dangers. A prostitute killed by a serial killer is seen as having received what she deserved by the good christians of america. You need neither the punative legal nor the black market for alcohol and tobacco to be dangerous, since tobacco will always destroy you and alcohol will typically destroy many, without further enhancement of their dangers. It is all the desire of the american christians to bring pain and suffering to the sinners. They claim that only God judges, yet they make laws based on their preemptive judgement. Granted some are sadists too, and have simply found the most effective outlet for their desires to cause pain. Typically only the leaders.

For those things not covered by the ten commandments, the “tough love” thing is just a way of making people suffer. A person truly interested in decreasing the suffering of the poor would consider decriminalization of all things not covered by the ten commandments. This system of punishment for non-victim crimes is surely evidence that Christians really are just in it to judge and punish, and some for the money. (I know the brainwashed won’t be affected by my statements, but the leaders know what I am saying). The bottom line is, treatment works better than incarceration, yet we choose to incarcerate. This is fact, you know those things supported by evidence that require no voices in your head.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

@paintcan,

“Owl11 sounds like OOTS! It’s the same bitter and resentful complaint of the barren field.”

I doubt even YOU know what you are trying to say here. By and large, fields here in the U.S. are NOT “barren” but well managed for appropriate production.

You and I squabble endlessly as to what is proper proportion of the proceeds thereof for the owner of the land, for those who farm it (if different); and the “fair” price of what is harvested to those who would eat it.

It seems to really bug you that there are those in America that both see and understand what is going on in this country and where it will inevitably lead.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Yes I do resent some pompous windbags.

The trouble with our comments is, you are convinced you do know what you are saying and always think you are right. I gave up thinking almost anything in life is truly predictable a long time ago. But it is still something of a bad habit to try.

And many others also justify launching extrmely destructive wars aginst people you obviously have nothing but contempt for. And all the time they drain resources for the domestic needs. This government squandered billions on the Afghans and Iraqis and actually condemned them to more years in a living hell as a result. And don’t deny it now, very early on you likened the Taliban to Hitler. They aren’t nearly the same ideas you know. And you are actually closer to the Nazi regime way of thinking than the Taliban. The Taliban are actually closer to the Puritans. We destroy their ways of life in the name of our own gut filling self interest, And if it doesn’t work – you can always retreat to your smug comforts and claim – “wisdom” and it is acceptable that man will murder man and even better that there e money to be made in them thar kills. Some fat-assed brain dead wisdom there, you old fraud. All because you are only barely literate, you don’t read much I can tell! Because you think you are the superior type and compassion and fairer dealing is something no one else deserves especially if it gets in the way of your enormous sense of upper middle class entitlement.

Is that clear enough for you! Sorry if my attempt at cultural and religious synthesis is a bit crude but it would take many inches of books on my shelf now to explain it all in better detail with all the contradictions and exceptions it really should contain, but it wouldn’t go well with a sip of B&B and a wine mag.
Buckminster Fuller used to do this sport of things all the time and he wasn’t always correct in every detail either but it was a joy to listen to anyone try to pull the whole thing together.

I spent all afternoon thinking about exceptions to my little nutshell of history in America but I can do that and you can’t. It’s the sort of topic that would be so illuminating if only more people thought more about the subject and just didn’t insist they know it all already.

So you have imitators good. Then I have more people to argue with.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

@paintcan,

When you have no worthwhile perspective or information you can always call others names. I participate here on Reuters to share MY experience and opinions, and explain or defend these as deemed appropriate.

Your incoherent, inconsistent rantings and ramblings regularly obscure why you post here, other than “it’s a hobby”. Because those unfamiliar with you occasionally take some of your words seriously, there is some duty to insert a dose of reality when your fuzzy hemp dream recollections wander too far from verifiable truth.

I have never compared the thinking of the Taliban to Hitler and his henchmen. I often compare the TACTICS of minority Nazis over time dominating and eventually controlling the thinking and lives of German society with the TACTICS of radical muslims to intimidate and terrorize “mainstream” muslim communities.

When all are too afraid to reject them and their reprehensible tactics and/or political goals, they can use mosques for armories, schools for recruitment, and otherwise mingle and disappear at will without fear of betrayal. Seems to work everywhere equally well.

Again and again you demonstrate how your brain is incapable of separating the wheat from the chaff of all the indescriminate drivel you subject it to. History in America is what it is without regard to YOUR “little nutshell” or any associated afternoon spent contemplating lint in some dusty corner of your mind.

Worthwhile thoughts, theories and goals can be brief and clear once distilled down to their basic essence. Knowledge and wisdom are much more than inches of books (unspecified) on YOUR shelf.

Perhaps most telling as to who and what you are is that every subject to you is another argument of bile and resentment. It is much more civilized and productive to engage in intellectual debate with more logic and less emotion.

Stirring, animated debate with an occasional sip of B&B is good exercise for a fit mind. Advocacy, like fencing, can be as refined as it can be intense.

But forgive me. These are concepts clearly beyond your experience or comprehension.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

OOTs – You go on and on yourself and it is even further form the original topic. I really don’t acre what you think of me.

The country spend ten years wasting it resources at home and abroad on warfare and outrageous self indulgence.

If the entire edifice of this country’s politics and economy collapses because of that, I suppose it will deserve it. You “winners” – also the biggest whiners and not the type to despise the very well funded helping hand– can come up with the excuses.

IT’S YOUR JOB!

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

excuse me – don’t care what you think of me…

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

Extremely accurate and perceptive article on what is truly wrong with this nation.

Posted by EconCassandra | Report as abusive

[…] Reuters article gives more background concerned with this problematic […]