This morning's print edition of the Seattle P-I
contained an op-ed about budget deficits from a man described as an "anti-poverty activist." Unfortunatly, they don't have it online yet, but as soon as they do, I'll link.
It was actually a pretty good piece, which made some very important points about the Federal budget which are rarely made or understood. The gist of the argument was that a deficit, properly managed, is just the right thing for a slumping economy in wartime, and that eliminating the deficit in a balanced-budget mania was less important than unemployment insurance and job retraining.
I'm not going to dispute the author's central points, partly because I don't have it in front of me, and partly because I'm not prepared to make a really good case. But I would like to highlight a couple of annoying features of the "liberal" side of the political spectrum. (N.B.: since I don't have the paper with me, I'll refer to the writer as "he," even though that might be wrong. Sorry.)
The first is the term "anti-poverty activist." Does this guy regularly debate pro-poverty activists? Is he bravely fighting the powerful corporate-controlled Poverty PAC? Or, conversly, is he providing employment? Is he a minimum-wage-paying business owner who takes in single mothers with no work experience and provides them with valuable training and perhaps a small loan now and then?
Of course not. When you see the words "anti-poverty activist," you know exactly what he does: he lobbies the government to spend more money on "anti-poverty" programs. Describing this writer as "anti-poverty" anything reflects the "liberal" belief that the government is the solution to all problems. Frankly, I think Bill Gates is a better anti-poverty activist than anyone who fights welfare reform, because he and his company create wealth
rather than trying to redistribute it.
It's annoying to see this sort of thing on the editorial page, but it's worse to see it in the hard news sections, which is common. By casting the "liberal" (pro-government, redistributive) viewpoint as "anti-poverty," a reporter suggests (perhaps inadvertently) that the "conservative" (private sector) opinion is somehow "pro poverty," and thus baaaaaaaaad. When I say "media bias," that's what I'm referring to. There is, of course, a robust debate about the best way to address poverty, and I don't mean to imply that one side is right and the other is wrong. But language like "anti-poverty" (or "gun safety" or "campaign finance 'reform'") is loaded, and reporters ought to know it and correct for it.
The other annoying thing at work here is the insistence that the Federal government needs to take the lead in fighting poverty. This is a common problem for many politically-involved people--the notion that we need to fix the problem for the entire nation, or not at all. It is very common, during legislative debates, to hear one side accuse the other of "not caring about seniors" or "wanting to throw children into the street," or some such nonsense. But there's a huge difference between wanting to reduce poverty and wanting the Federal bureaucracy to get more funding. And there's a huge difference between funding the bureaucracy and solving the problem.
My feeling has always been this: if you care so much about the homeless, give money to a shelter. If you're worried about people going hungry, volunteer at a soup kitchen. If "at-risk youth" are a problem in your area, become a Big Brother/Big Sister. There is no such thing as a Republican food bank, and no such thing as a Democratic sexual-assault hotline. If people near you need help, the go help them
for heaven's sake! Don't waste money and time by "donating" or "volunteering" for political causes--put those resources to better use.
There is great merit in charity. Despite the moral preening of big-government types, there is no merit in forced altruism. Extracting money by force (taxation) and spending it on the needy my be a good idea from a practical perspective, but it isn't particularly meritorious. You have every right to congratulate yourself for making sacrifices; you have no such right if you simply force others to do so against their will.
This isn't a boilerplate libertarian call to end welfare. I'm making a personal appeal to everyone out there whose reading (that's right, all 8 of you!). If you feel strongly about some issue, instead of giving money to candidates and big national lobbies, go out and do something direct. You can't help the poor people far away very effectively, but you can help the ones near you. One of my big issues is gun control; I can't influence the national debate, but I can
teach individuals to shoot safely, and educate them on the issues. You probably can't end globalization, but you can
decide to buy only from local farmers. We need to take a lot of these issues off of the national agenda--Congress can't create jobs, after all--and put them back into our communities instead.
I don't "think globally" in quite the way the environmentalists want me to. But I do "act locally," and I think I do more good by taking one friend shooting than I do by giving $10 to the NRA. I think that a modest check to the local mission is worth far more than a huge campaign contribution to the Democrats. I think we desperately need to stop acting as if every stubbed toe is a good reason for single-payer health care, and start learning first aid to help our neighbors.
Lots of people, of all political persuasions, have made this point before me. Yet we still have Congress acting as if it passes just one more law, nobody will ever catch another cold. If you want to make the world a better place, focus on your neigborhood, and let someone else worry about their neighborhood. That's a recipie for less acrimony and less partisanship in politics, plus healthier communities nationwide.