Tim posted this passage by Kevin Drum, whom, in complete honesty, FLG considers a fucking moron:
to the extent that you really do believe that cognitive abilities are (a) important, and (b) strongly biologically determined, shouldn’t you also believe that the poor are more unlucky than anything else, and haven’t done anything to deserve hunger, lousy housing, poor medical care, or crappy educations? If genetic luck plays a big role in making us who we are, then support for income redistribution from the rich to the poor is almost a logical necessity for anyone with a moral sense more highly developed than a five-year-old’s.
Tim then responds that conservatives question our ability to ameliorate unfairness beyond human caused injuries. FLG, not surprisingly, thinks the difference derives from time horizons. Liberals see current unfairness and want to redress this through instantaneous redistribution. Conservatives look at the same thing and say, look there's unfairness, but in the long run it is better for society if we encourage everybody to be as productive as they can, even if the potential levels of productivity vary. Redistributing income discourages people from being as productive as possible, and this has adverse long-term consequences for overall output.
There are a variety of comments, with the liberals analyzing the issue based on short-term assumptions, for example:
There was a day when Conservatives feared the poor, for they were likely to revolt. Poverty afflicts a society like frostbite: once the extremities freeze, the rest of the body is endangered by infection. It seems wiser, on a cost basis, to prevent crime than punish it, prevent illness than treat it, put a suture on a paper cut before it suppurates and goes septic.
Again, crises necessarily shorten time horizons. So, assuming a constant and persistent crisis stance will result in short time horizons. For example, if you have frostbite, then you aren't really concerned about your 401k. You're concerned about getting your frostbite dealt with. RIGHT NOW! Short time horizon.
Rufus F, bane of FLG's existence when writing about the canon, offers:
This might just be a subset of Blaise’s point about a cost analysis of these problems and maybe should go under that comment. But, for me, I’m not sure that larger questions of “rights” or “justice” enter so strongly into the consideration of the social safety net; it’s a more a question of the social order and how to keep it. I understand that society can only do so much to redress these grievances, but you can also go too far the other way- remove so much of the social safety net that the average person feels the society isn’t worth investing in and then they won’t. So, ugly as it might be, for myself, it’s usually just a craven question of, “If this assistance program is removed, will people be throwing garbage cans through windows?” If so, forget the larger argument.
Again, I openly admit this is a craven way of looking at it, but I’m a bit wary of these liberal brain/conservative brain discussions. In Canada, we have plenty of Conservatives who discuss this issue in exactly the same way. It’s probably why there’s more consensus here about social assistance programs: liberals can see them as promoting justice and conservatives can see them as promoting stability.
Look at the way Rufus is analyzing this. Remove the social safety net, then there's a risk that people will throw up their hands and revolt. Well, that's a potential short-term risk. It ignores the potential that without a social safety net people will save and invest to provide for themselves. Do we have an example to support this? As a matter of fact, we do. Pretty much everybody agrees that the lack of a social safety net in China is a major contributor to the sky high savings rate in China. Almost every proposal to shift the Chinese economy to consumption includes a recommendation to enact a social safety net.
FLG ain't suggesting the US eliminate its social safety net. But FLG does object to the portrayal by several commenters, including Rufus, that an objective cost-benefit analysis clearly and unequivocally supports a social safety net. Their cost-benefit analyses were short-term based. Which is fine, but FLG doesn't think the commenters who offered them were even aware of this limitation at all.