The Feckless Poor Versus the Selfish Hogs

images-2A 2012 worldwide Pew survey asked whether success is due to hard work or forces beyond one’s control. Most Brits, Germans, and Czechs agreed that success can be achieved through your own efforts. Guess who disagreed? The French, Greeks, Italians.

This is important to economic policy debates. We’ve been hearing much about inequality. Now, if you believe prosperity and hard work are correlated, you’re apt to think the best answer for inequality lies in broadening opportunities for people to be productive. images-3But if you’re in the other camp, believing success and wealth are matters of mere luck and not merit or effort, then you may favor just taking from those with more to give to those with less. (Especially if you yourself have less.)

This is indeed the mindset in countries like France, Greece, and Italy. They have simply lost sight of the connection between what’s in their wallets and someone, somewhere, somehow producing something. They march in the streets demanding to be maintained in their lifestyles, regardless.

What about the U.S.? Now here’s real American exceptionalism. Whereas Brits, at 57%, topped Europeans in linking work with success, in America it’s a whopping 77%. This strong consensus cuts across wealth classes and both political parties.

UnknownThis doesn’t mean Americans are social Darwinists who believe the poor should be left to their fate. Nor even, for that matter, do Republicans, despite insistence to the contrary by President Obama and his party. No; Americans of all stripes strongly back the social solidarity of a safety net for those less fortunate (and do recognize that Dame Fortune plays some role). But what Americans mostly do not buy into is the left’s idea of social justice a la Robin Hood, plundering the rich to benefit the poor. Americans don’t think robbery serves justice.

The Pew poll was discussed recently by The Economist’s “Lexington” columnist (who covers America and its politics). Unknown-1Comparing against Europe, Lexington opined that the heart of the Euro problem, with all the bailouts of grasshoppers by ants, is that they don’t like each other enough to make their economic union work. And, Lexington says, “America should fear the spread of the crudest poison paralyzing Europe: mutual dislike between citizens.”

In Europe, it’s regional. The Germans don’t like the Greeks and resent having to bail them out, and the Greeks resent the Germans for bailing them out. images-5In America, it’s ideological; hardened zealots demonizing opponents as motivated by evil, stymieing any compromises to address the nation’s problems.

Both parties are at fault. Republican sin is exemplified by Romney’s “47%” comment, branding almost half of Americans as unwilling to be responsible for themselves. (This in a nation where 77% believes success and hard work are linked!) images-6But Lexington considers Obama and Democrats equally guilty, stirring up division and resentment against richer people cast as selfish hogs.

You don’t have to believe wealth is ill-gotten, and should be equalized, to justify taxing the rich more than the poor and helping the less fortunate. images-1Nor must you deem them feckless and irresponsible, to justify believing that a society where the successful can enjoy wealth is a better society for everyone.

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7 Responses to “The Feckless Poor Versus the Selfish Hogs”

  1. Bumba Says:

    Good article. But I do not agree. Bottom line, money stays in the family, the rich get richer. The 1% takes the cream.

  2. Douglas Hawes Says:

    It would seem to me that the attitude differences discussed in the first part of the blog correlate with the amount of corruption in those countries. Where people get jobs and advance in their jobs based mostly on who they know or who they bribe the attitude has to change to fit that situation and vice versa.

  3. njmolinari Says:

    Great post, Frank.

  4. muggleinconverse Says:

    Capitalism as we know it requires a nice chunk of people to be below poverty level and close to it. Hard work can only get you so far in a broken system.

  5. rationaloptimist Says:

    Forgive me Muggle, but while many anti-capitalists do spout this mantra that it somehow “requires” a large population of downtrodden, a moment’s thought would reveal how wrong that is. For after all, what capitalism requires most is a market for the products it produces, i.e., a population that can afford to buy them. Henry Ford paid high wages for that very reason, believing he was best served if his workers could afford to buy cars. Capitalism thrives not on poverty but on mass affluence. And indeed tends to produce just that.

  6. Joel Says:

    Thanks, Frank. I wonder what percentage of the Chinese population are in agreement with that proposition. It may be higher than in the US.

  7. rationaloptimist Says:

    Very interesting question, Joel. China actually has a long tradition of belief in various permutations of “luck.” But another important cultural legacy is the long history of exams by which anybody who studies hard enough can rise into the civil service.

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