Saturday, March 06, 2004

Judge Not and Ye Shall Not be Judged

Earlier today, I ran across a post at Lotus - Surviving a Dark Time  that almost spurred another rant.  He posted an excerpt from NYT:

Scumbag Medal 

...with dripping garbage clusters.
Washington (AP) - A Senate measure to extend federal unemployment benefits failed by two votes Thursday despite the election year support of 12 Republicans from states hit hard by layoffs. ...

The measure would have extended the emergency benefits program for six months, providing 13 weeks of extra unemployment benefits to people who exhaust their state benefits - usually after 26 weeks. ...

"I think we have to determine when's enough," said Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla. "And I happen to think that we've crossed that line."

Nickles said jobless workers have more incentive to find a job when the extra unemployment benefits stop. "The more you pay people not to work, the less inclined they are to work," he said.
Yes, all those people just lazing in luxury in the comfort of unemployment, falling behind on their rent/mortgage, electricity being shut off, phone service being ended, but what do they care? They have unemployment benefits! Ah, happiness![...] # 

I also encountered a post on The Extended Phenotype, about something different, but with the same theme.  This time, instead of Sen. Nickles being quoted disparaging the unfortunate, it was Pres. Bush:

At Harvard Business School, thirty years ago, George Bush was a student of mine. I still vividly remember him. In my class, he declared that "people are poor because they are lazy." He was opposed to labor unions, social security, environmental protection, Medicare, and public schools. To him, the antitrust watch dog, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Securities Exchange Commission were unnecessary hindrances to "free market competition." To him, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was "socialism."

[Note: Phenotype got the link from Atrios, who got it from Jerome Doolittle, who found it in Yoshi Tsurumi's article on GLOCOM Platform; Gelatinous Cube  also makes reference to this]

The attitude expressed by Bush and Nickles it common, and it is very much like the stigmatization that people with mental illness experience.  In the case of poverty, like that of mental illness, there are perfectly understandable causes that have nothing to do with laziness. 

There is ample evidence for the genetic and neurochemical basis for mental illness.  Furthermore, there is ample evidence that interventions such as medication, ECT, bright-light therapy, etc., can cause remission of mental illness.  If the problem were due to a moral failure, these treatment would not work.  

If poverty is due to a moral failure, how does one explain the observation that poor people are getting poorer, and rich people are getting richer?  (See this article  on the widening income gap)  If you are poor, it is harder to get ahead, and it is harder to shelter yourself from events that get you further behind.  For example, if a person needs a car to keep their job, and the car breaks down, it is no problem if you are rich.  But if you are lower-middle class, that single misfortune could be the start of a downward, unrecoverable spiral.  This has nothing to so with one's moral virtue. 

Likewise, how would one explain the Great Depression?  Did millions of people simultaneously loose their work ethic?  No, millions of people simultaneously lost their jobs. 

Am I saying that Bush and Nickles are bad people?  I can't say; I don't really know them.  So, I am not judging them; I am judging what they said.  My judgment is that what they said is not supportable by the evidence.