Arthur Brooks argues that conservatives have Faulty Moral Arithmetic . He is complaining about Republicans and conservatives, though perhaps more about the perception about Republicans and conservatives than about their essence. There have been many reports and studies over the years about the charitable giving of conservatives. Are our politics not really influenced by our charity? Here is the gist of Brooks’ argument:

Conservatives are fighting a losing battle of moral arithmetic. They hand an argument with virtually 100% public support—care for the vulnerable—to progressives, and focus instead on materialistic concerns and minority moral viewpoints.

The irony is maddening. America’s poor people have been saddled with generations of disastrous progressive policy results, from welfare-induced dependency to failing schools that continue to trap millions of children.

Meanwhile, the record of free enterprise in improving the lives of the poor both here and abroad is spectacular. According to Columbia University economist Xavier Sala-i-Martin, the percentage of people in the world living on a dollar a day or less—a traditional poverty measure—has fallen by 80% since 1970. This is the greatest antipoverty achievement in world history. That achievement is not the result of philanthropy or foreign aid. It occurred because billions of souls have been able to pull themselves out of poverty thanks to global free trade, property rights, the rule of law and entrepreneurship.

The basic point, about the moral value and superior practical benefit of economic liberty seems inescapable. That conservatives do not care about the poor? I’d have to argue about that; how they care might matter. The poor as a problem for society is not the same thing compassion for poor people.

With this moral touchstone, conservative leaders will be able to stand before Americans who are struggling and feel marginalized and say, “We will fight for you and your family, whether you vote for us or not”—and truly mean it. In the end that approach will win. But more important, it is the right thing to do.

One of the appalling things about “social conservatism” was that it was no less set on expanding government programs for the poor than the welfarist’s agenda. That kind of thing is just what hurts the poor most in the long run. Free enterprise is “the greatest antipoverty achievement in world history”. Blaming the poor for their poverty is counter-productive; effectively arguing for the best way out of poverty is a winning argument with plenty of empirical evidence from developing nations around the world. What we have been doing in America has exacerbated the gap between the wealthy and the poor, as noted by Charles Murray and also in this video , which probably comes from a very different assumption about the causes of the fact. I see that video as an argument against government anti-poverty policies of the last sixty years and more, as we seem to be losing the “War on Poverty”.

Do the wealthy have a moral right to their wealth? Maybe, but even if they do, but who cares? Apparently, even in a a couple generations of “war” they can take care of themselves.

Articles by Kate Pitrone

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