Sometimes it seems like American conservatives are less interested in solving problems than they are in establishing that the problem is visited only on the people who deserve it.
It’s as if they do not really care about reducing poverty as such. They just want to make sure that the people who are poor are those who deserve to be poor. They do not want to decrease the number of people who are uninsured. They just want to make sure that those who are uninsured are uninsured because of their own bad choices. Sometimes I think they would rather see people dying in the street than see any kind of redistributive government policy to save them–just so long as those dying are doing so because of their own choices.
To them it seems unfair and counterproductive to shield people from the worst consequences of their bad decisions. Especially if it means shaving off some of the benefit from those who ostensibly made better choices. In other words, don’t tax the successful to shield the unsuccessful from the consequences of their poor life choices. Doing so distorts–no, perverts–the natural order of things in which the virtuous prosper and the wicked flounder.
Putting aside the sheer inhumanity of it, the problem here is that this Calvinistic view assumes a just world. That is, a world in which people reliably get what they deserve. It isn’t luck, it isn’t chance, it isn’t genetics, it isn’t large societal forces or anything outside of an individual’s control–it’s their own choices.
But the Just World Hypothesis is wrong. It’s an error, a common cognitive bias that has been studied for decades.
Poor people may indeed have made bad choices. But some are just unlucky. Many are both. Meanwhile, the ease and privilege of the wealthy may not be entirely due to their superior life choices. Some of it might be good luck. In some cases, it’s entirely good luck. That’s life. It’s complicated. And it’s often unjust.
Understanding this is one of the reasons people like myself feel that it is appropriate for those of us who are doing ok to chip in and ease the burdens of those in less desirable life circumstances. There are practical reasons to do this as well, but that is the moral case for it. You can’t accurately detect someone’s character and decision making skills simply by observing their life circumstances. Sometimes the wealthy are just lucky and the poor unlucky.