Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Jason Newman: Poverty is a lifestyle choice


The internet and media were up in arms on Wednesday (when are they not?) when former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and Donald Trump’s Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson stated in an interview that poverty was “a state of mind.” Cue a ferocious backlash from the professionally outraged and permanently offended. A Guardian op-ed lambasted the former neurosurgeon, declaring his ideas to be social Darwinist in nature.

However, if any of them would have watched more than the first ten seconds of the clip (I seriously doubt many did) they would have heard Dr Carson clarify his statement. He was not saying that you can merely think yourself wealthy as many claimed he did, but rather that whether or not a person is in poverty can be determined by the mindset (i.e. work ethic and resilience) of that person. Essentially, his argument boiled down to the fact that the person with the right mindset will do the right things and will prosper no matter how many obstacles are in their way. While the person with the wrong mindset will do the wrong things and will falter no matter how many obstacles are removed from their path.

Statements like this never used to be nor ever should be controversial. The fact that 95 per cent of the time good choices and actions equal good results and bad choices and actions equal bad results should be axiomatic. The field of computer science even has an acronym for this phenomenon – GIGO, “garbage in garbage out.”

A computer is a logical system that has a clearly defined set of rules and if data that follows the rules are inputted the results will be good. Similarly if data that do not follow the rules are inputted, the results will be garbage. Life is much like a well-functioning computer system: follow the rules and you will get good results. The economic statistics are clear there are three rules a person must follow to ensure prosperity:

1) Finish school.

2) Get a job.

3) Don’t have children before you are married.

But we now live in a world where people become incredulous at the notion that actions have consequences. Where libertine values have been fully embraced and where the new mantra is, “I am therefore I deserve” and “how dare you tell me how to live my life.”

The regressive Left is indeed openly hostile to the notion of work ethic and resilience. The darling of the academic Left has for years been John Rawls. His theory of social justice has at its heart the belief that nobody is inherently entitled to what they produce. The fact that individuals have a work ethic is merely arbitrary; it is pure chance whether a person is born into a family that instils in them such an ethic. Therefore, a portion of the capital a person earns as a result of their work  must be forfeited in order to subsidise the person born into a family of louts, thus redressing the social injustice.

This theory has been blown out of the water on both moral and economic grounds by both F.A. Hayek and Thomas Sowell, but it still refuses to die. It does, however, explain much about the regressive Left and its actions. It explains the hostility it reserves for successful, wealthy people and it explains its tendency to defend any person in poverty no matter how destructive their lifestyle.

Dr Carson is fundamentally right, the regressive Left has replaced the mindset of aspiration with the mindset of begrudgery and entitlement. Those that play by the rules are now punished because others do not.

Instead of incentivising stable nuclear families they would rather tax them to the hilt and use the revenue to prop up and incentivise single parent homes, allowing the State to take the role of the absent father, thus redressing the social injustice. They say the fact a person dropped out of school and now finds himself unemployed is not that person’s fault, it is merely an arbitrary outcome. Those that stayed the course and now have well-paying jobs will again have their income highly taxed in order to sustain that person because the imbalance caused by social injustice must be rectified.

Rather than holding up the habits of the successful as examples to those that find themselves in poverty as a blueprint for getting out of their situation, the regressive Left would rather subsidise and reward their poor choices. The regressive Left would rather divorce good actions and good results from each other because after all good actions are arbitrary anyway.

The hostile reaction to Dr Carson’s comments betrays the real feelings of the regressive Left. Its view is that as nobody truly deserves what he earns, the State has the right to expropriate that wealth to whatever degree it deems necessary. A person is wealthy because he experienced privilege (otherwise known as a good upbringing) and therefore must pay for that privilege.

When the surface is scratched, this cuddly liberal “we’re all in this together ideology” is revealed to be damn right pernicious good old-fashioned Marxism.

(Image: Gage Skidmore)

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Jason Newman
Jason Newman
Jason studies English and Politics at third level in Ireland.

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