I've been wanting to comment on an earlier post of Glen's over at Nashville Truth but havent' gotten around to it until now. In the post, Glen lambasts liberals for their desire to give handouts to everyone--killing the incentive people have to work. What makes Glen's post poignant is that he argues on the basis of his own past experience [exerpt]:
My first residence was a recovery/halfway house. My first job was as a cook at Shoneys making $6.00 an hour. Although I had a college degree, I was willing to lower myself to living in a halfway house and working for $6.00 an hour. Now I make much more money and I have a much better job, I am married to a very beautiful woman and I have a seven month old son whom I adore, I own my own home, and I am 11 weeks away from completing a Masters in Business Administration. I would not have any of those blessings if I had not made the decision to stop accepting "help" from my enablers. If I would have continued to accept help from my enablers, help from the government, or if I had listened to all of the people who told me that it wasn't my fault and that I was some sort of victim, I wouldn't have any of the things I have now. So please, Mr. and Mrs. Big Government Liberal don't try that "don't care about the poor people" nonsense with me.
In the comments, Glen got a lot of flack for this statement but I think it contains more than a kernel of truth. Liberals have spent a lot of their political capital in defense of the homeless, criminals on death row, and other sympathetic groups. While I would agree that we should always be most concerned for the most hopeless among us, Glen's point is perfectly valid. We don't want to create a society where there's no incentive to work hard, where people aren't encouraged to take personal responsibility for their actions.
With this in mind, I would recommend that the left not try to create a constituency based on people who refuse to make a positive contribution to society. The left's constituency should be sharply focused on one group--those who work and thus do their part. I don't think this means lacking sympathy for the poor. Many of the people who work are poor in relative standards. And here's where I would diverge sharply from the analysis of the far-right. The most annoying drain on the national economy isn't made up of homeless vagrants and drunks but the unproductive wealthy. The structure of the capitalist economy overpays these people who do little or nothing. One of the greatest lies of the right is this idea that most of the wealth is created by semi-magical supermen. In any society, wealth creation is a team effort. The efforts of the person who sweeps the factory floor are just as necessary as those of the CEO running the business. We should always have incentives for people to work harder, educate themselves, take risks, and so on, but the vast gaps in income that we currently have go far beyond this necessity. We now have what is essentially an aristocratic class that is able to game the system to create immense advantages while exploiting those who sacrifice to create this wealth.
The liberal solution (back in the day when liberals and dinosaurs walked the Earth) was to provide a tax and welfare system that redistributed some of this wealth so as to soften the imbalance inherent in the capitalist system in its current form. Unfortunately, the system of social benefits were often spent on those who didn't contribute at all, invoking the ire of working people. In my mind, a better system would ensure that everyone "on the team" who helps create wealth actually gets a fair piece of it (unions, while bringing in problems of their own, help in this regard). A more just system would also outlaw outright the obscene accumulation of wealth by large capitalists on the grounds that it's impossible for anyone to be solely responsible for that much work. Microsoft Windows might be the greatest thing since peanut butter, but it just doesn't make sense to give a small group of people so much credit for something created by so many hands. The extra money in the system also deeply corrupts the political system as we've seen from our experience with Bush and his buddies (DeLay included).