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A mentalidade da esquerda

29 Dez

Thomas Sowell, no Town Hall (II):

When teenage thugs are called “troubled youth” by people on the political left, that tells us more about the mindset of the left than about these young hoodlums.

Seldom is there a speck of evidence that the thugs are troubled, and often there is ample evidence that they are in fact enjoying themselves, as they create trouble and dangers for others.

Why then the built-in excuse, when juvenile hoodlums are called “troubled youth” and mass murderers are just assumed to be “insane”?

At least as far back as the 18th century, the left has struggled to avoid facing the plain fact of evil — that some people simply choose to do things that they know to be wrong when they do them. Every kind of excuse, from poverty to an unhappy childhood, is used by the left to explain and excuse evil.

All the people who have come out of poverty or unhappy childhoods, or both, and become decent and productive human beings, are ignored. So are the evils committed by people raised in wealth and privilege, including kings, conquerors and slaveowners.

Why has evil been such a hard concept for many on the left to accept? The basic agenda of the left is to change external conditions. But what if the problem is internal? What if the real problem is the cussedness of human beings?

Rousseau denied this in the 18th century and the left has been denying it ever since. Why? Self preservation.

If the things that the left wants to control — institutions and government policy — are not the most important factors in the world’s problems, then what role is there for the left?

What if it is things like the family, the culture and the traditions that make a more positive difference than the bright new government “solutions” that the left is constantly coming up with? What if seeking “the root causes of crime” is not nearly as effective as locking up criminals? The hard facts show that the murder rate was going down for decades under the old traditional practices so disdained by the left intelligentsia, before the bright new ideas of the left went into effect in the 1960s — after which crime and violence skyrocketed.

What happened when old-fashioned ideas about sex were replaced in the 1960s by the bright new ideas of the left that were introduced into the schools as “sex education” that was supposed to reduce teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases?

Both teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases had been going down for years. But that trend suddenly reversed in the 1960s and hit new highs.

One of the oldest and most dogmatic of the crusades of the left has been disarmament, both of individuals and of nations. Again, the focus of the left has been on the externals — the weapons in this case.

If weapons were the problem, then gun control laws at home and international disarmament agreements abroad might be the answer. But if evil people who care no more for laws or treaties than they do for other people’s lives are the problem, then disarmament means making decent, law-abiding people more vulnerable to evil people.

Since belief in disarmament has been a major feature of the left since the 18th century, in countries around the world, you might think that by now there would be lots of evidence to substantiate their beliefs.

But evidence on whether gun control laws actually reduce crime rates in general, or murder rates in particular, is seldom mentioned by gun control advocates. It is just assumed in passing that of course tighter gun control laws will reduce murders.

But the hard facts do not back up that assumption. That is why it is the critics of gun control who rely heavily on empirical evidence, as in books like “More Guns, Less Crime” by John Lott and “Guns and Violence” by Joyce Lee Malcolm.

National disarmament has an even worse record. Both Britain and America neglected their military forces between the two World Wars, while Germany and Japan armed to the teeth. Many British and American soldiers paid with their lives for their countries’ initially inadequate military equipment in World War II.

But what are mere facts compared to the heady vision of the left?

The political left has long claimed the role of protector of “the poor.” It is one of their central moral claims to political power. But how valid is this claim?

Leaders of the left in many countries have promoted policies that enable the poor to be more comfortable in their poverty. But that raises a fundamental question: Just who are “the poor”?

If you use a bureaucratic definition of poverty as including all individuals or families below some arbitrary income level set by the government, then it is easy to get the kinds of statistics about “the poor” that are thrown around in the media and in politics. But do those statistics have much relationship to reality?

“Poverty” once had some concrete meaning — not enough food to eat or not enough clothing or shelter to protect you from the elements, for example. Today it means whatever the government bureaucrats, who set up the statistical criteria, choose to make it mean. And they have every incentive to define poverty in a way that includes enough people to justify welfare state spending.

Most Americans with incomes below the official poverty level have air-conditioning, television, own a motor vehicle and, far from being hungry, are more likely than other Americans to be overweight. But an arbitrary definition of words and numbers gives them access to the taxpayers’ money.

This kind of “poverty” can easily become a way of life, not only for today’s “poor,” but for their children and grandchildren.

Even when they have the potential to become productive members of society, the loss of welfare state benefits if they try to do so is an implicit “tax” on what they would earn that often exceeds the explicit tax on a millionaire.

If increasing your income by $10,000 would cause you to lose $15,000 in government benefits, would you do it?

In short, the political left’s welfare state makes poverty more comfortable, while penalizing attempts to rise out of poverty. Unless we believe that some people are predestined to be poor, the left’s agenda is a disservice to them, as well as to society. The vast amounts of money wasted are by no means the worst of it.

If our goal is for people to get out of poverty, there are plenty of heartening examples of individuals and groups who have done that, in countries around the world.

Millions of “overseas Chinese” emigrated from China destitute and often illiterate in centuries past. Whether they settled in Southeast Asian countries or in the United States, they began at the bottom, taking hard, dirty and sometimes dangerous jobs.

Even though the overseas Chinese were usually paid little, they saved out of that little, and many eventually opened tiny businesses. By working long hours and living frugally, they were able to turn tiny businesses into larger and more prosperous businesses. Then they saw to it that their children got the education that they themselves often lacked.

By 1994, the 57 million overseas Chinese created as much wealth as the one billion people living in China.

Variations on this social pattern can be found in the histories of Jewish, Armenian, Lebanese and other emigrants who settled in many countries around the world — initially poor, but rising over the generations to prosperity. Seldom did they rely on government, and they usually avoided politics on their way up.

Such groups concentrated on developing what economists call “human capital” — their skills, talents, knowledge and self discipline. Their success has usually been based on that one four-letter word that the left seldom uses in polite society: “work.”

There are individuals in virtually every group who follow similar patterns to rise from poverty to prosperity. But how many such individuals there are in different groups makes a big difference for the prosperity or poverty of the groups as a whole.

The agenda of the left — promoting envy and a sense of grievance, while making loud demands for “rights” to what other people have produced — is a pattern that has been widespread in countries around the world.

This agenda has seldom lifted the poor out of poverty. But it has lifted the left to positions of power and self-aggrandizement, while they promote policies with socially counterproductive results.

 
 

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