Poor Thinking

SN further attacked a politics of freedom and individual rights on the theory that the poor need to rob the rich in order to survive, and that there is no such thing as earning one’s wealth.

SN’s “Philosophical Defection Part II” (TableAus Jan/Feb 06) is not worth a detailed refutation, but a brief analysis is in order.

We can dispense with his personal contempt, which is uninteresting.

As “empirical” evidence, Scott picks the “extremes” of Cuba and Singapore. Cuba, showered with external wealth from the vast USSR for decades. Singapore, run by a repressive regime and laughably far from being a free country. True, it is the freer countries where the poor do better. But that is not because they’re midway between Scott’s non-extremes, but because of their much greater freedom and productivity (which produces the wealth). His evidence proves nothing about whether theft or charity is best for the poor in the long run.

Then Scott explains why theft is required for the survival of the poor. First, people who don’t actually value the poor won’t pay for them. In Scott’s view, this is unacceptable: they receive the “benefit” of seeing Scott’s values achieved without their paying for it. Then, apparently my ideals won’t work in a free society based on individualism – in which the vast majority are the crudest collectivists. An impossible, self-contradictory straw man is not much of an argument, Scott.

Finally, we are told that we don’t earn our wealth because we are born with whatever we use to make it. The opposite is true, both morally and practically, for reasons explained over many Philosophical Reflections. In a free society, the wealth one makes honestly is precisely what you’re worth to other people, in their free judgement: so by definition, you earned every penny and every smile. So has everyone, to whatever level of ability they have.

Scott’s basic assumption, unexamined and unjustified, is that the well-being of the poor is an end in itself and the touchstone of moral and societal virtue. How the wealth they need can be created in the first place is none of Scott’s concern, as long as the creators “just do it” and allow themselves to be “harnessed” to his ends. I have shown why the opposite is true, and Scott hasn’t even tried to address my fundamental arguments for an objective morality and the politics that follows from it. All he does is assert his personal morality as unquestionable, and assert his personal incredulity that his morality can be achieved by any means other than government force.

© 2006 Robin Craig: first published in TableAus.