Libertarians Just Don’t Like the Poor

20131127-shawnfremstad.jpgShawn Fremstad has been writing over at CEPR Blog and putting out some great stuff. I recommend checking him out. But right now, I want to focus on an article he wrote last week, Paul Ryan Getting Advice on Poverty Policy From K Street Organization that Receives Most of Its Funding From Government. As you can tell from that headline, Fremstad is following in the sarcastic and snarky footsteps of Dean Baker.

The article gets at the hypocrisy of conservatives when it comes to government funding. In a larger sense (not discussed in the article itself), it comes back to this myth that conservatives want smaller government. For the umpteenth time: conservatives want big government that keeps the poor in check and sends the rich big checks. In fact, if you went line by line through the budget of what conservatives want to pay for and what liberals want to pay for, the conservatives would end up costing a lot more. It is cheap to help the poor; helping the rich is very costly.

But I was very struck by the following bit of information about the libertarian CATO Institute:

Two more general things about those “78 means-tested programs that have cost the federal government $15 trillion since 1964.” First, this conservative talking point, which comes from the Cato Institute and is slightly mistranslated in the WaPo piece (it refers to both federal and state expenditures), is extremely selective in ideological terms. For example, Medicaid is on the Cato list, but not federal tax expenditures that subsidize employer-provided health insurance and cost more than Medicaid. Expenditures on Medicaid mostly help working class children and parents, the elderly, and people with disabilities, while subsidizing employer-provided health insurance mostly benefits people in the top 40 percent of the income distribution.

Even by their own definition, libertarians aren’t libertarians when it comes to actual policy. Libertarians are for people being able to enter into voluntary contracts, but they are somehow against labor unions. They are against coercion, but only when it comes from the government. And as we see here, they ignore welfare that helps the well off, and focus like a laser on welfare that helps the poor. I would put the word “libertarian” in scare quotes, but I would have to do that basically every time I used it because I don’t know of a prominent libertarian who fits the definition.

This all takes me back to why I originally left the libertarian movement. (It was later that I stopped being a libertarian.) What, in the end, do libertarians stand for but making the rich richer and the poor poorer? Take education, for example. They believe there should be no public education. Well, if they really wanted a society where everyone was judged by their works, they would want a level playing field. But rich parents can give their children advantages that are insurmountable for the children of the poor. And to libertarians, this is just fine because—What?—the government isn’t the one causing this immoral inequality.

What Fremstad shows in that quote is that libertarians are just a particular kind of conservative apologist. They are for most of the conservative policy, they just have a different approach to justifying it. But if you scratch the surface of their arguments, they fall apart. They come down to: the rich are better than the poor so we should do everything we can for them. Or to put it more bluntly: fuck the poor. And that’s their right. But it doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep calling them out about it, because they really are self-deluded. Their moral thinking is repugnant.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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