June 08, 2014

Horse 1689 - Poverty: The Left and The Right

"Poverty is not a left or right issue. It's God's issue." Think I'm at the wrong church. We never talk this much about our call to act.
- Tweeter's Name Withheld, 8th Jun 2014

Firstly to set this straight. On a left-right scale where 0 is the exact centre:
The Economic Left: The point (-∞,0) is the economic position in which the state owns and controls everything.
The Economic Right: The point (∞,0) is the economic position in which the state owns and controls nothing. In a purely economic rightist economy, everything is owned and controlled by private enterprise.

More generally, left-wing politics generally espouse higher degrees of social equality; suggesting that private enterprise because it is selfish has no motive to change or even address inequalities.
Right-wing politics which espouse individual responsibility often also suggest that social inequality is a consequence of the operation of markets and that some degree of inequality is either completely normal or in some right-wing policy sets, even desirable.

Both of these positions are on a different scale to the Authoritarianism/Libertarianism axis in which:
Authoritarianism: The point (0,∞) is the social position in which authority is not allowed to be questioned or must be formally obeyed in all circumstances.
Libertarianism: The point (0,-∞) is the social position in which all authority rests in the individual.

Poverty which is that state in which an individual lacks either the means or capability to meet certain needs, which may include food, shelter and clothing etc. is very much an economic issue because it then calls into question a matter or responsibility.

The Left would suggest that governments should do something about poverty since private enterprises have no motive for solving the problem.
The Right which would prefer that government got out of the economy or at least minimised its impact on how the economy works either through direct action or the removal of regulation, would in most cases tend to suggest that because poverty is essentially a problem which affects members of society which would then fall into economic irrelevance, would tend to look upon the problem of poverty as either a category error or something which is a negative externality, and would generally choose not to incur the cost of doing anything about it if they can.

I found this quite interesting during the 2012 United States Congressional campaign:
Graduate from high school, work hard, and get married before you have children and the chance you will ever be in poverty is just two percent. Yet if you don’t do these three things you’re 38 times more likely to end up in poverty!
- Rick Santorum, at the Republican National Convention, 21st Sep 2012

If we boil down these three things:
1. Graduate from High School - this either assumes that a high school has been provided and/or that it is accessible to attend. If schooling is too expensive to attend, then people do not so so. This argument is being played out in Australian politics at the moment with respect to universities.
2. Work Hard - this again assumes that there is in fact at least a subsistence level of employment in which someone can find themselves. That might be a tall order when private enterprises either find cheaper sources of labour and decide to move or if wages are sufficiently low enough to make even a subsistence level of life difficult.
3. Get Married Before You Have Children - As a societal problem, the issue of marriage is an economic irrelevancy these days. The problem here is whether or not an individual has children and as a result, it minimises their ability to find meaningful and gainful employment; usually this is the case for very young mothers and the fact that very young fathers are able to just leave to bear the economic burden them so easily.

Again, the real crux in all of these three issues is one of a matter or responsibility. The Left would suggest that it is fitting and proper that the government should act as a backstop to ensure at least a minimum standard of living for people whilst the Right would tend to suggest that this is an economic irrelevancy.

Getting back to the original comment:
"Poverty is not a left or right issue. It's God's issue." 
Well, poverty is a Left issue because the Right simply doesn't even regard it as an issue. Taken to its ultimate extreme, in a perfect world where God himself runs everything benevolently, then God lives on the Economic Left. It stands to reason that if The Left is the economic position in which the state owns and controls everything and the state happens to be God himself, then God is leftist.
Also assuming that God's law is perfect and that to disobey God is sin, then God is also the ultimate Authoritarian.

Even if you look at the description in Acts 4:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
- Acts 4:32-35 (NIV)

This very much is a description of a group of people working together. If they are their own little state, then it's very much a commune, a community, dare I say communist. This is not Soviet Socialism which ran on the basis of greed in many cases but an actual proper community.

Poverty is a Left issue because the Right does not care. As far as God is concerned, he cares for people - God is a leftist.

Our Response:
What should be an appropriate response to this?

For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’
- Deuteronomy 15:11

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.
- Proverbs 19:17

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
- Mark 10:21

Let me just re-iterate the conclusion from before:
Poverty is a Left issue because the Right does not care. As far as God is concerned, he cares for people - God is a leftist.

What would be an appropriate response be with regards the poor? We can give monetarily, we can write to our members of parliament in response to the economic consequences of government policy, we can even seek to help those people who we meet who need out help. Maybe we could in the first instance; and considering that God cares for people and we should be trying to be like Him, we could also be concerned for people? Just maybe?

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