Looking After the Less Fortunate

Washington Times 8.17.99
Balint Vazsonyi

Recently, President Clinton undertook a journey through America's poverty-stricken areas. Opponents of the just-passed tax reduction bemoan what they perceive as "benefits for the well-to-do at the expense of the poor." And it is not only in money matters that we focus upon the low end of the scale: Just about all initiatives in education are driven by concerns for underachievers.

During the last few decades it has become widely accepted that society's primary obligation - and government's chief task - is to look after the less fortunate. In our time, the agenda is pursued through the diversion of trillions of dollars, the interference with every kind of human relationship and activity, as well as increasingly ferocious rhetoric.

Specifically, two red herrings have taken up residence in our consciousness. One of them lumps together as a single group all those who do less well than some believe they should. The other declares that anyone doing less well is being cheated out of something called "fair share" by those who do better.

The first of these is at odds with reality, for in reality there are any number of ways to be less fortunate. Not having enough money is only one of many, but even that may come about through a variety of causes. Circumstances of birth have been overcome by far more people in history than bad habits, irresponsible partners, or cruel twists of fortune.

Truly less fortunate are those born with lesser ability, and those who lack perseverance. Here, our know-all philosophers have elected to keep their heads permanently in the sandpit. Differences in physical build and aptitude are acknowledged (it would be hard not to), but differences in intellectual ability or industriousness are denied.

Of course, one can also be less fortunate by having uncaring parents, failed marriages, illnesses, accidents, or irreparable loss of persons near and dear.

A cursory listing, such as the preceding, should make mockery of the notion that the less fortunate come about through the evil deeds of the more fortunate.

What is society's response to the differences between the more and the less fortunate? I am familiar with only two answers to that question. One is a moral command in Christianity, addressed to the more fortunate: share! The other is the political foundation of Marxism-Leninism, proposed as the battle cry of the less fortunate: take! The former is fully compatible with America's founding principles, the latter is not at all.

In this age of compassionate this, that and the other, it seems that candidates for office ought to be asked whether they go by America's principles or Marxist-Leninist doctrines. The answer should be carefully noted, because it will surely signal similar political positions on other issues. It is also helpful to recall that either answer is informed by a philosophy that is in permanent conflict with the other.

And, trust me, there is no Third Way.

But now the larger question presents itself: Should the general arrangements in a society favor the less or the more fortunate? Easy - we say. The more fortunate already have an advantage. Surely, we must arrange everything to favor the others.

And so we have, for a long time now.

We have just about demolished all standards in education. When manipulation of admissions requirements didn't do the work, we did away with learning altogether. We have instituted laws to ensure the hiring of persons with diminished or non-existent competence for the job. We have shackled landowners, businesses and industry with punitive regulations. We have turned our courts of law into establishments where anyone claiming to be "disadvantaged" may roll the dice.

We are redistributing the fruits of labor every day. We have dismantled our military - at once to accommodate those who want to play soldier, and to pacify those who are embarrassed by America's strength. We have abandoned our (highly successful) campaign to stamp out communicable diseases. We have given up the demand that immigrants be sponsored or self-sufficient.

And yet, and still, if statistics tell the truth, the proportion of the more and less fortunate among us remains more or less constant.

But that is about to change.

The gifted, the intellectually curious need to be inspired and challenged. Instead, they languish at the hands of political agitators masquerading as teachers. The industrious need to be rewarded. Instead, they have to suffer accomplishment treated the same as failure. The ambitious need headroom to rise. Instead, more man-made obstacles are placed in their path every day. The less fortunate need incentives to become makers of their own better fortune. Instead, their senses are numbed with tales of oppression and exploitation.

And so, the proportion of the "less fortunate" is certain to grow exponentially.

It is not, and never will be in the power of governments to do away with the less fortunate because governments cannot create wealth, only poverty. Governments cannot bring forth successful individuals, only disgruntled masses. What's within the power of government is to cause the more fortunate to atrophy.

Large or small, the current policy of our federal government is to cause the more fortunate to atrophy. Thus, size is not the issue. The function of government is the issue.

The time has come to redirect our attention to the talented, the industrious, the motivated, the striving. In America, that happens to be an overwhelming majority, and no nation can permanently ignore its majority without paying a terrible price. The engines of our society have monkey wrenches thrown in them every day.

If they grind to a halt, who will look after the less fortunate?