The reason I am writing this post is because by my judgement of western culture, welfare is often justified by the compassion argument. ie: A society without welfare would be lacking in compassion.
Two recent examples of this line of argument are seen in Kevin Rudd’s address to the CIS and in this Australian newspaper article. However I’ve come across many examples and doubt others would be hard to find.
Firstly I wish to quickly state that I think it’s dangerous to apply human emotions to society. Society isn’t a real living thing like a human and is not capable of emotion. Society is a sum of individuals.
By my thinking, there are two seemingly contradictory ways of looking at issue of welfare in regards to compassion:
1) People are generally not compassionate therefore must be forced to give money to those less fortunate. – This seems false to me. The existence of charities provides empirical evidence that people are quite willing to donate to those less fortunate.
2) People are generally highly compassionate to the point that they are willing to be forced into paying welfare. – This argument would logically make the need for force unnecessary and would therefore be an argument against welfare.
However, to be honest I haven’t thought very hard about the above points because as far as I’m concerned the issue of compassion is an irrelevant distraction.
If we are forced to pay welfare it doesn’t matter whether or not we want to. Compassion is irrelevant to welfare, and is only relevant to voluntary charity.
eg/ Do I feel compassion towards dole bludgers. No way! I feel compassion to some generally unlucky people such as terminally ill kids, or tsunami victims etc. But I have absolutely no time for some drug addict bogan with 6 or more kids who has never worked a day in his/her life.
Left leaning Joe Blogs on the other hand is compassionate, he likes paying taxes because it makes him feel like he’s doing a good deed. Unlike me he is quite happy to pay for welfare through higher taxes.
Yet if we both earn the same amount, we pay the same amount of taxes towards welfare. Therefore our emotional states are totally irrelevent. Can someone explain to me what compassion has got to do with it?
I think a hypothetical example from the field of ethics can demonstrate how ludicrous the compassion argument for welfare is:
If someone holds a gun to your head and tells you to hit the guy standing next to you in the face, whether or not you like/dislike or feel indifferent towards the guy next to you is irrelevent to the final outcome of him getting hit in the face.
I also suspect some of those who promote state welfare seem to think that the existence of welfare has the ability to alter the emotions of those individuals paying the taxes – so that they become more compassionate. Can compassion be forced on people through welfare? I doubt it. As can be seen above, it certainly doesn’t seem to have worked in my case.
If anything, I suspect that government wealth re-distribution would lead to people being less compassionate towards each other. Under a welfare system, people either try to get their piece of the welfare pie at the expense of others eg/ seniors vs families (not compassionate). Or they attempt to avoid paying for welfare by tax minimisation (again not compassionate, but definitely the moral course of action IMO).
It’s amazing how backwards and irrelevent some popular beliefs are.
eg/ Capitalism is mis-represented in our culture. People think capitalism means a world without compassion – a dog eat dog world, when in reality capitalism means voluntary exchanges of mutual benefit to each party. The reality of mutual benefit is erroneously believed to be one person screwing over another.
Popular belief has the capitalism-compassion equation backwards. Just like with welfare. Welfare doesn’t mean compassion. At best compassion is irrelevent. At worst, welfare lowers levels of compassion.
I think it’s important to quickly shut down the compassion argument and expose it for the dishonest irrelevency that it is.