To All With a Bleeding Heart: Reevaluate Your Priorities

Whether you are a bleeding heart liberal or a bleeding heart libertarian (what Will Wilkinson calls a liberaltarian), you think that some sort of government provided social safety net is justified in some way on the premise that the government should help poor people. We'll go ahead and assume that this premise is correct. Debate it in the comments if you like.

What is interesting is that it does not follow, then, that some sort of welfare system is justified. The fallacy is a disregard for people who don't live in one's own country. This is probably an inconsistency for most of the bleeding heart group. Do they really think that low income Americans (or Europeans, etc.) are the master race?

Probably not. So when they claim that the government should help poor people what should they really be supporting? Policies that help poor people abroad, not at home. Unless home happens to be a third world country. The marginal dollar spent on fighting poverty in America is almost assuredly to be less effective than the marginal dollar spent fighting poverty abroad simply due to the amount of poor people in either country. Despite the war on poverty, in America absolute poverty has been virtually eradicated. Low income Americans make far more than anyone in poverty by global standards. An annual income of $1000 means you are richer than more than half of the world.

So instead of focusing on the welfare state which only helps people already doing rather well by most standards, bleeding hearters should focus on policies which either help people abroad or help bring people abroad over here.

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It depends on why you think

It depends on why you think the premise is true. A number of welfare systems are designed to decrease instability within one's own economy (acting as automatic stabilizers). Since the goal is to help your own economy, efforts in the third world wouldn't help.

Other issues to consider is that while I grant you the marginal benefit of a dollar delivered to the most needy in the third world has more effect there is less chance the dollar will actually get there. The dollar given to the third world has a far lower chance of actually reaching the people it was supposed to go to. You can offset this through more elaborate programs or efforts to counteract the corruption in the third world, these efforts cost money in themselves keeping the percentage actually spent on the needy people in the third world.

Finally most people who go on welfare leave it within a fairly short period. The same cannot be said of most if not all third world nations.

It would take trillions of dollars of reconstruction, several NATO quality armies with specialized training (above and beyond what they already know, to prepare them in counter-insurgency) and incredible national will to take some of the worst places in the world and actually set them on the right course. Until you begin talking about that size of investment, it can very well be, that the money is best invested at home, since it manages to provide results.

You forgot the price of

You forgot the price of living.

Compared to an angolan village the american poor are rich but the american poor don't live in angola. The american poor have to buy high priced american food, pay high-priced american rent, and pay for high-priced american utilities. The price of a week's worth of food in angola is not the same as a week's worth of food in america.

It's a common myth that life

It's a common myth that life in poor countries is cheaper. The reason for this myth is probably that

- Labor is indeed cheap, since there is little capital, but it's also not productive, so most goods are imported and they are expensive. Try buying a computer in South America. Surprise ! It's three time as expensive as in New York.

- People substitute cheaper, lower quality goods to cope with their poverty. The food is no the same, the houses are not the same, etc. It looks cheaper, but it's not the same product.

In the US, if you go at the end of the day behind a grocery store or super market and open the trashes, you'll find higher quality and safer food that what you'd find in Angola, for free.

Try living in Russia, in Argentina, in India, and see what your cost of living is. If you consume a lot of services, it may be not that bad, you'll get a maid for almost nothing for example. If you're poor, you're really screwed.

The era of the WASP is over

The next generation middle management and professionals will not be WASPS. For the last 2 years I have observed the Washington State junior high math contest finals. At least half the finalists appear to be Chinese or Korean. People from the Indian sub continent are statistically insignificant in Washington State but their participation is obvious. I didn't see a single person who appeared to be African American or an African black person.