Liberal Myths

John C. Goodman

10/1/2011 12:01:00 AM - John C. Goodman

 

Did you know that Paul Krugman is more compassionate than you are? Or so he says.

In fact, just about everybody who is left of center is more compassionate than everybody who is right of center, Krugman explained in a recent New York Times editorial.

“American politics is fundamentally about different moral visions,” he wrote. If you identify with Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose” vision you are today part of the “free to die” crowd.

That last bit is a reference to Republican presidential candidates foolishly stumbling over a Wolf Blitzer question about what should be done with a man who willfully chooses to be uninsured and then discovers needs lifesaving medical care. No, in case you are wondering, none of them said “let him die.” But Krugman would like you to believe that is the position of the entire Republican Party.

[Democrats, by the way, would also have trouble with that question. In fact there is nothing in Obama Care that guarantees health care for someone who ignores the government mandate and remains uninsured.]

Krugman is not alone. Writing at Health Affairs the other day, Princeton University economist Uwe E. Reinhardt described the current budget impasse in Washington by declaring that this country has been in:

…a long ideological war fought over the distribution of economic privilege in this country, a war that has been raging unabated for over three decades now.

One side in this war believes that the current distribution of income and wealth in this country is fair, as it rewards generously those who contribute commensurately to the economy and properly gives short shrift for those who do not — e.g., unskilled workers…

The opposing faction believes that the current distribution of income and wealth no longer is the product of a genuine meritocracy, and even if it were, that health care, education and legal care are so-called social goods to which rich and poor should have access on roughly equal terms, regardless of their own ability to pay.

Although Reinhardt doesn’t engage in the kind of ad hominem personal character attacks that are Krugman’s stock in trade, the message is still the same: one side cares about the unfortunate and the other side doesn’t.

Before going further, there is something you should know. There is no evidence whatsoever – zero evidence – that liberals are more compassionate than conservatives. In fact all the evidence points in the other direction. More about that in a moment.

Since Krugman is a Nobel Prize winning economist, I would like to turn first to the science of economics, just as Adam Smith did more than 200 years ago. What Smith realized was that it’s not compassion, or any other feeling that is going to eliminate most deprivation and suffering around the world. It’s sound economic policies, produced by rational thought.

Several years ago, I was at a conference at the Vatican and I heard another Nobel laureate, University of Chicago economist Gary Becker, make a remarkable statement. Becker said, “I believe in capitalism. The reason: capitalism confers its greatest benefits on those at the bottom of the income ladder. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be a capitalist. And Milton Friedman thinks the same way.”

Non-economists are generally unaware of how much evidence there isin support of the Becker/Friedman position. If you look around the world, you will find that the bottom 10% of the income distribution gets about the same percent of national income in countries with the least economic freedom (2.5%) as they do in the countries with the most economic freedom (2.6%). Whether a country is capitalist or socialist doesn’t seem to matter. But there is a huge difference in the absolute level of income. In fact, the bottom 10% gets almost ten times more income ($8,474 per persons per year vs. $910) in capitalist countries than in non-capitalist countries.

Given that disparity, what is the most compassionate economic system? It is the system advocated by the University of Chicago economists and other classical liberals: a system that leaves people free to use their intelligence, their creativity and their innovative ability to pursue their own interests. In other words, it is a system in which people are “free to choose.”

That freedom and free enterprise are good for poor people is a fact of economic science. It has nothing in particular to do with compassion. But since the issue has been raised, who are the most compassionate people? It turns out, they are not liberals. In an exhaustive study of this issue American Enterprise institute president Arthur Brooks discovered that:

In 2000, households headed by a conservative gave, on average, 30 percent more money to charity than households headed by a liberal ($1,600 to $1,227). This discrepancy is not simply an artifact of income differences; on the contrary, liberal families earned an average of 6 percent more per year than conservative families, and conservative families gave more than liberal families within every income class, from poor to middle class to rich…

The differences go beyond money and time. Take blood donations, for example. In 2002, conservative Americans were more likely to donate blood each year, and did so more often, than liberals. If liberals and moderates gave blood at the same rate as conservative, the blood supply in the United States would jump by about 45 percent.

What about Krugman, personally? I don’t know him. But the next time he is on television, mute the sound and focus on the image on the screen. Is there anything about Paul Krugman that seems to be the least bit compassionate? Not to me.