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Social Darwinism for the 21st Century


Bryan Caplan is a terrible person. Now you might say that I am too mean to the Koch-funded George Mason economist. After all, he might not beat his dog. But that doesn’t really matter here. Because Bryan Caplan is a terrible person. Why is Bryan Caplan such a scourge on the human race? This article arguing that the poor are to blame for their own poverty and thus shouldn’t be helped is Exhibit A. Here are a couple of “highlights”:

I’m not merely saying that “bad behavior is bad for you.” I’m saying that bad behavior is a major cause of poverty. If I’m right about this, there is a great, neglected remedy for poverty: Poor people should stop engaging in bad behavior. If this seems flippant, that’s not my intention. Poverty: Who To Blame will largely be a work of economic philosophy. Part of my project is to provide intellectual foundations for what I perceive as Americans’ justified frustration with welfare recipients. (Another part of my project, by the way, is to destroy the intellectual foundations for what I perceive as Americans’ unjustified frustration with Third World immigrants).


I think such meritocratic moral intuitions are sound, and ought to guide public policy as well as private conscience. If people are poor because they’re behaving irresponsibly, they should be far down our queue of people to help – if they belong on the queue at all. That said, I also happen to think that reducing the generosity of the welfare state and making assistance conditional on good behavior will (eventually) reduce bad behavior. Whether I’m right or wrong on this point, though, the fact that poor people are often the authors of their own destitution is morally significant and sadly neglected.

Why I’ve never run across these arguments before and certainly not made with such care! Gilded Age theorists like William Graham Sumner made essentially these same arguments over 100 years ago. Hacks like Sumner served the plutocrat class of the first Gilded Age; hacks like Caplan serve the plutocrats of the second Gilded Age.

And in case Caplan wasn’t enough of a throwback to the worst period in American history, he managed to find a way to blame women too.

As women’s labor market opportunities improved, their interest in low-status men with stable jobs declined. This in turn led many low-status men to either give up on work and women, or try to impress women in other ways. Some of these “other ways,” strangely, are self-destructive behavior like non-remunerative crime and substance abuse.

If only those damned strumpets respected a working-class man who brought in a single-family income (never mind that Caplan completely opposes paying working-class people decent wages), we’d still have good hard-working men in this country (never mind all the jobs outsourced to other countries).

Question: If you are a job candidate in the Economics Department at George Mason University, do they give you some kind of test to make sure you have a small enough heart. Do they just call it the Scrooge Test? In admiration of course, not critique.

I don’t know why, but somehow writing about Caplan made me want to dedicate this song to him:

H/T to Jamelle Bouie’s twitter feed (@jbouie) for this, though I’d feel better about the future of the world if I hadn’t seen this.

[SL]…Related.   And see also.

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