Ryan McMaken
December 15, 2013

n my recent post on Pope Francis’s writings, I noted that conservatives have a tendency to have contempt for poor people and that this, in some cases, may be fueling their overreaction to the Pope’s unfortunate comments on poverty and markets. Tom Woods categorically dismissed my claim.

He went on to note some of the more unfortunate and objectionable outcomes that could arise from the Pope’s commentary, and some unfortunate outcomes that have occurred in the past due to the economic and factual blunders of past popes. His points 1, 2, and 3 are all indeed insightful. These three points added useful information to my original point but did not contradict it. His fourth point remains a mystery to me, however.  Apparently in an attempt to explain how the conservative reaction has nothing to do with an uncharitable view of the poor, Dr. Woods describes the internal squabbles between the Vatican and a small religious order of Franciscans, and the hard feelings apparently harbored by some Catholics who believe they have been “kicked in the teeth” by the Pope. Given that the groups Dr. Woods mentions are very small and virtually unknown even within the Catholic world, and their connection to American conservatism unclear,  it’s fairly obvious that the views of this obscure Catholic population do not have any discernible effect at all on the larger conservative movement, and thus do not have anything to do with my original post.

For the record, I did not, of course, claim that all the opposition to the Pope’s bad economics is necessarily motivated by contempt for the poor. Had I thought that, I would not have linked favorably to an article that systematically refuted the Pope’s claims and assumptions about markets and the poor. Indeed, many free-market economists have approached the issue in just the right way, and have pointed out the Pope’s errors.

When looking at conservative activists, it is quite a different matter, and we see here the usual flippant attitude toward poverty that we find so eloquently postulated by Herman Cain here:

If you’re unemployed “blame yourself,” is the declaration of one-time GOP presidential front-runner Herman Cain, who can’t comprehend how central banks or the federal government place financial independence out the reach of a great many Americans.

For people like Cain, one should simply save and invest, and one will quickly be on the road to riches. Where one should actually invest these savings must remain a mystery for anyone familiar with the task of saving when one has very little money. Shall one put money in a savings account or CD where one’s money will actually lose value because the interest rate isn’t even enough to keep up with inflation? Or perhaps one should just hold onto lots of cash then watch the value of that decline thanks to the central bank’s inflation? Meanwhile, the minimum wage essentially outlaws entry-level jobs for millions of Americans.

And then of course, how is one to save money when no matter how poor you are, you must pay exorbitant payroll taxes (aka de facto income taxes) that take an enormous bite out your paycheck. Naturally, many famous conservatives are so clueless about the realities of low-income life that they even absurdly claim that almost half of Americans don’t pay taxes which is absolutely not true, as I explain here.

So, if one manages to get a job in the present bust economy (a bust caused by the feds and big banks) one then faces taxes on every dime earned, plus sales taxes on most everything, of course, and then one is left with nowhere to invest money, since no investments open to low-income people pays interest rates above inflation. Anyone with a conscience would view such a system with alarm, but for some people, like Glenn Beck, it’s a cause for hilarity when he wrote

“Can you spare some change?  Have you ever been asked this by some random panhandler? A good response is ‘Sorry, I only carry hundreds.’ It gets em every time.”

Ho ho! Aren’t panhandlers hilarious? Yes, I recognize that many of them are con artists and grifters, but I also recognize that many of them are mentally ill, or the victims of domestic abuse ,and call me a commie if you wish, but I don’t  happen to find mental illness or domestic abuse to be all that ribald. And since I don’t know the personal stories of the panhandlers I encounter, I politely decline their requests for money rather than have fun at their expense.  (NB: I shouldn’t have to say it yet again, but for those of you who aren’t paying attention, I’m not claiming that the government can or should solve these problems.)

And then, as just an example of the views of the more rank and file conservatives, there are these two GOP politicians who declared that pregnant teens (who often end up destitute as a result of their regrettably poor judgement) are best described as “sluts.”

Indeed, this flippant attitude toward the unfortunate is so widespread that even some conservatives feel the occasional need to ask their fellow conservatives what exactly is wrong with them.

So, while I cannot read the minds of conservative commentators like Limbaugh and others, I cannot of course prove my thesis about some of the motivations behind their comments. But I think I can assert that my thesis is at least plausible.

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