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Government Guilt Assuagement

From the time we were newlywed college students living below the poverty level (is that the bottom one percent?) to today, when we’re a tad more financially stable, Sam and I have been staunch conservatives. When we stood to get lots of handouts from government entitlements, we still voted against them. For us conservativism and small government are about principle.

In his book Who Really Cares, Arthur Brooks cites data that shows that conservatives give 30 percent more than liberals to charitable causes. A Google study, increased that discrepancy to 50 percent. The culture of “bleeding heart tightwads” is well documented. These findings mirror my personal (and admittedly anecdotal) experience.

Because of this, it has been baffling to me that liberals continue to claim — and to be believed when they claim — that progressives “care about the poor,” while conservatives are greedy and heartless.

Sam and I have spent scores of date nights and anniversary trips discussing politics, morals, and ethics — including that particular topic. Over the years, we’ve come to some conclusions. This year, celebrating our 27 years together, we took a retreat to a Provo hotel to write out some of our thoughts.

We hope that some of you will click over to read and comment on our first co-written blog post:

GAGA: The Insidiousness of Assuaging Guilt with Government

{ 28 comments… add one }

  • jennycherie August 19, 2012, 8:05 am

    where is it? the link just took me to the NY Times piece ;)

  • Tracy Keeney August 19, 2012, 8:34 am

    :) I came to write the same thing. The “GAGA” link takes us to the “Bleeding Heart Tightwads” article, not the one you co-wrote with your hubby.

  • Cogs August 19, 2012, 11:00 am

    Maybe instead of simply trying to reverse the binary and claim, in essence, “aha, it’s actually LIBERALS who are greedy and heartless!” it would be more productive to interrogate the binary itself and ask why liberals and conservatives alike ascribe bad motives to people on the other side who are in their own self estimation well-intentioned. Then you can talk about the validity and effectiveness of specific policies within liberal or conservative philosophies. The T&S article, before it disappeared, did none of that -it read like a polemic born of hurt feelings, calculated to lash out rather than promote discussion.

    • Alison Moore Smith August 19, 2012, 12:54 pm

      Actually, Cogs, that’s what we did. But if you’d like to quote particularly problematic parts to discuss, that’s fine. We’d like feedback to refine our thinking.

  • Alison Moore Smith August 19, 2012, 12:16 pm

    Genius. I have been taught and retaught not to post in the middle of the night. A lesson I will never learn. The link is fixed. Sorry!
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Snow Days in Plastic SandalsMy Profile

  • Andrew H. August 19, 2012, 3:17 pm

    Thinking about my own motivations in supporting moderate social welfare policies like the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), I don’t think guilt plays into it. I just think it is goo public policy to have a basic need like health care be affordable, so people can focus on being more productive. I think it will bring greater stability to society. I do want to discourage long-term depenency, so I was happy with the 1996 welfare reforms. I do not think I am heartless, but for me guilt over individual suffering plays a much smaller place in my thinking than what is going to help create a more stable, prosperous society.
    Andrew H. recently posted…This Week in Mormon Literature, August 18, 2012My Profile

  • middleroader12 August 19, 2012, 3:29 pm

    Maybe it’s just me, but the link doesn’t take me to what you described. It says “sorry, we’re not sure what you’re looking for here” at the top.

  • Alison Moore Smith August 19, 2012, 3:35 pm

    Andrew, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    I tend to be of the opinion that the government (or at least those who run it) have far too many conflicts of interest to be efficient at much of anything.

    When you sad “basic need like health care,” what do you mean? In my experience, the “basic need” expands and expands to include everything that will give someone a bureaucracy to rule over.

    I agree about discouraging long-term dependency. How do we do that? Ideas?
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Just Say Yes to Mortgage BrokersMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith August 19, 2012, 3:39 pm

    middleroader12, working on it. Hopefully it will be back up soon. :)
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…OvergrownMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith August 19, 2012, 5:00 pm

    It’s back up. Please come on over!
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Snow Days in Plastic SandalsMy Profile

  • Cogs August 19, 2012, 7:53 pm

    Well if your post wasn’t merely an attempt to antagonize liberals then you’ve simply failed – now that it’s back up it’s devolved into a fairly partisan, strident bicker-fest. That’s pretty far removed from the measured, even dry mood that seems to prevail at T&S. I’m not really interested in joining that particular fray but I’d say if you were aiming for rational discourse the tenor of the comments is evidence enough you missed.

  • Alison Moore Smith August 19, 2012, 8:09 pm

    Cogs, as I said, if you have an actual comment to address or a point to make, please feel free to do so. And if you’re truly “not really interested in joining that particular fray,” feel free to ignore the conversation.

    As it is, you’re just rather vapidly, generally complaining about nothing in particular.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…The Happiness Advantage – 5 Easy Steps to a Happier LifeMy Profile

  • Michael Towns August 19, 2012, 8:34 pm

    Outstanding article, Sister Smith. I am quite impressed with your essay. I have an ardent wish: that liberals could get off their high horse long enough to examine their precious conceits objectively. But alas, they choose to wallow in triteness and superficialities instead of confronting the salient facts of the failure of the War on Poverty and the Great Society.

    I mean seriously, what happens when the “safety nets” themselves need safety nets just to stay solvent? This is the crux that liberals cannot answer. They simply blithely assume that there will always be rich people to tax or that the Fed will forever print money.

  • John C. August 19, 2012, 11:22 pm

    Alison,
    I’d respond over there, but the comments are closed.

    First of all, as I’ve pointed out to you before, reading that “conservatives vs. liberals” data the way you do is probably misleading. See, for instance, this post (which I don’t understand, because statistics, but which seems to make a similar point to mine, which is that taking a “conservatives = caring; liberals = non-caring” message from it is a misreading):
    http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/charitable_giving_liberals_vs_conservatives/

    Now, with that out of the way, I think that I agree with Cynthia, from the other blog, that picking one commenter’s beliefs and using them to stand in for all liberal’s is a bit of a strawman. I certainly don’t agree with him that government programs exist to assuage his guilt (nor does Cynthia, so that’s two, at least). Or rather, I don’t think they exist to assuage guilt any more than, say, Ayn Rand’s philosophies exist to assuage guilt. Both can have that effect, I suppose, but I wouldn’t call it the primary purpose of either.

    “we believe that the onus should be on those proposing more of the same, to show that more, or even the status quo, is really an appropriate and efficient use of resources.”
    Now setting aside that what is meant by “the same” isn’t clear (especially in the era following Clinton’s welfare reform), I don’t think this is true. I think that it is rather incumbent on any person suggesting a replacement of the current system that they demonstrate that their replacement will be better. This may be the heart of the struggle. Conservatives may believe that anything will be better than the current government solutions (however defined) while liberals may believe that the current stop-gap sloppy method is better than nothing and therefore they cling to it in the fear that conservatives intend to tear down and not rebuild.

    Now, you’ve said several times over the course of the debate that you are not against a safety net per se, but rather against the ones we have now. I think that, before a conservative opinion can be taken seriously, a discussion regarding what a conservative safety net would look like is important. We know what the liberal one looks like (sort of), but we don’t know if the conservative one would be any better.

    Of course, I don’t expect you to do this work (you are, after all, pretty busy and no policy expert). Perhaps the Ryan plan is what you are after (although I believe that it only really addresses Medicaid and Medicare, it’s been a while since I’ve looked at it(which isn’t insignificant, of course)). So then a discussion of that plan versus this plan would be a useful exercise (although I’m not sure if it will be on the blogs).

    “GAGA is a narcotic for the liberal masses. They can feel good about having helped the needy at little personal cost — even though government programs have not demonstrated a long term reduction in the suffering of the needy.

    The proper role of government is not to make people feel better for doing little or nothing.”

    These lines, in particular, seem accusatory and over the top. So, if you interested in tone arguments, this is where I think your need for snark overwhelmed your need for clarity. After all, how would a liberal disprove any of these statements?
    John C. recently posted…Musings on Mormon Ideas, I.My Profile

  • John C. August 19, 2012, 11:24 pm

    Also, if you don’t want to post my earlier comment here, I totally understand. Please post it for me over there, as I’ve no idea when comments will be opened again and I don’t particularly care to participate in that thread, fraught as it is with ill-feeling.
    John C. recently posted…Musings on Mormon Ideas, I.My Profile

  • Cogs August 20, 2012, 12:08 pm

    I couldn’t have made my point any better than Michael just did: If you set out bait for trolls and flames, you’re going to attract trolls and flames. But it’s your blog and your post so whatever level of discourse you’re comfortable with is your prerogative. I’m just a ‘nacle fan following the most interesting post of the day, trying to make sense of why so few of the liberal comments at T&S seemed inclined to take your arguments as seriously as you think they should be taken. Maybe the fault is all theirs. Always nice get feedback from writers, so thanks for responding. Good luck with future posts.

  • Brad Dennis August 20, 2012, 2:29 pm

    Alison, you’re just using this data as a gotcha moment against liberals and your misinterpreting the data to make the highly improbable claim that liberals prefer welfare simply because it assuages their guilt.

    There are many reasons that those who identify conservative give more generously to charity than those who identify liberal. First, conservatives are generally church-going folks and their donations to their churches are often counted in many studies as donations to charity. Second, conservatives are generally older and more wealthy than liberals. The young and the poor tend to identify liberal. Furthermore you supply us no evidence to back up your assertion that some guilt-complex is driving the non-existent creeping tendencies toward a welfare state.

    Lastly the US is far from being a welfare state. Its social expenditure as a percentage of GDP is only about 20 percent of GDP, below the average for OECD countries: http://www.oecd.org/els/familiesandchildren/socialexpendituredatabasesocx.htm.

    This is overall very poor analysis. I’m surprised that you managed to publish this in T&S.

  • Howard August 20, 2012, 3:29 pm

    I’m politically moderate. I *do not* support a growing welfare state. I do support safety nets and I find little excuse short of war for allowing people anywhere to die of malnutrition, thirst or easily curable disease. I’m involved in a lot of non-Mormon philanthropic activities, they take up most of my time. Liberals do tend to be more hands on in the soup kitchens, drilling wells and building structures. Conservatives tend to love the fund raiser socials where the alcohol and donations both flow freely. But I have also seen meals on wheels delivered by Bentley and common people donate significant portions of their incomes to the poor. The world needs both so it’s counter productive to sling mud at each other just because we give differently.

    There are two things that bother me about the Conservative wanking. 1) Their complaints about government programs amount to generalized whining, they are not at all specific. Have you actually looked into it? What exactly do you want to cut that clearly isn’t needed or is clearly abusive? 2) It would be good for Mormon Conservatives who complain about socialism like it is the plague to remember we were once commanded to live the Law of Consecration. Sure socialism is dead, long live capitalism! But the only reason capitalism is the greatest economic system in the world is because it efficiently rewards greed and people are greedy. This isn’t God’s way, God’s way is to share!

  • Brad Dennis August 21, 2012, 11:46 am

    That’s right delete my comment because it criticized your analysis and tore your argument to pieces. Notice how I didn’t actually criticize you.

    Your behavior is all too typical of militant conservatives such as yourself. You mimic Ann Coulter and Fox News propagandistic talking points about liberals, which you know you hate you just can’t articulate why in any convincing manner that is based on actual evidence, and write some hit piece on them. Then when confronted with an actual rebuttal you run.

    T&S sunk to a new low publishing this shameful piece. What’s worse is that you ran like a coward on T&S as well closing comments only at comment number 73.

  • Alison Moore Smith August 22, 2012, 5:12 pm

    John C, thanks for commenting.

    …picking one commenter’s beliefs and using them to stand in for all liberal’s is a bit of a strawman.

    John, it’s not a straw man, it’s called “an example.”

    If you’re a liberal who doesn’t agree, feel free to shout out, “Come on guys, conservatives care about the poor as much as we do!” But, dear, I’m not hearing it. And claims to the contrary happen every single day. If you don’t hear them — overwhelmingly — you aren’t listening.

    I’ve just decided that I’m going to start collecting the references I hear, just so I can make a pretty little list.

    I certainly don’t agree with him that government programs exist to assuage his guilt (nor does Cynthia, so that’s two, at least).

    First, who is the “him” you are referring to?

    Second, you don’t have to agree. The position of the paper was NOT that liberals THINK they are supporting programs to assuage their guilt, it was that they DO it for that reason.

    The actual, full quote I left in wasn’t set forth by the liberal speaker because he was taking a position on that. It came out in his government supportive reasoning. Sam and I were already writing the post and I nearly fell off my chair with his perfect example.

    He could keep doing what he was doing and still feel all warm and fuzzy because he was “helping millions.”

    Or rather, I don’t think they exist to assuage guilt any more than, say, Ayn Rand’s philosophies exist to assuage guilt. Both can have that effect, I suppose, but I wouldn’t call it the primary purpose of either.

    Actually, I disagree. I think for a large group of liberals, it is the primary purpose.

    BTW, what do YOU think the purpose is?

    I think that it is rather incumbent on any person suggesting a replacement of the current system that they demonstrate that their replacement will be better.

    “The same” is taking vast amounts of money from those who actually earn it, to redistribute it across a large spectrum of projects.

    In that light, not at all. It is incumbent on those USING the resources of others to prove that they are good stewards, that they are getting appropriate results, etc. BEFORE they get more this year, they need to prove they used LAST year’s allotment appropriately.

    …they cling to it in the fear that conservatives intend to tear down and not rebuild.

    I tend to agree. Because real conservatives do believe in limited government, not a nanny state.

    I think that, before a conservative opinion can be taken seriously, a discussion regarding what a conservative safety net would look like is important.

    That’s true, if you’re talking about forming policy. But the article isn’t about that. It’s about understanding the underlying MOTIVE for much of the liberal policy.

    “GAGA is a narcotic for the liberal masses. They can feel good about having helped the needy at little personal cost — even though government programs have not demonstrated a long term reduction in the suffering of the needy.

    The proper role of government is not to make people feel better for doing little or nothing.”

    These lines, in particular, seem accusatory and over the top.

    They are only accusatory if you think that using government to assuage guilt is wrong. Do you?

    After all, how would a liberal disprove any of these statements?

    Easy. By putting their OWN money where their mouths are.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…OvergrownMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith August 22, 2012, 5:42 pm

    Thanks Michael, et al, who responded.

    Brad Dennis:

    First, conservatives are generally church-going folks and their donations to their churches are often counted in many studies as donations to charity.

    Of course they are. As are liberals much higher donations to universities, museums, arts foundations, etc.

    Second, conservatives are generally older and more wealthy than liberals.

    Actually not. According to Pew (as of 2011), this is the breakdown:

    30-49: 44% republican and 47% democrat
    50-64: 43% republican and 48& democrat
    65+: 47% republican and 45% democrat

    The ONLY age group in which republicans lead is in the 65+, and then only by a slim margin.

    But more wealthy? Yea. Maybe working hard and saving money and living frugally actually have merit. ;)

    Furthermore you supply us no evidence to back up your assertion that some guilt-complex is driving the non-existent creeping tendencies toward a welfare state.

    Democrats generally claim compassion and yet generally don’t show as much.

    Understand, we’re actually taking them at their word, that they really care, even though they don’t ACT as if they do.

    Of course, our supposition may be wrong, so feel free to forward your own reasoning. It makes the most sense to us to assume they aren’t lying and so their incongruent behavior has another explanation.

    Understand, too, that this goes much further than charitable causes and giving. If you REALLY believe in redistributive wealth, in economic justice, in leveling the playing field, that means FAR MORE than just throwing a couple of extra percentage points to PETA.

    P.S. to John C:
    There is a quote from Brook’s book that is TYPICAL. It says:

    When I started doing research on charity, I expected to find that political liberals — who, I believed, genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did — would turn out to be the most privately charitable people. So when my early findings led me to the opposite conclusion, I assumed I had made some sort of technical error. I re-ran analyses. I got new data. Nothing worked. In the end, I had no option but to change my views.

    Like I said, this stuff is common.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…The Happiness Advantage – 5 Easy Steps to a Happier LifeMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith August 22, 2012, 5:47 pm

    Howard, I’m always happy to wank for you.

    1) Their complaints about government programs amount to generalized whining, they are not at all specific. Have you actually looked into it?

    Actually, yes, but this isn’t about socialism or policy. It’s about motive.

    …remember we were once commanded to live the Law of Consecration.

    If you confuse socialism with the United Order, there are plenty of authoritative writings to clear things up. Suffice it to say they aren’t the same. Interestingly, however, one of the major differences is MOTIVE! :)

    This isn’t God’s way, God’s way is to share!

    In the next week or two, Sam and I are actually going to write about “God’s way.” I don’t think it has much to do with calling rich people greedy.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Just Say Yes to Mortgage BrokersMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith August 22, 2012, 6:04 pm

    Notice how I didn’t actually criticize you.

    Bwahaha! Brad, you made my day. Yes, liberals are completely rational and, especially, exceptionally CARING!

    Note #1: There is a thing in the blogging world called “moderation.” There is a setting in WordPress (and other platforms) that allow you to hold comments with various criteria to keep comment spam down.

    For example, this blog is set to hold comments from NEW commenters (meaning a new name/email combo) until they have had ONE comment approved.( “Comment author must have a previously approved comment.”)

    In fact, when you post and are NOT approved, you get a handy little message that says, “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

    That message will let you know that your comment is awaiting moderation. (Neato!)

    Due to the fact that I have a family and a life outside of blogs, I have chosen to spend the last two days with my children, getting ready for the new year of school and college.

    I realize that I should have been waiting with bated breath for Master Dennis to post at my humble blog. I sincerely apologize for my lack of proper prioritization!

    Note #2: There is another thing in the blogging world called “watching the comments.” That complex idea suggests that someone watches the comments.

    Unlike MM (which never closes comments), T&S is set for comments to close after a certain period of time. They also have a loose policy that suggests that authors close comments at about 100. In the case of this particular post, I was asked by the other authors to close the comments when I could no longer monitor them personally.

    Again, I realize I should have remained up until the wee hours of the morning — and probably much longer — in order to not offend your delicate commenting sensibilities. But, once again, I selfishly placed my family ahead of the blog.

    I will now go repent.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…The Happiness Advantage – 5 Easy Steps to a Happier LifeMy Profile

  • Oregonian August 22, 2012, 11:51 pm

    wow. that brad is a real piece of jerk.

  • Patrice August 23, 2012, 7:36 am

    Brad, I won’t hold my breath waiting for the apology. I’m sure you’ll go work in a soup kitchen to assuage your guilt. Or maybe you”re just one of those who supports King Barack because you get more food stamps. : P

  • Michael J. Snider August 28, 2012, 1:58 pm

    Loved your (Alison) and your husbands’ Times and Seasons piece. This talk of “caring” and how it is attributed between parties. Your GAGA acronym for the assuaging of guilt hits the nail on the head.
    This dynamic is at the very crux of Christ’s political statement: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Caring is not a government function; it belongs to each of us. The delegation of caring through our votes and then the subsequent expropriation of the people’s funds is completely outside of Gospel philosophy. We cannot outsource our caring for our fellow man and consider ourselves Christians.

  • Christine Randolph September 1, 2012, 9:51 am

    Probably most Democrats consider themselves to be living below or close to the poverty line, strangely as someone accumulates wealth he or she turns Republican fairly soon…I think government programs to help those in need are necessary. Still a whole bunch of people fall through the cracks, Sometimes they do not have the wherewithall to locate a suitable government program and getting a hold of and filling in the forms are completely beyond their purview. I just had such a case in my own ward where I spent most of last Monday picking up my ward friend from home, driving her to various government offices and helping this woman apply for various services. Now being in Canada which is more of a nanny state there are more forms to fill in, still…My husband used to be married to a social worker who mostly spent her time filling in application forms for welfare services in Louisiana…So even with government programs our fellow human beings’ poverty and helplessness keep staring us in the face. I just read some of Nibley’s Approaching Zion last night (just got the book) and something struck a chord with me:
    “Poor people are here on earth to test our commitment” In other words, God’s plan allegedly includes poverty deliberately, in order to challenge us who are better of to make sure the better offs get a lot of opportunity to help those less fortunate than us. When we are poor we do not see it that way sometimes, but if I ever get poor again, I will.

  • Christine Randolph September 1, 2012, 9:54 am

    Alison if it takes you a long time to get people’s comment out of mod you could email them once you got round to it. so they do not have to look at their entry time and time again until it is finally out.

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