According to the Left, the interests of the needy outweigh those of the greedy. That’s why they have no problem with the government confiscating money from the rich and giving it to the poor. The selfish desire to hoard cash, masquerading as property rights, is trumped by the need to alleviate the suffering of the disadvantaged. Any qualms we might have about seizing people’s assets and stripping away their freedoms are nothing compared to the wickedness of standing aside and letting the haves prosper at the expense of the have-nots.
It’s this reasoning that enables leftists to be as duplicitous and deceitful as they like, and to bury any doubts they might have about the legitimacy of their actions. Their support for the principle of helping others puts a halo over their heads that nothing can dislodge. Even if they fail to make any personal sacrifices in the name of their beliefs, that they hold them in the first place is enough to put them on the side of the angels. Their own selfishness and hypocrisy is irrelevant providing the underprivileged get what they need. By extension, those who oppose leftist beliefs are inherently evil, irrespective of their personal conduct, because they are reluctant to let the government take a little of what they have to help others.
If you are able to set aside the immorality of violating people’s personal sovereignty, then the Left’s outlook makes a strange kind of sense. But only if there is no other means of improving people’s lot. If the plight of the poor can be addressed in ways other than wealth redistribution, then the Left does not have a monopoly on virtue, and to prefer other methods of tackling poverty is not a mark of iniquity. In fact, if any approach is evil, it is one that is clung to in spite of evidence that better alternatives exist. Since socialism’s record of raising people’s quality of life is patently inferior to that of capitalism, it’s clear which system is most ‘evil’.
Those on the Left claim there is more to quality of life than having money. They believe that large disparities in wealth cause ‘psychosocial’ anguish that can only be assuaged by making the rich less rich, and the poor less poor. This is a fancy way of saying that envy bums people out, and rather than identifying it as an unworthy emotion, it should be legitimised and avenged. Even if you subscribe to this theory, it is surely also true that being poor is lousy, no matter how well or badly off anyone else is. The point quickly comes where lacking the means to better your material existence and enjoy a more fulfilling life is no longer compensated for by the knowledge that everyone else is in the same sinking boat.
Human contentment relies, in part, on people feeling they are able to improve their circumstances. They don’t want to be spoon-fed a fixed standard of living by a ruling elite; they want excitement, challenge and a sense of achievement. A society that divvies up the collective wealth to ensure everyone receives their ‘fair share’ is one in which the prospects of self-improvement are diminished. Moreover, such a society will be so economically fragile that the standard of living it is able to provide will quickly fall below that which people could obtain by fending for themselves.
The reason for this is that we humans respond to incentives, and serving up life’s essentials on a plate discourages people from doing their best. Inefficiency, corruption and waste are bound to follow, resulting in a less productive society. Even if you believe that sharing the wealth is the way forward, you must first create the wealth to be shared — so removing the forces that encourage its creation makes little sense. Unless, of course, you believe that equality is more important than all the other factors that contribute to our happiness, or unless your priority is to create work for the people involved in administering a collectivised society. If that’s how you think, then claiming you care about the welfare of others is a barefaced lie.
So do leftists deny the effects of incentives on our behaviour? Yes and no. They are the first to observe how the lure of personal gain corrupts the human soul, leading to acquisitiveness and indifference to the suffering of others, but deny that the same incentive can be a force for good. They believe that public spiritedness motivates people to do their best, but reckon the pursuit of self-interest leads to unhappy outcomes. In other words, they hold in contempt any incentive that can be acted upon by individuals without the involvement of a mediating authority, but are enthusiastic believers in the motivating power of collectivised missions, administered by a ruling elite.
The evasions and deceptions of the Left reveal a pattern that tells us something about the world it aspires to. It is one where the capable and the fortunate are expected to work to the best of their abilities, producing all the things we need, despite being demonised, humiliated, and denied the rewards they would otherwise reap; one where the wealth they create is lavished on subsidised goods and services for everyone else to enjoy, on picking up the slack of those who reject bourgeois notions of excellence, and on supporting those who lack the ability or inclination to get their hands dirty; one where the productive are whipped into financing a consequence-free utopia for the unproductive; one overseen by an Olympian council, comprised and sponsored by the kind of people whose sense of entitlement free societies have traditionally failed to endorse; one in which there is no hope of change or improvement other than that allowed by the powers-that-be.
If this is what compassion looks like, I’m happy being selfish.