Beware the Doctrine of the “Deserving” Rich

A Hindu once told me that in his religion it was a sin to give handouts to beggars. He explained that the beggars had been sent back to earth to pay for the sins of their previous life and by helping them we would interfere in God’s plan.

I didn’t research the matter so I don’t know if that’s really a Hindu precept. But it is certainly emerging as a Republican talking point in this year’s election campaign.

To counteract the widespread discontent over the yawning income gap in America, Republican strategists are advancing the theory of the “deserving” rich and the “undeserving” poor.

This theory is highlighted in a new book by Charles Murray which identifies a new “white lower class.” Murray attributes their poverty to character flaws. He describes them as shiftless and promiscuous, and says they raise their children so badly that they, too, grow up to be lazy and undisciplined.

This is the argument that people like Murray have traditionally used against African Americans. Now, with poverty spreading through white America, they’re revising it to include all of the poor.

The bottom line, they say, is that rich people succeed through working hard and getting married before they have children. And their children become rich, too, because they’re raised right.

It’s a seductive concept, especially to Calvinist protestants who believe that’s the way it should be.

And we keep hearing it from those Republican presidential candidates – even Newt Gingrich, who is a perfect example of the kind of person who would NOT be rich if the theory were valid.

It’s a dangerous theory because it is so completely wrong and so easy to accept.

We all have a residual sense of guilt and it’s not hard to convince us we are poor because God is punishing us for our sins.

It’s the opposite of Christ’s teachings, of course. But it works. And it backs up the Republican agenda.

 Discussing Murray’s book in her column today, Joan Walsh explains how:

The only real way to address the growing gap between the wealthy and the rest of us is, Murray argues, is to implore the white uber-class to take more of an interest in the growing underclass. But taking more of an interest, in Murray’s view, basically involves latte-town liberals realizing the only thing that will save the lower class is more self-discipline, and therefore abandoning their traditional support for government programs that try to help them, but only make things worse. Murray takes pains to show that the four most Super of the SuperZips – New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area – are also the home of our liberal media and government elite, seeking to prove that the country is being governed by the people who are most isolated from the rest of America.

So the Republicans” proposed budget cuts that would leave the poor in abject misery – without unemployment insurance, without Social Security, without Medicare or Medicaid, without health insurance, without even food stamps – are really for their own good, see? The government would be doing them a favor to deny them help. It would teach them self discipline and make them work harder.

As Gingrich advises, they would “take a bath” and “get a job.” Naturally, they would get married and raise their kids right.

And get rich, of course.

Yeah. And if you believe that, you deserve a Republican government.

Click here to read Joan Walsh’s column.