When I was a child, I had a book of jokes that contained the story—if memory, after nearly a half-century, serves*—of Little Mable Moneybags. This story reminds me of the attitudes of many vocal activists—both libertarian and social welfarist—who live in North America and Western Europe.
Little Mable Moneybags was a very lucky little girl, who had been born into a very lucky family. One day in school, her teacher asked her to write a story about a poor family. This is what she wrote:
Once upon a time, there was a frightfully poor family. They were all frightfully, frightfully poor.
The mommy was poor, and the daddy was poor. The little girl was poor, and her teddy bears were all poor. The kitty was poor, and the puppy was poor.
The chauffeur was poor, and the chef was poor. The butler was poor, and the upstairs and the downstairs maids were poor.
The groundskeeper was poor, and security guards were poor.
They were all frightfully, frightfully poor.
Whenever I get mail with the smiling face of a celebrity or millionaire on the letterhead, extolling the virtues of and asking me to send money to a lobbying group or ‘non-partisan public policy research institute’ that is dedicated to reducing regulation and taxes or increasing regulation and taxes, I think of Little Mable Moneybags, and wonder why so many libertarians and social welfarists seem to be oblivious to the poor in any meaningful way. They all want me to donate my money and time to lobby for tax-cuts that benefit only those who actually pay taxes or tax-increases that ultimately go to government employees.
While I recognize that everyone who pays taxes benefits directly from tax cuts, everyone—individual and multinational firm, alike— who receives government subsidies benefits from tax increases, and everyone benefits indirectly an optimal level of regulation, those who benefit the most almost never are among those least able to protect their own interests.
If I am going to expend an effort to promote liberty, minimal government, and individual responsibility, I am going to be much more interested in helping the poor extricate themselves from the social welfare bureaucracy than in promoting the pet causes of individuals who earn more than I do.
If I am going to expend an effort to help the poor, I am going to be much more interested in helping the poor extricate themselves from the social welfare bureaucracy than in expanding it and perpetuating the cycle of dependency.
And, in particular, if am going to expend an effort to promote liberty, minimal government, individual responsibility among the poor, I am going to focus my attention on the 5.5 billion who live outside the OECD who are really poor.
In the meantime, the mailers go straight into the recycling bin.
* If you are a copyright holder who feels that this, in any way, violates your rights, contact me immediately to provide proof of ownership, and to let me know your intentions.