Saturday, September 24, 2005

Republicans for Lap-dancing

Gerard Baker writes an article in the Times today that is quite amusing:

MANY PEOPLE think conservatives, especially the American kind, are a mean-spirited, selfish bunch of misanthropists, irredeemably opposed to public spending on anything other than tanks and prisons.

There were virtually no restrictions on the use of the cards and so the definition of “necessities” acquired some latitude. Louis Vuitton did a roaring trade in handbags in the Houston area and a good deal was dropped, as it were, at some of the city’s finest adult entertainment establishments.

I'll come back to the points about Republican spending at a later date (they did harm New Orleans, but not necessarily in an immediately obvious manner). What I do find interesting here, however, is that people in desperate need of food and water were spending their handouts on beer and strippers.
It comes back to a point George Orwell made in "The Road to Wigan Pier". He said that opponents of welfare extension were quite right - that it was possible to live a healthy existence on the money people were earning/being given. The problem was not that they did not have sufficient money, but that they only had sufficient money. To live a normal life, every single penny of expenditure would have to be carefully allocated each week. What sort of a life did that regimentation afford?

It may have made them healthier, but it would have made them feel like prisoners. When you are in want, the temptation to splash out on occasional treats and go without some other time is huge - especially because life, generally is so terrible. So it is with the FEMA handouts, too. When you lose your house, your possessions, possibly even your family - everything that you hold dear - taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. So rather than stocking up on necessities, you'll choose a bit of escapism.

No doubt some on the right would argue that this demonstrates the problem of welfare handouts - often they don't go to the causes for which they were intended. So what? Surely the responsibility of the state is to give people the chance to help themselves? If they choose not to use it, well, fair enough. But it's morally wrong not to help in cases where help is needed. Just because some people, even most, may not use the help in the way others may see it, there's a value in it anyway. I don't think many people seriously begrudge Katrina victims their babes and beer. I may be unexposed to the supposed delights of either, but cannot deny their healing value to many. If people want to piss help up the wall, fine. That's their choice. Let's just make sure we give them the freedom to do it.