A couple of hard-luck stories:
First story: Randy Johnson of Marion, Indiana was laid off from his job at a paper-products company in 1995 along with 200 other employees. The company had been purchased by Bain Capital six months previously. Mitt Romney was a principal of Bain Capital at the time. Mr. Johnson was laid off: That’s the hard-luck story, the whole thing. The guy was laid off. In 1995. He’s still whining. In fact he’s going professional with the whine: Obama’s people are trundling him around the country to tell his story in halls full of empathetically weeping citizens.
Second story (scroll down a bit on that link): Mr. and Mrs. Smith of Bristol, England have ten kids but only a four-bedroom house. Things are cramped. They are also hard-up: Mrs. Smith tells us that the children have only one Nintendo Wii console between them. If that’s got you reaching for your hanky, please note that neither of the Smiths has held a job since 2001, when the child count was three. They live entirely on government benefits, north of $150,000 worth per annum. The town gave them the house and also delivers breakfast to them.
The first story there is a story about capitalism, one feature of which is that employees get fired, sometimes through no fault of their own. It happens to the nicest people. It’s happened to me. I was once fired from a job as a dishwasher (for taking a day off without telling the boss). As well as being a firee, I’ve also been a firer. In charge of small programming teams, a couple of times I had to fire people. (There is quite a high level of incompetence among computer programmers.) Swings and roundabouts.
The second story is about the welfare state. The welfare state seemed like a good idea when it first came up a hundred or so years ago. There was a lot of real distress beyond private charity’s reach: the chronic sick or disabled, the unemployed, the old. Diverting some portion of state revenues for relief of that distress seemed like a good idea—like a civilizational advance, in fact. Now it’s a gravy train for the workshy, especially for those willing to put a wall of kids between themselves and responsibility.
The two stories’ common denominator is kindness. Randy Johnson’s beef with capitalism is that it’s unkind. The Smiths’ beef with the welfare state is that it’s not being kind enough to them.
Here’s a different story, one that should be an illustration of kindness in action: the story of refugee resettlement in the USA. I just got back from a lecture by Don Barnett, an expert on the topic. Don ran through points he’s made in his Center for Immigration Studies research papers.
Bottom line: Refugee resettlement is a huge money racket, with executives of the VOLAGs (Voluntary Agencies) drawing extravagant salaries that are mostly paid by the US taxpayer. Government money has well-nigh chased out private charity. The United Nations drives the process, the State Department waving refugees through to the VOLAGS, who after a few weeks dump them on the welfare systems. (Refugees are immediately eligible for all welfare benefits.) Claims of refugee status are checked perfunctorily or not at all, so that a high proportion—Barnett thinks 90 percent—are bogus.
(There was a nice illustration of that bogosity in Portland, Maine recently. City officials wanted taxi drivers with airport-access permits to show up in person when renewing permits. Portland’s large contingent of Somali cabbies protested. “The Somalis have argued that they sometimes have to go to their homeland to attend to family matters, and that those trips can be lengthy. They might not be in the country when their permit is up for renewal.” For people admitted on refugee visas because of a “well-founded fear of persecution,” it seems a bit odd to be shuttling back and forth to the persecuting country. Hat tip here to the invaluable Refugee Resettlement Watch website.)
US refugee policy has always been borderline insane. Living in Hong Kong forty years ago I met several smart, well-educated young people with decent apartments and good jobs who told me they were waiting for their US refugee visas. Their families had fled to the colony from mainland China during the great famines of 1958-62. When I met them they were well-settled and prosperous, but the US government still considered them refugees. When I mentioned this to Don, he agreed but added that things have gotten way worse since 1980.
Again, it’s a matter of kindness. That at least is how uninformed people—say, 99 percent of the population—think of refugee resettlement. It’s a money racket, a scam on the taxpaying public—Don Barnett calls it “ACORN Without Borders.”
That illusion of kindness is bolstered by the churchly names that many of the refugee VOLAGS have. Catholic Charities (the biggest one); Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service; Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society; Episcopal Migration Ministries…to object to these godly outfits would surely be blasphemy. Meanwhile, I’ll leave it to the ACLU to figure out how the boxcar-loads of money the government throws at the VOLAGs squares with church-state separation. Hello, ACLU? Hello? Hello?…
In his recent book, Steven Pinker tells us how violence, cruelty, and hardship have declined across the modern period, with the decline accelerating in recent decades. Pinker refrains from following the trend line into the future. But you can’t help thinking, and thinking that Pinker thinks, that the world—at least the Western world—will go on getting kinder and kinder until all occasions for distress or discomfort have been vanquished from human life.
Perhaps so; but my three stories illustrate that there may be an undertow working in the opposite direction.
If revulsion at capitalism’s unkindness brings us down to state socialism, and welfare-state kindness encourages parasites such as the Smiths to breed incontinently, and the bogus kindness of the refugee-resettlement scams fills up our towns with high-fertility people utterly alien to us in religion and culture, then Western civilization is killing itself with kindness.