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Sometimes Internet Comments Pull Through

This comment was posted on an article about an Afghanistan veteran who is on food stamps, in reply to a typical libertarian comment of "I don't owe you anything, reaching into my pocket is greedy, food stamps are useless because what we need are jobs":

I agree that Food Stamps is a treatment and not a solution to the problem of poverty, but “we need more jobs” isn’t a solution either–it’s little more than a nice idea. If nice ideas were themselves job opportunities then we’d be onto something, but as it stands there are millions of people who did not have the good fortune to have whatever education, upbringing, access to resources, solid mental health, communication skills, and social connections that helped you to start your own business.

Please note that I am making no excuses, and neither am I placing blame. Maybe Jason’s story is that he dropped out of school, made poor financial decisions, got into serious debt, and has been unable to get back afloat because he has no education, no access to capital, and is more worried about getting his next meal than how his 401k is doing. Do his decisions mean that he deserves to starve to death? In no way am I suggesting that is your personal, private responsibility to provide for people who have made poor decisions, but I will posit that there have been times in your life where somebody threw you a bone.

So let’s think outside the box, shall we? Regardless of what the politicians are doing, you started a business, yes? Need a janitor, or somebody to wash the windows? Find Jason, or someone like him. Or, better yet, talk to someone living in that situation, see if they have any skills or are trainable, connect them with somebody who needs a worker for manual labor. You can be the source of the jobs rather than wishing more jobs would fall from the sky and magically land in the laps of the homeless–who are certainly known for their ability to respond promptly to online job ads with a resume and list of references.

No, hayeksplosives, it is not your personal responsibility to support people because they may have made poor choices. But I believe it is, collectively, our social responsibility not to dehumanize someone because they may have made poor choices, and treating the problem of poverty as if it’s someone else’s problem is dehumanizing to our society as a whole. Maybe it’s never felt like you needed a leg up, but you know that other people helped you get to where you are–people who were not responsible for your life, your decisions, your position, and people who didn’t owe you anything.

It’s not about “owing” someone. It’s about doing something good because you can. Indifference to the suffering of others is not a capitalist ideal; it’s an isolationist ideal, which has no place in an increasingly globalizing society. Do more, not because you’re indebted to anyone (even though you are indebted to people you can never repay directly), but more because you *can*, because it will improve someone else’s life at practically no cost to you at all. Having that option and ignoring it is the same as pretending that everything you’ve ever had came only from yourself, as if no one else was involved.


I'm especially tickled with him taking the "personal responsibility" argument to its logical conclusion - clearly, the veteran in the story deserves to starve because he didn't invest his money in the most effective way when he got out into civilian life. Thanks, anonymous internet commenter only known as Brian, for restoring my faith in humanity.

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