The One Blameworthy Lifestyle
By Bryan Caplan
People are often taken aback when I argue that the First World’s poor are usually undeserving. In modern political discussion, we’re supposed to “propose solutions,” not point fingers. Even when we’re talking about politically connected banks, we usually discuss alternate policies rather than denouncing particular banks or bankers.
Yet there’s one notable exception to this rule: our political opponents. When liberals discuss conservatives, or conservatives discuss liberals, the language of blame prevails. Invective is abundant. “Solutions” are in short supply. It’s almost as if people think that opposing their political view is the only blameworthy lifestyle.
Paul Krugman is far from the only offender, but he’s a great example. When Krugman discusses banking regulation, fiscal policy, poverty, or the Iraq War, he’s got a blueprint for reform. He may be mildly peeved at some of the factions named in his blueprints. But the only people that outrage him are his blueprints’ conscious political opponents.
I understand why I blame my political opponents. I blame people very freely. I blame people for being impulsive, lazy, conformist, stubborn, hot-tempered, hostile, and naive. I blame people for being too dogmatic. I blame them for being so open-minded their brains fall out of their heads. I blame people for being bad spouses. I blame people for selecting bad spouses. It’s hardly surprising, then, that I blame my political opponents for being irrational, for being statists, for being war-mongers, for failing to recognize the rights of strangers.
I can understand why someone would reject my whole perspective. Most obviously, if determinism were true, then moral blame would never be justified.* What I can’t understand, though, is why people single out their political opponents as uniquely blameworthy. If it’s OK to blame Republicans for being bigoted apologists for plutocracy, why is it wrong to blame people for credulously accepting the religion their parents teach them to believe? If it’s OK to blame Democrats for being envious crypto-socialists, why is it wrong to blame alcoholics for drinking irresponsibly?
Inquiring minds want to know. I promise to hold all answers blameless.
* Indeed, if determinism were true, it would be unjustified to morally blame me for morally blaming others! Of course, a utilitarian determinist could affirm a duty to feign moral blame for its deterrent effect; what determinism rules out is epistemically justified moral blame.