Hard Truths and the Politics of Helping the Poor

Conservatives and liberals are each only half right when it comes to helping the poor. 

That’s because their ideologies largely revolve around two different and hard facts of life. And while these truths aren’t necessarily competing — and neither is wrong — both sides seem only capable of accepting one. 

1. Government intervention often hurts the people it’s intended to help. 

Conservatives got this. They know we live in a hard, cold world. They love freedom and understand if you force companies to pay higher wages, businesses will naturally jack up prices, increase automation or reduce their level of services.

Business owners aren’t inherently evil. Well, some are surely, but they do want to stay in business. And they are certainly not more evil than consumers. In fact, they are consumers. 

Capitalism works because free people are naturally self-interested. If the price of a burger at a fast-food restaurant is too high, consumers will find a cheaper burger. Or eat less of them. Or grow their own burgers. (Yes, veggie burgers are an option, but the point here is too few know where hamburgers come from; That’s how well the free-market works). 

A new University of Washington study focused on the $15 minimum wage in Seattle unmasks this inconvenient truth. It confirms what conservatives think-tanks, salesmen and common-sense business owners have known for ages: government regulations can and do stymie the prosperity the free-market provides. 

Even if you dispute the study the Washington Post finds credible, surely you don’t have to look too far to find real examples of government overreach and its negative impact on lives.

2. The more we help the poor, the better off we all are. 

Liberals got this. “A rising tide floats all boats” is a cliche for a reason. Higher wages mean workers have more disposable income. More disposable income means more spending, which means more jobs and more prosperity for all. This is why disposable income is a key measure of an economy’s health. 

While many on the right decry the folly of higher minimum wages, those on the left argue for assisting those in need. Beyond moral arguments, did you know food stamps provide a great return on investment? According to those who track such impacts with the USDA, every $5 our government spends on new SNAP benefits generates $9 of economic activity. 

This is no shock to liberal researchers, educators and salt-of-the-earth union supporters. They know we need good schools, a robust transportation network and a strong social safety net to allow everyone a chance to achieve the American dream. Nothing wrong with a fair playing field. 

Many on the left and right have the best interests of all at heart. It’s up to us, as good citizens, to listen to both sides and give credit where credit is due. 

Now, who wants a burger? 

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