It is simply a fact that our social problems are increasingly connected to the depravity of the poor. If an American works hard, completes their education, gets married, and stays married, then they will rarely — very rarely — be poor. At the same time, poverty is the handmaiden of illegitimacy, divorce, ignorance, and addiction. As we have poured money into welfare, we’ve done nothing to address the behaviors that lead to poverty while doing all we can to make that poverty more comfortable and sustainable.David French, I suspect, has the causation backwards. Being poor makes it difficult to make good life choices.
Last December, Princeton economist Dean Spears published a series of experiments that each revealed how “poverty appears to have made economic decision-making more consuming of cognitive control for poorer people than for richer people.” In one experiment, poor participants in India performed far less well on a self-control task after simply having to first decide whether to purchase body soap. As Spears found, “Choosing first was depleting only for the poorer participants.” Again, if you have enough money, deciding whether to buy the soap only requires considering whether you want it, not what you might have to give up to get it. Many of the tradeoff decisions that the poor have to make every day are onerous and depressing: whether to pay rent or buy food; to buy medicine or winter clothes; to pay for school materials or loan money to a relative. These choices are weighty, and just thinking about them seems to exact a mental cost.There are certainly some folks who are poor due to their own poor choices. But there are many people who are born into situations in which making good choices is, in fact, extremely difficult.
Conservatives believe folks should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. In some cases, they mock and taunt those who never had access to bootstraps in the first place. Rarely do the offer actual solutions; they choose to complain about the solutions others offer, instead. Liberals—often imperfectly—try to make sure that people actually have bootstraps to do the pulling.