The Ethical Spectacle, May 1995,

Welfare=Disaster Relief

A colleague of mine is a conservative who is refreshed by the actions of the Contract Republicans. Since he believes, like many other Americans, that the government ought not to be in the welfare business, I asked him the other day how he felt about disaster relief.

"Its fine with me,"he said.

"But what's the difference? Disaster relief is also a kind of welfare, isn't it?"

"Let me explain. Here's Joe Average," he said, holding his hand straight up to indicate an upstanding, responsible citizen. "Something comes along and knocks him over" (appropriate hand gesture), "I don't mind helping. But if someone is like this" (hand at 45 degree angle) "and the only reason that he's not like this" (hand horizontal) "is because I'm there propping him up, well, I'm out of there."

He elucidated that generations of people have grown up bent because of welfare, and he doesn't want to grow any more.

In fact, there is no moral difference whatever between welfare and disaster relief. Both types of aid can be characterized, with equal accuracy, as help to people who are "innocent" or to people who are "guilty" of their own plight:

The reason you can characterize either type of aid as supporting the "innocent" or the "guilty" is because both types of people are included in both populations. Therefore, any popular trend to end welfare, while leaving disaster relief alone, is based on the false premise that there is in fact a moral distinction between the two groups. We get there by a familiar road: accepting disaster victims as Joe Average while refusing to believe that welfare recipients are the victim of any disaster. In a giddy atmosphere in which hate is again becoming acceptable, the demonization of the poor has only just begun.