Jonah: Well, yes, there is indeed more to this. The topic is in fact
related to the old one about the Welfare State — i.e. whether the private
employees and “friendly” associations that flourished 100 yrs ago, in which
people pooled resources to provide care for the old, unemployed, disabled,
and sick, could have been nurtured & expanded to the degree that
govt-provided benefits would not be necessary, or would be necessary only at
a minimal level. Charles Murray writes lucidly about this in What It Means
to be a Libertarian.
As I understand the current state of the argument, economists say that with
current lifespans, employment conditions, and expectations, and with the
cost of hi-tech health care, massive govt. support for welfare is
inevitable. This is based on cursory reading, though, and I am willing to
In re international disaster relief, the territory is slightly different
because the morality is less clear. OBVIOUSLY the US govt has a direct,
immediate, & important interest in the health & welfare of citizens — said
interest to be instantiated either in large govt-directed welfare programs
(Left), or in establishment & support of laws, social attitudes, & fiscal
regimes that let us do the job for ourselves, & step in only when we
absolutely can’t (Right).
It is not so obvious that the US govt has any interest in the sufferings of
Sri Lankans. (As individuals, as Christians and Jews, as humanitarians, we
may have strong personal interests: but I am speaking of our **GOVT**.) If
it does, why does it not have a similar interest in the sufferings of, say,
the Congolese, three million or so of whom have perished in a grisly civil
war this past few years, to (so far as I can tell) utter indifference on the
part of both us and our govt?
Perhaps our govt only has an interest when the disaster involved is sudden,
dramatic, and telegenic. And the interest then is the need to be “seen to
be doing something” — this, if I have not misunderstood, is your argument.
In other words, our govt should act for reasons of international P.R. Well,
it’s an argument, but seems to me not a very satisfactory one.