Brian Lee Crowley

Good intentions are not enough

In a follow up column to his two-part series on Fearful Symmetry, Globe columnist Neil Reynolds talked about the dissenters among his readership:

“In this space last week, economist Brian Lee Crowley advanced his intriguing theory that demographic changes will compel Canada to return to the classic liberal principles of personal responsibility and limited government. A number of readers dissented. “Don’t be so greedy,” one of them wrote. “We have found in our character a generosity that has mandated, by the authority of democratically elected governments, the equitable distribution of wealth among most of our people.”

“He suggested that people who find wisdom in Mr. Crowley’s newly published book, Fearful Symmetry: The Fall and Rise of Canada’s Founding Values, possess “hard little hearts.” These hard-hearted people, he said, think that economic losers should be made to suffer.”

Neil goes on to cast some doubt on this proposition in his own way. Now let me add my own view that the dissenters have missed the point. If they ever pick up Fearful Symmetry they will discover in it an impassioned plea for a reform of social programmes so that those programmes will stop doing so much harm to the most vulnerable in our society. Good intentions, the desire to help those less fortunate, are laudable impulses. But we too often make the mistake of simply throwing money at the problem through ill-designed social programmes, such as EI and many kinds of provincial social welfare, that end up trapping our most vulnerable citizens in a near-permanent dependence on benefits. In the book I make the case that this is a far worse fate than being a productive member of our society, even in a relatively low-paying job.

Work is one of the key ways in which we develop our humanity, contribute to our community and become free people pursuing our own goals. These are essential elements of the fully human life. When we design social programmes that make that harder to achieve, we are not being “generous” or “caring”. We are being destructive and using tax money as a cheap salve to our inflamed consciences. If you pick up the book you’ll see that I also argue that this view of the centrality of work and the importance of keeping the most vulnerable out of the clutches of the well-meaning welfare state is increasingly accepted across the political spectrum.

Brian Lee Crowley
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