Are Leftists Compassionate? – Freedom Philosophy


There’s an interesting debate within philosophy. It’s the question of altruism (compassion or generosity). Does it really exist? I think it does, but those who say otherwise have an interesting point. They claim that when someone does a good deed, to help another, they are really doing it for a selfish reason, perhaps reciprocity, perhaps their own emotional well-being because if they fail to do it they will feel bad or if they succeed in doing it they will feel good. In any event, their claim is that altruism is a clever disguise for selfishness. 

When libertarians or the right criticize the left they often do so on apriori ethical grounds, claiming that it’s immoral to take other people’s money. When the left cries out that we must take care of the poor, we do our best to explain that a stronger economy is far more effective at taking care of the poor. What we seldom do is question their motivation – we seldom ask whether or not they actually care. 

There is a way of testing this. Arthur Brooks wrote a book on donations entitled, “Who Really Cares?”, and found that on average, the left is remarkably less charitable than their counterparts. 

But there is another way of testing the hypothesis that the left doesn’t care about poverty. Being compassionate involves being passionate. If they truly cared about eliminating poverty one would think they would study the issue in depth. It would be an odd thing to love hockey and know nothing about the sport. 

Yet finding leftists that know anything about poverty reduction is rare. They seldom bother to do the hard work of actually understanding the economic causes of poverty. They give simplistic solutions that have little merit. They give vacuous and data-empty diagnoses to the problem, such as shareholders are taking all the wealth. 

We saw the most dramatic reduction of poverty in recorded history over the last generation. We’ve seen extreme poverty drop from 52% in 1981 to 9% today. Chinese economic reforms in the late 1970s saw their poverty rates plummet in the 1980s. India’s economic reforms of the early 1990s saw their poverty rates drastically plummet and it continues to fall. 

One would think that if leftists genuinely cared they would be familiar with what these reforms are. Sadly, it’s far more likely than not that they haven’t a clue with genuine solutions – capitalism and commerce are on their way to eradicating poverty. 

If they don’t bother researching it, then the fact that they often vote with poverty reduction in mind, or opine regularly on the need for the government to take care of the poor needs an explanation. Why do they appear passionate about this issue?

Therein we return to the philosophical debate of altruism. They’re more interested in their own narrative on poverty rather than poverty itself. They’re far more interested in what they say about poverty, and how they say it than doing anything about poverty. 

Their enjoyment of their own narrative is evidenced by their failed acknowledgment of the data. Leftists will become angry if you assert the overwhelming evidence that poverty is on a major decline. They are so in love with preaching on poverty that they cannot accept that the need for preaching is diminishing, their love is the preaching not the abolition of suffering. 

Leftist preachments are about the feigned moral superiority that allows them to feel good about themselves. The siren song of a soapbox is a powerful calling. It allows someone to satisfy the moral impulse in most of us to take care of the less fortunate without doing the hard work involved with actually taking care of the less fortunate. 

It’s one of the most perverse thoughts to grip the Western mind. This is unbridled selfishness under the clever disguise of altruism.

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Brandon Kirby

Brandon Kirby has a philosophy degree from the University of New Brunswick and is a current MBA candidate finishing his thesis. He is an AML officer specializing in hedge funds in the Cayman Islands, owns a real estate company in Canada, and has been in the financial industry since 2004. He is the director of Being Libertarian - Canada and the president of the Libertarian Party of Canada.