Are American taxpayers responsible for all the world’s poor? Perhaps so, at least according to a May 3 article by Chris Weller on Business Insider.
Weller argues that budget cuts proposed by President Trump’s administration will negatively impact the plight of the poor worldwide. An implicit, or hidden premise of Weller’s argument is that American taxpayers are morally responsible for a reduction of worldwide poverty.
This brings up the notion of negative responsibility. According to the late English moral philosopher Bernard Williams, negative responsibility implies that moral agents are responsible not only for their actions, but also for what they “allow or fail to prevent.” Negative responsibility is associated with consequentialism, a moral framework that places value on states of affairs, not on moral acts.
Advertisement - story continues below
A consequentialist might suggest, for example, that stealing may be the wrong thing to do in one instance, because of the harm done to the victim, but may be the right thing to do in another instance. The same way of moral thinking applies to the intentional killing of an innocent person. A consequentialist might argue that killing one innocent person to save the lives of other two people might be the moral thing to do. In contrast, people with a different moral framework might argue that intentionally killing an innocent person is always wrong, no matter the consequences.
How does this apply to the article? Say an American taxpayer has a few hard-earned dollars at the end of the month after paying all of his or her bills. Negative responsibility suggests that that taxpayer ought to share those dollars with a poor person, say in Bangladesh or Pakistan. Why? Because, the “wealthy” American taxpayer is morally responsible not only for his or her own well-being (and, of course, the well-being of his or her family members), but also for practically everyone else in the world.
Failing to reduce poverty, to the consequentialist, is morally wrong. And a president whose policies fail to reduce poverty, even international poverty, is not only a bad president, but also a bad person.
Now, no person of good will would argue against voluntarily sharing one’s wealth with the less fortunate. However, negative responsibility implies that such a choice is mandatory, not voluntary. If you have any money left over, you ought to give it (perhaps even all of it!) to the poor, the consequentialist says. You are responsible for alleviating the poor person’s plight, even if he or she is thousands of miles away.
Advertisement - story continues below
Liberals use consequentialist reasoning like negative responsibility all the time to make moral demands of others. Seeking to motivate by guilt is stock-in-trade for these folks. Instead of encouraging people to give freely and cheerfully from their hearts, liberals use guilt to emotionally coerce behavior. Such a tactic is, in its essence, the very antithesis to freedom. Moral choices, if indeed they are moral, ought to be made freely and willingly. Indeed, when it pertains to sharing one’s wealth, even the Bible says that “God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Business Insider is known for puff pieces on Gates. The Web site’s own search feature reveals no less than 58 articles directly or indirectly about Gates during the first four months of 2017. None of the articles present a negative view about the billionaire. In fact, in December of last year the site provided lush pictures and fawning commentary about Gates’ 66,000 square foot home, the “Xanadu 2.0,” located in Medina, Washington. The property boasts 6 kitchens, 24 bathrooms, and has a 23-car garage. 2016 property taxes alone were over $1 million, according to the article.
It’s absolutely disgusting for fawning supporters of America’s “filthy rich” demand more from the hardworking American taxpayer. Yet, as evidenced by this article, that is exactly what some of these hypocrites are doing.