A liberal response to Michele Walk’s recent post entitled “Economic Darwinism and the Recession”
Noah Baron,
Staff Writer

Around 100 years ago, the notion of social Darwinism was wildly popular amongst the well-to-do. Since then, it has been largely derided as unacceptable, cruel, and just plain incorrect. Apparently it’s reared its ugly head again, this time in Michele’s post and a Republican Party seemingly dedicated to driving itself into the ground.

Michele says that it bothers her that “the recession, and its effects, are regarded as ‘unfortunate’”. Already irked at her statement, I was even more flabbergasted by her reasoning. She claims that regarding the recession as “unfortunate” implies that “we are entitled to having fortunate things happen to us” — when, in reality, that is not the case at all. In my experience, at least, the recession is regarded as unfortunate not because of a sense of ‘entitlement’ but rather because I — and others — recognize that it is sad when people lose their job, lose their home, and have to struggle to get by. For the people who are actually experiencing the “joblosses and other effects on the economy,” as Michele puts it, these things aren’t merely “not the most pleasant occurrences” — they are devastating.

My problem with Michele’s notion that we should simply let businesses fail and the economy continue its downward spiral — it’ll come back eventually, right? — is that she doesn’t consider the fact that actual human beings will have to suffer through this. Perhaps this is not something she considered because the effects of the recession haven’t touched her or her family, but her proposal of “economic Darwinism” (the difference between which and social Darwinism I still fail to grasp) is morally unacceptable.

During the first months of the Great Depression, as banks were failing left and right, unemployment was skyrocketing, and the stock market continued its downward spiral, even the strict free-market Republican, President Hoover, recognized that simply sitting around and waiting out the economic crisis was simply not an option. Unfortunately, some of the programs that he implemented were simply too little, too late.

Michele provides the following analogy:

Let’s say Little Johnny consistently fails his math quizzes, no matter how much he studies; he simply is not good at math. We could get him an expensive, highly-educated math tutor; however, even with extraordinary help, it is more than likely that he will barely pull C’s and never become a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician. Sure, his low math SAT scores might drag down his district’s averages, but the fact of the matter is, math just isn’t his thing, and attempting to force him to be a gifted math student is counterproductive. This – expensive help for otherwise failing entities – is exactly what our government is doing right now. People, much like businesses, should do what they are good at; if they aren’t good at what they do, they shouldn’t be doing it.

The problem with this analogy is that “Little Johnny” is an individual and his failing out of math would have no effect on the livelihoods of other human beings. By contrast, the corporations being bailed out today employ tens- or hundreds- of thousands — if not millions — of Americans. By simply letting those corporations fail, those millions of Americans will wake up one day soon and have no job and, likely, no pension either. Interestingly — but not surprisingly — the way filing for bankruptcy protection works is this: the first people to have their money paid back are other corporations, then wealthy investors, then a bunch of other people, then there are the lower-level employees, and then (last) consumers. Translation? Let those companies go bankrupt, and ordinary Americans will get screwed while the wealthiest walk away with even more money than they had before.

I think it’s sad that so many people — such as Michele — seem to prioritize economic efficiency over human decency. They apparently do not realize that if they had their wish — if the government simply sad idly by while corporations failed left and right and the millions and millions of unemployed Americans had to wait around for months, if not years, for new employment to magically be created while their savings dry up — that an incredible amount of suffering would ensue. The wealthy would continue to do just fine, as they always do during times of crisis, while the rest of us have to scrounge up what little money we have to, say, pay our way through college or feed ourselves.

As Michele says, “we pride ourselves on living in a meritocracy” yet as states struggle to balance their budgets (ironically, compelled by state Constitutional amendments therein foisted by Republicans), poor students are amongst the first to suffer: according to the New York Times, New Hampshire is cutting its loan-forgiveness programs for college students. But, by all means, let’s continue to let the economy spiral so that the rich can continue to live their comfortable lifestyle while the rest of us can’t even afford to get a college degree. So much for pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and “meritocracy”. Those who call for “economic sense” — those who think it is acceptable to let the most in-need amongst us sink into the rising economic muck so that they can keep their “hard”-”earned” money — seem to have lost their moral compass.

Most distressing about Michele’s post is that she even recognizes the troubles her economic theory will pose — she realizes that “jobs would be lost…many more than right now” — but she just does not care. She proudly titles this cold-hearted economic theory “economic Darwinism”. She says that suffering is great for creativity — so it can’t be all that bad, right?

Of those who are about to lose their jobs, she says, “let them eat cake”.