Friday, 9 July 2004

Strawman alert

In this otherwise sensible Clarion-Ledger op-ed praising Bill Cosby for his recent remarks imploring poor blacks to do more to help themselves, Ole Miss and Marshall prof Burnis R. Morris pulls out a strawman to joust with:

However, I fear Cosby’s comments will be taken out of context and open a floodgate of criticism against the disadvantaged. Cosby’s constructive criticism is useful because of his credentials, but all messengers don’t wish success for the poor.

Are there really that many people out there who “don’t wish success for the poor” beyond the lunatic fringe like the Klan, who are hardly a large segment of society who can “open a floodgate of criticism”? Libertarians and conservatives (and even many liberals) favor welfare reform, and even cutbacks, not because they don’t want the poor to be successful, but because they believe that existing welfare programs don’t actually help the poor become more successful, instead miring them in a cycle of poverty and dependency.

One can legitimately debate the merits of these reform proposals (see, for example, this Tyler Cowen post on taxes and public assistance in industrialized democracies), but implying the goal of most reformers is to hurt the poor is pretty asinine.