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Americans, less willing to support social programs than other western cultures?

Source: mpewny

 

The most obvious answer probably relates to the United States (U.S.)’ status as a political outlier, since we are the only federalist Presidential system in the developed world. This fact allows both certain attitudes on policy to live on small pockets of the U.S. at the state level and allows the states to serve as policy laboratories which eases the pressure on the federal government to be the singular social service provider.

However, I also think part of it has to do with the proliferation of prosperity theology among pentacostalism – an outlook which seems to have far more cultural cache in the U.S. than in Europe. Conservative party platforms in Europe often explicitly cite their desire to preserve and improve their national health systems as a source of national pride. In the U.S. the attitude that poverty is “deserved,” seems to be more prevalent among conservatives than in Europe, though I don’t have a citation to back up that sense directly.

While Christian Democrats or other conservatives in Europe tend to offer justifications for their policy preferences that are not dissimilar to U.S. conservatives: more market competition, greater choice, etc., there is also an undercurrent of general agreement in Europe that providing access to poverty alleviation programs is both praiseworthy and necessary. This attitude is more directly reflective of classical Catholic and Protestant attitudes outlined by David Miller which take a dim view of wealth in the context of faith and insist that wealth is not a sign of God’s favor.

The combination of our differing political system and, given that the institutionalization of different attitudes on wealth among religious people (religion being correlated with a propensity for conservative political attitudes), seems to have at least some impact on why social programs and healthcare for the poor are so much more controversial in the U.S. than in the rest of the developed world. However, I’m not an expert so I’m sure there are cultural/historical factors I missed.

rynebrandon

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In the U.S. the attitude that poverty is “deserved,” seems to be more prevalent among conservatives than in Europe, though I don’t have a citation to back up that sense directly.

The long history of individualism in the US definitely explains some of the “they deserve it” attitudes. However, it’s also important to add that for many religious conservatives their ideology very much encourages and supports church-based social programs. They just hate the idea of the government making it essentially involuntary and controlling who gets what and where. In other words, their spheres of social concern are very community-oriented.

Paper_Street_Soap

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In my experiences of talking with Pentecostals around where I live (plenty of them in this area) the argument I almost universally get is that caring for the poor is the church’s job, not the government’s. They view social programs as teaching people to depend on government instead of God, another very common response I get.

Alt-001

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The counties with the highest concentrations of evangelical Christians are strongly correlated with the counties most likely to have high levels of poverty. Moreover, of the [50 largest poverty-alleviation charities in the U.S., less than a handful explicitly identify as evangelical, and, of those, most (Cross International, World Vision, Operation Blessing) direct their largesse almost entirely overseas. Sincerely felt or not, I don’t buy the explanation.

I think Elazar’s essential conception of the U.S. as comprising communitarian, church-centered community life in the northeast, individualistic, port/merchant-centered community life in the Mid-Atlantic, and traditionalistic, quasi-feudal community life in the South is informative here. Communitarianism in the U.S. is almost entirely the purview of liberals. However, those same northeastern communitarian liberals are descended from roughly the same political tradition as Christian Democrats in western Europe, thus leading to “conservative” parties in Europe that are much more comfortable with community-based (read: state-based) solutions to social welfare issues than is found in the U.S.

In the U.S., we have this very unique and very strange alliance between dyed-in-the-wool market orientation and Christianity. That is not a marriage of traditions that makes a ton of sense on paper. Prosperity theology bridges that gap. It might make sense for a Christian conservative to express anti-Statist sentiments to the extent that they would prefer local communities take the reigns on providing assistance and succor to the needy, which is why other than Virginia (who opposed a strong central state for largely self-interested status maintenance) some of the strongest anti-Federalist sentiment at the founding of the country emanated from New England. However, today, even when conservatives who run on a Christian message come to power at the state and local level, they often still cut support to programs aimed at the impoverished. So, I’m not sure I buy that explanation either.

Simply put, for whatever cultural or historical reason, it seems as if they center-right and right in the U.S. is just totally comfortable squaring a very strong (at least compared to much of northern/western Europe) market-centered, Capitalistic attitude with traditional (read: religiously-derived) values in a way much of the rest of the world is not.

rynebrandon

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I’m sure there’s a large racial element as well. As soon as you bring up any time of safety net program (welfare, food stamps, Medicaid), a lot of people have this image of Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen,” a black persons who can but won’t work, does drugs, has kids and lives off the hard work of others. This stereotype is extremely powerful and let’s people totally write off programs as “unnecessary” when in reality it is designed to help people like them too.

smp501

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Does Ayn Rand’s philosophy play a role in the American conservative psyche? I am not well informed of Ayn Rand’s philosophy but as far as I am aware she believes altruism is not good. As a non-American observer, many American conservatives do seem to subscribe to Ayn Rand’s philosophy by rejecting many government welfare that citizens of other developed countries have no problem paying taxes for.

academianuts

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Just like anything regarding human affairs,there probably are way too many factors(cultural, racial, political …) involved for us to be able to take all of them into account. having said that, if the findings of Haney-López in “Dog Whistle politics” are correct, one of the major aspects of this problem arises from the tacit racism of the Republican party, and how they have been trying to galvanize their constituency via using thinly-veiled racism. This is known as the “southern strategy”, because it has allowed the Republican party to sweep the southern states in last 40 years. The rundown of the southern strategy goes like this: “since the blacks are the ones using welfare programs, and government benefits the most, cutting these programs, or not expanding them will hurt them the most”. Lee Atwater , the campaign manager of Ronald Reagan is on tape admitting to the southern strategy, and Interestingly enough the usage of this strategy was finally admitted by Michael Steele the chairman of Republican committee in 2010. Also if you don’t have the time to read Haney-López’s book and just want a quick rundown of it, you can check out this interview of his.

armin199

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