“Bleeding Heart” Stories

“Bleeding Heart” Stories


B: We’ve all heard sob stories before, the kind some call “bleeding heart” stories.  You know, when some tragedy comes up, such as being laid off from a job, a death or serious accident/illness in the family, natural disasters, financial mishaps, etc.  And they can be big or small – perhaps you’ve come across the guy at the gas station who just “happens” to need $5 in cash because he’s had some minor car problem and he doesn’t have anything else on him?  It’s amazing how hard a guy like that works for his money.

A: Maybe he really does need it.  You ever think of that?

B: That’s a good point; of course, there are times when people genuinely need help.  And they’re not rare, actually – it’s not my intent to insist that most of these stories are unfounded in truth.  Not only that, but everyone, at one time or another, is on either of the sides of the coin: whether they’re the one who’s had the tough luck, or heard of somebody else who had it instead.

Surely part of God’s love is to be compassionate for those who are less fortunate.  We should do for others what we’d like done for ourselves when we take our lumps.  How could we possibly claim to love others if, when we see another in need and have the capacity to help, we do nothing?  Indeed, it is our moral obligation to help others.

So yes, I’m saying that compassion for others is a good thing.  The question I have, however, is whether anybody should be required to help others, even – or perhaps especially – when he has ample means to do so?  In other words, should government intervene to enforce philanthropy, exacting the necessary resources through taxes, levied especially heavily on the wealthy?  Wouldn’t such intervention compromise the freedoms of the citizens under that government’s jurisdiction?  Furthermore, is it truly just to remove resources from third parties independent of those in need anyway?  After all, it’s not their fault the other guy had a bad day.

Let me illustrate with an example.  Suppose a child is crying, because another child has a toy that the first child wants.  Being sympathetic, or perhaps just to stop the crying, we might want to take the toy from the one child and give it to the crying child.  But if we do that, it may be that the other child starts crying instead.  Which child should have the toy?

A: It would be best if they would share the toy.

B: Obviously.  Indeed, a good parent would certainly encourage children to be generous with what they have.  But should the children be required to?  What if the second child stole the toy from the first?  Should it not justly be returned to the first child?  Or what if the toy belongs to the second child, and the crying child is simply coveting it, to the point that he expects some parental intervention to appease his desires?

Probably if we, as the parent in this example, knew exactly what was going on, we would know what to do.  But suppose we add a twist to it.  Suppose the toy belongs to the second child, and anyone can see that the second child has truckloads of toys besides it, and the crying child has none.  Even though the toy rightfully belongs to the second child, many parents would perhaps try to convince, or even coerce, the second child into surrendering it at least temporarily to the crying child.

This may be the typical recourse if there was a scarcity of toys.  But suppose further that there were shelves upon shelves of other toys in the room, besides the pile of toys that the second child has.  This would present another solution – that is, to encourage the crying child to play with one of those toys instead.  Hopefully, this would appease both children, and justice would be served.

Let’s step back and look at the big picture of what the main problem in this example was: the crying child.  He feels he has been done some kind of injustice, and that the other child, by mere possession of the toy he wants, is somehow to blame for it.  Likewise, in “bleeding heart” stories, one person or entity feels they have been done an injustice, and ultimately some other person or entity is either to blame for it, or expected to compensate the victim.  In some cases, the one entity is at fault and should not be recompensed; in others, the other entity is at fault and should recompense the one.

But let’s go back to the other version of the story; that is, the one with the “twist,” wherein the toy belonged to the second child, who appeared to be plenty affluent in the world of toys.  Assume further that there is no scarcity of toys.  This would then present a perfectly good example of a “bleeding heart” story: somebody claims that he has been wronged by another, more affluent party, or that he requires compensation by somebody else for his victimhood.

What is the proper recourse in this case?  Would it not be to ascertain who really is at fault, regardless of the relative possessions of the parties, and recompense accordingly if necessary?  Or if unnecessary, wouldn’t we encourage the complaining party to move on with life and legally attain desired possessions themselves?  But how many of us would find ourselves so softened by the first party’s story that, while tears stream down our own cheeks, we saunter over to the gun hanging on the wall, pull it down and point it in the direction of the second party, saying, “you have enough; give this other person what he wants, or else”?

A: That paints an odd kind of mental image.

B: But isn’t this what we do, in effect, when we require others to pay taxes for governmental programs that are intended to help the less fortunate?  The “helping the less fortunate” part of the idea is a good one, yes; but how?  Well, how else, except with the taxes of others?  The government cannot support itself except through taxes.  As we said before, it can’t just generate wealth by itself – and this includes when it prints more money.  It may be a surprisingly common fallacy, the thought that the government is just made of money, and every time it needs more – say to run one of its myriad programs – it reaches into its savings account, of its own hard-earned dough, and pulls out the exact sum that it needs.  Remember this fact: every time the government requires more wealth, it gets it from its citizens, because it cannot come from anywhere else.


A: What about government-run businesses or industries?

B: The employees in such ventures are paid either from the taxes the government gets from the other citizens, or from the wealth those employees generate themselves.  Either way, it is the people who pay the people.  The government cannot support itself.

(cont’d next time…)

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