Why Don't American Progressives Care About the World's Poor?

Conservatives never stop hearing about how little they care for America’s poor. In the eyes of leftist betters, those on the right sit around twirling canes and puffing on cigars, plotting the next wave of massive benefit cuts designed to take away people’s healthcare (simply for a cheap chuckle of course). Because conservatives don’t want to pay for everyone’s food, shelter, education and healthcare via government transfer payments & services, they’re cold, heartless monsters. On the other hand, the left wants the fruits of American prosperity redistributed, so everyone gets their needs met automatically, simply by virtue of existing.

Recently though, I started thinking about how limited the left’s approach to economic redistribution really is. Outside of a handful of old-school international workers/socialist types, the contemporary American left is really only concerned with redistribution among Americans. And by any reasonable metric, the vast majority of Americans are already better off than the average human on our planet. Why don’t American progressives put more of an emphasis (if they do so at all), on global wealth redistribution?

After all, wouldn’t the total utility stemming from global redistribution far exceed payments that are limited by America’s borders? For example, a family suffering from extreme food insecurity, and a lack of healthcare services that isn’t typically seen in the United States, could do a lot more with a given dollar amount than your average American could. If the rationale for providing people in America with these government services is that they are “human rights,” well, shouldn’t we start with the humans most in need, who currently have the fewest “rights?”

The obvious retort to this is that Americans of all political persuasions should look out for fellow Americans first, since people are responsible for taking care of their own. This response works fine for explaining why the political right would be more apathetic about the well-being of those overseas, with their individualistic or nationalistic mindsets, and “America first” ideology. But the problem is, this attitude is frequently ridiculed by leftists as a backwards, sometimes xenophobic way of looking at things.

For example, take the issue of illegal immigration – no one thinks that we should deny public services to people who we allowed into the country legally. Whether they are green card holders, tourists, visa holders, or other people with permission to be here, if they need urgent healthcare services, or other public support that is necessary, it is our responsibility to provide those things, since we took on that implicit obligation when we agreed to their entry. However, what about the citizens of different nations who aren’t here legally? The right has problems with illegal immigrants accessing public services such as schools, roads, healthcare, and a myriad of other programs and transfers, which are frequently viewed by conservatives as a drain on resources. But from everything I’ve gathered, the left does in fact want these resources to be offered to non-Americans who did not go through any formal process to enter our country. Because they reside within our borders, they get access to government services and transfer payments that better their lives, at the expense of Americans.

Simply having physical presence within our borders is such a silly standard to determine who gets access to “human rights.” Why does the citizen of, say, Honduras, get these things simply because he crossed an imaginary line in the desert, but his family back home isn’t deserving of the same treatment? Aren’t their needs and rights the same as everyone else’s? Isn’t the left concerned first and foremost with the needs of the most vulnerable?

My guess is they are concerned with their own needs, and mostly their own wants and political aspirations. The best example of this is Senator Bernie Sanders. The Vermont champion of the people recently bought a vacation home for $575,000. If he wanted to, he could sell that house and donate it all to a non-profit like UNICEF. Bernie would be marginally worse off, having less fun in his life because he lacks a vacation home now. However, the utility gained by children in need all over the world would easily and clearly exceed his own lost utility. The difference would even be life and death for many.

This is exactly the situation the Senator decries in corporate America. He has continuously complained about executives getting paid more and more money, which leads to minimal marginal improvements in their lives, instead of that money going to working families and America’s poor, where it would do more good. How is this any different morally? How is Senator Sanders not doing the exact same thing, one level down, that the people he demonizes do?

It is the same thing. And for some reason, Senator Sanders and other progressives feel no shame about it. To be blunt, many American leftists seem to resemble a wealthy, spoiled sibling on Christmas morning – the younger brother counts the number of presents his older brother has, and realizes that the older sibling received the most gifts. The younger brother starts complaining. It doesn’t matter that this child still got far more than the average kid gets for Christmas. The distribution of goods under his roof isn’t equal, and that must be corrected in his view of what’s fair and just. By this same token, American leftists have a much better standard of living (from life expectancy, to modern amenities) than your typical human, but because the fruits of America’s economy are not shared more equally, they can’t be happy with what they’ve achieved in life, and focus their concern on the most vulnerable. Rather, their desire lies in taking from their siblings.

Ultimately, if you believe it’s right to take from some to give to others, in the name of human rights, doesn’t the logical end game have to be global wealth redistribution? Some leftists openly believe this, and I’m sure plenty of others do so as well but don’t bring it up for political purposes. But there are many others who probably couldn’t care less, and appear to not think through the logical consequences of their own rhetoric.