Category Archives: historical perspective

No Scientific Evidence Favors Social Darwinism

There is no scientific evidence that proves that social Darwinism does anything to lift up the people at the bottom. The only evidence I know of that suggests that a government social safety net robs the citizens of a given society of initiative and keeps these citizen on the bottom comes from a theory described in a fiction book read by sophomores, (The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand) which is being construed as proof and offered up as such by Paul Ryan and the Republican party and by some wealthy Americans (who don’t even accept Darwin’s theories). Although I like fiction and I do feel that it often explores philosophical themes and points of view, fiction is not usually mistaken for science. I not sure that there is even any evidence from the social sciences, which explore issues with too many variables to be classified as pure science, to suggest that offering supportive services to the poor keeps them from climbing the socio-economic ladder.

We already know what the world was like when the poor had no safety net beyond the kindness of strangers. The poor had little or nothing to fall back on for centuries. Did it make them more innovative? Did it give them incentive to become entrepreneurs?

In most accounts I have read poor people often turned to crime to pay their way; petty theft, picking pockets, robbing homes or rich people. Some starving people stole bread or food. People could be sent to prison for stealing bread. There’s a whole classic novel about this social trend too (Les Miserables by Victor Hugo). Is it possible that some people rose above their abject beginnings and moved their families slowly up that socio-economic ladder? Of course it happened, but not reliably.

Is it possible that people who know they can rely on their government for money, income and/or food, etc. will hug the bottom of the socio-economic ladder because they are basically lazy, or the assistance has robbed them of their pride and their fighting spirit? I suppose it is, after all, there are all kinds of people. I suspect, though, that even with government assistance, life at the bottom is not all that appealing. Do we think that most people will lose all ambition if they have enough free money to survive, even though their survival level is way less comfortable than that of others in the society? Do we think these are the same people who would rise to the top if they weren’t given “free” money? Spending even more money and putting it into a really effective educational system that meets the needs of the poor would seem more effective than taking away money that is keeping people from lives filled with hopelessness.

Isn’t it quite possible that rich folks are using this theory taken from the pages of a fiction book because they feel burdened by increasing numbers of poor folks at the bottom of our culture, even though it this very culture which has skewed its financials to favor these rich folks for so long that they are able to convince themselves that they earned all their wealth with no help from the laws of our nation or from those same people who used to work in their factories and who are now unemployed. The burden of the poor has gotten heavier since the recession but the taxes on those who “have” have only been raised once. The poverty at the bottom of America is dragging the federal budget down into greater and greater debt because the wealthy refuse to pay more and because they want the federal government to fail. They still are trying to convince us that if we are kind to the people at the top of the ladder they will shed crumbs that can be collected by those at the bottom of the ladder and that these crumbs, wisely used, can bring those at the bottom closer to the top (this is trickle down which has never worked – there have always been poor people – this is also a theory that cannot be proven scientifically).

I just don’t buy this self-serving, untested theory; this theory which flies in the face of centuries of proof that the opposite is true. In a system with no social safety net the poor stay poor and the effects on the society as a whole are more negative than in societies with a social safety net. We may reach a point where we actually have to pay people not to work in the same way we pay people not to farm. There seem to be plenty of goods and services around even given the number of adults who are not working. I just do not see any evidence that getting rid of or drastically cutting back on the social safety net will benefit either society or the poor.


Saying something over and over does not in any way constitute proof that what is being said is true especially when this idea comes from the pages of a book of fiction.


This is the view from the cheap seats.

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