Thursday, March 20, 2008

Hard Times

In 1883 Yale professor William Graham Sumner published an essay titled "The Forgotten Man." Sumner was the most prominent American advocate of social Darwinism, and his article reflected the conviction that economic inequality was a natural, inevitable and benign result of the competition for survival. Sumner thought that any attempt to ameliorate the lives of "the poor" and "the weak" would limit the impersonal, harsh but ultimately improving force of natural selection. Even worse, the social cost of passing laws to improve working conditions or crafting government policies to help the indigent would always be borne by the "forgotten man"--the industrious, decent and apolitical American whose freedom would be hemmed in by government regulations and whose salary would be taxed for social services.