Ezra Rosser of American University Washington College of Law has a forthcoming law-review paper online, “Obligations of Privilege,” in which he asks a forbidden question:
“The contrast between the deserving and undeserving poor is found in hundreds of law review articles, but the rich are not subjected to such categorization. The deserving poor are thought to be those who are married, work hard, and limit the size of their families. The poor who are unmarried, are unemployed, and need help supporting their children are considered undeserving. But, as commonly conceived, the rich are considered deserving regardless of what they do or the characteristics of their families. . . .
“While conservatives tend to demonize and vilify the poor, liberals’ welfare discourse ‘seeks to avoid blaming . . . poor people themselves,’ and consequently, stories of a poor person’s laziness or other undeserving traints are ‘simply ignored.’ But with very few exceptions conservatives and liberals alike take for granted the moral worth and desert of the rich.”
Rosser is prying at the weakest point of the libertarian edifice by calling attention to the egregious lie Americans tell themselves: “I did it myself with nobody’s help.” Of course, nobody does it all by themselves — we all benefit from inheritances and luck of all kinds, from education (for which nobody pays the full cost), and from growing up in a society that isn’t unendurably polluted or unstable. If anybody ought to “give back” because of this, shouldn’t everybody?