Mikel Livingston, writing for the Lafayette Journal & Courier, has a special report about homelessness in the Tippecanoe County area. I’m sure a lot of it is representative of homelessness issues in other parts of Indiana.
One part that hit home for me was the story of the guy who suffered an unexpected injury and, while he was recovering, found that the tools of his trade had been stolen. Now he’s homeless and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of moral culpability involved. Maybe we could find some — e.g. why didn’t he have disability insurance? What about having his tools insured?
But the fact that I’m searching for such questions is telling. What I’m really asking is, “can I rationalize his situation – and every homeless person’s situation – such that it can never happen to me.” Because if chance can really cast you into such dire straits, then the world is a little too scary to tolerate. That, I think, is for most people the primary impulse behind casting the economy as a morality play where the good are rewarded and the bad are penalized: the fear that comes from an amoral universe where your destiny can be torn out of your control.
In addition of giving people the illusion of control, the morality play view of economics also has the side effect of justifying the status quo and of turning “doing nothing” into a virtue.