Social darwinism

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Social darwinism is a philosophy that people should behave selfishly and not help the poor because that would discourage the weeding-out of the incompetent from society. Those who disfavor welfare programs are sometimes called social Darwinists, although in many cases those people actually simply favor the provision of charity through private sector activity rather than through government.[1]

As a practical matter, giving money to charity does not necessarily hinder the truly incompetent, incapable of making wise decisions, from remaining poor in the medium run.[2] Those people are quite capable of quickly squandering whatever resources are given to them, e.g. by spending it on consumption for pleasure, or on foolish investments, rather than making investments that will pay off. Those who simply had a run of bad luck, on the other hand, but are able to make good decisions, may use the money they are given to pull themselves out of poverty. Ludwig von Mises argues:[3]

It is usual to call such doctrines social or sociological Darwinism. We need not decide here whether this terminology is appropriate or not. At any rate it is a mistake to assign the epithets evolutionary and biological to teachings which blithely disparage the whole of mankind's history from the ages in which man began to lift himself above the purely animal existence of his nonhuman ancestors as a continuous progression toward degeneration and decay. Biology does not provide any standard for the appraisal of changes occurring within living beings other than whether or not these changes succeeded in adjusting the individuals to the conditions of their environment and thereby in improving their chances in the struggle for survival. It is a fact that civilization, when judged from this point of view, is to be considered a benefit and not an evil.


  1. "Social Darwinism and the Free Market" by Gordon, David, 17 July 2012
  2. i.e., longer than the short run, but not so long as that long run in which we are all dead.
  3. Mises, Ludwig von. "Human Society". Human Action.