Call them entitlements; call them social programs; call them liberal arts boondoggles; however you think of them, you don’t think of them in the same way as everyone else. Some people see our governmental infrastructure as an imposition upon them, a charity towards us (assuming you and I are both among the 99%) and a betrayal of the self-made American Dream for individualists, pioneers, and let’s face it, rich people. Others, like me (and maybe you) see our social supports and education enhancements as an investment in our quality of life.
Amidst the latest electioneering was some debate about small government. Also briefly appearing on the sound-bite battle-lines was talk of entitlements—a word aptly chosen, because it makes financial aid sound as if it were some fancy-assed dilettantism that reeked of intellectuals and leftists (you should pardon the French). And I loved that phrase, ‘small government’, imagining it in the sense of being made more responsive, efficient, and streamlined. But I’ve gathered, over time, that small government is actually code for ‘low taxes’ and ‘no financial aid for the needy’.
But without help, the ‘Have-Nots’ are being placed on an unequal footing with the ‘Haves’, and this is a problem for the land of liberty and the land of equal opportunity. Part of the importance of equal opportunity is that it ensures the government doesn’t spend money on services for the elite while taxing everyone else. Or, put another way, we don’t like taxation without representation. If federal or state government funds an institute of higher learning, that college or university should be equally available to citizens from all income-levels. If our taxes are paying fallow-farm subsidies to big farmers, they should pay out a matching amount in food stamps to help the poor keep pace with the artificially boosted value of food commodities.
So, that is number one on my list—small government is a cancer of inequality that, if unaddressed, can only grow over time and cause our ‘equality’ to become a total sham.
Beyond that, we have to look at the ethics of small government from both Pro and Con. The obvious Con is the expense of supporting people who do not contribute to the community. This is bad business, on its surface. Why should I pay taxes for something that doesn’t benefit me? I’m sure, also, that there will be cheap-skates who work the system to grab a free ride or a free lunch, or whatever. So some of my taxes are inevitably going towards a scam that pays out only for one greedy bastard! Or even (god forbid!) an organized-crime family or terrorist cell.
The not-so-obvious Pro is that we could end up taking our own place in the breadline, depending on charity for food and shelter and medicine. Our own children may one day find themselves in desperate straits, dependent on government assistance to survive. If we take this concept out to its furthest resolution, we can imagine a world in which, should you lose your job, your house, and everything you own, your quality of life won’t change a bit. Business owners would hate that, of course. They would have to offer real compensation to anyone that chose to ‘cooperate’ with them, i.e. ‘take a job’. A minimum wage enslavement would have no basis in reason—finally, bosses would have to treat with their employees like equals. Frightening, right?
But there is another Pro — peace of mind. It is far easier on the conscience to feel badly for the families in shelters than it is to feel sorry for the people one must step over to hail a cab. Even if we ignore the difference it would make to the homeless people, it would still be of benefit to us.
Plus, there’s the health angle—even in the Dark Ages, individuals in cities and villages could say “Those corpses are none of my business.” But that wouldn’t change the fact that it is dangerous to live ten yards away from a plague-victim’s bloated carcass.
In our modern settings, similarities appear—mental wards’ and criminal facilities’ overflow create an unstable environment for commerce and leisure. Central Park can only be enjoyed if the police patrols keep any homeless folks from setting up camp therein. The crime rate rises in proportion to the desperation of the less-fortunate of that community. And many poverty-stricken neighborhoods, city or country, are locked in cycles of suffering that only real dedication to healing the issue can break. And by ‘real dedication’, I’m suggesting not only serious thought and full-time personnel, but governmental oversight and financial support.
Besides, if we raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires, it isn’t as if they are going to starve—they will have less cash, not NO cash. What’s the big deal? We tried that trickle-down BS for three decades, and there are fat-cats who swear it’ll still work—if we just give it a little more time. Ha! So let’s give ‘taxing the rich’ a measly year or too—then if it precipitates an even worse economic collapse than the Republicans presided over, we can always go back to relying on the super-wealthy to voluntarily create good jobs. No harm, no foul.
And, lastly, I’d like to appeal to your paranoia. The USA once had the greatest productivity, highest literacy rate, best public schools, the most innovative scientists and inventors, and we still had plenty of rich people. Working on our ethical infrastructure is no more a danger to them than is work on our transportation or communication infrastructures. It is, in fact, even more important for them. If there are only a tiny elite of high-ticket consumers, mostly every shop is going to stock the ‘brand x’ stuff; the airlines won’t have regular flights to the really ritzy vacation spots; advertisers will spend less because the market for goods just isn’t there. Pretty soon, you’re living in Syria. And have you seen the line-up on Syria’s prime-time TV broadcasts?
Our dominion over the earth has already gotten pretty threadbare. In time, we may have the worst schools, the least productive research, the stupidest citizens. In trying to keep pace with emerging nations, particularly China, we will rip the heart out of what always made us better off than they. I remember back in the eighties, Japan had set up a college devoted to replicating the experience of American students, in hopes that Japanese students could have the same innovative, inventive creativity that our college grads had. One of the things they found out was that college was too late to start. The entire childhood experience of American children was a non-stop urging to test boundaries, to criticize ideas, and to seek solutions. I wonder if they still see that in us?
But whatever lows we may have reached, it is obvious where our past strength came from—from unity, community and a respect for each other that knows no sowing of generosity will produce anything but good for all of us. We were the first country to have free public schools and in the nineteenth century we were the first country to have a majority of our citizens be literate. In a world undergoing an Industrial Revolution, that gave America a tremendous advantage.
Many pundits point out the financial, commercial reasons for doing this or not doing that—you would think that this ‘acumen’ was the only achievement of the most powerful country in the world. But we showed our greatest power in enduring a Great Depression for ten years and then conquering the world! We weren’t a nation of fat cats, then. Obviously, our greatness came from our rejection of elitism, our respect for each other as equals, and our open-minded-ness towards change.
And social programs (by whatever name) are simply an offshoot of the ideal of equality. There can be no equality between the opportunities available to rich kids and to poor kids. So, government programs that add a feather to the scales on the side of the poor—to offer them the merest inkling of opportunity—are not ‘taxation without representation’ perpetrated against the rich. They are, rather, a tenuous link between rich and poor which allows the poor to feel they’re not being completely played. The super-rich should realize that millions of unemployed citizens are filled with anger and frustration—and it would be a bad thing for us all to turn that blame (and rage) towards the millionaires….
I think the biggest problem is this insistence on black-or-white choices. A lot of what Karl Marx wrote in Das Kapital was, and is, true. By creating a sham model of Marx’s ideas, Communism became a dirty word. This is convenient for the rich, creating a boogey-man that makes unfettered Capitalism seem preferable, even desirable. But Capitalism has recently sidelined millions of once-productive, once-employed citizens–and that could make those unemployed thoughtful enough to realize that Capitalism, founded and maintained by a rich and powerful elite, is nearly as bad as Communism founded and maintained by a greedy and powerful elite. The good ideas that Marx had have been lumped in with all the madness of the Soviets and Red Chinese. The Chinese have seen this problem and have tried to unclench about some of the good things Capitalism has to offer. The USA, and especially its Conservatives, have unfortunately clung to their hatred of any Socialism, however beneficial to our country as a whole, because of its effects on the wealthy.