Wednesday, December 22, 2010
George Ought to Help
This is a typical argument of those who are against government programs that help the needy. It feels right and it seems to make sense. After all, isn't it my money that I worked hard for? And if it is, shouldn't I be able to decide what I do with it and help others only when and if that is what I decide to do?
Unfortunately, the argument is incomplete. It implies that one earns what they earn entirely on their own... that the accumulation of wealth is based solely on the talents and work of the individual. Let's add some other variables to the argument.
Let's say that Otis is blessed with incredible genetics. He has an off the chart IQ. He lives in a place where there are no public schools and dad dies in a mining accident when he is 7. At that point, in a country with no safety nets, Otis must go to work in the mines to help support the family. That his IQ is 40 points higher than that of the guy who owns the mine is irrelevant. The owner gets the profits and he dies of black lung disease at a young age.
How about Fred... he invents a new doohickey. He is pretty sure that he can come up with capital to put together a manufacturing facility to make the doohickeys but the roads and the railroads have fallen apart do to lack of government investment and he cannot get the doohickeys to market. The company fails.
Jack got a hold of one of the doohickeys and was mighty impressed. Off he goes to some other developing country and copies it, with much cheaper labor and lower quality materials. He makes a killing.
How bout Marianne... She worked hard all of her life. The company she worked for made tons of money for the owners and stock holders. She was proud of her contribution. She made a reasonable salary... but not enough to invest any significant amount for the future. She retired and was doing OK... then she got sick. She didn't have health insurance - too old and her health was poor so the cost was prohibitive. The children of the owners, who just inherited their wealth, lived in ease in gated mansions, while she made choices between heat, food, and the medicines she needed.
And James... grew up in a very poor neighborhood in a decaying city. The schools spent more energy on discipline than teaching. He didn't know anyone with two parents in the household. Half of the men he knew were either in jail or recently released. Few had legitimate jobs. When he began to skip school in 7th grade and sell drugs on the corner, nobody was surprised. His brother Bob tried to learn in school but it was difficult. He spent as much time watching his back as studying. When he graduated, he was able to get into a local college but he was so far behind the other students, he couldn't catch up and flunked out.
Steve comes from a middle class family. He went through a good school system, paid for with government funds and got a job working for a good company. They rely on a workforce that is well educated provided via the public schools. It is not possible for their employees to live with walking distance of their offices and factories so they rely on a good system of roads for people to travel to work. The monetary system is relatively stable so they can make plans for months or years in advance. They have good police and fire services to keep their capital safe. Steve's bosses are smart enough to know that the business depends on the input of all of the workers at each level and that without the infrastructure the government provides, they could make no profit at all.
And finally there is George. He is likable, smart enough, and able to keep up without working too hard. Indeed, he is a "C" student and spends a lot of time partying. He lives in the best neighborhood and is going to a top rated school. When he graduate, he gets into an Ivy League school, not because of his grades or even sports, but because of his last name. He goes to school with the sons and daughters of other powerful people and when they all graduate, they all move into positions of power and wealth.
All of that is to say that the system is not fair. Nobody makes it or fails entirely on their own. I would argue that those who benefit most from the system - like George and to a lesser but still significant extent Steve - should pay the most to maintain the system. I would even argue that the system requires some to be outside of it. Ask any Chamber of Commerce how they would feel about total employment and they will quickly tell you that someone has to be out of a job or the system would fail.
Bottom line when someone tells you that the government is stealing money they made from them, tell them to go and make that money without any of the supports that come from the government.
In a day or two I'll address another piece of the puzzle... Human generosity vs. human sin. Then, I'll get to who is better at providing for basic needs, government or for profit business.