October 14, 2012

Financial hardship and socialism

I've never really been well off. In fact, it's always been a struggle for me to stay in the middle class, though I pretty much have.  I've made a pretty good living over the last ten years, and played it safe enough not to have a crazy mortgage, when I could have gotten one.  Nevertheless, I've spent the last six years paying off credit card and financing debt, and I still have a ways to go.  As a result, I haven't had much disposable income for a long time, and I will admit it's been a hard struggle pretty much all of the way, and it will be for some time to come.

With all of that, you'd think I'd be a bit more progressive-liberal friendly.  'Somebody help me with my mortgage."  "The government should take money from somebody richer than me and give it to people like me."  But the thing is, despite the financial struggle, I'm not.

There's a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, I still believe in capitalism.  Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations talked about the Invisible Hand.  The simple concept is irrefutably true.  People trying to make a better life for themselves and/or their families, really do improve society.  They try their hardest and offer their best labor and ideas to the economy.  The economy benefits from the best efforts of everyone.  Without everyone trying to do their best, the economy is not under full sail.  Suddenly, some people become a drag on the economy.  The drag risks growing and eventually becoming so big, it brings the economy to a full stop.

That's not to say that there aren't people in need of assistance.  There always will be, and they should be assisted.  Where conservatism diverges from modern welfare-state liberalism is not on that point, but rather on how it should be dealt with.  simply put, the first responsibility towards the elderly, children, the infirm or those less than fully able-bodied and minded, belongs with family.  Obviously family is most connected to those who need protection and aid, therefore they should have those people's best interests at heart and the best line of sight into what they need.  After family comes charitable institutions.  Before the welfare state existed, children were schooled, but not by government.  Education and Public were not always synonymous as they seem to be today.  And before the welfare sated mushroomed, people were fed by charities and housed by charities - churches, soup kitchens, hostels, etc.- and there were people in poverty but so are there too today.  

Should there be no charity available, there's always human kindness and decency to rely on people helping their fellow man before we go running to the government to provide. And should that fail, yes, the government should step in and help those who need help.  But it should step in as a last resort and should do so with as much caution as possible. It should not do so with an intention to create a permanent dependence on itself, or to create a burdensome bureaucratic layer that itself becomes a drag on the economy.  There are some guiding principles on having a small footprint.  North of 20% of the nation's GDP is not a small footprint.

I mentioned a couple of reasons.  The second reason is simpler but equally powerful.  In my case, I'm proud of the fact that I've managed to reduce my debt by tens of thousands of dollars on my own - without the help of a government bailout or having to declare bankruptcy (at least so far).  That's not trivial.  Allowing a person a sense of their own purpose gives them a sense of accomplishment.  That does not mean that they will not ever need help.  People can build a business or a career by themselves, but sometimes people do need help, and there is no shame in that.  The shame comes from getting comfortable with the help of others, no matter whom, and never trying again.  That's where socialism leads - not only to dependency but worse, to complacency.

I've helped others and there's times I've needed help.  Needing help never made me feel like I wanted to keep getting help forever, and just coast.  Believe me, I'm not adverse to coasting.  If I won the lottery, I'd coast for a while.  But getting help is never a reason to come to expect that it's okay to expect that help indefinitely and give up on trying.  At that point, what is the point of being alive?

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