Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Show Me the Country

I haven't been feeling very chatty lately, in terms of blog posting. Mostly because so much of what I'm feeling lately is anger, revolving around the debate about spending and the solutions to our problem. So many things are being said that appall me, that make me ashamed, that frustrate me, that make me want to scream I'm so angry. I'd rather not drag it all out here on my blog, but I think it's gotten to the point where I'm just going to throw it all out there, because it's making me nuts.

First of all, I'm incredibly saddened that many people want to go so far as to get rid of public schools in the interest of a small government so that we'll have "more liberty". I suppose I'm starting to realize that utopia for a lot of people for some reason strongly resembles an unstable country in Africa. No social safety nets, no welfare of any kind, no public schools, very low taxes, and a government with little power that stays out of the citizen's business. I wonder if they consider that all of those things usually come with civil unrest, hordes of poor, desperate people, and the "luxury" of living in a walled compound with security guards to protect you if you happen to somehow find a way to be rich? Probably not.

I'm sure that getting rid of public schools, eliminating all social safety nets, lowering taxes further, and eliminating Medicare and SS for the elderly are exactly what will "make our nation great" again. I'm wondering how awesome they think being rich will be if every time you leave your walled compound you're greeted with shanty towns, squalor, and a teeming mass of desperate poor people who might, at any moment, turn on your ass and storm the compound for some food and money. Or, how great of a business they'll be able to build without having access to an educated workforce. These people need to travel more. Or, I don't know, read a book. Hell, they could even read a history book of their own country and see how awesome it really was for people before America instituted safety nets. Just go back and study the Great Depression/Dust Bowl. Trust me, not ONE of those small government/get rid of public schools/abolish all government aid people would be saying "Oh, no, it's fine, Government, please don't help me! I shall starve to death in the streets, because I am so committed to my political ideology of small government". Yeah. Right.

More than anything, I'd LOVE it if anyone arguing that the way to make America great is to get rid of all social safety nets, public schools, and Medicare/SS could give me just ONE example- JUST ONE- of a modern country that has 0 social safety nets and no public school and also has a healthy, vibrant economy, that is a global player in international economics, that has a stable society with a respected currency, and that has created a political and economic culture that allows people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to be successful. Just one. There are almost 200 countries in this world of ours, I would think that if the Ayn Rand based fantasies of a perfect country with 0 safety nets and a simultaneously thriving economy and stable society were possible in reality, at least one of those almost 200 countries would bear testimony to it. 'Cause I gotta be honest, ya'll, when I look at the countries that have 0 social safety nets, and no public school, and no Plan B for those who fall on hard times or are unfortunate enough to be born into them... well, those aren't the kind of places that I see anyone lining up to move to, or invest in, or start a business in, either. Those are usually the places people want to leave behind, places full of civil unrest and starvation and huge divides between the wealthy in walled compounds and the poor living in the streets or in shanty towns, or herded into refugee camps because their government isn't strong enough to protect them from roving bands of killers and rapists who are trying to wipe them out on a whim. But ok, sure, if that's the plan for making America great- just give me one example of it working out. I'm a facts and figures kinda gal, so I'll be waiting. I've posed this question several times over the last few weeks, and no one has given me one example. Because in my studies, all the countries that meet these Ayn Rand fueled fantasies are in shambles.

So, here's what I'm thinking- I'm thinking it's because that country simply doesn't exist. I'm thinking it's because people realize that everyone benefits by investing back in our society, by educating children, by having social safety nets so that when things get tough we don't have masses of hungry, desperate people roaming the streets, willing to take a chance with jail time if it means a bit of cash and some food. Here's a mental exercise- tell me, how awesome do you think our crime rate would be if, during these last several years of epic unemployment, we had no unemployment benefits, no food stamps, no TANF, no housing subsidies, etc. Think about that. Where would those people have gone? What would they have done? Just curled up and politely starved, homeless, in an out of the way corner of society? I'm thinking not. Trust me, I'd rather pay my money in taxes and invest it in our society than take my chances on the streets with double digit unemployment creating a substantial number of stressed out, hopeless people with no light at the end of the tunnel. Desperation is not the predominant emotion I want a significant sector of our society to have.

While we're on the subject of paying now or paying later, and how I'd like to pay- I'd rather pay out some welfare, or pay more into schools, or give unemployment benefits, or give job training than pay for more police on the street to quell riots, or pay upwards of $30K a year to house and feed someone for several years in prison. So there's that, too. Pro-active is my mantra, not reactive. Especially because reactive usually costs way more than just helping out in the first damned place. And we usually all benefit from proactive, while reactive doesn't serve to accomplish anything more than a hasty tit for tat.

Oh, but wait, back to my question- show me that country. This idyllic bastion of liberty where the government stays the hell out, doesn't meddle with things like educating all children, or regulating our food and drugs, and lets people get sick and die if they commit the infraction of losing a job, or being born poor, or falling ill. And if that country is so damned great, why isn't it an international player? Why haven't I heard of this utopia of liberty? And if such a country exists, why aren't all the people who want to model America after it calling it out by name and location, and pointing excitedly to its success to bolster their argument?

All cards on the table- I'm a product of welfare. There you go. Despite two working parents, we qualified for every damn one of those "shameful" entitlement programs. And I worked, too, from 14 on, and then full time all through college while studying full time to keep my sholarship- and guess what? I still needed Pell Grants to get through. Yes, that's right, free money that I "didn't deserve". I shudder to think how my potential would have been utterly wasted if there were 0 social safety nets. I am of far greater benefit to my country as an educated person than I would have been if I was tossed by the wayside due to the circumstance of birth. And I have far more pride in my country when it chooses to be compassionate and considerate of the hard blows people receive in this life than when it tries to play detached, strategic economist with flesh and blood living beings. Especially when the predominant evidence for the validity of such a strategy hinges on a theoretical country that doesn't even exist in this world.


  1. I'm with you and I agree but I think the issue right now is we just don't have a lot of money to provide for these services. I'm also a strong beliver or Medicare and SS but we have around 60 to 80 million baby boomers that are going to retire over the next 10 years which means they will stop paying taxes and they will spend less.

    In essence our country can be compared to a family that makes 75,000 per year, spends 100,000 per year and is in debt over 400,000!

    In the end we need more jobs... at least 23,000,000 new jobs should be created and these have to be good paying jobs, at least 60,000 and up to get the economy moving again and I just don't see this happening any time soon. We can raise taxes on everyone and it still won't be enough.

    And the people are also not happy with Democrats and Obama, look at the results last night in Wisconsin..

    So who knows what will happen... only time will tell.

  2. @HS: The problem with the family economy analogy is that it doesn't work on the larger scale. Cutting back, reducing spending etc only exacerbates the issues at hand. If you look to the countries that have fared best through the economic downturn you'll see the the exact opposite is the way to go. Germany is doing very well, they're doing very well because they (both government and private companies) threw money at innovation, education and holding on to knowledge. They lost money for a while, but now they're far better off because of it.

    Norway did the same thing, smaller country, but the principle works just the same, the government threw massive amounts of money into building infrastructure as well as other projects, and it paid off.

    Private companies in the US are not job creators, they create jobs predominantly outside the US, innovation is needed, and government is needed to spearhead that innovation. Thinking the US can largely move back to being a mass production company, instead of an innovation company is foolish and lacks rooting in reality.

    Politicians, and the people who elect them need to get past hyperbole and simple, unfounded talking points and get to the nitty gritty, what works, what doesn't, that means cuts in programs that doesn't work, revising some others, a massive cut in defense programs (the defense budget has exploded since 2001 and the government or ordering equipment that the US armed forced say they don't need.) as well as revenue increases (yes that means tax hikes), until that happens, the rut will only increase and be harder to get out of.

    @Cortney: I agree with much of what you say, it's a problem that certain (surprisingly) high level politicians promote a policy that isn't rooted in reality, that doesn't work, all while benefiting greatly from what they talk so loudly against.

    On the other hand, you have a massive block of politicians on the left side of the spectrum that don't confront these politicians, I assume, in fear of alienating voters, that don't manage to successfully convey their politics and are unable to push through important legislation. In addition to that, they tend to treat entitlement programs as holy cows, regardless of how effective they are, that's foolish and that *does* alienate voters. Head Start for instance, doesn't work, they're throwing money at a problem, but they don't get any results form it, when that happens you need to find a better use for the money, not defend the waste. Lastly, I'd say that it's a problem that they appear to be more concerned with being liked than being respected, aka, they'll shoot off cheap talking points (much like the opposition) instead of confronting idiocy and argue with integrity.