who will save us? the rich or the government? NEITHER!

Last night I had dinner with a few of the “most important” people in the region for our company.  Basically, I was sitting next to a few of my company’s leadership and making small talk for two hours while eating over priced, but delicious, Italian food.  Just based on the conversation at certain points I realized that despite where the individuals may have “come from” they have completely forgotten what it’s like to have an average income – or especially poor. 

It wasn’t that many years ago I was living at home with my parents, receiving free lunch at school, taking my mom to the doctor on her Medicaid insurance, and working doubles on the weekends so I could afford insurance and gas.  I’m not complaining – I didn’t even realize that wasn’t normal at the time.  I mean, had you asked anyone of my friends it I was completely normal.  Working builds character and hardship teaches lessons – even if you don’t even realize you are learning a single thing at the time. 

Anyways, back to the rich guys at dinner.  They were dropping topics like “lake house”, “sending my child to private school”, etc.  Their problems didn’t seem to be issues that regular people deal with – although I am sure to them they were.  Poor people worry about keeping the heat on in the winter, worry about their friends judging them because they get free lunch at school – the rich worry about their “insurance going up on the jet ski at their lake house” (real conversation). 

All this made me think about one thing – the empathy gap.  As you may or may not know I am highly against government interventionism and taxation, but I have to wonder how the poor – the real poor – would get by without government social programs.  Could we depend on the rich to be charitable to a group of people they blatantly do not understand – can’t begin to empathize with?  I doubt it.

Of course the current system is flawed, I hate it in fact.  People abuse the system, the government programs give people incentive to become welfare babies and grow dependent on those resources.  However, what is the solution?  How do we take care of the poor and needy in this country and still minimize abuse of the system, maximize personal liberty, and minimize government taxation and involvement in the rest of our lives? 

I have to believe that due to the amount of bureaucracy, politics, abuse, and general lack of efficiency that any government is not the best way to redistribute wealth – but what is the solution?  I certainly do not claim to have the answer. 

Republicans may say let the rich keep their money and the wealth will “trickle down”.  Democrats might laugh at that idea and push for higher taxes and more social programs to “redistribute the wealth.”  I’m not sure that either of those all so common solutions will solve anything for a hard working mother that can’t make ends meet. 

I know two things: 1. We can’t rely on the rich to be generous or understanding enough to take care of the poor, and 2. This country can’t afford more failing social programs and higher taxes.

So, it seems, we need answers.  We need change.  We need ideas.  We need leadership not tied to the corporate or political agendas.  In the mean time, if you can, be charitable.  We can’t rely on anyone else – not the rich and not the government – to do the right thing.

8 thoughts on “who will save us? the rich or the government? NEITHER!

  1. jon

    I love the way you tie your personal experiences to the big ideas in this post. I also like the openness of it – i.e., raising the big questions and pointing out the elusiveness of the answer. Nice post.

  2. Amelie

    Hi Atticus, thought I’d stop by. 🙂 Great and compelling questions you’re asking here. I think government intervention has its place, but we’re in a really grave situation. We have some of the most ignorant citizens on this green earth right now. On the world stage we’re a second-rate nation. Europe is kicking our butt right now with advancements in science while we’re talking about Jesus riding dinosoars and denying climate change.

    My mom was a school teacher for 16 years. Around 2002 she noticed a change in attitude. As she put it, kids decided it was “kool to be stoopid”. Check out a great book called Idiot America. Also Fareed Zakaria had a massively good special on why the top performing students were in Finland and Japan. 2 completely different approaches, both work.

    Add to this the special interests in America depleting our resources while getting tax breaks……I do pretty important work for the public, we put on free educational programs and trail walks in the forest for families. To qualify for COBRA on the off season I must pay $450 a month. How can anyone afford that?

    Anyway, sheesh, sorry for the sermon! 😉

    1. Atticus Finch Post author

      Hi Amelie,

      Thanks for stopping by! I’m not sure what’s up with the studends and their lack of concern for education – as your mother pointed out. I’ll have to check out that book “Idiot America” – I love reading stuff like that.

      You’re right about the special interests in America too… and Cobra insurance costs – don’t get me started! 🙂

  3. galudwig

    It’s true that many poor people are struggling and depend on government programs for their survival. But we must not forget to look at government’s role in having brought about this state of dependency in the first place!

    On the one hand, I expect that, if taxation were to be abolished, charity contributions would skyrocket, due to everyone suddenly having a lot more to spend. Also, most who have a “social conscience” or engage in “status-seeking” charitable behavior would probably feel a greater responsibility to help the poor, because they wouldn’t already be paying taxes to do just this. But on the other hand, it’s not up to the rich to be “helping the poor”.

    It’s up to them to create the opportunities for the poor to help themselves. I am of the opinion that if the government would not provide clear incentives to the have-nots (like I too once was and which position I am currently struggling to get out of) to become dependent because of welfare schemes, to refrain from working because of minimum wage laws, to go in business for themselves because of licensing costs and other guild-like practices etc etc. If all taxes were to be abolished, causing greater innovation, more investment into new ventures and opportunities. If government-monpolized/controlled industries were thrown open to competition. If all this were to happen, the amount of “poor” would shrink to a much more manageable level.

    Those who absolutely failed to help themselves or lack the ability to do so would seek help from private charity institutions, which would do their best to make sure that these people are genuinely needy, if only to protect their reputation in the eyes of the public. Contributions would go to them in a more straightforward manner, instead of having to go through endless layers of government bureaucracy.

    Sorry for this huge comment, I kind of went on a rant here 🙂 My only point is that I have the utmost confidence that, if the evil and destructive state were to be abolished, we would all be better off, and the poor even more so. The only problem is getting from here to there..

  4. Atticus Finch Post author

    I agree for the most part. I think taxes shouldn’t be abolished completely, though. There are a few studies that show that people’s behavior in the market with a 0% tax versus a very low tax (say 5%) show almost no difference.

    Since the government does have it’s role – such as providing national defense (not aggression like the US government has become fond of), enforcing contracts, upholding property rights, upholding the constitution, as well as a few other things such as the interstate system and public parks.

    I am not totally anti-government, but rather an advocate for small government.

    The government also has a job to promote fair play in the market place. Capitalism only works if you can prevent monopolies, price fixing, etc.

    I think all of that could be accomplished with a very low tax rate and still leaving the people free and prosperous.

    1. galudwig

      Well, I must disagree with you there, as I don’t believe government, when defined as a non-market institution which uses violence to get what it wants, has a valid and useful role to play in society.

      However, if it could be trusted to stick to a “nightwatchman”-role, I would agree with you purely from a strategic perspective (as our chances of success of achieving this objective would be innumerably greater compared to total abolishment).
      Unfortunately, I don’t think we can trust any government, however minimal, to not expand its powers, regardless of any checks or constitutional limits (case in point: the USA).

      I also don’t think that national defense, law, police, environmental protection or infrastructure are really “public goods”, which can not be provided by the market, and find that the government, even given great intentions (which is already an implausible assumption if you ask me), creates, rather than prevents, monopolies and price fixing.

      But, having said all of this, we probably agree on 95% of everything, and, like you said, it is very refreshing to see similar-minded people talking about similar subjects! Distracts us from the somewhat lonely intellectual position we are in in real life 😀


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