Thursday, October 05, 2006

Penny's 'two cents' are worth a million dollars

In response to a previous post of mine, Penny submitted a comment and after some reflection deleted it so she could refine its points. I asked her for permission to display her comment in its original form and to respond to some of her points. She agreed.

I like Penny. She is one sharp cookie. She is raising an adorable four year old girl, Opehelia, and has insights into child-rearing that I wish more people shared.

I don't agree with Penny on everything she writes and believes, any more than I would expect her to agree with me on everything that I write or believe. She would be a hoot to sit with over a coffee, though, to discuss religion, politics, philosophy, psychology, history, or just about anything else. One of my favourite posts of hers was about her longing for 'cake' in her relationship with her boyfriend. Penny is a creative thinker and we need more like her.

I would like to display below some of her comment (in blue, italicised) on my post, interspersed by my efforts (in black) to answer questions and concerns of hers.

Wow. You know, I really don't know what I am. I believe in social programs and agencies to help those that can't be kings. I believe that if someone works hard enough or is lucky enough and is ethical, he/she should be entitled to what he/she makes to keep and spend as he/she sees fit as directed by their own conscience.

Those basic ideas do not work, together.

Yes. That is the problem. You can't have any sort of state-supported programs without taking money via taxes from the citizenry first, usually much more than the tax-payers might voluntarily offer to pay.

So, I suppose it comes down to what people value for their families and country-men. Healthcare, infrastructure, technological advances, armies, and how much they are willing to give to help keep those entities in place for themselves, their friends, the common man and the future generations.

I think the real issue is whether or not people value (or should value) freedom and responsibility more than anything else, and whether they recognize that forced redistribution of wealth is morally wrong. Those who protest loudest about how the rich should pay their 'fair share' usually do not understand the concept of fairness at all. They simply want to shift responsibility elsewhere, away from themselves. I wrote an entire blog post on fairness, available here.

Is the split between people really about how much money they have and don't have? Or, want or need? Or, how much they wish to give or think they deserve to take? Is it a battle between altruism and greed?

I don't think the issue is at all about money, really. I think it is about principle. I think it is wrong to forcibly take from one individual to give to another. That is a form of theft. It sounds noble and kind to work within a system driven by the notion of 'from each according to his ability, and to each according to his need,' but that simply doesn't work. I have written at length about why not here.

I don't know. I suppose these traits are regulated by government, so as not fought bloody out in the fallow fields. So as not to give the blessed and privileged unbalanced power over those downtrodden and in need and worthy of help and opportunity who have come to their desperation as products of their environment or poor personal choices.

This presupposes that government decisions are somehow always the correct ones, based on proper values and in anticipation of proper (moral & ethical) results. The reality is that politicians are no smarter than the rest of us and they are driven, because of the very system in which they exist, to do whatever is necessary to be re-elected. That reality is more important to them than to do the principled thing.

But, of course, that is how people think. The problem is that capitalists feel that they are paying too much and the socialists feel that more programs are needed. Both complaints are valid and true.

Both complaints are true, because they exist, but not valid because only one view is principled. The socialist objectives can never be supported entirely voluntarily, so to varying degrees depending on where in the world the government is located, there is forcible income distribution or restrictions on commerce or other voluntary interaction of various sorts.

So, I don't think that it is necessary a matter of right or left, from what I know.

That's true. The stereotypical view of left and right is that the left favours individual liberties but wants to control business and that the right wants freedom of commerce but likes to restrict individual rights. Libertarianism wants to control only violations of the right of the individual to life, liberty and property, including violations of those same individual rights by the government itself.

(But, I do not know a lot about politics. I speculate from a very limited, probably naive point of view)

Not at all, Penny. If everyone thought about things as much as you do, we would be much more likely to have more harmonious political systems and far less polarization. The problem is with those people who simply parrot what they have been told and who never trouble their little brains with the effort necessary to puzzle things through.

I think it's a matter of how the government spends the money and how it brings it in.

Bingo! Even the staunchest libertarians would be less vocal in their opposition to taxation and government spending if it were indeed done fairly. A flat tax (say 15%, applied to all income, no exemptions) would please more people than our current system where high income earners pay a higher percentage. A system where every adult were assessed his calculated share of the actual cost of providing our alphabet soup of social programmes would be fairer still, but even I recognize that it would be unworkable. The cost would be far too high per person and many individuals and families simply couldn't pay it. And that, of course, is the real-life manifestation of a system that tries to be everything for everybody.

And, do those using social programs to better their lives confront those who take advantage of social programs? And, do those who pay high taxes to help these people confront those who take measures to hide from taxes?

Again, I think a lot of the animosity about taxation and abusing tax-supported systems would diminish or even go away if the system were even remotely close to fair.

If everyone was acting as they should, would the gaps be so wide?


And, who decided that a certain type of life was best? Should the single mother raising her child use subsidized housing and obtain grants to go to post-secondary to raise the social status of her and her child for the future? Or, should she stay in subsidized housing, comfortably using her time for productive one-on-one hands-on mothering to raise a well-rounded, parent-bonded, well-adjusted child? Is it okay that she stay in this social program, because the world around her has dictated that unless she marries and uses her 40 hour work week in combination with a significant other, she will not have the double income necessary to be a socially acceptable, contributing member of society? If it's not, why isn't it? Perhaps her child will be the one to grow and go to school to learn to give therapy to the adult-children of the double-income parents who make up for their absenteeism in family by offering gifts. (The highest number of depression, addiction, suicide and mental illness comes from this group).

A reasonable answer to this paragraph would require a book-length response. Let me answer this simply by saying that the most successful people, as a group, were the pre-1960s immigrants who came to North America to better their lives. They got nothing when they arrived and had no expectations of any sort of handouts. All they wanted was the freedom to work so they could prosper. They did prosper. Why? Because they had to. And in the process, they kept their self-respect and passed appropriate values and their work ethic on to their children.

In any case, we have a free country, where we can chose how to live and raise our families and conduct business within certain laws and social standards and various multi-cultural and religious backgrounds. So, who funds government programs? Who uses them? Which people are worth more? If the goal is to accumulate, the rich are. If the goal is balance and social cohesion and unity in the greater sense with freedoms in place, then I would tend to look at the governing body as a business.

I believe that we are all equal and that we should all have equal opportunity. I would ask, though, that those who already pick up the biggest chunk of the costs of running our governments and the myriad 'services' they fund, at least be treated with some degree of respect and not merely used as sources for ever-increasing amounts of money extorted, essentially, at the point of a gun.

There is an increasing polarization between classes of people that barely existed a few decades ago. The reason is that back then nearly anyone realized that with hard work and some good decisions anyone could be financially secure, even successful. Now, many people think that they have no future, no prospects for a better life, and a sense of futility. That is what decades of an entitlement mentality have done for us.

My message to Penny and to anyone else who cares about the state of our world is basically: Think. She does that admirably. In this blogging medium, it is easy for people like me to pontificate and make pronouncements. My conclusions are often exactly the opposite of those drawn by someone with a socialist mindset. Who is right?

That is a decision that each of us has to make for ourselves. The good thing is that so many people can now make their opinions known, via the internet, that just about every point of view, on every conceivable subject, is available for scrutiny and consideration. We each have to sort things out for ourselves.

Thanks, Penny, for thinking and allowing me to respond to your points.


  1. Wow, Atavist!

    Thank you for your generous compliments and for your time and attention to my comment. I appreciate your reply. I've taken a good lot of time to read over it and I can't say that I have anything to add at this time, as you've said it all. So, thank you for that.

    And, you've given me more to think about. I love the cycle.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Thanks, Penny. And a Happy Thanksgiving to you!

    I wonder if, everytime I write something like this I should end it with: IMHO.

    I always liked Dennis Miller's signoff: "In my humble opinion, anyway. I could be wrong."

  3. I've been trying to figure it all out...

    Would it offend you if I said that you don't sound like a capitalist?

    Still trying to sort through it.

    Just thought I'd stop by during a study break. Enjoy your family this weekend, blessings to them! Have a glass of wine for me!

  4. Penny, I probably do not sound like the 'image' that people have in their minds of capitalists, the popular stereotype of robber barons and Enron bandits, etc.

    All a capitalist really is, is someone who believes in the freedom of the marketplace and that individual choices by consumers are better than mandated economic planning by bureaucrats and assorted 'experts.'

    Most of the models held up for us as capitalists are anything but. They would not survive without their partners in crime, the regulators and politicians. So-called 'mixed economies' are what we have in North America, with just enough economic freedom so that most businessmen will play along, or more likely learn how to live in or even milk the system, and enough control from government so that businessmen always know who's boss. And the boss isn't the consumer, nor is it politicians doing what is right or logical It's a bunch of power-hungry bozos catering to whover donates the most money to their reelection coffers and/or casts the most votes.

    I had a lovely glass of Beaujolais on your behalf, toasting your studies and your life and future with your loved ones.

  5. The important thing to remember is that reason, not emotionalism (even emotionalism disguised as "faith" or "altruism" or "the common good") can get an individual more prosperity and victory in life than any politician pimping socialized medicine or bureaucrat dangling the carrot of the guaranteed existence.
    It doesn't take a miracle to see what is right infront of one's face. It takes emotional detatchment and daring to think logically.
    We are all tempted to sell our souls to the great Satan of collectivism at one time in our lives or another.
    The principled individual passes by that way and enters not. Does the rest of America owe me a new home for being stupid enough to build my old one in a city 7 feet below sea level? NO!!! I need to use the God-given observation and common sense I have to get the hell out of there and start over, making my dwelling place somewhere more sound.