This is one of a Series of Short Takes, though this one is not all that short, about the salient issues of the day. It is explicitly political and likely to offend, though, really, why should you take offense where none was intended? You have, nevertheless, been warned.
Things don’t happen in a vacuum. Changing one thing changes other things. That’s how life is, and we all know it. Frequently, in our debate, we forget this, and that leads to a lot of silly arguing about what different policy initiatives will do.
For instance, a sports analogy: “Our kicker missed a field goal in the second quarter. We lost by 2. If he makes that field goal, we win.” Nah. This is silly. Maybe we would have won, but maybe not, because a thousand other things are affected by those points not being there. In one of the best examples I know of, back in 2006, BYU trailed Utah in the climactic game of the season with time for only one more play. BYU QB John Beck, with no time on the clock, threw a pass that went all the way across the field to Jonny Harline, who despite being 6’5″ and 220 lbs had gotten lost by the defense and was all alone in the endzone for the winning touchdown. This has come to be known by BYU fans as The Answered Prayer.
It has been mentioned several times by BYU fans that BYU missing an extra point earlier in the game was what made the Answered Prayer possible (BYU would have kicked a field goal to tie, but couldn’t, because they were down 4 points in the final seconds, and had to go for the touchdown). What never gets mentioned is that if that pass had not been completed, the kicker would have been savaged for costing BYU the game. But he didn’t. He cost BYU a point. That’s all. And in this case, that loss of a point led to legendary heroics that otherwise would not have been witnessed.
Apropos of this: The current discussion all over the country about government benefits, their use and abuse. Full disclosure: I had a couple of Medicare kids, though I paid for the last six in cash, no government assistance and no health insurance. I got Pell Grants in college, but I also worked 3/4 time every minute I was there. I still get baby bonus money in every tax return. I do benefit and have benefited from government handouts, though not nearly as many as I qualify for.
Nevertheless, I argue against them all. I do this fully aware of the fact that many of the people that use those benefits need them to eat, or pay rent. When I argue this, of course, I get a lot of heat about my being heartless, and asked why I hate people so much. I’ve often wondered how many of those questioners give away 25% of their income every year to various charitable organizations. My guess is few of them. And I think therein lies the problem.
When I argue that Medicare should be abolished, I don’t do that in ignorance – or in apathy – with regard to the millions that are getting it now. The counter-argument is always that those people will receive no care if they don’t have this program (and therefore, by extension, I hate people and want them to suffer and die).
But that is nonsense. Most of them – the vast majority – will get the same or BETTER care than they get now. They’ll get it without an endlessly degrading process of submitting paperwork to bureaucrats from every federal agency under the sun. They’ll get it without costing the hospitals 50% more than they will be reimbursed. They’ll get it, in short, directly from US, without having Washington take its huge cut on the way through. Or did you not know that for every dollar in tax, only a small percentage actually ends up in the hands of the recipients? If Uncle Sam were subject to the same scrutiny that charities are, every member of the Administrative Branch would be in jail.
This isn’t a vacuum. It’s not the case that raising a tax from 10% to 11% raises 10% more revenue (frequently, it DECREASES revenue). It is absolutely not the case that eliminating Pell Grants means that fewer people will attain a beneficial education. It is not the case that eliminating the federal dole will mean widespread starvation and homelessness. It will only mean those things if we truly are, as a nation, heartless and cruel.
I don’t think we are. I think we are the most giving nation on earth. Absent government’s wildly inefficient, wasteful, and fraud-riddled attempts to distribute money to people that don’t have it, the people themselves would – and do, even now – take care of one another. It will be cheaper. It will be faster. It will be simpler. It will work better.
But only if we understand the ways in which that missing element of government programs will be compensated for. Only if we stop talking about people that believe in the demonstrated generosity and goodness of Americans as if they wanted to throw people out on the street. We don’t. As a group, we give away more of our money – and pay more tax as well – to prevent those things from happening than any other group of people, divided however you choose, on the planet.
That’s one of the reasons we believe that if the government would stop wasting $7 for every $1 of benefit we get, that we would deliver that $1 a lot faster and easier, and have $6 left over. I don’t want to stop helping people pay their bills. I just want THE GOVERNMENT to stop. I believe that in the absence of that extra point, we’ll see heroics that are otherwise impossible. Or do you really, REALLY believe that in the absence of federal medical assistance, there will be no medical assistance at all?
I believe there will be, because I see it every day. I am a part of it EVERY DAY. But I can see how, if you were not doing that, if you were not out on the street helping people, not part of service organizations, not raising money for charities, and not paying huge chunks of dollars to support people in the local community, you would think that the government has to do it or we’re all going to starve. We tend to see others as we see ourselves. If you do not do these things – or even if you do, but you do them for other reasons than simple charity – you probably think that nobody else will, either, so the government has to extort the money from us under threat, or we as a people won’t give.
I have good news. Most people really will help. Eliminating those programs means more work for us, yes, but it also means more opportunity for us, and more dollars that can be used where they actually help. I believe we will rise to the occasion. I believe that if we cannot kick a field goal, that we will drive for a touchdown instead. Both sides, I think, really want to win. But I believe that the best way – and the only permanent way – is this way, away from the government taking more and more from us and giving less and less in return, and toward making each of us feel that responsibility we all have to care for one another.
Unfortunately, I doubt very much that my theory will ever be tested except in the most limited terms. But I can always hope.
NOTE: there are people that argue for the abolition of government programs because they’re angry about being fleeced by people that need to just get a job. I don’t like those people and have nothing to do with them.
If you want to argue that the government should not be in the business of taking our money to give to other people, then you had better RIGHT NOW be in the business of doing that yourself. Because someone needs to do it. It needs to be done. Everyone, sometime, will need someone else’s help. If you are arguing that the government shouldn’t be providing it, then you had better be ready to do it yourself. We want our rights back? Fine. We better be prepared to take back our responsibilities to care for one another along with them. They’re a package deal.
Call me heartless if you like. I’m a big boy, and I can take it. But I am prepared to put my heart – yes, and my wallet – on the line to back up what I advocate. I am willing to undertake the responsibility of learning once again to do what I should always have been doing, caring for the poor and needy, helping those that need my assistance, watching over and supporting those that can’t make it on their own. I am willing to do it MY OWN SELF. NOT delegated to HUD. NOT pawned off on HHS. NOT through Medicare or Medicaid. NOT through a bankrupt Social Security program. MY. OWN. SELF. My money. My responsibility.
How about you?