Taking a break from book seven, again…and thinking about a tangentially related thing that’s stuck with me…
A few days back, I saw this comment on a friend’s social media page:
Believing in small government, personal responsibility and the ability of people to create businesses and pull themselves up out of poverty doesn’t mean that I want the less fortunate to starve, that I think all social programs should be cut off, or that I am inherently some sort of “ist” or “phobe”.
I admit this kind of thing bugs me.
The comment is, of course, true enough. Believing in those things is, on their own, not enough to say anyone is an “ist” or a “phobe.” Mostly, though, it’s not enough because the premise they’ve put forward is murky. I grew up around and lived immersed in such loose conservative thinking most of my life, and most (or at least many) of my friends have said those exact words. Heck, as a younger guy I probably said them myself. Like I said: steeped.
Read that argument again. See how this person is speaking as if this idea of personal responsibility is the lone purview of the conservative viewpoint—that they are claiming the property of believing in “personal responsibility and the ability of people to create businesses and pull themselves up out of poverty” for themselves.
This is wrong.
People who are not politically conservative also believe in personal responsibility. People who are not conservative also believe in the ability of people, and the ability to create businesses that will pull themselves up out of poverty. That is why people who are not conservative in nature are happy to invest in these people with programs that help those people succeed in doing just that.
Oh, sure, this personal responsibility plank is something the conservative platform wants to keep for themselves. But that is false advertising—dare I say #fakenews.
Let’s be clear among us friends here that people who are not politically conservative believe in these very American ideals of personal responsibility and the ability of people to make something of themselves.
So, for a second, let’s remove that part of the comment above.
That leaves us with:
Believing in small government doesn’t mean that I want the less fortunate to starve, that I think all social programs should be cut off, or that I am inherently some sort of “ist” or “phobe”.
One can work with this.
What, for example, do you call a social program? Is the Trump payoff of farmers a social program? What program does the government run that is not social (and if so, why isn’t it)? Which programs are good, which ae bad, and why? Since you care about it, how do you intend to keep the less fortunate from starving?
These become interesting questions because how you answer them goes a long way toward answering the question of whether you are an “ist” or a “phobe.”
Because, yes, once you understand the ramifications and purpose of a policy or a program, if you actively decide to remove it or fight it (or sometimes to keep the status quo), then I’m sorry to report that you might well be an “ist” or a “phobe.” Depending. I mean, yes, there are flawed programs. Government is big. Mistakes can be made or people can be corrupt, which is why transparency is so important. There are bad programs. For just one egregious example that literally changed the world we live in, the US government actively paying people to bounty hunt native Americans in the mid 1800s is a pretty bad program. I hope we can all agree on that, otherwise, yeah, I can begin to go to the “ist” and the “phobe” part of this discussion.
This argument is also interesting to me because, if this conservative-minded person truly believes what they said, then they are a socialist. As any good Libertarian will tell you, taking money from one person to use if for the good of others is what the economy of socialism is about. Every program that the government funds is using my tax money to fund something for others. At question is: are you good with that? If you like social programs, then to whatever degree you like them, you are a socialist.
So, yeah, Trump’s giving farmers a subsidy to buy off their losses due to his tariffs?
Socialism. Probably crappy socialism, but socialism, nonetheless.
Obama’s Affordable Health Care act?
Bush’s cutting a $300 check to everyone to bump the economy?
Again with the socialism—in fact, one might argue Bush’s little $300 “gift” to every taxpayer back in the day was a primordial economic pre-cursor to Andy Yang’s proposed Freedom Dividend.
Technically, all forms of insurance is also socialism, just socialism managed by a company rather than the government—as is banking, kind of (he says, thinking about George Bailey explaining to his savings and loan customers why he couldn’t give them back their money). The difference here is that in order to get the benefit of said socialism, you have to have enough money to actually buy into it. At that point, though: socialism. Business-managed socialism, but still socialism.
So, yeah, let’s peel that onion.
What programs do you believe in? Which people do you want to help? Are you good with funding an organization whose job it is to cage kids? Which kids? Are you willing to fund programs that help people who don’t think or live like you do? How many of your tax dollars are you good to give to people who run corporations rather than just to people, and, depending on how you answer that one, what to you mean by free markets?
See what I mean?
Take a minute to think about the answer to these questions, and then, yes, we can work on discussing what it means to be an “ist’ or a “phobe.”
Until then, though, please stop talking about personal responsibility as if you have to be politically conservative to believe in it.