The Challenge and The Will

Take a look here, for our brief explanation of today’s (Tuesday 6th November) posts.

For a time in my youth I was neighbours with a Cuban American lady and her family. During my university days as a politics student, when I was home visiting my own family, we would chat about the world’s ills and how to solve them. As you do when you’ve had a few drinks and it’s a lovely evening, so you sit outside and listen to the insects. Anyway, her family was very Republican, I like to think of myself as open minded so this was never an issue, regardless of my own sensibilities. Obviously we would disagree, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a sensible discussion. Partisans, take note.

We would inevitably end up on a discussion about social justice and social democracy and that kind of thing. From her I learned that a lot of Latin American revolutionaries were raised by Jesuits. Jesuits, if you weren’t aware, are considered excellent educators, because they, to quote:

[take] the whole person into account and [foster] not only intellectual development, but also moral and spiritual growth. Intellect and faith are seen as complementary, not contradictory. The Jesuit tradition values the richness and variety of human experience… With a strong commitment to service and social justice, Jesuits educate “men and women for others” who develop their gifts and achieve at the highest possible level.

So if you want to blame anyone for the Castros, then start with the Jesuits. As a Cuban, my friend had a deep hatred of the Castros and Cuban government. This generally became a discussion on various social programmes, social welfare, and lefty sort of things, and what was wrong with them. As good educators that Jesuits were, their reverence for social programmes was not a good thing.

Mitt Romney made some remarks about those that voted for Obama in 2008. He has in fairness dismissed what he said as “Not elegantly stated” and “Off the cuff”. Which is all well and good, but he didn’t exactly retract what he said. Since he didn’t say he was wrong, we are going to look at his actual words: “There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it”. Not exactly mincing words. These people, he suggested, did not pay any income tax, and were government moochers. This is mildly inaccurate for a lot of reasons. In total, 46%of Americans don’t pay income tax. This doesn’t mean they don’t pay taxes. They just don’t pay income tax. Half of those don’t pay it because their incomes are too low. And you know, obviously if you have a low income it’s because you don’t want to make more money. The irony is that the majority of those in this field that did actually go out and vote, voted for McCain.

Someone needs to point out mistakes.

I got that information from the Tax Policy Centre which is part of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution. A little research helps make you credible, at least, sometimes. Unless you’re using the September Dossier as your primary resource.

Going back to Romney’s words of people “who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them”; well, yes, it does. Democracy is apparently a government of the people, by the people, for the people. If the government doesn’t have a responsibility to and for the people on the poverty line, too poor to pay federal income tax, what is the actual point of government. Some 15.1%, in 2010, were living below the poverty line. I have a sneaking suspicion that they’d rather not be there. Which shows two things. Firstly, the census supplies useful information for lots of things. Secondly, the land of opportunity is like Dickens’ London, supposedly paved with gold, but where poverty exists and no one wants to look at it.

Governments that don’t look after their citizens, in my mind, are not legitimate governments. People may not pay income tax, they may not pay any tax, but they didn’t create the system that is more than happy to exploit them. They don’t call it a poverty trap for nothing. There is a tacit agreement between governments and their citizens, it is true of all liberal democracies: by remaining in a an area that is governed, we agree to the governmental rules of its society. But in turn we also give a legitimacy to this government. Government does have a responsibility to care for its people. Why anyone thinks otherwise probably has too much interest in it not being responsible to those at the bottom. Conversely, those at the top don’t pay a whole lot of tax, or any if they can get away with it. But they aren’t in danger of starving.

The challenge of government is to adequately look after its people. What the right in America is trying to do is remove this responsibility. The argument is simplified to ‘big government vs. small government’, standing up for Reaganomics and all that. Which is stupid because Reagan increased government spending, and expanded its remit, as did George Bush. The right charges the left of socialism as though it were a moral disease. It quietly saying that the government is only meant to make everyone money, and that is it. As long as you have money to begin with. A deep irony of the right wing in America is that it claims to be economically conservative, advocating small government (though increased spending on defence), because the government shouldn’t have too much power. Except of course when it comes to the things that the right doesn’t like, like gay marriage, abortion, lack of god in schools, etc.

The will to look after the people is seen as a left wing mentality. It shouldn’t be. It is a responsibility all governments are meant to uphold. Why is it that this idea is so anathema to a significant portion of Americans? For all their love of god and the Christian ethic, there is a distinct lack of love thy neighbour. Well no, there is more love thy neighbour as long as thy neighbour is in the same social or economic strata that I am in. Americans like to talk of their equal opportunities. There is little equal about being in a country where being born in the wrong place is more than likely going to be where you end up.

The challenge of a government is to govern well, responsibly, fairly, and to ensure some modicum of equality. The will to do this, well, that’s something else entirely.

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  1. […] first, The Challenge and The Will, is on a topic I raised recently on the legacy of George McGovern, but did not have a chance to […]

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