This may in fact be my last post for a while. It ought to be much longer too, but onto bigger and better things these days.
A sincere wish I have is for people to have more regular, more open and more honest discussion about how we live together and what our purpose here on Earth is. I surely don’t think there needs to be complete agreement on the ends of anyone, but I do think that far more agreement on means ought to be encouraged. It is not clear to me how we want to live together and what our expectations are for what is required of each and every one of us as citizens. I’ll leave with two short observations and when I return perhaps we’ll give the entire idea its just due.
I support a negative income tax. I do so for several reasons. First of course is that I find a monetary social safety net to be desirable on efficiency and value grounds. On efficiency grounds I believe a small monetary insurance program encourages useful risk taking and eliminates some of the stress that can virtually incapacitate people. On efficiency grounds you might wish to argue it is a reasonable solution for a market failure of free-riding if all charity/mutual insurance were done privately. On value grounds, I think it makes a lot of people simply feel good that “we” have a state-sponsored safety net that is fair. I value that others get that kind of peace of mind, else it means that they will be demanding peace of mind from the state doing other things. But the major efficiency reason for having a simple negative income tax is that it is a reasonable way to reduce the rent seeking and special privilege that are rotting our government and society. It is a way to eliminate redundancy in state, federal and local “relief” programs. It is a way to get incentives right (appropriately structured we don’t have to have high implicit taxes on earning, saving, family formation or other useful behavior). It is a way to eliminate the enormous influence the government employees and their civilian contracted brethren have on us, and to prevent the majority of Americans from being ruled and steamrolled by an entrenched bureaucracy.
But I think an important point in the entire discussion about safety nets and how we choose to live with one another is that an important element of human emotion is missing. When folks like me advocate for a negative income tax, we are not saying that this is a free-pass to abrogate our duties as humans to one another (to the extent that your own worldview admits such duties exist, as mine does). “Yup, I paid my taxes and that will be used for a safety net, so I’m all done here and will be on my merry way.” It’s a tempting response, and believe me it is hard not to feel that way at times. But that is not at all what this position entails. However, what I do understand is that lots of people, perhaps including me, are not about to come to the aid of strangers or “different” people. It’s simply not who we are. Anyone who has been on a college campus and who sees how truly and really successful efforts at forced integration really are must be kidding themselves. This is not at all to suggest that it is not possible, but I find that the human interactions that flourish are the ones where there is a common connection felt and established between people. Such was (and is) the secret of the success of the mutual aid organizations. People of similar trades or similar experiences or similar beliefs form strong bonds. And these strong bonds are the glue that holds the social formations together. These sorts of connections cannot be force forged. This is perhaps one reason I liked (and continue to like) playing sports. When you play football, you all suffer through three a day August practices in the scorching sun, all with a common goal – and no one of us before the others. Regardless of our income or musical talents or good looks or what have you, on that field we were all truly “in it together” and it’s pretty interesting to see how close those relationships remain to this day for members of serious sporting endeavors. There are many other activities and organizations for which similar cohesion forms, on the basis of religion, craft, trade, or what have you.
And the point being is that I don’t care whose political vision of the world you ascribe to. And I don’t care what political reality is ultimately achieved. They WILL ALL FAIL unless we have a mutual respect for one another. They will ALL FAIL unless we know how we want to live together. They WILL ALL FAIL unless we understand that our duties as human beings is to see the lives of others with compassion and interest, and that such compassion and interest is not to be relegated to only a member of a particular group based on income or race or some other convenient designation – but rather every human being should be worthy of consideration of this respect. No social program, no private charitable program, no team, no endeavor, can succeed unless we see in each other the best and unless we take an active interest and effort in the lives of others. That doesn’t mean we all have to be the Great Samaritans, we can all do our part in a little way – such as saying please and thank you; teaching our children discipline, and so on. And furthermore, seeing each other as human does not mean we are all required to actively go out and save every soul, or play with everyone on the playground. It means to respect the choices of others, to respect the differences truly and not superficially, and not to come to expect people to cater to your whims and interests.
I think we as a people are far from an ideal in this way. Not a political idea, but a human ideal, an ideal of decency and respect. I’m not above this either – and I reflect often and deeply on my shortcomings. But let’s again not kid ourselves, until we get ourselves right and get right with the idea of our relations with others, all of the rest of this stuff is just nonsensical blathering.
Be well all, hope to be back soon.