Public Assistance is the opiate of the masses? - Journal of Omnifarious
Aug. 29th, 2006
09:43 am - Public Assistance is the opiate of the masses?
I had an interesting conversation with someone yesterday. I told her that I felt being poor was demoralizing and that if I were to live on foodstamps I'd be a leech. She was quite upset by my opinions and decided that I was no longer someone she wanted to talk to because she felt that I held opinions she wasn't interested in being arund.
But it always really irritates me to be cut off like that over politics. So, I pushed the conversation further.
Her reasoning was that the system was broken because so many people weren't paid a living wage, and that public assistance and social programs were necessary for this reason. This led me to an interesting conclusion, since I also think the system is broken for a very similar reason.
Because of a book I've read, Linked: The New Science of Networks (a book I push a lot because I feel it has some really important insights into the fundamental forces governing how large systems work), I've come to the conclusion that it's impossible to have a functioning economy where there isn't a curve in which a disproportionate amount of wealth is concentrated at the top. It's a phenomena that reoccurs in absolutely every 'naturally' grown network in existence. Everything from the food web to the web of neuronal interconnections in the brain, to the web of chemical interactions in cells to the world-wide-web. It's such a powerful natural force that I do not believe it can be escaped.
Given this, you can't make judgments about an economic system based on this disproportionate relationship. You can make judgments based on a couple of other attributes though. Those are how steep the curve is. Is it 80/20 or 90/10? You can also base it on how common it is for someone at the high end of the curve to have once been at the low end. America falls down badly on the first measure. We have a numerous systemic problems that create this situation. America does pretty well on the second measure. Most of the millionares and billionares we have today didn't have parents who were in the same class. Of course, I'm just throwing this out there without pointing at the studies that back me up. So, if you can dispute my data, feel free.
Anyway, one view of public assistance is as a way of avoiding violence, revolution and the upset of the social order that creates the economic system that the people at the high end of the curve are currently enjoying. But, it does this by cannibalizing the middle, in essence steepening the curve. People at the high end have numerous ways to hide their money from taxes, and they have the ears of those who make the laws, which also allows them to get laws passed that hide their money from taxes. So this means that taxes are paid disproportionately by people in the middle, pushing them farther down.
Now I realize that public assistance programs actually comprise a fairly small portion of the total US federal budget. But I would argue that most of those budget items directly transfer money from the middle to the top, and this only strengthens my argument.
Placing a lot of responsibility in the central government inevitably has the effect of making the current structure more entrenched. Those in power will use the power people have given the central government to achieve their own ends.
Anyway, as a final parting shot I point at Wal-Mart, and their instructions to their employees to rely on state health insurance since the company wouldn't give their employees health insurance. If this isn't direct evidence of precisely the sort of thing I'm talking about, I don't know what is.
BTW, I think bad karma inevitably comes form public assistance programs. The money they get is taken from people using the threat of force. It's tainted, and the bad feelings people have about receiving it will never go away because at base they know this is true. So, in addition to pushing the middle down, public assistance pushes the lowest even lower by making them feel that they are a burden.