In the second night of the Democratic debates, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said, "Hey guys, you know what, America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we're going to put food on the table." Isn't that a curious statement? Let's think about this statement, which by the way got a lot of applause and cheers from the audience.
So these politicians, these representatives of our government, are going to put food on our tables? What the heck? Well I don't know how you feel about this, but as for me, I don't want Kamala Harris or Donald Trump or any other politician to put food on my table. I can do that all by myself, thank you very much. OK, so it is true that public policy can impact the price of foods - that's one of many critiques, for example, of President Trump's current tariffs on places like China and Mexico. And that is definitely a valid critique. But I don't know that Harris meant just that. Considering how radical she is on so many other issues, I think she meant a little more.
In some circles these days, there is a huge push toward increased social welfare programs to help out those in our society who struggle with their everyday needs. Now don't get it twisted - there is nothing wrong with helping people out, and in fact, we have a moral imperative to lift each other up and to be of assistance to others. Christ Himself mandates that. In Matthew 19:24, Jesus says, "And again I say to you: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven." So of course, we must be generous with others and have a very light grip on our possessions.
There's a tremendous popularity for politicians like Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both of whom identify as socialists. Their advocacy of social welfare programs such as free public college, Medicare for all, and guaranteed federal jobs are notorious, and their supporters love them for their advocacy. These politicians are articulate and well-spoken, and they have a tremendous ability to touch the emotions of those who admire them. They promise a socialist utopia that will eradicate human suffering and put us all on an even playing field. Sounds good, right?
OK, maybe not.
But what's the appeal? Why are these ideas so popular?
The first thing we need to do is to consider what it means to have "free" stuff, such as health care or college tuition. As is often said, "freedom isn't free," so we need to think about who is doing the paying for these tremendously expensive welfare programs. Sanders' 2017 bill for free college would cost over $40 billion a year, though he said that Wall Street would pay for it. According to the Heritage Foundation, however, this tax on Wall Street, "It would increase rather than decrease market volatility; it would hurt digital traders, who benefit the market; it would not raise as much revenue as projected; and the tax would ultimately be paid by American savers through lower investment returns and fewer economic opportunities."
Furthermore, the idea of Medicare for all would damage not only our health care system, but the lives and health of many Americans. What Sanders is proposing would outlaw:
Furthermore, considering the inefficiency of government-run programs such as the VA and even the DMV, the government taking over the entire health care system for everyone in the U.S. (including illegal immigrants) would spell disaster. Programs such as the UK's National Health Service (NHS) should be a warning to us here in the States. Under the NHS, health care is rationed - that's the reality because if they didn't ration it, the country simply couldn't afford the cost. According to Moffit, "In December 2017, almost one third of NHS regional directors reported that they were unable to deliver 'comprehensive care.' And in January 2018, the NHS cancelled more than 50,000 'non-urgent' surgeries, as British doctors charged that their patients were being subjected to 'third world' conditions."
And let us not forget the tragedies of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans. Charlie Gard's parents had arranged for him to be treated for his condition in the United States, and Alfie Evans' parents had arranged for him to be treated in Rome. In both cases, the authorities took custody of these children and denied them treatment that might have let them live, at least a little longer. And both boys are dead.
And we want to try Medicare for all here?
One could argue that socialist policies are well-intended. It is true that there are many inequities in society - some get paid more than others, some have more access to opportunity than others, and some are bullied for who they are or how they look. But this notion of using public policy to level the playing field isn't a solution that will help people in the long run. You might have a little more money in your pocket, but it was given to you by a government entity. You might have a roof over your head, but you were directed to live there - there was no real choice or effort. And that has internal consequences, both emotionally and spiritually.
The challenge of living in a capitalist society is that you really are called to make it on your own. It's easy to say that the rich have all the advantages, and many do. Then again, think of how many fortunes have been lost or squandered away. Think of the stereotypical "spoiled rich kids" who drink and party their parents hard-earned money away. On the other side, I love the story of the fashion designer Ellie Tahari. He came from Israel with hardly any money, and for a short while he was sleeping on a park bench. Then he began working in a department store, and was subsequently inspired to start designing a clothing line of his own. Now, he is among the most successful fashion designers right now, all by his own merits and drive.
What if the government had given him a handout? Would he have been in a position to find the same inspiration? It's hard to know, but what is clear is that Tahari is the perfect example of someone who took full advantage of the capitalist system, even when he didn't have a cent. Socialist policies keep you dependent, whereas the absence of those policies forces you to be strong, resourceful, and capable. Socialism breaks down the individual, where capitalism gives the opportunity to build the individual through industry, healthy ambition, and responsibility. Tahari's story illustrates this.
We do need charity - as Catholics, we are called to show charity to everyone we encounter. As beneficial as the capitalist society is, the reality is that it's also a difficult system to navigate. People do fall through the cracks, for a lot of legitimate reasons. Some people suffer from illness or other conditions which make it nearly impossible to find employment, or even just a place to sleep, so they do need help. That's real.
The question is who is best qualified to offer help. The social programs we have in the U.S. came out of a hard time in our history, when the economy crashed and many people were out of work. The government went to work getting them jobs and providing social welfare benefits to get them back on their feet. Unfortunately, Roosevelt's New Deal did more harm than good, including the displacement of African-American sharecroppers under the TVA. It was only when we entered into World War II that the economy began to rebound, for the sake of the war effort, which brought about other industries and businesses with it.
Traditionally, local and religious charities have done great work among the poor, the disabled, and the marginalized. A government entity will know you only as a number, a vague name on a long list. In San Francisco, for example, you have to get on this list to get a blanket or that list to get into a shelter, and the people trying to get service so they can get off the street end up feeling frustrated and dejected. Is that any way to feel, especially when they have enough problems?
But a local charitable organization will know them by name, listen to their stories, really work to help them in their needs in a way that is personal and dignified. Charities might not be able to solve all their problems, but that one-on-one contact can bring an intimacy and friendship that can be life-changing. A government-run social program can't bring that.
Charity is something that benefits everyone - both the recipient and the giver. The recipient gets the help he/she/xe needs, and the giver also benefits. In both cases, the act of charity builds the individual from within. On the part of the giver, they have a chance to step outside their lives and immediate needs and to reach out to someone in crisis. That is humbling and generous and comes from a place of love. On the part of the recipient, accepting charity (at least ideally) means having to step back from ones ego, to say "I need help" and to allow another person to intervene. This is very different from asking for a government handout, because while charity is personal, social welfare programs are impersonal and dehumanizing.
So as you listen to these candidates for President in 2020, with all their big government programs and welfare and college for all and guaranteed jobs and so on, think about the character of those proposals. Think about whether we want to base a society on a massive amount of the population being dependent on the powers-that-be for just about everything, or if perhaps we're better off making it on our own, by our own powers, helping each other out when we fall.
Witty; cunning; crafty
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