In an effort to criticize my liberal view of government, I recently had someone try to convince me that the government is like a family unit. The parents are the government and the kids are the people. Setting aside the fact that neither of the kids pay taxes to this "government", this person's logic went that, in order to level the playing field, the parents can only subsidize both kids an equal amount. Disregarding the fact that their situations are completely different and their needs are completely different, each kid would only receive the same amount of money per month.
This all was to point out the ridiculousness of leveling the playing field and the redistribution of wealth. This is when I realized that he may have inadvertently proven my point, and that these leftist phrases are oversimplified. It makes sense that people tend to blow them out of proportion.
What is the government's Role?
Conservatives like to harp on personal responsibility, and if you aren't where you'd like to be in life, then you haven't worked hard enough. That line of thinking is reductionist at best and coldly dismissive at worst. I could maybe get behind this logic if everyone started at the same place in life the moment they were born, but currently there is a litany of outside factors that can instantly provide you with disadvantages or advantages in life. These factors include but are not limited to parent's wealth, genetics, race, gender, geography, health, and the economy
The government shouldn't be about leveling the playing though. Instead, the government should be about providing the same opportunities to everyone. In the current system, money is everyone's key to a better life; thus, the argument should follow that the main role of government is to provide the same opportunities across the board in support of that better life. I would even call it a moral responsibility. How the government should fulfill this role can take many forms, but there seems to be a key base of opportunity that is directly the responsibility of the government and should be an integral part of any social contract that a population enters into with its elected representatives. In short, I am talking about an economic bill of rights that any government, born of the people, has a moral responsibility to fulfill.
- the right to a fair job for fair wages
- the right to free quality food, water, clothing, and shelter
- the right to free mental and physical healthcare
- the right to free education
- the right to social security
Essentially, this would provide a base safety net for the population. A metaphor I like is everyone of us is attempting together to reach the peak of A Better Life Mountain. Now, some climbers are completely prepared with all the climbing gear they would need to make the trek, but others are not as prepared. Some are missing backpacks, and others are missing boots or thermal underwear. Some are missing snowshoes and others are coming to the trek completely naked. What should the climbing party do?
Do we set out and say "Screw them! It's their own fault they can't afford climbing gear!", or do we each give a little money to Mr. Government, who would then fill in the gaps of the people who couldn't afford certain items? The answer is obvious, not just because society is better off when people aren't dying in the streets, but also, it is an investment for the future
So your saying we should redistribute the wealth?
A common complaint is to say, "I didn't get that help from the government. Why should they?" Well, the answer usually follows that you didn't need the help. The government should never be in the business of making people rich. No one has ever advocated for taking half the rich's wealth and giving it to the poor, so that everyone is worth the same amount. That's not fair, but neither is saying that people don't work hard enough. Everyone wants a better life. No one should be faulted for taking advantage of opportunities from the government in the hopes of achieving a better life. No one generally faults rich people for being rich. Rich people are faulted when they blame other people for taking advantage of opportunities that those same rich people did not need to take advantage of growing up. Be proud of not needing those opportunities, but realize that not everyone has that million dollar trust fund and that ivy league education.
In order for a government to effectively fulfill its main role as I have defined, heavy taxation is required especially on the wealthier among us. The buck stops then with each and every wealthy individual. Here a disconnect often happens. See that complaint I outlined above. Many rich people don't like to admit that they too have a responsibility to help those less fortunate than them, and they don't seem to realize the two-fold benefit of aiding the government in its endeavor to create this base of opportunity or strong social security net for their fellow citizens. It's better for your soul and it betters society.
How is that possible?
Conservatism, no matter what the brand, is a cold sad way of looking at the world. It all boils down to basically, "I'm sorry you're suffering, but it's your own fault and we can't help you." That is disheartening and an over-simplification. In the interest of being better people, let us categorically reject that sentiment. Taxation is an effective way to repay society for the benefits one has received from society and often can be far more effective than regular charity.
Also, society, as a whole, benefits from this base of opportunity that is provided by the government. The government and, by extension, the taxpayers should look at this like an investment in the future. If everyone had access to free quality college education, crime rates, drug rates, abortion rates, and mortality rates would all fall. A more informed populace leads to a priming of humanity's progress. We would have more scientists, doctors, artists, writers, painters, economists, engineers, architects, political thinkers etc. all focused on the betterment of society. Who knows where we would be technologically-speaking?
If everyone had access to free quality healthcare, more diseases than ever could be eradicated. It would cost the taxpayer less overall due to the utilization of more preventative care instead of emergency healthcare. Mortality rates, abortion rates, infection rates, unplanned pregnancy rates, teen pregnancy rates, infection rates would all fall. Our exploding population could be reigned in due to better sex-ed and free contraceptives. Homelessness could be eliminated putting less of a strain on taxpayers in the long run, and also putting more people to work. Malnutrition, dehydration, and starvation could be effectively eliminated.
These are just some of the numerous benefits to society.
So what Now?
It's all about providing a base of opportunity for everyone. The hard work required for a better life still lies with the individual, but the government is there to insure that each and every person is guaranteed to the best of humanity's ability the physical and mental capacities necessary to achieve for a better life.