My good friend, Mark Hansen, pointed out an article from the WSJ by Paul Ryan. Its primary message was that government programs can have a tendency to “oversee” people rather than “empower” them and that such oversight does not offer the best way out of poverty. I am paraphrasing, of course, but I think that was the basic message.
What intrigued me about this article was Ryan’s lead-in: an anecdote where he was reproached at the Rock County 4-H fair by a Democrat about his use of the phase “makers and takers”. Ryan said:
“I’d started using the phrase “makers and takers” after the Tax Foundation issued a study comparing how much families receive in government spending with how much they pay in taxes. If a family’s share of government spending exceeded the amount it paid in taxes, the study deemed them “receivers.” If it was less, they were described as “givers.” The Tax Foundation’s analysis found that 60% of American families were net “receivers,” and under President Obama’s policies, that number would grow to 70%.”
He commented that we could reach a tipping point where the amount produced by the “givers” is insufficient to pay all the “receivers”.
It’s a fair point and one that requires us to contemplate a central issue of the debate between the “left” and the “right”, that is, how large should the safety net be and how do we fund it?
I don’t have an answer for that, but Nicholas Kristof proposed an interesting starting point for that debate in an article arguing the value of studying the Humanities.
He references a thought experiment suggested by the philosopher, John Rawls.
“Rawls suggests imagining that we all gather to agree on a social contract, but from an “original position” so that we don’t know if we will be rich or poor, smart or dumb, diligent or lazy, American or Bangladeshi. If we don’t know whether we’ll be born in a wealthy suburban family or to a single mom in an inner city, we’ll be more inclined to favor measures that protect those at the bottom.”
In another of my posts – “Corporate Inversions, Inequality, Race Riots” – I talk about the kind of substantive information that allows us to have informed discussions uncluttered by the rhetoric of the OpEd or the fixed position. Without substantive information about the US budget and the cost of each benefit that forms part of the safety net we consider, the debate tends to comprise statements such as: “…a civilized country must…”; “… .how can we not?”; or “…we simply can’t afford…”.
I am going to pause and go look here:
I will return when I have something substantive to say. It may be a while…