Posts Tagged ‘The Rich

03
Jan
10

Sweet [and Sour] Charity

Let the facts be faced, charity is a futile practice. No matter how much money we donate, the poor seem to just get poorer. No matter how much aid is given to third world countries, no matter how many people volunteer at the local homeless shelters, no difference seems to be made.

It’s not because the right measures aren’t being taken. People aren’t (in general) being fed for a day- most charities and aid organizations attempt to help people help themselves. Impoverished families are taught modern farming techniques and are given poultry and livestock, the homeless are offered shelter and are instructed on how to hold a job. At first glance it would appear that charity is working great. There are, sadly, several factors which most people don’t take into account.

Firstly, there’s the overwhelming logistic issue. On the whole, charity and aid aren’t the foremost thoughts in the minds of those who actually do have excess capital. Give a man five dollars and his first impulse probably isn’t going to be to give that money away to someone else. Once we establish that very few people actually do give to charity on a regular basis, we have to realize that the number of people in wretched, abject poverty is monumentally greater than the number of people donating. For example, imagine that all that’s needed to bring one man out of poverty is a mere hundred dollars. If the average person donates five dollars per month (and that’s a generous estimate) it’ll take either (1) twenty months for enough cash to be raised to help the impoverished man (by which time it may be too late) or (2) twenty donors to help a single person. At this rate (and it’s a generous rate), charity will never help more than a fortunate few.

But of course, this is only if the aid gets to these people at all. Corruption is rife both within aid organizations and in every channel that the aid must pass through. Some estimate that only a quarter of all the money given to charity actually reaches those who need it (again, this is a generous estimate).

But of course, all of this is dwarfed by the third and most critical issue: what’s the point of getting people back on their feet when they’ll just get knocked down again? People don’t choose to be poor, people either become poor or are born poor. This is a world dominated by the principals of Capitalism. Competition is brutal, and those who aren’t quite as strong or smart or deceitful or brutal as others will inevitably find themselves forced to the lower rungs of the social ladder. The children of these people, through absolutely no fault of their own, find themselves born into this hellish existence (to call it “life” would be a gross exaggeration). Now imagine enough money filters through to lift a family out of poverty. What then? We’ve simply placed them back into a glorified game of Monopoly where they’ll either be forced back down or force down someone else. Simply throwing people back into the system responsible for their situation is about as useful as bailing water out of a boat with a gaping hole in the hull. Essentially, the capitalist idea of charity is throwing money at something until it’s covered up. It’s costly and completely unproductive.

Now does this mean that charity and aid are wrong? Absolutely not! Helping one’s fellow man through any means is perhaps one of the noblest things a human can do. The problem isn’t with charity and aid- it’s with the system. Until we mend the hole in the boat’s hull, charity and aid serve only to offer fleeting comfort.

And perhaps that alone is something worthwhile.

01
Dec
09

The Myth

Perhaps the greatest lie originating (and arguably, perpetuated by) Capitalism is the idea that the wealthy are wealthy because they are intelligent, disciplined, and hardworking and the poor are poor because they are ignorant and lazy. As a result, if a man in a business suit and flawless grammar knocks on your door and asks if he can use your bathroom, chances are you’ll let him. You probably wouldn’t do the same for a man in a ragged bathrobe whose grasp of the English language was sub-average. Indeed, the quality of treatment you offer people is usually determined by what social class they hail from. We make assumptions about people based on whether or not they seem to be poor, middle-class, or wealthy.

Quite simply, we’re bigots.

And not without reason either. If a person is less willing to let a homeless man into his house than a man who is (or at least, seems to be) doing quite well for himself, then the person’s fear is not completely unfounded. A wealthy man has less reason to rob you than a poor man. Crime rates, alcoholism, and drug abuse are highest among the lower classes. Likewise the poorer classes tend to have the lowest levels of education. Statistically speaking, yes, you are more likely to be mugged by a poor person than a rich one, but so what? Bigotry is never tolerable, no matter what. So what if you’re more likely to be mugged if you get a poor guy into your house instead of a rich one? You don’t know either man. Maybe the man in the bathrobe is an honest, honorable person who’s had a run of bad luck. Maybe the man in the suit is a sociopathic murderer or a con artist. Judging people according to how wealthy they are is, no matter how you look at it, wrong!

So why is it that we’re prejudiced to trust the middle-class and wealthy rather than the poor? Is it because the poor are ignorant and criminal while the wealthy are intelligent and decent? Of course not! The poor aren’t poor because they’re criminals; the poor have high crime levels because they are poor. Sure the poor man is more likely to mug you, but is that because of him or the fact that he’s cold and hungry? Obviously there are those who are poor because of their own issues- all humans have a propensity towards greed and indolence. At the same time, it is ridiculous to claim that the poor are only poor because they’re lazy. It’s the poorest of the poor who have the heaviest workload. Across Africa, Asia, Latin America and yes, even Europe, Australia, and North America there are millions of those who for ten hours a day for wages of less than a dollar a day! There’s a reason we call them the Proletariat– the working class! It’s because they’re the ones doing all the actual work. They do the farming, the mining, the sweeping, the building, the cleaning, the producing and manufacturing! Why on earth would we even dare to consider these people to be lazy?

Because we’re lazy.

As I’ve said, humans are lazy. More often than not we don’t take the time and effort to investigate something for ourselves; we simply make assumptions or believe whatever our leaders and the media feed us. Since the poor are poor and unable to afford decent (if any) healthcare, we immediately assume that the poor are simply dirty. Since the poor can’t afford decent (if any) educations, we immediately assume that the poor are ignorant and stupid. Since the poor are poor and can’t always afford food/medicine/etc., many are forced into lives of crime- we immediately assume that the poor are naturally criminal. But laziness isn’t the only reason we don’t ask why the poor live in poverty.

Humans are also naturally arrogant. The idea- no, the myth– that the poor are poor because they are lazy makes us feel better about ourselves. We’re where we are because of our efforts! We’re wealthy because of our intelligence, our skill! We’re where we are because of our work-ethic, our self-discipline, and our decency!

Egotistical lies.

We’re where we are because of our own efforts and the efforts of our parents and their parents before them and because of the state of the world we live in and the class we were born into. Personal effort makes up about ten percent of it- the rest is accident of birth and dumb luck. A person pulling himself to the top from nothing is such a rare event that we make a major Hollywood film out of it. If you’re born poor, chances are you’ll stay poor no matter how hard you work unless you get not one but a whole chain of lucky breaks. If you’re born into a middle-class family, you’re probably going to stay middle-class unless you get a bunch of lucky breaks (though less than if you were poor). If you’re born into wealth and privilege than you haven’t done anything to deserve your life and don’t have to do anything to maintain it. Like I said, it really comes down to accident of birth. If you’re lucky, you’re wealthy, if you’re not, you’re poor and probably will be poor for the rest of your life. The Caste System isn’t exclusive to Hinduism.

So in short, don’t believe in the fairy-tale that the wealthy are the best of society and the poor are the worst, or that the poor are poor only because of their own efforts. We are, for the most part, fixed in our place by statistical chance- individual effort has very little effect on us.

It isn’t fair, is it? Only a sadist or an idiot could honestly state that this is an ethical system. Most of us simply shrug our shoulders and say that “life isn’t fair” or “that’s just the way things are…”. I say that when someone’s been murdered, we can’t stick our hands in our pockets and say “life isn’t fair”. I say that when any injustice has been committed, no matter on what scale, the only ethical course of action is to establish justice. Yes, life isn’t fair- but maybe that’s because no one’s doing anything about it!

26
Jun
09

In Defense of Free Healthcare

One of President Obama’s campaign promises was major healthcare reform and lately, that promise has been repeatedly referenced in the news (primarily on Fox). While opinions on the subject are vary, in general they have tended towards the negative- a common fear voiced is that a “bureaucrat” will be placed between the patient and the doctor (though others have submitted that they’d rather have a bureaucrat between them and their doctors than an insurance company). Conservative icon Glen Beck, for example, argues that this reform will be costly and inefficient in a brief animated video (linked here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkGhn3LfbyM&feature=related). The video depicts a man who, after being hit on the head by a falling anvil, has to wait six weeks for treatment due to free healthcare. The clip ends with the warning “Offer applies after voting Democrat and not listening to the Glen Beck Program”. Some might call this video a patriotic attempt to maintain an effective and productive system.

I call it propaganda.

What we are actually presented with is an exaggerated and implausible scenario which the creator threatens will happen unless we abstain from the Democrat party and watch his program. Now, purely for the sake of the argument, let’s ignore the insultingly simplistic message and focus on the admonition. Firstly, we are told not to vote Democrat (or risk waiting six weeks for medical attention). People have been voting Democrat for over a century now and no free healthcare system has been implemented. Millions of Americans do not watch the Glen Beck program (some shameless self-advertising), and nationalized healthcare yet to be instated.

“True,” one might argue, “It’s fear-mongering and agitprop, but the core principle is true- free healthcare would be expensive and unproductive.” Now granted, free healthcare would mean that it would take longer to see a doctor however, to say that it would take “six weeks” is simple misrepresentation. Hospitals do have their busy days, but it’s nothing like the crowded mayhem represented by television dramas. In the US, there are hundreds of thousands of public and private hospitals, not to mention an almost countless number of private clinics. Yes, with free healthcare the numbers of people seeking medical attention would skyrocket, but almost assuredly not beyond the country’s capacity to help.

Besides, even if hospitals do become more crowded, how is that a bad thing? More patients don’t mean more disease but more coverage. Those who were unable to afford medical attention before are now able to seek treatment- universal coverage means universal treatment which means a healthier, more productive society (for anyone who isn’t satisfied with the fact that more people are being given medical care).  As for the wait- I’d rather wait six weeks for free medical care than be turned away instantly because I’m not wealthy enough.

And that of course leads us to an important question: why should only the wealthy be healthy? We live in an age of medical miracles that before the 20th century would’ve been inconceivable. We’ve developed vaccines, medicines, and antibiotics to fight off or even cure us of diseases and infections that would otherwise kill us. We’ve created artificial limbs to replace severed ones, and with artificial respirators and pacemakers we can keep humans alive well into their nineties.

If you’re wealthy, that is.

The poor are lucky to benefit from these miracles. If a wealthy man loses an arm, he can purchase an artificial one. If a poor man loses an arm, then there’s nothing that can be done about. If a wealthy woman has complications with her pregnancy, she can hire a midwife, a private physician and so on. If a poor woman has complications with her pregnancy then there’s nothing that can be done about it.

And why is this? When did the wealthy become entitled to longer, healthier lives? Why should the number of green cotton-papers a person has determine when and whether he gets to live or die?

Maybe some of the rich worked hard for their wealth. Maybe some inherited it. Maybe of the poor are poor because they’re lazy. Maybe some were born poor, and for all their hard work remain poor. Sure, the advocates of Capitalism will tell you that the poor can work hard, seize opportunities, move up in life. So if a man works hard his whole life, but his alarm clock’s battery dies and he’s late to work and his co-worker (who works just as hard, but was lucky enough to have a better clock) gets that promotion (and the money for better healthcare) instead of the man who was late, does that mean the late man is somehow less deserving of decent medical attention? Are those who simply missed opportunities (or never had opportunities presented) somehow less-than-human? The Declaration of Independence states that among humanity’s inalienable rights is “the right to life“! How then can we demand that the poor, the wealthy- anyone– pay for life? I defy even the most brutal Capitalist or Social Darwinist to look a person in the eye and tell him that he’s not wealthy enough to deserve good healthcare.

So why would anyone oppose free healthcare? Who in their right mind would trade a little wait for free and universal healthcare?

The answer can be found in another Glen Beck clip (linked here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mq9zfTEtfI)

The clip, while short, is telling. The show’s guest, Dr. Steve Neeleman- after criticizing America’s “addiction to HMOs”- goes on to describe the virtues of his own company, HealthEquity. What the show doesn’t mention is that HealthEquity is simply another insurance company- and it’s insurance companies that stand to lose the most through universal healthcare. In the interests of full disclosure, it should be mentioned, the subject of the show was Hilary Clinton’s proposed healthcare plan- not free healthcare, but nevertheless the clip serves an excellent example of why insurance companies so staunchly oppose free healthcare. Why would the public pay for something they can get for free? What Glen Beck has done here would be the equivalent of interviewing a horse-and-buggy company owner on the evils of Henry Ford’s Model-T automobile.

In conclusion, yes, free and universal healthcare does have disadvantages. Some taxes would have to be raised and in some places, waiting lines would increase. Nonetheless, the benefits of free healthcare greatly outweigh the disadvantages. Yes, insurance companies would be virtually wiped out, but how does that measure in comparison with the countless lives that could be saved?

It just doesn’t.