On the jumbledmind blog, a poster was shared with a simple message supplied by a quotation:
“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”
Dr. Paul Farmer
When I read this I felt a strong urge to explain where my posts come from and to define myself a little better. Basically this quote is close to the root of who I think I am. And I do not want to get into a “would you trade your life with someone in Bangladesh” discussion as those are quite fruitless. But something I would vote for, support, and gladly pay the taxes for is a guarantee to American citizens of shelter, food to eat, and basic medical care as a right of citizenship.
Oh, I can hear the conservatives howling already. Words like “undeserving,” “unworthy,” and “sending the wrong message,” and … well, you know. “Sending the wrong message …”: like if you are hungry, we will feed you; if you are cold, we will provide a warm, safe, place to sleep; if you are ill, we will give you medicine. That message? Isn’t that the message we give to our own children, that we will protect them and feed them, and heal them, etc.?
So, why would total strangers merit something like the treatment we provide our kin?
Well for one, it would probably be cost effective. Consider the measles outbreaks we have had because of stupid middle class people not vaccinating their children. Yet, we have allowed all kinds of poor people to wander around with flu, measles, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases for decades; how is that not the same kind of mistake? Do we not pay a price for that in excessive health care costs and unnecessary illnesses with their loss of productivity?
Hungry children clearly do not do well in school and because of that they often fall behind and end up with an ineffective education. Their job prospects are then slim and poor people (working or not) are tempted into crime and end up in jail or prison. What do you think the cost of that is? The U.S. has one in every 100 of its citizens in jail right now. We are feeding. and clothing, and housing them in really expensive institutions with around the clock service. And when we let them out (if we do) we ban them from voting (in many states) and make it really, really hard for them to get a job and sustain themselves so they are tempted back into crime. Think of what we would save if we cut our prison population to half, or a third, or a quarter of what it is now?
Consider how many fewer policemen we would need if there were less crime?
Feeding hungry children would allow them to do better in school. And if the anti-abortion folks argument of “the fetus aborted might be the next Einstein” is any good, what good is it to make sure he is born and then starve him so he can’t learn enough to become special?
How different would it be if we all grew up in a culture where we all felt that everybody (really, everybody) cared about us?
What about the incentive not to work? What about “turning the social safety net into a hammock?” I have a problem with that phrase. First of all, unless you were a sailor in the Navy, you probably associate hammocks with leisure and with good times or vacations. Consider the basic support I am suggesting: a safe, warm place to sleep (probably communal), something to eat, and medicine if you are sick. Does that equate to a vacation to you? Or “the good life?” Would you settle for that as your day-to-day existence? No? Then why would you think anybody else would equate that to “having it made?” Can you find any examples of people who would be happy to live that way? I don’t think so. And if you did find a few, they would be a tiny, tiny fraction of the entire citizenry. Studies of the homeless before the Great Recession showed the average length of time someone was homeless was about six months. Experience that for a while and it really motivates you to get out of that situation. This is the reality of it, not the “happy to be living on the streets” meme promulgated by conservatives.
I am not saying there would be no limitations to our largess. If someone in these circumstances needed a heart transplant, well, that would be sad, because there are real limits on our abilities to support our fellows. But, think about what would happen if all of the shelters, food banks, and free health clinics would find themselves out of work. Would that not create a situation where new groups would crop up, groups that would be offering job training, education, English language lessons, all of the things people who are on hard times would need to move up a notch on the socio-economic ladder? Wouldn’t everybody be better off?
But this is socialism, isn’t it?
No, conservatives, this is not socialism. This could happen under Communist, Socialist, or Capitalist systems. It is simply the extension of certain rights under citizenship. Hey, Swiss citizens have the right to go to any of their embassies in foreign countries and explain that they cannot afford a trip home and their government will get them home. I think they have to pay for the trip when they get back but no Swiss citizen will ever be stranded abroad because of their policy. It is a right of Swiss citizenship. What I recommend would just be rights of American citizens.
And, what I recommend makes me what? I don’t have a name for it, I just hope it is “someone who cares enough,” or “someone who thinks that all lives matter.”
Now, about living wages. . . .