I had lunch with an old student of mine on Friday at Elounda, a very good Greek restaurant in St, Laurent. The lamb chops I had were first class.
I really enjoyed this young man, now approximately thirty years old, when he was my student, and even now regardless of the fact that I found his political philosophy disappointing, to say the least. He is a successful investment counsellor who is of the opinion that government has become too big and should stay out of peoples’ lives.
I found it difficult to discuss philosophy with him because our views are so divergent. I must admit that I did not do a good job defending my belief that laissez-faire is a thing of the past and that governments have an important role to play in the redistribution of wealth.
My first question to this young man was about the fifty million people in the United States who are newly enfranchised by Obamacare’s Affordable Care Act. “What about them?”, I asked to be greeted, much to my consternation and chagrin, with a shrug of his shoulders and a statement that individuals are responsible for their own welfare and the government should therefore take a step back, a reactionary (extremely right-wing) position and one that would only attain a minimal degree of legitimacy in a social system very different from the one that we North Americans live in today.
For his position to be tenable, we must start from a society where everyone has an equal opportunity to be successful. In other words, a laisser-faire political system can only be contemplated where everyone starts from the same place which is obviously not the case in contemporary western society.
Some of us come from wealthy backgrounds while many of us do not. The privileged few can send their progeny to private schools which is out of the question for the majority of the population. Due to this situation, the unequal distribution of wealth and therefore of power too, is perpetuated and government is necessary to redistribute wealth not so that the less privileged can get private school educations, for example, but just so as to ensure a minimum standard of living for the less wealthy among us. A good example of what good government can accomplish can be seen with the introduction of a system of semi-socialized medicine in the United States whereby fifty million people who, usually because they couldn’t afford it before, now have an opportunity to get less expensive medical care in a country where a day in the ICU can cost as much as $15,000 and a week could bankrupt some people. So my first argument should have been about the inequality of opportunity in our society, where, to quote the old but nevertheless correct adage, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and never the twain shall meet.
We then got around to discussing the following scenario. Assuming a class average of seventy percent on a test, what would this kid have against a mark redistribution scheme which would work as follows: a student who got a ninety percent on this particular test would give twenty of his marks to a student who had only scored a fifty. His response was that he didn’t think this was fair because lazy students would just not make the effort, knowing that they would benefit from the hard work put in by the higher-achievers. He could also have argued that this redistribution of marks was a bad idea additionally due to the fact that it might serve to de-motivate the higher achievers who might decide what the hell; why the fuck should I work hard to get a high grade when some of my marks will be taken away and given to those who needed them to pass.
My counterpoint to both of these arguments, that is to the one he brought up and the one that he didn’t, was that he wouldn’t feel the way he did about this mark redistribution proposal had he been living in a society based on cooperation and compromise rather than one founded in principles of competition and selfishness where a high achiever would and could be happy with his ninety percent while half of his/her class had not succeeded on a particular test. My point being that in a collectivist oriented society, it would not be possible for one individual to feel satisfied or happy – what have you – while the majority or at least a significant number of his/her peers were dissatisfied and unhappy. Therefore in a society based on collectivist principles, where the welfare of the collective was the primordial consideration, people would not have to be coerced into surrendering some marks or wealth because they themselves could only feel content if the collective felt the same way.
As for my student’s point about lazy people living off the hard work and effort of the high performance group, the answer is simple but harsh. According to Marxist thought, lazy people would have to done away with after they had been given ample opportunity to become socialized into supporting collectivist ideology with the totality of their respective hearts and minds.
Following the Communist Revolution, Marxism dictates that the next step in the progression towards the achievement of the ideal society would be the so-called Dictatorship of the Proletariat (Working Class), in which people who had owned and then lost the sources of production and distribution, the capitalist class in other words, would have to be re-educated so as to be enabled to adopt a new way of thinking – collectivism. I am not sure how long this working class “dictatorship” would last but it would have to end at some point as this brave new world readied itself for the ultimate dissolution of the state/government and the evolution of ideal communism where government, private property and money would cease to exist. If you are having trouble getting your heads around this notion, think of the Israeli Kibbutzim, but much more numerous and on a larger scale.
As for the selfish, the lazy, the competitive, those who for various reasons refuse to “buy into” (for want of a better term) the collectivist panacea, they would have to be killed or otherwise disposed of. My friend’s eyes got big when I said that but what he obviously had neglected to consider is the fact that violence is done to the working person on a daily basis as the capitalist system strips us of our humanity on the one hand and creates desperate people who may have to break the law to survive on the other. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander and violence begets more violence.
So Mr. Fainface, what say you now? One thing that you said at lunch which I completely respect was that you were not totally fixed in your ways and therefore that if you heard a decent idea, you might allow yourself to be swayed from your self-described rightist bent. Hopefully you see in this JuicyLesson at least one or two ideas which may influence you to move a bit to the left and to give up your notion that government does not have a meaningful role to play in our society.
As for your belief in that self-regulation would replace the role of contemporary governments, I sincerely hope that you see how elitist a view that is and I have to say, even at the risk of turning you off and losing you completely, that it’s bullshit, pure and simple.
I went to see the Canadiens edge Pittsburgh 3-2 at the Centre Bell last night. Goalie Carey Price played another excellent game while Pacioretty with two and Plekanec scored for the Canadiens who won their third straight game. Yes!
Government is great when it is organized to police the poor and protect the wealth (and welfare) of the wealthy. Violent upheaval, as well as unionization, (although exaggerated in some states), are risks and consequences of an inequity of power and resources.
Our compromise is our social welfare state where we appease the masses with social programs which ensure continued compliance with the tenants of capitalism which perpetuate the financial inequities.
Our rampant consumerism in the western world is terrifying and our inability (and unwillingness)to gain a sense of accomplishment from being viable contributors to our social group is cause for great concern. A focus on individual welfare does not lend itself to any viable ability to function in a healthy society.
Ask your student if he was in an accident and injured on the side of the road if he should crawl to a hospital himself? Why should anyone interrupt their day to call an ambulance. What if they stopped and said they would call only if he gave them a 1000$ cash which he didn’t have.
Where does social responsibility start and end?
The real question for social theorists in my mind is how to control population growth so we don’t consume our world from the inside out leaving us with a rotting carcass which will support no one. Maybe you should blog about that…..
Thanks for your reply. Let me think about your comment and I’ll get back to you. By the way, I think you mean tenets of capitalism.