So I’m Canadian, and I’m rather extremely liberal, by USian standards. As in…the word “socialism” doesn’t give me the vapours, and I am a fan of stuff like universal health care, especially since I moved back to the US and with the last health care plan had to pony up $70 for a doctor’s visit, WITH pretty good insurance. Who knows how much it will cost with the new plan (at a new doctor, because of course the doctor I went to last year isn’t part of the new plan).
As an aside, they say the country and insurers and government et al. would save untold literal billions of dollars if they could all agree to use one universal set of billing codes across all health care providers and all insurers, since providers wouldn’t have to learn the myriad of codes out there, and the process of negotiating and approving various procedures would be immensely simplified. I mean, we all have 26 letters in the same alphabet, and I think that in general diagnoses and treatments are largely the same across all hospitals/providers/insurers, so why not make an esperanto of codes to cover everything for everyone, which could then be applied to a universal form for billing? but no. I mean there are billing departments on top of the regular kind of accounting departments. But holy digression.
I was thinking about the concept of charity and how my attitude towards it is extremely Canadian. I give to charities for animal rescues, and Doctors Without Borders, and charities that help persons with HIV/AIDS/chronic/terminal illnesses. Animal rescues because humans can be such dicks to animals, MSF because they go everywhere and help everyone regardless of what side they’re on, and the HIV/AIDS charities because I came up in the 1980s and there but for the grace of god go I, more or less. The way the North American establishments ignored HIV/AIDS appalled me at the time and continues to appall me. I generally avoid the kinds of charities that serve you a sermon with your soup, however great they might be, because I don’t dig proselytizing. If you are into religion, that’s great for you. It’s not my bag and I don’t think relief should be conditional upon getting a sermon.
While the Canadian system has its flaws, for sure, and losing your job due to chronic illness or catastrophic accident can be just as devastating financially as it is anywhere, it still seems that Canadians do not feel the consequences of these things as much as Americans do…the number of Go Fund Me and similar campaigns to raise money to pay for medical treatment that I’ve seen around here in the past 11 months is just shocking. Obamacare also has flaws (particularly in Republican-led states where they opted out of the Medicaid expansion!), but there are so many stories of people who got treatment with Obamacare, and who hadn’t been able to before they got coverage…and now there are stories of all the people who have cancer and whose chemo won’t be covered if the GOP realizes its dream of giving rich people a tax cut in order to finally get rid of Obamacare.
Another current issue is SNAP, the food stamp program that helps out poor people (and whose beneficiaries are overwhelmingly women and children), because there is fraud to the tune of one-tenth of one percent. Frankly, I think a fraud rate of one-tenth of one percent is a triumph, given human nature.
To bring this back around to charity, I don’t have a problem with charity per se — I like giving to charity — but I do think it is the government’s place to be responsible for the general wellbeing of its citizens, including education and healthcare, and if need be, welfare/food stamps/whatever. My mother-in-law, for example, is a small-government kind of Republican and thinks the community, not the government, should look after its own. And I see the sense in that, in that local organizations may have a better handle on who needs what, particularly in small communities. But I don’t know how well that works in larger communities, and I don’t know how well it works for people who move and don’t have a local support system, or non-religious people who aren’t members of a church, for example. So probably that system worked better 60 years ago, or works better in rural areas, than in the modern urban civilization.
I think while there can be a stigma in going “on the dole” or whatever other government relief, there can also be a real stigma in asking for charity from your neighbours in the context of churches or Salvation Army or whatever. I have been on unemployment twice in my life, and it was a bit of a hurdle for me but I reasoned that I had paid into it, and that’s what it was there for! I have had the good fortune to not need welfare or other low-income assistance, but it’s good to know that safety net is there if I did need it, and I wouldn’t be shy about applying if I had kids and for some reason was temporarily unable to provide for them. By the same token, I have always been delighted to pay taxes that paid for infrastructure and public schools despite not having kids myself, and to contribute to the safety net even if it never manages to catch everyone who needs it. I think it would be great if schools could get enough money for all of the arts programs without fundraising! and rich people should be proud to pay that extra percentage that provides for the people who need help, rather than resenting the need for it. US Wal-Mart employees — people with jobs — needed 6 billion dollars in food stamps and other assistance in 2014. Those are the people lucky enough to have shitty jobs! the US taxpayers paid for more than 1/3 of Wal-Mart’s 16 billion dollar profit. That is a fucked-up business model.
I am currently volunteering at a non-profit that helps victims of domestic violence, and they get their money from a variety of sources, public and private. I’m glad that my tax dollars here help fund it, and I’m happy to donate as well, because I think it’s a needed service. I’d be just as happy if it were completely funded by the government though.
I guess my point really is that it can be a lot easier to ask for help from the faceless bureaucrats than from people you know, particularly if you fear being judged.
Tangentially, drug testing to qualify for relief is bullshit: all it does is spend more government money, generally into some private clinic’s bank account, for a very iffy, Constitution-wise, invasion of privacy. Yes, people on welfare should be morally upstanding and not breaking any laws. However, if that’s the standard for the least-fortunate, I think it should equally be the standard for the rest of us.
So, let’s have blood tests of the board members and management of all the corporations who benefit from tax breaks (that’s basically all of them). Let’s make all the farmers who get subsidized take drug tests to get their welfare cheques. Let’s make every member of the US House of Representatives and Senate, and every person who draws a government cheque at every level, federal, state, and local, take a drug test every two weeks!
What’s that you say, that’s ridiculous? well it’s ALL our money, so why should we be more diligent and demanding with the people at the bottom of the chain than at the top? not practical? well then it’s not practical at the bottom either. It’s ludicrous.
The main reason that tax revenues are better at funding charities than charitable individuals are, is that no matter how low tax rates are, charities never have enough money.
When Paul Ryan gets his $200K tax break for millionaires at the cost of, you know, cancer treatments for poor people, and the GOP collectively cream their pin stripes, do you think those millionaires are going to give those $200K each to worthy charities?
Will they even spend that money into the economy of restaurant meals and gym memberships and private schools for their privileged kids? will they start new businesses that will employ people?
Maybe a few will. But for the most part, no. They will buy another imported car, or matching diamond tennis bracelets (one for the wife, and one for the, ah, friend). They will sock it away into accounts that don’t benefit anyone but their brokers and fund managers, shorting whatever stock Trump’s about to tweet into the toilet.
Government is a reflection of our natures. Sometimes it reflects our better, more generous natures, and sometimes…the venal, grasping side of humanity.
We need to run — and vote — our better natures into office.
This is reworked from two posts from January 2017.