Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Other Kind of Welfare

As poverty month approaches -- the poverty rate is released at the end of August -- I am drawn to considering how rarely, despite the American myth, anyone really pulls themselves up by one's own bootstraps. Most of us owe who we become as adults, occupationally, financially, socially and, of course, psychologically, to someone else.

The phrase "pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps," which prompted the computer term bootstrapping, or simply booting, arises from the tall tales of adventure told of Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von M√ľnchhausen. The derring-do was satirized in 1785 by one Rudolf Erich Raspe in The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchhausen. In that work, Munchhausen pulls himself out of a swamp by his shoe laces, without help.

In reality, almost anyone who is not poor today had considerable help, even if it wasn't from a formal public assistance program. There's such a thing as what I would call Middle Class Welfare, much as there is simply naked, decadent and obscene privilege for the rich.

Most likely you know MCW. Set aside your rhetorical preparation for the oppression olympics and you'll recognize the decent schooling you received, the food and clothing, the vacations, the parents with sufficient education and intellectual interests to spur you to inquire.

Maybe, like my father, yours worked in the public sector and actually was supported by taxpayers. That goes for everyone from mail carried to president, from U.S. bureaucrat to U.N. envoy. The taxpayers of the world have long -- for millenia, even -- supported a class of scribes and experts to aid the king or ruler.

Even if your father worked in the private sector ... you never heard of corporate subsidies? Think of employment during the Depression and employment after: what made the difference, if not massive war spending and later the military-industrial complex as described by that wild-eyed radical Dwight David Eisenhower.

Every generation in your family who went to a university was partially subsidized. You didn't really think your tuition actually pays for 100% of the costs of a college education, did you?

Indeed, here's my proposition. Society is not a business and is not intended to make a profit, nor much less to be efficient (which even the very profitable businesses aren't).

Moreover, human beings make thoroughly inefficient, wasteful investments. You have to spend about 20-30 years feeding and clothing them to get 30-40 years of middling, complaining output, then you have to spend a fortune for 20 years more postponing their inevitable breakdown and demise. All in all, a losing proposition.

That is why welfare for everyone, that is, a social support for the basic needs and dignity of everyone, is an essential requirement for a sound, functioning and vibrant society.

Yes, you too, get and need welfare.

1 comment:

Hendque said...

An important point of view that is not elaborated often enough. It is related to the idea that members of the middle class have that status because they are innately better than anyone else and the poor deserve what they get.