Friday, July 14, 2017

The Happy Curmudgeon: Helping Others

Social Education: 1:20
“Happy is the man…”

“He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.”
Laozi [6th to 5th century BCE], 
Dao De Jing, Ch. 46

We seem to understand more and more about less and less, which includes how to raise children to become good citizens of the world. There is always The Golden Rule, which has universal applications; within its central teaching are found ideas like it’s better to be kind and helpful to each other; when someone needs a helping hand, you offer it; or that it’s good to know when you have had enough. The chief implicit premise, and it’s a good one, is that you not only do no harm, but also alleviate suffering when it does occur.

Some people have great surpluses. Sometimes they give a fraction of it to charity through some trust or foundation. I am thankful that such foundations exist, particularly those that benefit health, education, arts and culture. Americans are generally a charitable people—including helping those who are deemed less fortunate—giving $373 billion to various charities, equating to almost 2% of the nation’s GDP. As much as foundations and corporations are important philanthropists (donating $75 billion, 10.4%), the majority of charitable giving in America comes from individuals (donating $268 billion), almost three-quarters of the total.

There are interesting statistics found on the state of charitable giving in the U.S. at the site, The Philanthropy Roundtable. One is that religion, education and marriage influence and encourage people to give generously. Moreover, those who give also tend to volunteer. Another interesting statistic is that the U.S. is the most generous nation in terms of charitable donations (measured as a percentage of GDP), followed by Israel and Canada. The full top-ten list can be found here.

As good and important as charity is, it does not replace government responsibility to its citizens. Governments have an important role in helping others, and they ought to do all they can in providing, as a minimum, social services such as food, housing, health, and education. Some call this helping out others, giving a hand up, socialism or communism or, gasp, wealth redistribution. These are fancy words that most people don’t really understand, but think and say they do. I might not fully comprehend economic policy, but I do understand helping others and the need to do so. Governments in power tend to do so, however, in proportion to how people in power see this as important, as necessary.

This requires leaders, the political and business elite, who view equity as important and instrumental when formulating government policy. This idea, however, no longer seems popular today in Washington, but program cutting for the most vulnerable citizens of America does have widespread support, even though there is no rationale for it. (Pettiness is never a good reason.) Apparently, it must be the lower classes that are “sucking America dry,” and ”Making America Less Great Again.” Once again, it might prove that facts and politics don’t go well together; it is likely they never did, but this becomes increasingly more evident today.

How does one then explain the poor, the working poor, the sick poor, the veteran poor, the disabled poor, and the poor who would like to work but can’t find a job? Then there are the many elderly poor who worked all their lives, for decades, and yet ended up poor in their final years—such an ugly outcome despite following the advice of financial planners and experts. Things didn’t work out in the end.

Some people are born under a lucky star, and some are even born into wealth, starting off at great advantage. Most are not. You might even conclude, as hard as this is to believe today, that not all poor people are “shiftless lazy bums.” That the problem of poverty is not solely a result of indolence, or making bad decisions, or being spendthrifts. Of course, for some this might be true, but probably not as many as some like to think.

Such is the “gospel truth,” say the wealthy Republicans who like to take from the poor and give to the rich. They are an unusually cruel lot, even by conservative standards, and even by old Republican standards. They have taken the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves,” to new levels of meaning, including believing that it is a biblical injunction. (Note: It is not found in the Bible, although a majority of Americans (82%), including a similar percentage of Christians (81%), think it is. Biblical illiteracy is to blame.)

This is an America by kakistrocacy, ruled by the worst. It is hard to believe that this will lead to any positive outcome. It is hard to not believe that this will lead to the absurd situation where the government helps mostly those who do not need help, and who never know when they have had enough. This is the New America, which replaced the Old America decades ago. But it is far better that you find out for yourself, in your area of the world, what’s what.

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