The word of the day is: Selfishness. This is the one thread that binds many of our current social ills together. Selfishness is behind those who proclaim loudly they need not support our schools since they no longer have any students of school age. Selfishness is behind those who claim they made it on their own, and therefore have no sympathy for those who may need a hand up. Selfishness is behind those who claim their decision not to be vaccinated affects only them, they have no responsibility for the rest of society. Selfishness is behind those who believe fervently that any public policy aimed at providing a needed service is symptomatic of creeping communism.
It was Ayn Rand who popularized selfishness. Before her books hit the mainstream, it was unfathomable that people would believe it was a moral wrong to provide charity. But her memes infected many who gained power over the years. Her philosophy served as impetus for people like Paul Ryan to wield his gavel in the service of selfishness. For many years, it was not thought necessary to inveigh against her beliefs, since the predominant philosophy from mainline Protestantism was Christian charity. That some of the charity was done by government was viewed as a necessary evil, and thus many of the programs set up became infested with bureaucratic means testing which often served to demean anyone who tried to use the “free money”. So people were prohibited from accumulating assets if they used a government program, since they could “afford” to go without the money if they had any assets whatsoever.
There is no doubt that the desire to prevent people from living high off of the dole has caused many programs to be bloated with government overhead. And many folks who could benefit from the programs, refuse to be subjected to the oversight of the government masters. Even the age of technology has been an impediment, since private enterprise is able to use technology efficiently to implement things like rewards programs, while government programs such as unemployment are saddled with antiquated systems totally incapable of dealing with the surges our new economy is able to create.
So the belief that anyone who became dependent on government support was morally inferior caught on with more and more of the population. Meanwhile, the private sector kept on evolving, while the government sector kept getting throttled and prevented from adopting new technology. Well, now we have seen the effects. An economy where the number of unemployed and the number of job openings are both high. An economy where private home ownership becomes unaffordable to more and more of the population, while inadequate investment in affordable housing creates legions of homeless populating the streets of major urban areas. Will we use the disruption created by the pandemic to remake the fundamentals of this economy? Or will we jump at the chance to regain a semblance of normality, and accept the human detritus unable to climb aboard the economic ship as a cost of doing business?
Even with the increased spending aimed at maintaining private consumption, we still find it nigh unto impossible to give the IRS additional funds aimed at collecting legal taxes due. Any attempt to include additional revenues from tax collection as offsets for additional spending were quashed. Why? Because of selfishness and a misguided belief that the government is already too intrusive on our lives, we certainly should not give them additional funding. So its ok to reduce taxes on the wealthy, but not ok to ask the wealthy to not cheat and to pay their fair share. I view this as an overt form of hypocrisy from our political classes. Though the Congressional Budget office predicts that $80 billion in additional spending will result in $200 billion in increased revenues over the next 10 years, the IRS is a Republican boogeyman, which makes any effort to increase its budget problematic at best. Let’s just chalk up one more issue that is falling prey to selfishness. Please note that IRS audits have increasingly focused on potential abuse of the earned income credit, where a few thousand dollars are at stake. The IRS is outgunned on dealing with higher income folks, and cannot take on the army of accountants and lawyers the rich can employ. So the bipartisan infrastructure bill lost its IRS component, leaving a long-term plan to address IRS changes in limbo.
Sooner or later, the concept of a guaranteed basic income will come to pass. If this is enacted, with no means testing, then it will prove to be an incentive to work, since benefits will not decrease with salary. As much as people may detest the idea of folks sitting on their asses, living it up on the government’s dime, we may need this type of program to rebalance the power differential between the wealthy few and the many who struggle in today’s economy. Think of it. We can eliminate welfare departments and greatly reduce the overhead required to administer benefit programs. As more jobs are eliminated due to automation and AI, this type of floor may be needed to prevent mass starvation and mass homelessness.
At some point, those who do not share in the prosperity around them, even though they work for wages, will realize they have the power to disrupt the lives of those who are comfortable. The right decried the demonstrations of 2020, where commercial properties were looted and burned. What will they do when it is the gated communities that become the target for mass action by those who do not believe they have anything to lose? If you don’t accept programs to improve the hope of the many, you just may receive the backlash from those who have no hope.