Sometimes, I feel like I’m having an ideological war with myself.
Half of me is the capitalist. I want nice things. I want enough money in the bank so that I never need to think about it, so I can buy gadgets and the occasional plane tickets without having to worry about the impact on my budget. I want to be able to go out for dinner and drinks with friends whenever I feel like it.
The other half is sort of a socialist. I want everyone to get fair wages. I want everyone to receive the health care they need. I want a college education to be available to anyone who wishes to pursue it.
Those are the reasonable parts of socialism, the parts that don’t conjure images of a hippie commune where everyone shares all the money and belongings - and work. Let’s be honest, something like that could never work on the big scale, simply because enough people would take advantage of it to make it impractical. Even now, we have issues with people exploiting welfare and other public services. The liberal part of me would like to believe that people on welfare have just fallen on some hard times and need a hand getting back on their feet, but there’s no doubt that some percentage of beneficiaries are just gaming the system.
So where is the middle ground? I think everybody wants health care and education for all, but no one is willing to pay for it. The American Dream is to work hard, be successful, and live a good life - forfeiting your hard-earned gains for the sake of someone else’s good life has never been part of the Dream.
In the grand scheme of things, I’m pretty comfortable. I’ve got a nice apartment, where I keep my college diploma. I’ve got a steady job, with health insurance, that pays pretty well. If I want to pursue the fair, socialist utopia, I should be more than happy to give my share to the greater good. But that diploma came with one hell of an invoice, and weddings don’t come cheap, and Erin and I would like to buy a place of our own before too long, so I’ve got a lot of incentive to keep working to pursue the Dream and amass as much wealth as I can get my hands on.
Do we really need to sacrifice more for the greater good? A couple hours ago, I would have said no. I remembered seeing figures that put our defense spending significantly above all social services, and was going to say that more of that money should be used elsewhere. But, if Wikipedia is to be trusted, the 2008 federal budget is a lot better than I would have guessed. Some highlights from mandatory spending:
- $608 billion (+4.5%) - Social Security
- $386 billion (+5.2%) - Medicare
- $209 billion (+5.6%) - Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
- $324 billion (+1.8%) - Unemployment/Welfare/Other mandatory spending
The percentages are the percent change from the 2007 budget. Not bad, really: according to this list, these programs are getting more money than I expected. At some point, I saw a pie chart of federal spending that led me to believe these programs got considerably less money than they do, but I was mistaken. Well, mostly; here’s the discretionary spending:
- $481.4 billion (+12.1%) - United States Department of Defense
- $145.2 billion (+45.8%) - Global War on Terror
- $69.3 billion (+0.3%) - Health and Human Services
- $56.0 billion (+0.0%) - United States Department of Education
Spending on the “Global War on Terror” is up 45% from last year? I mean fine, I can sort of understand the DoD budget, even if I preferred it were scaled back and actually used for defense. But another $145 billion for the War on Terror - up a whopping 45% from last year! - when only $56 billion is going to education? Seems to me we should be able to spare another $25 or so to make sure our kids can at least find the countries they’ll be sent to fight in someday. Even so, I can’t get too fired up about it, because it’s not as bad as I thought. If you expect the worse of your government, it’s easier to avoid disappointment, I suppose.
But let me bring it back to my original train of thought for a minute here: do we need to sacrifice more so that everyone can have enough? Maybe, maybe not. It seems that a hell of a lot of money is going into public health programs already, but honestly, I don’t know enough about them to say whether or not it’s working (my gut says “no”). I would love to see more money put toward education. Our schools are falling apart as it is, and college just isn’t even an option to a lot of people, financially speaking.
I guess I don’t really have a conclusion. I didn’t really have anything in mind when I started writing, sort of how Paul Graham described essays, a concept I really like:
An essay is something you write to try to figure something out.
Figure out what? You don’t know yet. And so you can’t begin with a thesis, because you don’t have one, and may never have one. An essay doesn’t begin with a statement, but with a question. In a real essay, you don’t take a position and defend it. You notice a door that’s ajar, and you open it and walk in to see what’s inside.
So, um…the end, I guess.