A major difference between humans and other animals is we understand the importance of social contracts and social safety nets, particularly the security they provide in the context of negative random events.
Social contracts and social safety nets started with families and tribes, but over time expanded to nations. We are beginning to have global contracts and safety nets. Some imagine a future where all humans will live in peace and security under a universal social contract which protects the weak and less fortunate. Jesus called it the Reign of God.
Question: Are social contracts that provide safety nets for the less fortunate a weakness or strength?
Historical figures like Jesus, the Buddha, St. Francis, Gandhi, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson and MLK, along with most modern liberals and most developed nations, seem to see them as strength. They believe a society which legislates taking care of its weak and wounded is stronger than one which does not. Who knows if that poor immigrant child we protect and educate will become a future Albert Einstein or Alexander Fleming?
Others see such socially contracted safety nets as weakness. These folks promote individual responsibility over social responsibility. They label the less fortunate as irresponsible and lazy. They never see the system itself as unjustly favoring one group and exploiting another. They often want to limit their compassion to their own family or local community. Jesus seems to challenge this when he asks, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers and sisters?
Many of these folks are OK with helping the less fortunate as long as it’s voluntary — not a social contract. But is there really a difference between individuals choosing to help the needy and the majority of individuals in a group deciding the group will help the needy? I don’t think so. I also don’t think God really cares how we do it as long as we do it.
So which approach is best for a nation? Letting individuals decide for themselves whether or not to help the needy, or letting the group decide as a group?
Social Security and Medicare are group approaches working well for tens of millions. It’s mostly those who don’t need them that claim they are broken. They need to be preserved as they are. SNAP, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) are other group approaches millions of children, elderly, disabled and working poor desperately need. Voluntary, individual charity will never be enough.
Individual responsibility and privatization have their place, but so does social responsibility and tax-supported safety nets.
The pendulum has swung far enough to the right. It’s time to change direction and start using some common sense regarding the common good. The rising tide of affordable health care for all will raise everyone’s level of health.