Socialism?!

The writer of the blog Toward a Moral Life did an interesting piece on a poll about Americans’ views and, in part, the Tea Party political movement.  Here are some results from those who identified as supporters of the Tea Party (copied from Toward a Moral Life and the piece linked above):

  • 44% identify themselves as “born-again”, compared with 33% of all respondents.
  • More than 90% say the U.S. is moving toward socialism and away from capitalism.
  • Almost half say the government should do something about executive bonuses.
  • 36% say expanding Medicare (for the elderly) and Medicaid (for the poor) amount to socialism.
  • 65% say Social Security is socialist, but 47% want to keep it under government control or aren’t sure about privatization.
  • 80%+ say expansion of the government’s role in the economy is a high threat.
  • 70% want a federal government that fosters job creation.

Tea Partiers have a concept – the less government the better – but they still want government or other oversight bodies to make sure they’re safe and have access to…stuff.

I’m very optimistic – I believe that people want to love and support their neighbors and they *think* they want to support their fellow human beings.  If we see a guy bleeding on the side of the road, we want to help him.  We’ll go out of our way to help him!  Need money?  Need a ride?  Need food?  I can do that!

But when people are asked to “blindly” support the weak, poor, sick, etc., they are reluctant to do so.  If they don’t have immediate, measurable evidence that their sacrifice is being appreciated, they’re less likely to help. If we can’t see that extra taxes are providing food, education or medicine to unfortunate people who can’t help themselves, we don’t want to help. 

With welfare, universal health care, education, police, and other “socialist” endeavors, we’re ultimately agreeing (or being forced – whichever you believe) to let go of the power to play god.  We don’t get to *choose* who we help…we don’t get to decide if individuals are *worthy* enough to get our help.  We don’t get to hold back our assistance to those who don’t share our beliefs or values…and this really irks some of us. 

Really, “socialism” seems to be a way to scale up our altruistic efforts at local, national and global levels.  Individual efforts may be wasteful and help only a few, while (socialist) taxes have the potential to help provide more efficient vehicles for support for more people.  But it requires trust in our fellow man…or at least in the regulatory bodies that keep an eye on our fellow man.  Crap.  I certainly don’t trust all of my fellow man.  But maybe I can trust oversight committees?  But who’s watching them???  Who’s watching the Watchmen? 

I think that liberals and socialists have more trust in our fellow men, while conservatives and Tea Party supports have less trust.  Hmmm…is this the basic difference between our two groups?

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Socialism?!
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465 thoughts on “Socialism?!

  1. 2

    Why, thank you, BD.

    Be careful, everyone, of touting the altruism flag too much. There is certainly nothing wrong with giving money/time/resources to worthy causes as long as you do it voluntarily. What gives me the heebee-jeebees is altruism enforced by tax structures and society pressure.

    Individual efforts at charity are always more efficient and better targeted than large-scale organized efforts. Government is the most wasteful of all distributors.

    1. 2.1

      I most sincerely thank you for your thought-provoking comments. They’re causing me to really think about this issue about which I care deeply and feel strongly toward.

      A definition of “individual efforts” would be appreciated. Would you consider an organization like Kiva.org to be a “large-scale organized effort”, or a website that allows people to provide individual charitable giving? Or are you making the distinction between private donation and government-enforced taxation for charity?

      I instinctively feel that there in many cases individual giving is not going to be more efficient than large-scale organized efforts. I am assuming, perhaps incorrectly! – that you are thinking about the administrative costs of running a large organization. I would say this: As with any company/business, money must be spent in administrative costs, and if run poorly a charity business will be inefficient, just like any non-charity business will be if they don’t organize well. But organizations know what they’re doing -they’ve done the legwork that I don’t have time to do, they have contacts that I don’t have, they can turn my money into resources that I don’t know are needed.

      You say “better targeted” and this phrase sets me on edge – are we talking about picking and choosing who gets to benefit from our donations? I would argue that large organizations will better be able to evaluate who might benefit from charitable giving as they may have access to populations and people who we don’t run into on a regular basis.

      But in the end, I don’t have the data to answer the question: “Which is more efficient: individual giving or organized agencies that direct individual gifts?”

      A paper by Aaron S. Eldin (2005 – http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1045&context=aaron_edlin) sums up the issue of the effectiveness – or ineffectiveness – we struggle with when considering donating to charity:

      “One reason that many people like me do not give as much as they can afford, is the seeming irrelevance of a single contribution. The problem with good causes is that the very thing that makes a charity a good cause is the enormity of the problem it is fighting. Yet because the problem is so vast, my gift is a drop in the bucket. The problem will still be there when I am done giving. The problem will be there if I do not give. So, what difference would my gift make?”

      We *want* to be efficient, if not because we’re altruistic and want to fight indignities for the sake helping out our fellow man and evolving as a race, then maybe just because we want these problems to go away and stop darkening our doorstep so we can enjoy dinner without feeling guilty about starvation in other houses.

      Eldin also offers a solution to charitable giving called the Choose-Your-Charity Tax, in which he tries to merge some people’s desire to donate, others to opt out of donation, and some people’s desire to direct where their donation goes.

      “Under our current tax system, contributions to eligible charities are tax- deductible. But this proposal would replace that rule—and go much further.
      The new rule would be this: People would get a tax credit of one dollar for each dollar they spend, up to a certain limit, on a charitable contribution. To make the plan revenue neutral for the government that limit would be equivalent to a tax increase.

      “How would this work in practice? Suppose the limit is 10% of income. And suppose a given taxpayer has $75,000 in taxable income. That taxpayer has a choice: Either pay a $7500 tax increase, or give $7,500 to the charity of her choice, and receive a $7500 tax credit.”

      “From the taxpayers’ point of view, these two alternatives are financially equivalent. But the charitable gift provides an option the tax payment does not: It allows the giver to specifically choose the recipient of the payment.
      Those who believe in giving money to the poor can opt to give to charities that directly help them.

      “In contrast, those who believe in self-reliance—opposing the Great Society programs on the ground that they create a culture of dependency, and preferring to teach a man to fish, rather than giving him a fish— can direct their dollars elsewhere. For instance, they may want to contribute to domestic training programs or infrastructure programs in the developing world.”

      The obvious problem in this is that government is still forcing its people to donate by way of taxation. If you choose not to donate, you pay $7500 (per the example) to Uncle Sam. But Eldin does attempt to address this later in the paper, including a discussion of the effectiveness of private charity vs. higher taxes.

      Interesting problem. Thank you again.

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