So there is a phenomenon in American political and social life that seems to me to need to at least be acknowledged: our relentless urge to pull the ladder up after ourselves.
The ladder, of course, is the ladder of opportunity.
See, the thing is that while we often refuse to acknowledge this, all of us stand on others’ shoulders as we make progress in life. The accomplishments of medicine, the arts, and science, for example, all frame the context in which we live our lives and make our way. I, for one, am utterly blessed to have been born in an era where science can make good and complex eyeglasses: my eyes are lousy, and whatever successes I have had have been in part derived from the fact that I have had good glasses since I was six years old. Had I been born a century ago, my life would be lousy. But I wasn’t, and it isn’t.
In some sense, then, my basically successful life has been utterly dependent on other people’s work—the work that created the glasses that I have used to see my path to some kind of success.
Viewed this way, the plain truth is that all of us benefit from others’ accomplishments. Like antibiotics? Safe drinking water? Electric light (and batteries)? Whatever uses you make of these things, someone else had to make them before you could benefit from them. And those people, in turn, built off others’ accomplishments. it’s just how the world works.
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to forget the socially-connected nature of our lives. It is all too easy to think only of our own — very real — accomplishments, and to imagine our successes are entirely of our own making.
It is likewise easy to imagine that others’ failures are entirely the result of their own flaws and fumbles.
We can see these attitudes in lots of parts of political and social life. To wit:
- Recent immigrants are often the brunt of jokes and disrespect from more established immigrant groups.
- People with jobs often perceive that any form of welfare is little more than coddling the poor—even when, in many cases, the employed have enjoyed government support in the past (like public education, tax breaks for home ownership and, in Mitt Romney’s father’s case, actual welfare when George Romney’s family moved back from Mexico when George was a child).
- There are retirement towns in Arizona that have been exempted from paying that portion of local property taxes that goes to support local schools—an exemption granted on the theory that the retirees’ children didn’t go to school in Arizona, so they shouldn’t have to pay for the educations of current Arizona children.
All of this—and much more—is akin to pulling up the ladder behind you as you climb into a tree house: you got yours, so screw everyone else. Such selfishness is perhaps inevitable given that people seem to imagine our successes as totally ours and thus attribute others’ failings to their personal flaws, but in the end this kind of selfishness is self-defeating: the only way any of us can hope to succeed is to make sure that lots of people have lots of opportunities to succeed, even as we recognize that not everyone will.
An America with strong ladders that can hold a lot of people, even those who sometimes fall off, will be a better America than one where the ladders are reserved to the people with tree houses.
Reason/Rupe Poll results as reported by Emily Ekin in “Obama Leads Romney 52-45 In New Reason-Rupe Poll; In Three-Way Race Obama Leads Romney 49-42, Johnson Gets 6 Percent”
As Basilisc reported here on Tumblr:
Ezra Klein points to an intriguing polling result, above. Even though more people think they’re worse off today than four years ago, it’s also the case that more people think they’re better off because Obama won four years ago. In other words, a plurality thinks that, if McCain had won in 2008, they would be even worse off now.
Not only are people’s ideas about whether/why they are/aren’t better off interesting, but so are the majority’s opinions on government influence, income inequality, and equality of opportunity as reported in the above quote. In all three cases, the majority favors the rhetoric we hear most often from the Republican side — and yet the same poll showed Obama with a seven point lead over Romney.
Rick Santorum, speaking to the mother of a young boy in Colorado about the free market and prescription drug prices. She told Santorum her son’s medication could cost up to $1 million per year.
One drug her son is taking is Abilify, which is used in children to treat schizophrenia; aggression associated with conduct disorder, autism, or other behavioral disorders; and Bipolar Disorder I. We can debate the merits of children taking anti-psychotic medication another time. The fact remains: Abilify is ridiculously expensive.
Visiting Walgreen’s site tells quite the story. All prices are discounted slightly by their prescription price club, meaning the cost at a local pharmacy may be higher or lower:
And just to put Rick Santorum’s iPad/drug cost claim in perspective, that’s like buying an iPad every single month. It’s illogical and completely specious to compare necessary medication to an unnecessary iPad. But for fun, I’m going to parse it out as a 30-day cost like the prescription drug above:
I bet that mother would be thrilled if her son’s yearly drug costs were that of an iPad.
You’d think Rick Santorum might have more compassion, since he and his wife are parents to a 3-year-old girl with severe developmental disabilities requiring expensive care. Isabella Santorum is also quite lucky that her father, a former U.S. Senator, has a magnificent, comprehensive health care plan courtesy of the U.S. taxpayers. I’d like to see every child afforded the same health care his daughter receives.
And no, I don’t care if my taxes go up to do it.
I would like to point out that the author of this comment is 17. So I’m sure she’s paid quite a bit in taxes, no? Whatever she’s paid, she wants them back.
As for me, I would love for my tax dollars to pay for those who can’t afford health care or dental care. I prefer that versus paying for the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq. I would love to pay for higher education for my fellow citizens in this country instead of paying for further weapons development and deployment by private contractors.
You point to the military as a specific example as a government program that’s somehow A-ok. Did you know that your tax dollars completely subsidize the medical and dental care of military members, their families and veterans? The best access to medical care I have ever had was when I was in the military.
Being healthy is a privilege? Well, here’s where you’re getting closer to correct, though not for the reasons you think. There’s many, many people who work hard, yet can’t afford treatment of any kind because they don’t make enough money. There’s a direct correlation between health, quality of live, and income level. The more cash money you have, the more likely you are to be healthy and able to have access to medical and dental care. So only the privileged are assured of being healthy.
Thomas Jefferson compared individual heath to a society’s liberty, writing, “Liberty is to the collective body, what health is to every individual body. Without health no pleasure can be tasted by man; without liberty, no happiness can be enjoyed by society.” Thomas Jefferson would be disappointed in you, I imagine.
However, Karl Marx would not be shocked by your callousness. Marx wrote, “Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the laborer, unless under compulsion from society.” It’s probably folks with similar beliefs to yours that inspired Marx.
You’re only 17. You have time to for your bubble to burst. And it’s fairly likely it will.
If you currently have access to safe water and [mostly] safe food, are able to drive from point A to point B on decent highways and freeways, have avoided dying (or just getting lost) while driving thanks to stop lights and street signs, go to a public school, plan to attend a state university, have banks that you can trust to put your money in without the bank closing and your money going with it, have ever used any sort of public transportation, fly on airplanes without dying in a plane crash due to a known and completely avoidable mechanical issue, don’t have to worry about Grandma living with you in her old age because her income is supplemented by social security, have avoided dying from plague and preventable communicable diseases thanks to public clinics and mandatory vaccines…hey, guess what! You’ve benefited from government services! And no amount of hard work, determination, and mad money-making skillz on your part could have magically made those services available to you!
I just get tired of these arguments from people who have no idea what the government does for them or all the ways they benefit. Because they are so accustomed to the comfort, safety, and freedom the government provides them (and no, I’m not talking about from the military), they completely take it for granted that these things are available to them. They think these things exist in a vacuum, or that if the government disappeared, these services would magically be available to them via the free market…even though there are plenty of examples of countries without a strong government presence where the free market has failed to provide these services—especially not in any way that is even close to being universal or serving anyone beyond a very, very small, ultra-wealthy elite—and virtually no examples where the free market has. (If you know an example, I welcome you to share them.)
I would love to say this is just the ignorance of a 17-year-old girl, but unfortunately, it isn’t. I’ve heard people twice or thrice her age make similar comments—people who are old enough to know better, but who live a sheltered enough existence, they’ve never had to consider seriously what a world without these government services would look like, or even what sort of biases on their end are inherent to make such claims possible. It is, almost exclusively, a bunch of people who have lived their entire lives in these sheltered, upper middle class, white bread communities where they don’t know anyone who actually struggles from paycheck to paycheck, and therefore assumes the problem of the underclass is laziness, even though most of the people who struggle (there’s a reason they’re called the working class) work far harder than anyone in the upper middle class, what with their cushy, air conditioned offices and 8-hour workdays. They think they shouldn’t have to give back to their communities at all, unless maybe they go to church, and then, they should only give back to the “deserving” communities, which as best as I can tell, generally means people who go to their church, arts programs they enjoy and children with cancer. It’s a bunch of judgmental assholes sitting on their pile of money and privilege, thinking they are so far above it all, because they “work hard,” even though the fact of the matter is, they have never worked half as hard as most poor people work just to stay afloat. Of course, they don’t know that, because they don’t know anyone who isn’t like them. They assume that because they started out in families with money, with parents who went to college, with the expectation that they would go to college and someday make money too, with the safety net of their parents’ money to fall back on if they ever get into any sort of trouble, that this somehow makes them the virtuous class. It’s a fucking joke to anyone who’s ever lived in any other community.
^commentary for the win