Saturday, June 20, 2015

My take on the Conservative ideology

Disclaimer: This is opinion. You're entitled to your own.

I'm generalizing, but my take on conservative thinking boils down to what follows. They believe that they can solve most of our ills with small government. Because small government equals less taxes. Less taxes means more money in our pockets. More money in our pockets means we can spend more, which stimulates the economy. Most of the conservative-minded folks I've talked to would agree with that in principle. And it's a good thing to strive for. Except it makes some assumptions that don't quite allow it to work.

I'm a firm believer that the economy only thrives when everyone has a decent amount of money to spend. You only get a decent amount of money if you have a good job, and once you retire, a good pension. You only get a good job if you have some extraordinary talent or a great education. You only get a good pension if the government manages your public pension well, if your company has a plan or you have enough disposable income to put money aside on your own. And that is where the conservative philosophy falls apart.

There are a lot of people in our society who will never earn a decent amount of money. They're going to be stuck either in menial jobs because of their lack of extraordinary skill or great education. That means no company pension plan and no extra money to save for later. They probably want a good education, but they can't afford it, and they have so little worth and are such a risk, banks won't lend them the money to go back to school. Nor can these people just stop working and be a student with no income. So these people are going nowhere. Same goes for those who are currently out of a job, in many cases through no fault of their own. Now while there's nothing intrinsically wrong with working in the service industry or any other job that earns little in the way of a living wage, it wouldn't be the end of the world if they also got help in the form of benefits. And it would also help if their public pension amounted to a comfortable retirement. But most don't. If they're sick, they don't get paid. So they go to work sick, which makes them sicker, longer. There are more domino effects here than I have time to talk about. They don't get paid vacations, so if they need some time off, again, there's no money. They don't get much help paying for medications and dentists, so they do without. In fact, they do without a lot that many of us take for granted.

So if we examine the preferred conservative society from a high altitude, what we see are some people who are doing OK, or very well, telling the people that aren't that they just need to try harder. Don't ask for help, because that won't motivate you to try harder. Don't ask for a social safety net, because that just stifles motivation to work. The conservative plan, from what I have seen lately, is if a social safety net is being abused, cancel it. Don't bother to try and fix it. All this approach accomplishes, unfortunately, is keep the poor in their place. I haven't seen any evidence that this approach motivates anyone to do better when the avenues out of this existence are expensive and therefore unattainable. Worse, free market capitalism doesn't give a rat's ass about the poorest among us. So rents go up, dental and medication costs go up, transit goes up, education goes up, the cost of living goes up. What doesn't go up is minimum wage. Or service industry salaries. Or pension plans. In fact, pensions are slowly being whittled away and this is being justified with an attitude that people shouldn't be relying on their public pension anyway, even though they've been paying into it their entire working life.

Now, let's look at the situation from a liberal point of view. Liberals believe in equal opportunity for everyone, no matter their background or financial situation. Liberals would prefer that everyone can afford to maintain their health. They would like you to be able to afford the bus to school or work. Even more importantly, they would like there to BE a bus for you to take. They would like you to be able to afford to continue your education, while still being able to buy groceries and pay rent, and without piling up a mountain of debt, so that you can get a better job, which will earn you more money. Earning more money will allow you to get off the social safety net that we established for you when you needed it, while helping to pay for the safety net for others. Earning more money will stimulate the economy, which will create more jobs, which will further stimulate the economy. There will be abusers of the social safety net, but we won't use that as an excuse to just give up on it - we prefer to fix it. And here is the part that my conservative friends will probably hate the most - maintaining that social safety net, affordable education, and decent public pension is going to mean more contributions from those of us earning a decent wage. And that means less money in the pocket. But there is a huge upside.

Less worry. Wouldn't you rather live in a society where people care that everyone gets by? Wouldn't it be nice not to have to worry about losing your job? Wouldn't you like to get a better education and not worry about paying your normal living costs? Or piling up unmanageable debt? Wouldn't you rather that everyone could afford to get all the dental and medical treatment they need, without having to spend extra to get an MRI this week? Wouldn't you like a decent pension when you retire? Wouldn't this be less stressful?

I've done a lot of research and in more social societies, the only things people typically worry about are death and the loss of friends. In our society, we worry about a lot of things that are easily avoided with a more community-minded approach. I hope we start going back to that approach in our next government.

No comments: