I have several friends from the Netherlands. Some of them were visiting us the other night, and we ate homemade pizza. We started talking about social welfare.
I asked my friends, “Don’t working people in the Netherlands ever wish that they could keep more of the money that they earn? Don’t they ever resent having their money taken away and given to other people?”
They looked at me as if I were nuts or as if I were speaking a foreign language. I was speaking English, after all.
“It’s our responsibility,” they insisted.
“Why?” I asked. “Why is it your responsibility to help anyone except for yourself and your own family?”
“Because,” they answered, “they are all part of our society.”
We talked some more, but it was clear that they and I had widely diverging views that were never going to converge.
Here’s how I see it.
Let’s say that my neighbors on the left are a young couple who have decided not to have children. The husband and the wife both work and they are saving their money to have a nice early retirement.
Let’s say that my neighbors on the right are a family with six children. Let’s say that mom stays home to look after the youngest kids and to take care of the house. Dad has an associate’s degree but got tired of going to school and never got a bachelor’s. He works hard but doesn’t make very much money.
In my family, we have three children. My wife and I have college degrees, although I am the only one who is gainfully employed. We do not live extravagantly, but we have enough money for necessities and an occasional luxury. Our children earn their own spending money by doing odd jobs.
So. . .
Didn’t each family make their own choices regarding education, employment, marriage, and child rearing? If it were truly my reponsibility to take care of my neighbors on the right, then I would have mandated that they not have so many children, since that makes my burden heavier. On the other hand, my neighbors on the left might have mandated that I have only two children instead of three.
If it were truly my responsibility, I would mandate that the man to my right complete a four-year degree so that he could qualify for a higher position and better pay. I would mandate that if they are having trouble feeding their children, then the mother should work part-time, perhaps from her home. The older children should do some odd jobs around the neighborhood.
You see, it is unfair for somebody to impose a responsibility on me that does not also give me power to make choices. If I have a responsiblity to provide for my children, I also have the right to choose how many children I have. I have the right to follow any career path that allows me to meet my responsiblities. But if other people are obligated to take care of my children, then logically and naturally they have the right to make those choices for me.
In addition, they have the right to tell me what to feed my children, what clothes they should wear, and what medical care they can afford to provide for them. That’s not how I want to live. Why would anyone want to live that way?
Well, in the Netherlands and in the United States, they do not have to. Our “societies” can pay for people’s groceries and give their kids free meals at school–so that they can eat at McDonalds too often and become obese. Our “societies” can pay for people’s housing expenses so that they can buy cellular telephones and televisions in every room in their house. I cannot afford to do those things, but I have seen people with lower incomes than I do them.
I, the guy in the middle, do not qualify for government assistance. Therefore, my neighbor lives better than I do. His kids eat free at school, but I buy mykids’ lunches. His kids are given free medical treatment, but I have to go into debt when my kid needs surgery. Their kids will automatically go to college for free, while mine will work their way through and be saddled with loans when they are finished. And I have no say in the matter. I cannot tell my neighbors to economize or to look for other sources of income. I cannot tell them to buy clothes at the thrift store, the way I do, or to go to McDonald’s less often. And I have no say in how much to give them. Money is taken from my paycheck, and then somebody else decides how much to give my neighbors.
So, at the very least, if you claim that my neighbors on the left are required to take care of my neighbors on the right, then you have to give them power as well. He who pays the piper calls the tune. If I have to trim my hedges, I have a choice: manual clippers or a power trimmer. I might be forced to use manual clippers by my budget. However, I might also choose to use manual clippers just to save money. My responsibility, my right. If my neighbor were paying for my tools, then he should tell me what tools I am allowed to purchase. In fact, he would have every right to demand that I work in his yard, if he is helping to support my family.