“So I don’t feel alone on the way to the stone
Now that I’ve found somewhere safe to bury my bones
And any fool knows a dog needs a home
A shelter from pigs on the wing.” — Roger Waters
A few people commented on yesterday’s post. I was reminded of another event earlier in my life that might cast light on the subject. The commenter basically said that the rich don’t deserve their tax breaks and corporate welfare. I would agree except we have a fundamental problem with that line of thinking.
I remember going to downtown Fort Worth with some classmates to go watch a movie. They came upon a homeless guy and agreed to buy him a Whataburger. However, there was a string attached. He would have to accept a Bible before he would get any of the food. The bargain seemed cruel, but even worse was the assumption behind it.
See, why does he need a Bible? We are assuming that his plight is somehow connected to his lack of faith. If he had more faith then maybe he would be more successful. The Old Testament is full of these stories. Success is tied to virtue. The virtuous have success and the poor and destitute lack virtue. So, you see a homeless man that is hungry and down on his luck and it must be because he has angered God somehow. Therefore, he needs religion to get back on his feet.
Therefore, captains of industry have earned their success through virtue. They’ve earned it through hard work. They’ve earned it through doing the right thing and avoiding the wrong things. Therefore, if someone brings up corporate welfare and whether they deserve their tax breaks the answer will undoubtedly be yes. See, they do right by God and therefore they will do right if we give them the breaks. They’ve earned their reward.
What we understand is that this is really not the case. The successful people are not necessarily the best people. They may not be the most talented people. They may have just been lucky. The reverse is also true of those that struggle. Maybe they made some key mistakes or made bad choices. Maybe they were just the victims of bad luck. We have no way of knowing one way or the other just by looking at them.
Government spending can’t be about who deserves what. Government spending has to do the most amount of good for the most amount of people. Government is charged with protecting our life, liberty, and property. Government is charged with making us better people. They do that through a social safety net. They do that through public works like education, endowment of the arts, or scientific study. They do that by protecting consumers, workers, and citizens from those that would prey on them. They do that by providing security through police and our legal system.
So, the question of corporate welfare vs. welfare for the poor isn’t a question of who deserves it. It is a question of how sound an investment it is. If we help poor people escape poverty we benefit society. If we give rich people more money they usually pocket it or funnel it to stockholders. So, it is ultimately about benefit.
If we forgive college loans, offer free community college, or eliminate interest then we allow young people to spend more. They might be able to afford that first home. That first home is the start of building generational wealth. When we elevate more people out of poverty or into the middle class we benefit more. So, it is ultimately about benefit and not about being deserving.