Coping with the fact that life is not fair *UPDATED*

Although the stock market seems to have steadied (apparently more because of the Republican House, than because of the Administration’s schemes), we are not living in flush times.  Instead, we’ve entered a leaner, meaner time in the world today.  There’s still lots of money lying around for some people,  but overall, things aren’t going well.  They’re especially trending in a bad direction for the poor, the sick, and those who are generally more vulnerable.  Here’s an example of what I mean, coming out of the bankrupt state of California:

Poor people with chronic illnesses such as kidney failure, cancer and HIV face the prospect of dying due to budget cuts proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, lawmakers and health advocates said Wednesday.

As Brown’s proposal faces its first week of scrutiny by the Legislature, the governor said he believes the budget process is on track for an early March deadline, but modifications are likely. Dozens of hearings are scheduled over the next few weeks, but resistance from a wide variety of people who would feel the brunt of the cuts continues to grow.

Reductions in health spending could doom some of the state’s sick, advocates said. The governor has proposed limiting most people on the state Medi-Cal program to 10 doctor visits per year, which would save the state almost $200 million next year.

Preliminarily, I’m not accepting at face value the apocalyptic doom-and-gloom the “advocates” are selling. We know, for example, that 1994’s vote to end “welfare as we know it,” didn’t turn America’s streets into a charnel house filled with the bodies of dispossessed homeless women and children but, instead, somewhat corrected a government culture that encouraged poverty behavior.  Nevertheless, I am certain that the budget cuts will cause a certain amount of hardship to some, and great, even fatal, hardship to others.

Faced with this situation, Progressives are predictably advocating increased taxes on the rich.  This is a band-aid remedy, of course.  At a certain point, the rich hide away the money, the state squanders the money, and the economy breaks down, destroying hopes of future money.  Think of Greece, Spain, Italy, England and (sigh) current days in the U.S.  In other words, increased taxes replenish government coffers briefly, but there’s no long-term promise.

I’m a believer in the market place.  If we take off many of the constraints we place on the market place, more people will make more products and services, including products such as drugs and dialysis treatments.  That’s not happening anytime soon, though, and, even if it does happen, it takes a while for the market place to react.

We are left therefore with vulnerable people who have depended on government, but now find themselves in a situation in which they no longer have a government on which to depend.  With wealth vanishing, the only way in which the government can provide the same level of services to the unfortunates is to further destroy the state’s finances.  Even Jerry Brown, a Progressive before anyone in my generation recognized the renewal of that old-fashioned socialist political movement, recognizes that political reality.

Where we’re left, then, is being forced to acknowledge, unpleasant though it may be, that life is not fair.  It’s not fair when people are born with or acquire horrible diseases.  It’s not fair when young parents die in car accidents.  It’s not fair when someone is born into a poverty-stricken and dysfunctional home.  As a humane society, I believe we have an obligation to aid people as much as possible when they’re on the receiving end of this lack of fairness and we’re in a position to help.  However, as a viable society, I don’t believe we have an obligation to destroy ourselves in an effort to eradicate life’s unfairness.

During the flush times, we can and should make more pushes to help those less lucky than we are.  During the dry times, though, sometimes the only thing left to us is the consolation that (we hope) this too shall pass.

(And then of course there’s the Chavez approach to poverty and unfairness.)

UPDATE:  I’m p.o’d at Christie for his pandering to Islamists, but there’s still no one who does a better job of explaining out of control government spending, and the need for cuts that are cruel to individuals, but necessary for overall fiscal health.

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  • Oldflyer

    Mixed feelings Book.
    My wheel chair bound son-in-law is the  Director of some state funded agency that provides in-home care for the “under-privileged” in LA County.  He is in Sacremento this week testifying at the hearings.  My two daughters both work in  state or county funded health care institutions.  All three of them passionately believe that society must care for the”needy” folks.  I understand their big hearts.
    I believe that government must live within  budgetary constraints; and that government does not have the right to make  unreasonable demands on the productive members to fund give-aways.  The problem is setting the priorities and drawing the lines.  And the biggest problem is that the politicians have not been up to setting the priorities, so there were no lines.  Now, trying to retroactively establish budgetary boundaries is going to be painful, and the protests loud.

  • Bookworm

    I’ve got mixed feelings too, OldFlyer.  I just don’t see how a society that’s going broke can continue to fund high end social services for everyone.  Something’s got to give, and that’s where life isn’t fair.  Of course, if it were up to me, I’d cut all the programs aimed at people suffering from identity politics woes, rather than from real physical or poverty problems.  I bet that streamlining the government bureaucracy and cutting PC programs would free up massive amounts of money for the truly needy in our society.

  • Danny Lemieux

    I was having a discussion with a very nice Liberal lady that I know about the need to cut back on expenditures. She looked at me and, with a huff, said, “we’ll, just how are we supposed to take care of day care requirements for the working poor?”
    I’ve detected quite often among Liberals a sense that government represents a huge stash of money available to make everything good in the world, to “repair” the world (tikkun olam). They really don’t care to understand from where it comes or how it is created. All we need is a few wise people (“Liberals’, of course) to dispense it fairly and wisely. Not enough money? Just soak it from the people who have it in the name of fairness. There really is no idea how wealth is generated, so the ability of society to generate new wealth erodes.
    Sweden, considered an icon of socialist paradise by the Left, was one of the world’s richest countries until the 1970s, when the socialists took over. Since then, the country’s social and economic position has steadily eroded, the erosion slowed only by Sweden’s good luck in being able to maintain a large export economy to help sustain a very small population (we don’t have that luck in the U.S.). In 1970s, Sweden ranked #4 in per-capita GDP. By 1997, it ranked #18. Now, even the Swedes have realized the whole they dug for themselves and have tried to trend in the opposition direction. It’s slow going and much of the accumulated capital that sustained Sweden in the socialist years is gone.
    And that is how socialist societies die the death of thousands of cuts, because despite professed good intentions, they destroy their ability to generate new wealth. One way of looking at the huge debt monsters that will engulf the U.S. and Europe is that they represent where Liberal good intentions to repair the world exceeded countries’ abilities to do so, resulting in countries borrowing themselves into oblivion. Most of us, even Liberals, know better than to pay welfare and charity benefits to others using borrowed monies. Government does not.
    The end result is not a repaired world, but a world of misery, decay, depression and destruction (Detroit).
    It is clear, to me anyway, that we were never meant to experience “heaven on earth”. We should stop acting as if we expect it.

  • kali

    I most definitely have a dog in this fight–two members of my household receive SSI and are covered by medicare. If they lose their benefits, I can absorb their standard expenses, but both are uninsurable in the private insurance market. Any serious illness on their part will wipe me out.
    However, I’m in favor of repealing those entitlements as long as the private insurance market is set free of mandates and regulations and the distortions caused by the tax code. I have faith that even the hard-to-insure will find some sturdy, capitalistic soul willing to make a buck off us. If other people are like me, then cutting entitlements will be more acceptable if the private markets are there  to jump into.

  • kali

    I suppose my last comment was an attempt to answer Oldflyer–the people who believe society must care for the needy don’t understand that when the government does, it chokes out all competition, both from the charitable, and the innovative capitalists who can make a buck off of anything. Every time I argue with someone about necessary services, I don’t argue that the services shouldn’t be provided, but that the government is the worst way to go about doing so. But they never get it. There are no alternatives, for them.

  • Danny Lemieux

    One way that we might look at it, Kali, is that when government chokes out competitive service providers, like charities, it becomes a monopoly. As with any economic monopoly, it can dictate the level of service it provides. Unlike an economic monopoly, there is no financial incentive for the government to encourage people to use that service (i.e., government receipts for that service are less than the cost of that service – government doesn’t profit).
    Thus, the government is free to cut back and severely restrict that service at will. The recipients (citizens) have no other recourse.
    This is what happened when the Swedish government took away peoples’ retirements (through taxation of savings), promising them it would provide them with comfortable retirements.
    That promise was only good until the government faced budget cuts. Ooops!


    It’s really a crying shame that the feds and the states in their overreach (tikkum olam) as Danny, no  aptly used the term, did just the opposite – create social chaos. There certainly was enough money to help the helpless. the needy, the old and the hungry. There just wasn’t enough to fund windmills, solar panels, CFL bulbs and single mothers by choice.
    Actually, it’s clear to me, that not even G-d created the world in one day and rested on the seventh.  When liberals behave like they are gods with cash and never prioritize, be assured regret and debt will follow everyday.

  • Kirk Strong

    @Oldflyer.  I agree.  We are certainly facing some very painful choices.  Unfortunately, it is not enough for a need to be there.  There must also be the ability to pay, and unfortunately, in this world, the need will always outstrip our ability to pay.  I don’t know if it helps to realize that we will never have all the resources needed to meet all the needs.  There will always be deserving, needy people whom, sadly, we cannot afford to help.
    This is a hard truth for caring people to accept.  My wife served in the Peace Corps in Central America where the disparity between people’s desperate needs and the resources available to meet them was far greater than what we face here.  For a time she served as a translator in the medical ward of an orphanage.  To this day, she will not talk about what she saw there.  She just cries.
    There is a strong temptation when the need is that great to shut it out of our hearts and put it out of our minds.  We must not do that.  We must do what we can, grieve for what we cannot do, and keep on doing what we can.
    I like the story of an elderly gentleman who went walking along a beach after a major storm which had cast up thousands of starfish high and dry on the sand.  He saw a small boy carefully pick up a starfish, carry it down to the shore, and toss it back into the ocean.  He asked the boy, “How can you hope to make a difference?  There are thousands of starfish stranded here.”  The boy picked up another starfish and said, “Well, it’ll make a difference to this one,” and carried it out into the surf.

  • TommyC

    I’m sure that everyone here is aware of the ‘Washington Monument syndrome’.  If the NPS is threatened with any kind of budget cut, they’ll say they are going to have to close the Washington Monument.  It is the same throughout the public sector; school budgets cut means that everyone’s favorite programs will have to be dropped, etc.
    The fact is, the public sector is bloated and inefficient.  Never having to belt tighten only makes it worse.  Shoot, I work for Princeton University – hardly a model of advanced capitalism.  But when the crunch hit in 2008, we had a pay freeze, some layoffs, some buyouts, some benefits changes and naturally a hiring freeze.  Some programs were cut back and equipment upgrades delayed.  We’re in pretty good shape now, but we still have and will continue to have a reduced workforce for the foreseeable future.  We got a little bloated when times were good and we’re in no hurry to go back there.  Alas, the public sector has been insulated from the market forces that forced even Princeton to clean up their act.
    Danny, consider your liberal friend wondering how the day care needs of the working poor will be met.  The fact is, government workers are generally overpaid and less productive than their private sector counterparts.  The same number of people could be serviced for far less dollars.  Or, far more could be serviced for the same dollars.  Liberals really should be concerned about bang for buck just as conservatives are.  I know that liberals are always going to want to spend more than conservatives.  Sad to say, most liberals I talk to don’t care about bang for the buck, or even whether a program is effective at all.  To them, the more you spend, the more you care, and that is all that is important.

  • Charles


    What I believe that last line of yours should read:

    “To them, the more you spend (of other’s people’s money), the more you care, and that is all that is important.”

  • TommyC

    Charles,  you are absolutely correct.  I also did not emphasize enough that it doesn’t matter whether the spending accomplishes anything.  It’s the thought that counts.

  • Don Quixote

    Kirk Strong, I appreciate your comments, but I would distinguish between government’s ability and people’s ability.  While individuals may want to help, or even feel a moral obligation to help, every need that every person has does not create a corresponding duty for the government to meet that need.  Thinking otherwise is how we got into this mess to begin with.

  • Owen

    Kirk: I’m quite fond of the star parable myself. Been trying to a friend of starfish for many years.

    And yes, I think Danny’s comment pretty much defines “nice liberals” — they badger me all the time to sign petitions for this and that and a lot of them are great for sending smilely faces to the afflicted, but I rarely see them doing much concrete and a not a few see donating to charity is “risky” because the receiving orgainzation might be “faith-based”. (In fairness I do know some that voluteer at soup kitchens on Thanksgiving.)

    It would be great if we could get the gov’t out of the charity business. Of course there are a lot of other businesses we need to get them out of first.

  • Ymarsakar

    To them, the more you spend, the more you care, and that is all that is important.

    Ideally, those people should be taxed for 100% of their net worth and made to be of use to society. It’s the only way to break through the selfishness gap.

  • Simplemind

    The world is unfair by design.  This will not by changed by goverment action. It is the challenge of our lives as individuals to do what we can for ourselves and others by choice, not force of law.  Those who can not help themselves should have support.  Some of those  who can not help themselves do not have family support, and so it is reasonable that society provide them help.  Some families have limited resources so it is reasonable that society provide them assistance. Those who can help themselves but don’t, should not  be enabled, as they, like a rising sea, will swamp the system and destroy it taking support away from those who can not help themselves.

    The government is a bad provider of services and in things personal* should always be the last resort, not the first.

    *Wars, forest fires, trips to mars etc are not personal. Education, health care, religion, etc are personal.

  • Charles

    To further add to the comments here; I would like to repeat something said by Book, or someone else, in a previous post quite some time ago about liberals vs conservatives. 

    The basic idea was that many liberals feel that by “passing the buck” to the government for “doing something” they, personally, were released from any obligation.  As in, I don’t need to give to charity that’s what the govenrment now does.  While a others might often say, something needs to be done, let me do it – and then do it.

    To follow up on the starfish story:

    a liberal will look for a government program to help those starfish; including a study on the various courses of action to be taken, the reason those starfish are in the situation they are in (conculsions include: evil corporations, greedy bankers, white males, and capitalism in general are at fault), how to prevent this situation from happening again, what taxes are to be raised to pay for this, what contracts are to be offered to help politicians’ friends get rich, etc.

    A conservative, just like the boy in the story will just start by helping one at a time.

  • TommyC

    One of the most important things in life is to learn from it.  More often than not, people who make wise decisions are rewarded and those who make poor decisions are punished.  Life isn’t fair because this isn’t always the case.
    Liberals do not like this.  They wish to use the government to try to remove the ‘punishment’ from making bad decisions, as well as removing the reward from making wise decisions.  In short, liberals use the government to screw up the feedback people get from the choices they make.  So instead of learning from their experiences to make better decisions, people often learn the opposite.
    Many government programs actually reward bad behavior and punish good behavior.
    Possibly my chief grievance with our modern era is the death (I exaggerate only a bit) of personal responsibility, honor and good character.  Liberals must should a good portion of the blame.

  • Tonestaple

    Oldflyer, I’m afraid I don’t see your children having big hearts.  I’m sure they deeply and devoutly believe they mean well, but where is their compassion for all those who are going to have to pay for all the programs they want for their “clients”?  This is the problem with government employees not thinking about where the money for their pet program comes from.  They have no motivation to think about this and I think this points out the problem with all government “helping” programs.  These programs create a situation in which no behavior has a cost. 

    Lately I have been thinking that the only kind of charity that can possibly work is individual to individual with the donor acting as a mentor to the recipient.  That way, if the recipient doesn’t take sound advice meant to improve the recipient’s life and decrease the recipient’s dependency, the help can stop.  There’s a cost to the recipient’s bad behavior.

  • Bill Smith

    My response to your post up top should really be much longer, but I don’t have time.
    Your kids with the big hearts are right, and so are you. What is wrong is that Govt simply cannot ever run a health care system, because all they can run are transfer systems — take from producers and give to consumers of whatever it is. In such a system no value gets created. Thats why any successful retirement system invests in successful, profit making businesses. Because that’s where wealth gets created. That’s where everybody wins, and nobody loses.  By “consumers” I do not mean grocery shoppers. I mean people who take from the system without replacing more than they take.
    A family with a successful wealth earner saves and invests for retirement. It invests in things that make money. It saves in places that pay interest, thus returning more money. Everybody is happy. Nobody loses. This is what we had going for us for many decades.
    But, it must be tended with reasonable care. You can’t kill too many gold laying geese for dinner. You can’t keep taking too much in taxes, or you’ll turn too many producers into consumers. Yes, a big, successful society can, and should take care of those who simply cannot take care of themselves, but we passed that point long ago. We are subsidizing inane “art.” Nobody dies without access to art, or many, many other things that we have money confiscated from us to support. And, we are rapidly reaching the tipping point, if we have not already passed it.
    “All three of them passionately believe that society must care for the”needy” folks.”
    If by “Society” we mean a one-size-fits-all, don’t-think-about-your-health-’till-you’re-sick system, No, we can’t. Everyone must be expected to pay into some privately run, profit-making — that’s what makes it perpetual — enterprise that pays for their health care including catastrophic coverage. If you want First Class, that should be available. People truly indigent, and in need can be covered by assigned risk systems.
    But this wait-’till-it’s-too-late system is designed to fail.  I think it may not be too late to save ourselves, but not by patching up a leaking boat. We have to get RID of the mal-practice tort system as it is today. THAT’s obscene. Get rid of third party payer as we know it today, and replace with something where the patient has some control over what he pays, and some choice — like he does in where he get’s his car fixed. I could go on, but you get the drift.
    A functioning, well-maintained Capitalist system is the ONLY system that can GENERATE money, rather than simply confiscate it. People WANT to live in Capitalist systems. That’s why they sneak into them. The Capitalist system is what happens when people are left alone to run their own affairs. It works breathtakingly well when allowed to, as history has demonstrated. But we’re killing it, and ourselves.