When I was choosing my courses last semester, I discovered a few elective spots that needed filling. I decided it would be interesting to take a political science course, so I had the registrar enroll me in POL-121 (Intro to Political Science). I’m Canadian, so the course concerned itself, for the most part, with the Canadian political system — different branches of government, legislature etc… The course required that we read a novel from a list of different authors and write a short 4 page essay. For some reason we got to talking about Karl Marx and communism. I remember specifically hearing this one line over, and over, and over again: communism only works in a perfect world.
There’s no arguing that this point is true, its self apparent; our world isn’t perfect, and so communism as a political system shouldn’t, in theory, work (this also turned out to be true in practice, as well). But that’s not why I’m telling this story. What concerns me is this inherent feeling of grandeur in our political and economic system based purely on our erroneous perception of its apparent success. When Churchill gave his speech about the ‘iron-curtain’, the world was split into this polarity: communism and non-communism. For a long, long time this is how things were; the idea of communism was ever-present in the minds of people for the better part of thirty years. Apparently people still think along those lines — except for now they substitute non-communism for the free-market.
What my ignorant contemporaries failed to realize is that capitalism doesn’t really work so well either. Only in a perfect world is capitalism a good choice; in our world, it falls short, very, very short. Capitalism rewards the captains of industry and the common man alike… so long as they are capable and willing to take what is ‘rightfully’ theirs. Most people buzz past those last few adjectives without giving them a second thought. That’s because most people are healthy. For most, capitalism is a great system. It ensures people get what they deserve because they deserve it — that is, because they work for it. But a system which prides itself on its equity humiliates itself all the same.
The problem with capitalism and the free-market is that its a system built around the presupposition that a countries inhabitants are healthy and capable of working towards their goals. I mean, were not even talking about self-actualization or wish fulfillment here, for quite a number of people this system fails to provide for them basic, fundamental needs: shelter, food, health-insurance.
Distributive justice is a fatal misnomer; its equity for those who are capable of providing for themselves, and the weakest form of social security for those who are not. The resources in our society are allocated in such a way that those who truly need them are never able to have them. There are three ways the distribution of goods in a society are measured: equality, equity, and needs. Our government ins’t concerned with needs on a macro level, let alone on the micro level. Its too wrapped up in worrying about how it will cut tax breaks for CEO’s of fortune five hundred companies to consider more efficient ways of allocating the GDP and establishing subsidies and disability programs for those who need it. We distribute resources as compensation for those who have contributed the most. Thus, Doctors receive higher incomes than supermarket workers. The rational behind this is one grounded upon the philosophical theory of “all-things-being-equal”. All things are never equal though. The grocery store worker probably has a legitimate claim to his job; laziness is a word we substitute when we don’t want to abandon our belief in a just world.
This raging debate isn’t simply about the money, either. Its about ethics. What makes us different from the rest of the animal kingdom? Did we get lucky? Did Natural selection non-randomly select our random mutations and favor us over our primate ancestors? Or did a God put us here to rule over the earth? Or both? What ever way you choose to answer these questions shouldn’t bear fatal consequences for those who have simply had a bad stroke of luck — the disabled (whether mentally or physically), or the unemployed. It’s this student’s unprofessional and largely (albeit to my own hubris) uneducated opinion that goods and resources should be distributed on a needs and compensation basis. Wherein those who can afford (and I don’t mean economically) to work and achieve those heights our society regards as commendable are compensated fairly for their efforts, but those who cannot work still have safety and security. In Canada, the maximum monthly payout for provincial disability benefits is somewhere around the neighborhood of $850.00. If you do the math, before taxes the disabled collect a whopping $10,200.00 a year (the Canadian Pension Plan is a little higher, sitting around the $900.00 marker). I’m not sure of the exact statistics, but I believe the poverty line for Canadians is anything lower than 20k…. Fair, right?
If you walk up to a random person on the street and ask them their opinions on social welfare and disability, I’m willing to bet most will respond with threateningly disparaging remarks indicating the belief in the ‘American-dream’ is still publicly held. We live in a world scarred by a generation of venerable thinkers adhering to a post-modern worldview that holds each individual can do whatever they want, irrespective of limitations and barriers — because such things are so obviously mental and subjectively relative… This is a world where shows like Degrassi and Glee depict the disabled and downtrodden as triumphantly glorious, and House shows us that even with the ‘worst’ disability you can still become a successful doctor. Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying our media should get a little darker. What I’m saying is that this whole idea of freedom and circumnavigation is just totally not an accurate depiction of what life with a disability is really like, economically or socially.
I can’t speak for everyone, only myself. I think our system needs an over-hall, and quick. I think the guidelines for claiming disability should be strict, but not too strict so that those who actually need them don’t have access to them. I also think that the premiums need to be increased, at least to a level where a person can afford their housing and food costs, let alone therapy and medication. Is the pay-out so low to deter those who would seek to swindle their way in from ‘cashing in big time’? Maybe. If that’s the case then we are in much more trouble than I thought.
“Ask yourself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be waiting for us in our graves – or whether it should be ours here and now and on this earth.”