Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thanksgiving Musings on Social Equity

Why are people homeless? Every homeless person is homeless for some reason or another, but fundamentally every homeless person's situation can be described more broadly according to a particular factor. The homeless are homeless BECAUSE SOCIETY HAS DECIDED THEY SHOULDN'T HAVE HOMES. Period. There are enough vacant homes in America to give every homeless person five of them, and still have some left over (finding precise statistics for the number of homeless people is incredibly difficult, but estimates range from 500,000 to 3,500,000). Why are these homes vacant? Because their "owners" have decided that they would rather leave them vacant than allow homeless people to live in them. And their "owners" get away with this because society is infected with this mental disease that convinces them that private property is inevitable, rather than a product of decisions that human societies have made about how to organize their resources.

If you say, "It's not my responsibility to provide for these individuals," you're absolutely wrong. Maybe it's true that you, personally, in your own individual capacity, lack the means to provide for the homeless, but you are a member of our society, and as a member of our society, you share in society's responsibilities. Because society has a responsibility to provide every person with food, shelter, education, and health care, so do you.

Reasonable people can differ about the correct method to achieve the goal of providing every person with food, shelter, education, and health care, of course. Different localities have variations in the costs of these public goods, of course. But every person is entitled to food, shelter, education, and health care, regardless whether they live in New York City, in Marfa, Texas, or anywhere in between.

I know that everything in our world is interconnected and complicated. I know that every policy implemented at any level is going to have countless unintended consequences. But I have a particular objective in mind when I evaluate public policy, and I support or oppose particular policies or changes to policies based on whether that policy or change to policy brings us closer to or farther from my objective.

I think that, generally speaking, people tend to make decisions that they believe best advance their own interests. I think that, taken in the aggregate, these decisions tend to create more value for society as a whole than any particular individual or group of individuals would create if they controlled all the decisions. I do not think that, taken in the aggregate, these decisions tend to distribute society's value equitably in relation to the value created by individuals.

I am not suggesting that everyone should have the same things, or that the government should decide what everyone gets. What I am suggesting is that society (either through direct government payments or through regulation of contractual agreements) should ensure that everyone is provided with a minimal baseline, which I have defined as food, shelter, education, and health care. This is achievable, without a planned economy and without a total redistribution of all wealth and income.

If you disagree with that basic objective, then we need to have a much different conversation than we have been having. If you disagree with that basic objective, you should just admit that you do and identify your alternative, so we can have the conversation we really need to have. If you agree with that basic objective, please tell me how your proposed policies advance that objective.