KAMISCHKE: Givers and Takers: a false dichotomy

We live in communities for good reasons. At the top of the list — so obvious that it’s almost transparent — is that living in community brings benefits that aren’t available to those who live alone.
Dec 12, 2013

It takes a community to afford paved roads, special education, retail centers, water purification, public beaches, a municipal power plant, museums, public transportation and so forth. More than physical assets, community is a store of goodwill into which we make deposits and withdrawals as we live our lives.

Whether it’s a community as big as the USA or as small as our neighbors, each requires cooperation — not because it’s a nice thing to do, but because it’s essential. Community cooperation is different than commercial cooperation, where each transaction, measured in dollars, can be balanced. Community cooperation includes the use of public goods, and therein lies the rub.

Our public goods are bought with tax dollars assessed by one formula, but are consumed by community members using a different one. This can lead to some taxpayers thinking that they’re getting a bad deal.

For example, a childless couple paying school taxes may feel it’s unfair. Similarly, improving the jail may never benefit the average taxpayer. Many disputes between our political parties can be understood as a disagreement about the fair use of public goods.

In these disputes, the argument is often framed as a conflict between two groups of citizens: Givers and Takers. Givers are described as hard-working taxpayers and Takers are either freeloaders or captives of a welfare state.

However, this depiction is too simple and grossly inaccurate.

No individual or company can succeed without community support. Shape Corp. can deliver its products to market because roads go from Grand Haven to every other town in the U.S. Verplank’s dock, Grand Haven Yacht Club and many others are accessible only because a community pays to dredge the Grand River. Meijer employees are skillful, in part, because schools, parents and other employers taught them.

Of course, these businesses also pay taxes toward these benefits, but their contribution doesn’t come close to paying the entire tab. Those who say, "I built that!" are forgetting that they built that with the help of other citizens whose taxes and cooperation made their efforts possible. If you doubt that, just try to attract new businesses without pre-existing infrastructure, skillful job applicants and healthy community life.

While all this may seem painfully self-evident, there is a small, vocal group of people who think that it’s all about the individual and individual rights. Talk of supporting community needs brings cries of socialism or worse.

These groups don’t talk about community; they talk about government, as if a democratic government were not of, for and by the people. These groups praise the contributions of our Founding Fathers, but ignore “We the people,” “E pluribus unum” and the “Common Good.” They praise democracy as the best form of government, yet they despise it.

Over and over again we hear, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” And Grover Norquist famously said, “I just want to shrink (government) down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Those who revere Ayn Rand’s philosophy of unfettered capitalism accuse 47 percent of our citizens of looking for handouts, or urge the defunding of food stamp programs during economic hardship have lost their sense of community. They have separated themselves from those less fortunate and have forgotten or never appreciated that they have taken from their community in proportion to their success.

Yes, there is waste in so-called entitlement programs. I am not indifferent to the sweat, sacrifice and long hours many successful people have put into their work, or to the freeloaders who take advantage of their community. But then neither am I indifferent to costly corporate welfare such as drug companies profiting from university research, or energy and precious metal companies extracting from public lands for insignificant royalties, or pleasure yachts being treated as business expenses, or companies like GE paying no income tax.

It's interesting that the individualists’ anger is primarily directed at those without jobs, without health care and without food — rather than billionaires with lower tax rates than their secretaries, or employers paying full-time employees below the poverty level (relying on welfare and Medicaid to make up the difference).

Looking down the social strata and never looking upward is necessary to keep the "47 percent" illusion going.

Those who want to deny the benefits of community for those less fortunate are blind to how much they benefit from their community’s largess. To those who think they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, I can only smile and say, "Dream on my friends, dream on."

— By Richard Kamischke, Tribune community columnist

Comments

pml

Very,very nice Dick, and so obviously true. Your best effort yet.

deuce liti

That's what I keep saying! People are trained like pathetic dogs to bury their nose in the dirt of the poor, crying about someone needing welfare (and the few who abuse it) and NEVER will it amount to what the wealthy STEAL from the 90% in "tax breaks."

Republicans steal from the poor, give it to the rich, then turn around and complain that the poor don't work and need money.

Tri-cities realist

I find the comment about Shape Corp and roads interesting. My bet is that if roads didn't exist, they would pave their own roads with their sister company asphalt paving.

And for those who complain about the "wealthy", who creates most of the jobs? And if people don't like the jobs or wages being offered, they are free to pull up their bootstraps and create their own job.

Would Mr. Kamischke prefer that we abandon the pursuit of the American dream? He seems to think that someone can't educate themselves, work hard, and be self sufficient.

LessThanAmused

Boy oh boy, talk about reading comprehension....did you actually read and attempt to digest what was written before reading from your manisfesto? "They are free to pull up their bootstraps? What an ignorant, unoriginal thing to say. If everybody started their own business, where would employees come from?

I'm not going to get into a big debate with you, I'm sure it would be pointless, but I would like to suggest that as far as Shape is concerned...if there had been no roads for them to ship out their products here, it's more likely they'd have done business somewhere else where there were roads already in place, rather than spend their own money to build roads here.

That second paragraph is straight out of the it's all about Me / it's all mine manifesto. The one written by people who as children never learned to be kind, or share what they had with others. A decidedly basic negative human trait called selfishness...

I would suggest here that most folks who start businesses AREN'T wealthy when they begin their business, most need some assistance from banks or elsewhere when they start out with an idea. You don't start a business solely by yourself. You don't just say "hey, I think I'll start a car company" and write a check for everything you need. Unless you're mowing lawns or raking leaves like I did for cash as a kid, you're going to need support and /or help at least finding or funding a building and assuming you're actually going to make something, you're going to need employees to make it. You know, the actual work of making something, that icky stuff you don't want to do?

Depending on your skill in hiring, your employees will be a large part of your companies success, or failure. If your successful it's not just your success because your success was contingent on the support and help of many others along the way. So, when the business owner refuses to share the success of his business with the people who helped make him successful he's what? A fine upstanding citizen? NO, he's a 9 year old that hasn't learned how to share or play nice in a group. His mantra is I want mine and half of yours too....you wouldn't be where you are without me, blah, blah, blah. I've heard it my whole working life. This basic attitude is the main reason that unions came into existence. Business owners didn't want to share their success so a bigger entity than them had to come into the picture to make them play nice. If someone hasn't got the basic human decency to share with those who helped him be successful than he may be financially successful with all the trappings that excessive income brings, but as a human being he is a complete and utter failure, a fearful shell, devoid of humanity.

That last paragraph is the definition of clueless. Read the article again, maybe twice and try to think outside your tiny little box. Heck, even the Grinch needed help from his little dog to try and steal all the gifts from the citizens of Whoville.

I could keep going, but I need to head out. I volunteer a couple times a week at a local institution. I don't do it for money, I do it because it makes me feel more connected to my community and allows me to give back in some small way.

Good luck with the I, Me, Mine philosophy and remember, ignorance and denial are choices too!

Lanivan

Hear, Hear! Needed to be said, and said very well, I might add.

Reminds me of Eddie Lampert - billionaire CEO of Sears, hedge fund manager, wunderkind, and Ayn Rand maven. He is such a believer in Rand's teachings that humans perform best when acting selfishly, he's presided over Sears using the same philosophy. Result? He's flushing Sears down the proverbial commode, and his wunderkind status has turned into persona non grata.

http://www.salon.com/2013/12/10/...

Tri-cities realist

Yep I read it and digested it, it gave me heartburn. And Mr. Kamischke brought up the "bootstraps", so if that is ignorant and unoriginal, please let him know how you feel.

I never suggested that everyone start their own business, just those that complain about their wages or their employer. Perhaps then they would appreciate what it takes to start and run a business, rather than just complaining.

As for Shape, I guess we'll never know.

And to the rest of the I, me, et. al. I don't consider self sufficiency to be selfishness. Take care of your own, and give as much as you can, that is how I live. So please don't pretend to know how much time and money I give to this community, I just prefer to do it on my own, rather than have some govt compel me to do it. Who knows, maybe I'm the guy next to you in your volunteer work, but I doubt I would admit it.

Lanivan

Rand Paul, Tea Party Republican Senator from Kentucky, said Sunday on Fox News: “I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers.” This might be a sensible opinion during normal periods of low unemployment, but to espouse this attitude during times of slow recuperation from the most severe recession which directly created the highest rate of unemployment and the greatest need for safety nets in the last 80 years since the Great Depression, is disgusting.

Visualize a man drowning.

The Liberal tries to throw him a life preserver and save him.

But the Conservative demurs, saying life preservers cost money, and this is wasteful.

So the man drowns.

"We let him die!" the Liberal says.

"We were teaching him to swim," the Conservative says.

Vladtheimp

The word according to Redistribute Obama, It Takes a Village Hillary, and our own "You Didn't Build That"Elizabeth Warren - how charming. Karl Marx is applauding from below.

Since the article is so big on "Community" and cooperation, what about the obligations of those in the Community to others? How are we to respond to those who choose to rob, rape, steal molest children and kill, breaching every known idea of Community? Do not obligations of members of the Community go both ways? Does the Community owe them exercise machines, flat screen TV's, a diet of their choice, and immediate access to medical care ahead of the other members of the Community? (Before you squawk, talk to the health care providers at Mercy Health in Muskegon about inmates of the jail).

For those who CHOOSE not to work or otherwise contribute to the Community, leaving the Community to care for their needs , does that same Community owe them more goods and services than those who work for a living, even if it is at the minimum wage? Do we owe them free food, free rent, an Obamaphone, free health insurance (they already get healthcare)?

For those who ignore our sovereignty and immigration laws, does the Community owe them free medical care? an education? welfare payments? Citizenship, even ahead of those who followed the Community's rules for how to join the Community?

For those who intentionally or recklessly bear illegitimate children without any hope of caring for their needs, regardless of the rules, mores, and financial ability of the Community, does the Community owe them support for their children? Even when the Community knows that the best way to avoid poverty and the best thing for the children is to raise them in a functioning two parent family.

Who are considered members of this Community? Are children in the womb members of the Community? If so, what obligations does the Community owe them - at a minimum the protection of their lives? If not, why not - or do only pro-abortion members of the Community have a say? Are children and grandchildren members of the Community? If so, what obligations does the Community owe them - merely an education or is there an obligation to not jeopardize their futures by burdening them with debt used to pay for the wants of the adult portion of the Community today? Does the Community have an obligation to refrain from hamstringing private enterprise with job killing regulations so members of the Community can find available jobs?

It seems that the focus these days is always on what the successful, the workers, the "Givers" if you must owe the Community. I would love to see the focus shift, even occasionally, to the issue of what the lazy, the indolent, the criminals, the "Takers" owe the Community, and a balancing of these obligations on many levels, including a cost/benefit analysis.

When I think of Community I think of a beehive, where each member performs a task necessary for the betterment of the Community, not a human body infected by a tapeworm, where the parasite, lives off of the host, harming it and possibly causing death.

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