Beyond the moral conscience that tells you that as a whole we should help the poor, there are facts to back that up. So when in doubt, this is what to tell to your relatives, colleagues, friends and well, anyone that believes taxes and social welfare programs should be cut during financial crises.
Equal opportunity does not exist in America. In a time where we face a huge debt, it can be so easy to want to cut these basic programs, aka austerity. However, keeping these programs in place is one of the only ways our country can bounce back into prosperity.
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One major disconnect between the Republicans and Democrats at the moment is the battle over tax payer money going to social welfare programs. Many people seem to think that social welfare programs provided by the government are a waste of money. They’re a waste because the people who are benefitting from the programs don’t deserve it. They are lazy and not motivated to change their situation. If they weren’t lazy, freeloaders, they would get a job and be hard working citizens. This is a product of the idea of “The American Dream”, the belief that American “freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success”, the belief that everyone has an equal opportunity to reach their goals. This conversely infers that if an individual is poor and/or unsuccessful, it is a reflection of how hard they’ve worked in life. As a result, people all over the country are reluctant to pay taxes; especially the taxes that go to help people who they believe “don’t deserve it”.
In reality, how hard a person works does not transfer over to how successful they are. That’s why “The American Dream” is a fallacy. Hard work can contribute; however, there is really no direct correlation between hard work and success in our country. Well, I want to set the record straight as to why.
Poverty and Survival:
When a person is closer to basic survival needs, personal, intellectual and social development are not prioritized. This isn’t even really a choice, it’s a reaction to survival instincts. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, only when basic needs are met does the brain allow a capacity for more priorities. These are the levels Maslow describes:
1. Physiological: breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis and excretion
2. Safety: security of body, employment, resources, morality, family, health and property
3. Love/Belonging: friendship, family, sexual intimacy
4. Esteem: self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect from others
5. Self-Actualization: morality, spontaneity, creativity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of the facts.
The more of the needs in the first few levels that are met, the more freely a person is able to have priorities in the higher levels. People in poverty have a higher priority on basic survival needs. The less money you have, the more you focus on having enough money for rent, food, bills etc. and what comes after that is self-development. You cannot expect that someone who doesn’t have access to the basic needs of food, medicine or housing to be able to easily simultaneously focus on achieving success.
Judgments Create Setbacks:
Another reason that an individual may not succeed no matter how hard they try is because of where they are on the social spectrum. Naturally, the human brain categorizes. As a result of this, we tend to create preconceived notions of those around us based on what characteristics go along with these categories. This is also known as stereotyping and the root of prejudice. If you happen to be born into a category that does not favor you socially, success is already inherently harder. These social categories include gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, etc. If you haven’t been successfully favored because of the stereotype you were born into, it’s much easier to recognize these advantages or disadvantages in yourself and others. This is also why people who are born into more favorable categories have a harder time recognizing and having empathy for those who struggle based on their social status.
Programs Cost Money:
The next problem that comes with promoting social welfare programs is to those who say that they’d like to help the poor but in a time of major debt, we need to cut taxes and government programs. Well, this simply isn’t true. According to studies done at both Brown and Yale, we need to spend more. When citizens are starting to pay off their personal debt, they will be reluctant to spend money beyond clearing their debt and covering survival needs. So if the government is simultaneously focusing on only paying off its debt and federal spending is halted, who is left to spend money and keep business alive? It just doesn’t add up. If the government continues to invest money into our country, the economy can continue to flourish while the citizens pay off their personal debt. As a result, the government will receive more income through taxes because people who are put back to work will be paying taxes. That leads into my next point, we also shouldn’t cut taxes because that is where an economy recovers. Recovery isn't based on how much spending is cut but by how much income it receives. In simpler terms, it doesn’t matter how much money someone owes, if they don’t have money coming in, they won’t have anything to pay it off with. I am also a strong believer in graduated income tax because the wealth of the richest people in our country wouldn’t be possible without having benefitted from the people below them and the country they’ve flourished in. It only seems right, in my opinion, to give back to what has fostered your own success.
Those Who Do Need To Be Held Accountable:
Finally, the poor are not who should be punished for the debt, they didn’t cause it. The people who caused the banking crises need take responsibility and be held accountable just like what is currently being done in Iceland and Sweden. Which I also read about in this DailyKos diary. The people who chose irresponsible and dishonest business practices need to be indicted; it’s as simple as that.
We need to continue helping those on the lower spectrum of socioeconomic status because they are the ones being affected most. They are the ones who have lost jobs, houses or significant income. People who are richer have been affected by the financial crises as well but they haven’t had to reduce meals, they reduce shopping trips. Trust me, growing up where I am, in one of the richest and, strangely, most diverse cities in my state, I see both every day. If a goal of America is truly to have a system based on personal achievement, a system in which no matter what family and socioeconomic status a person is born into, a system in which anyone can be successful and prosper if they work hard, then we as a people should contribute to social services as a whole. If we want to turn the American Dream in to the American Reality, then I really think that is the only way.