I recall as a teenager with a raw social conscience talking to Aunty Mary about the plight of the poor and disadvantaged and asking why we all didn’t do more and whether this made us unworthy.
Though not young, she was much younger than Uncle Ted – who was not too well – and she earned the wages while he looked after their four young children (three girls and a boy). They scrimped along. You sensed it when you visited. Mum commented about the politeness of the children in never asking for anything whenever they went shopping.
Anyway Aunty Mary responded to me by saying that she thought that her job was to care for her family as best she could. She made it clear that charity for her had to begin at home and that her conscience was not the least troubled. This response made an impression on me at the time but it was only in retrospect that I appreciated what she didn’t say. She didn’t say that other people should help her. I don’t think that would have entered her head.
This brings me to a series of questions. How much should you pay each week to your neighbours who own cars and the latest electronic doodads if you are earning much higher wages than them? How much should you pay to support your neighbours’ four children – who they couldn’t afford to have – to be minded, schooled, clothed, fed, and entertained? How much should you pay to allow your elderly neighbours to reside in a retirement home when they have a million dollar home that they intend leaving to their adult children?
How much should you pay a single mother of three children whose three relevant partners have skedaddled? How much should you pay for the dental treatment of people who take poor care of their teeth and otherwise spend their spare money on booze, fags and nights out?
How much should you pay to insure someone against the financial impact of becoming disabled when he has the means to insure himself? How much should you pay to people whose uninsured houses have been flooded or burnt to the ground?
Of course the easiest ways to answer these questions is to say that the government should pay. Even people who otherwise exhibit intelligence and common sense can be heard saying this; as though government with a bottomless pit of treasure to draw upon was cruelly withholding benefits out of sheer caprice and bloody-mindedness.
The issue is not about having a compassionate society where the richer members provide a safety net for the genuinely poor and disadvantaged. That we must have. The issue is how we ever get back to Aunty Mary’s mindset where people who can look after themselves, even if only barely, expect nothing extra from their fellows; where it does not enter their head. This is important because its counterpart is a self-reliant, striving, society where advancement comes from your own efforts not from leeching off others. Individual fulfilment and general prosperity are the resulting bounties.
Strangely you might think I spent many hours the other night thinking about how to get back to a more self-reliant society while staring at the full moon and sipping the odd glass of red wine. When I came back in my wife said, where the hell have you been?
I’d like you to know, I said, that I have discovered the answer to making us self-reliant again like my stoical Aunty Mary and the answer was riding on a moonbeam.
Have you been drinking?
Bob Brown didn’t get this kind of treatment from his partner when he saw a comet called global democracy, I said indignantly in a disconcertingly howling voice.
I wouldn’t bet on that. Had he been drinking too, she asked cynically.
I carried on regardless. What we need is for a new world parliament to mandate the use only of clean green energy.
What in the world has that got to do with anything? And anyway isn’t it precisely Brown’s idea, she said.
Exactly, but don’t you see, it will drive us all so far backwards that we will be forced again to be self-reliant. There will be nothing to share. It’s a cunning plan. We go along with Bob’s comet; all the time knowing it’s Aunty Mary’s moonbeam.
Mind you, I said, the risk is that we will be all driven quite mad by whirring windmills and extinct ourselves before we have a chance to recover. That may be the reason other inhabited planets haven’t contacted us. Who knows they might have been all driven backwards and mad by windmills?
Sleep it off, she said.
No-one’s a prophet in their own household I sighed; fell asleep and dreamt of moonbeams and comets.
Peter Smith’s book, Bad Economics, will be published soon by Connor Court. You can pre-order (post free) here…