Help the ‘can’ts,’ not the ‘won’ts’

May 12, 2008

by Ivan Raconteur

None of us likes to discover, after the boss has toddled around the office disseminating the envelopes containing the bi-weekly remuneration, that the government has been there first and picked our pockets before we could get our hands on the stuff.

As painful as that moment can be, one must concede that there are good taxes and bad taxes. Or, to put it another way, some taxes are easier to swallow than others.

When it comes to the human services portion of our tax bill, we can break it down to a matter of those who cannot take care of themselves versus those who choose not to.

We sometimes lose sight of the fact in this politically correct world, but there are some people who are simply too lazy to get up off of their amply-padded backsides and do some work to support themselves.

Others feel a sense of entitlement, and believe that society has a responsibility to take care of them.

One has no sympathy for people like these, and they can go rot as far as we care.

There is an important distinction between these people and those who legitimately need some assistance.

Perhaps they were born with a disability. Maybe they were victims of domestic violence. Perhaps they are struggling with mental or emotional health problems or some debilitating disease.

Whatever the reason, these people need our help. Some just need a hand to help them turn a corner and get their lives back on the rails, and others need some form of long-term care.

Some of these people are easy to identify. Those born with Down’s Syndrome or who have an obvious physical disability tend to stand out, and anyone can see why they might need assistance.

Others face invisible challenges. These people may appear “normal,” but they may be broken inside, and need our help just as much.

People who are different from us may make us uncomfortable. It would be easy to push them aside or lock them all away in institutions somewhere so we don’t have to look at them.

Perhaps this discomfort comes from ignorance. Perhaps it is fear, stemming from the fact that we don’t want to think of what it would be like if we had to walk in their shoes.

We should remember that these people did not choose the situation they are in, and we should be thankful that we have the opportunity to be part of the solution.

There are legions of people who do help those who are less fortunate. Some volunteer their time or donate money, and others work in difficult low-paying jobs caring for others.

They do a lot, but they can’t do it all. This is an area in which tax dollars may be appropriate.

Some critics ignore the human side of the issue and look at it as simply an economic issue.

To those people, one might suggest that if we consider the cost of programs to help people cope with their situations, and compare this with the cost of ignoring them and taking the risk that they will end up on the street or turn to crime and violence to survive, we may find that a bit of assistance is a bargain.

Likewise, funding programs to help keep people in their homes or in transitional housing is not only better for the individuals involved, but it is less expensive than sending them to institutions such as prisons or state hospitals. It costs about $35,000 per year to keep an adult in prison, and about twice that for juveniles.

Some programs involve training and rehabilitation to help people to be productive, self-reliant, and re-join the workforce, a result from which we all benefit.

If we are willing to spend trillions of dollars to fund military action halfway around the world, we better be prepared to take responsibility for caring for the men and women who come back suffering from mental and emotional trauma (not to mention those who come back with physical disabilities). These veterans risked their lives for their country, and it is unconscionable that we ignore them when they come home.

We invest a lot of resources in training these men and women for war, and we owe it to them to invest at least as much to help them adjust to peace.

Compassion costs money, but it is surely a much better investment than using tax dollars to line the pockets of the wealthy, or of corrupt government officials in other parts of the world, which we seem to do with abandon.

One way to judge a culture is by the way it treats the least of its members.

At the end of the day, we must ask ourselves what kind of country we want to live in.

Do we want to care for those who need assistance (those who can’t help themselves, not those who won’t), or do we want to ignore them and deal with the consequences?

One advantage of living in a country that is guided by compassion and understanding is that someday, we could be the ones who need the help.

If we find ourselves in a situation in which the hard hand of fate has been slapping us around the ring and the future is looking grim, we might take some comfort in knowing we are not alone.

Some people’s don’t understand this until they or someone close to them needs assistance, just as life preservers may seem unnecessary until one is drowning.

In a country as rich and powerful as ours, no citizen should ever have to go hungry, live out on the street, or be denied treatment. As we move forward, we would do well to remember those who are too often forgotten.

By speaking out for those who can’t speak for themselves, and by bringing hope to those who are hurting, we can create a more hopeful future of all of us, and this is a far better way to invest our tax dollars than making millionaires richer, making corporations more powerful, or financing corruption anywhere.

One would not advocate more taxes, but rather using the taxes that we already pay more effectively.

This is not a matter of politics or religion. It is about doing the right thing, and that is an investment that makes sense.