I had a long conversation Friday night with an old friend of mine. In fact, that conversation was the reason I didn't get a blog post created, though it did give me material for this one. This old friend Warrior lives in the US. He and I spent a long time discussing politics and philosophy, particularly as it relates to taxation and wealth distribution and I ended up being really blown away by his beliefs. I shouldn't have been since he is actually not too outrageous in light of American politics, but from a Canadian perspective he is a right wing extremist.
Warrior's views included things like tying votes to taxation and removing many government programs. Specifically he felt like anyone on welfare shouldn't get a vote and further that all government paid welfare and health plans should be removed along with most social programs. He justification was that if poor people suddenly didn't receive their welfare payments or get free health insurance they would go out and get jobs and become productive and take care of themselves. I responded by telling him that a world where the poor have no government support is a world of crime and conflict; people who can't get jobs and are starving are prone to doing very dangerous and violent things. His response was to suggest that more police and harsher criminal penalties would solve that problem and get people working by fear and force. By and large his intent here seemed to be getting justice, that is the justice of successful people being rich and safe and unsuccessful people being destitute.
There is something appealing about that justice. When I was younger I definitely fell into that camp, figuring that if people were going to make bad decisions and end up in dire straits they could just deal with it. The trouble with that theory is not so much that it lacks appeal to some people but mostly that it just doesn't work. Harsher criminal penalties for severe crimes have minimal effect and paying police to control the poor instead of just paying the poor doesn't help anything. Regardless of whether or not you believe that this 'monetary justice' is moral or right there just isn't a practical argument for it that holds up. Universal health care drastically lowers the cost of delivering health care and improves the lot of people as a whole. Supporting people who are in temporary distress leads to people staying within the legal system and eventually getting back to work by and large; the number of people who actually are dedicated leeches is extremely small, most want to work.
Distribution of wealth to ensure health care and basic needs for all citizens doesn't cost money compared to the alternative since the end costs of denying those services is the same or higher than the cost of supplying them. It doesn't feel much like justice though, and I suppose different people put different values on those things. I personally am fine staying at the same level of service and allowing those who are less fortunate to benefit. Some people would prefer that those who makes mistakes or are in bad circumstances suffer for it even if it benefits no one else. When it comes to justice vs. altruism I will always pick altruism, and I find the idea of a society that does not share that value set quite unappealing.