At the heart of conservative thinking is a question about efficiency. The question goes like this. “Why would I pay for something I don’t need?” It seems like a reasonable question, but it ultimately leads to problems when it is applied to an economic vision. There are two problems with the question.
The first problem is the word “I”. The question is self-serving. It is the opposite of altruistic. For example, the closure of court houses in British Columbia as a cost saving measure makes sense for the world I live in, because I never have trouble with the law, and I rarely need court services. I don’t suffer from a mental illness or an addiction, and if anyone in my family did have problems, I have the means to get them to the court house in the next town without too much inconvenience.
Similarly, the reduction of the number of public school teachers and the consequent increase in class size is not a problem as I see it, because my kids are not learning-disabled, and I am able to afford education fees like the $400 fee attached to International Baccalaureate exams in my high school if my kids wish to pursue and IB diploma, or private tuition if I want my kids to receive religious education. If my kids struggle in school I can afford tutoring.
There are many examples of this reasoning: I don’t get mail delivered to my door, and I don’t make my living delivering mail, so why should I care if Canada Post stops door-to-door delivery? This focus on the self and on protecting one’s own pile and no one else’s is natural, but shortsighted, especially when a government uses this focus as a basis for its policy.
The second problematic word in the question is the word “need”. Of course I don’t need door to door mail service, but it would be nice to have. Do we live in a wealthy country or not? I don’t need smaller class sizes, but they benefit everyone. Most of the time, I don’t need to be helped right away in the emergency room. I mean I probably won’t die from the broken ribs I sustained, but it would sure be nice if I didn’t have to sit there for two hours.
Governments must reframe their question to “How can we make life better for all citizens?” We have all this wealth, and we’re worried about protecting our little piles of money to the point where we would have other citizens go without something that we have. This is a sense of entitlement. It’s really quite antisocial, when you really think about it.
The people who are generating all the wealth need to spread it around better. Private interests are characterized by competition and profit motivation. If they won’t willingly give back to their country, they need to be made to give back to make the country better. This is accomplished first through a change of attitude to a real patriotism, in which one views his society’s success on the basis on how well-off all people are. We need to be proud to pay taxes, and proud to offer good services. Corporations need to be happy with a lower profit margin. And secondly, this attitude needs to be protected by legislation.
Certainly there are limits to altruism. We have finite resources. But during this, the most materialistically wealthy time ever in history, the fact that the income gap is widening is proof that we have gone too far. And who is willing to give something up to stop this trend? Well, if you are debating whether your next new car should be a Mercedes or a BMW, we’ll start with you.