I received a chain email that starts with some pictures of Hiroshima being nuked, follows with some pictures of the vibrant city it is now, and then has some pictures of crumbling Detroit. It then spits out these pearls of wisdom (in big fonts and many colors, natch):
What has caused more long term destruction: the A-bomb,or Government welfare programs created to buy the votes of those who want someone to take care of them?
Japan does not have a welfare system.
Work for it or do without.
These are possibly the 5 best sentences you'll ever read and all applicable to this experiment:
1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.
2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.
3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.
4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!
5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.
Can you think of a reason for not sharing this? Neither could I.
Why yes, "Kurt", I can think of a good reason for not sharing it: because it is not true.
5 seconds with Google shows this:
Social welfare, assistance for the ill or otherwise disabled and for the old, has long been provided in Japan by both the government and private companies. Beginning in the 1920s, the government enacted a series of welfare programs, based mainly on European models, to provide medical care and financial support. During the postwar period, a comprehensive system of social security was gradually established. Government expenditures for all forms of social welfare increased from 6% of the national income in the early 1970s, to 18% in 1989.
Never mind the wisdom of advancing a political argument through pictures; the entire message is simply a lie.
Worse, the message is predicated on a fantasy. A cruel, sick fantasy. A sociopath's fantasy.
"Work for it or do without."
This email is like an x-ray; it exposes the implicit assumption of Right Wing Morality Economics: that people who are poor are poor because they deserve it; by the choices they made. The idea that fate could have some impact, that people could be affected by the decisions made by others, never sees the light of day.
I want to know if "Kurt" ever went to a war. I want him to tell me how every man who died there deserved it, how those bullets sought out only the lazy, the incompetent, and the stupid. To tell me how every guy who was drafted deserved whatever he got, for being too poor to buy a deferment or just so plain stupid he thought he owed his society something when they called for him. To tell me how we all make our own fate, independent of anyone else's actions, even under artillery fire on the other side of the globe.
And if we can't choose our own fates in a war, then, really, when can we? Is there some magic glass wall that appears once the war is over that protects us from chance, misfortune, criminals, or the law of unintended consequences?
But lo, the idiocy continues; it gusheth forth. Yes, in fact, you can multiply wealth by dividing it; that is the basis of the entire modern economy. The industrial revolution can be essentially explained by multiplying wealth by dividing it (i.e. the division of labor, where each person does the same amount of work but the output is magically increased). You can, in fact, legislate the poor into prosperity by redistributing wealth; and when you do, you make the wealthy even wealthier. Yes, even wealthy people benefit from living in a society that minimizes income disparity, which is why billionaires of every third-world country fly to the West for health care. And as for the government taking what it gives, there were a lot of people who gave our government everything so that we could be free (see the aforementioned war); I think paying back a few tax dollars is more than fair.
This text was written by a sociopath. A creature who revels in a fantasy of power and independence, who has no empathy for others, who views every piece of good luck as his just reward and every piece of bad luck as someone else's fault, who would destroy every ounce of trust and connection that has built modern society so they can return to feudal savagery. And, incidentally, who has absolutely no idea how society, economics, or physics work.
But I know for a fact that the people reading and passing on the email are not sociopaths. So how does that work? How do decent, ordinary people participate in this kind of stuff?
The answer is, by degrees and dog-whistles. Because the underlying premise of the message agrees with their moral principle, they accept the message. But because the moral principle is essentially indefensible (you know as well as I do that the people passing this message are Christians, and thus are perfectly aware of "What you do to the least among you, you do to me"), they cannot face it directly, which means they cannot pick out the factual errors.
Instead, they respond to the tone instead of the specifics. And the tone is, "get off your butt and get to work." But the specifics get passed along, too, and they reinforce the tone in unintended ways. Thus by small steps did Reserve Police Battalion 101 find its way into history. At every stage, those men responded to the tone of duty, brotherhood, and obedience, without facing the specifics; if at any point they had challenged the factual claims presented to them, the whole thing would have fallen apart. Which is why they very carefully never challenged those claims (see Albert Speer, for example).
It is no accident that these are pictures of Detroit. There are many crumbling cities in America, thanks to thirty years of tax dodging as a national sport, but they chose Detroit. The reason is obvious; but again, merely facing that fact would destroy the entire illusion.
And the illusion is what it always is: the pretense of power, the fantasy of control over one's own fate. The comforting lie that those other bastards deserved it, but you've been good and thus will be spared. This lie is only necessary when you are afraid. Poverty makes people afraid. Thirty years of Reaganomics have made people poor. And in their fear, they turn to... Reaganomics: the idea the financial success is a measure of moral purity. Because if they just are morally pure enough, they'll be saved.
To his credit, Reagan may have started the spiral that will completely unwind democracy. That's a legacy few can match (I'm looking at you, Augustus Ceaser!).
But he didn't. Obama's going to win, and this too shall pass, because in the end, the American people are not a people of small fears and despair.
And if not.... sucks to be an American, eh? Glad I was smart enough to make a better choice.