Financial columnist Barry Rithotlz authored a great tongue-in-cheek column in Friday’s Washington Post on how to ruin your financial life. If you faithfully adhere to his bizarro-world “guidelines” over your lifetime, you will likely die miserable and broke. The only “guideline” I have a problem with, though, is the one regarding our country’s safety net (i.e. government programs to help the unfortunate). Here it is.
Safety net? I got mine, you go get yours [emphasis his]! Why are you suddenly your brother’s keeper? The elderly, the impoverished, the disadvantaged are someone else’s headaches, not yours.
Now remember. Mr. Ritholtz is giving bizarro-world advice. He is actually a big proponent of the safety net. And he, like many Americans, believes that any cutbacks to our current safety net (however small) will devastate millions of Americans.
First, what makes Mr. Ritholtz believe that a dollar given to our current safety net actually translates into a dollar’s worth of help for a needy American? Our government has sadly become a government of, by, and for the people who can hire lobbyists. (Poor people can’t hire lobbyists. Middle-class and rich people who advocate for the poor can.) With each passing year, the people who have lobbyists siphon off a greater percentage of the government’s tax receipts. That’s why every government program is becoming less and less effective. Surrendering more of your income to “protect” the safety net is a losing game.
Second, what makes Mr. Ritholtz believe that our current safety net is making us a better people? Prior to 1960 our safety net was much smaller. Defense spending was over 50 percent of the federal budget. Medicare and Medicaid didn’t exist. Yet Americans prior to 1960 were far more resourceful and self-reliant. Today, defense spending is 25 percent of the federal budget. Our current safety net is more comprehensive and more costly than ever. And, yet, Americans have never been more helpless and dependent on government than they are now. Apparently, the only people in this country who can feed, clothe, house, educate, and doctor themselves without the government’s help are the one-percenters.
Finally, third, what makes Mr. Ritholtz believe that the elite’s definition of a safety net is valid? To show what I mean by this, consider this example. The Republicans in Congress announce that we need to build ten new aircraft carriers to protect our interests. They also insist that anyone who disagrees with this build-up is “anti-defense”. But what if you think this is overkill? What if you think we can defend the American empire with the amount of aircraft carriers we have now? Do you have to accept the military-industrial complex’s definition of national defense? And if you don’t accept it, are you a limp-wristed commie bent on appeasing the march of Islamofascism?
The compassion-industrial complex, like the military-industrial complex, is not immune to self-interest or hubris. It’s definition of a safety net is not automatically valid. And people who question its definition of a safety net are not automatically heartless wretches who relish the suffering of others.
Mr. Ritholtz is far smarter than I. His financial advice is excellent. But he has, like a lot of Americans, a blind-spot for the threat posed by the compassion-industrial complex. And he, like a lot of Americans, is quick to heap scorn on anyone who dares to question its motives and effectiveness.