Re: SOC: Social Contract Education (Was: More Green Party)

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Sun Jul 02 2000 - 09:59:11 MDT

At 11:07 AM 2/07/00 EDT, Greg wrote:
>Advocates of a government-mediated "social safety net" look at
>society as it is, and see that there are lots of people who are in need of
>things like medical care or inter-job income support or job-skills training
>or disability income, but who have made no private provision for these key

An interesting post, but I think divergent views might stem from more
complicated origins than the dichotomy Greg proposes. Again, I can't speak
from a US perspective (despite having glutted myself on Heinlein etc in my
time). I can say that my sense of how most people view this issue in Oz is
as something often best handled on a user-pays-if-possible basis, but often
with fees *graduated*, in the interests of a sort of Kantian fairness.
Maybe it comes of an early (white) history here of almost entirely
unpredictable wins and losses. The landscape was absurdly inhospitable to
agriculture and herding, and everything catches fire and burns to the
ground rather a lot. Gold was found in quantities that disrupted the entire
nation for some years, making daily life a lottery (and we still gamble to
an insane degree). So people learned to depend on each other a great deal,
to see each other as `mates' - not rivals. This developed in an atmosphere
of distrust of and dislike for authorities, understandably given convict
origins (although most settlers were *not* convicts and were quick to deny
`the stain').

I think the outcome of this history was to bias us toward practical
solutions that involved *those who happen to have*, today, chipping in for
*those who happen to be down on their luck*, in good evolutionary altruist

How was this to be arranged in a very large and mostly empty nation? You
couldn't just depend on your physical neighbor, who might be many miles
away but likely to be caught in the same local trap. The general notion
that we were all in the same fix, and should share the benefits around,
came naturally.

In practice, this means that the well-off (having a margin of surplus) are
deemed to have a duty to put a larger proportion into the pot. On the other
hand, inmany respects egalitarianism gives way to simplicity (and, I
suppose, self-respect): everyone except the elderly and infirm pays the
same for train or tram or bus fare, and a loaf of bread and litre of milk,
and litre of petrol. And since many medicines are centrally subsidised, the
rich also get their prescriptions filled for $20 or thereabouts, as do the
less well-off. Taxes are graduated, with a maximum of 30% up to incomes of
$50K a year, although rising to 47% for the wealthier (but I doubt anyone
with a tax accountant pays that). This blend of everyone paying the same
for many services and consumables, and the better-off paying a lot more for
taxes, is accepted, by and large, as a reasonable compromise.

Nobody ever suggests that everyone in the country should pay the same
dollar amount in tax - `$10,000 per person, rich or poor' - nor could that
work without abolishing many benefits that are accepted as worth having. I
suppose this is not greatly different from the way things have panned out
in the States, except for our somewhat more mutually dependant early

I don't know if this helps the discussion or will be dismissed as more blah
blah blah, which maybe it is.

Greg sez: <People aren't trained very well in the exercise of freedom and
self-responsibility >

>I don't propose any solution for this problem here. I just think this is a
>crucial factor in the debate that isn't addressed adequately by either side.

I'm sure that's right, but again, there are different and perhaps arguably
no less viable ways of doing things that *don't* require that the poor with
very few reserves for insurance (charged equally for all, I assume) are
left without any access to routine support - the kind of situation
prevalent during the Depression, before many of today's ameliorative
measures were introduced.

But this is all terribly close to the no-no of `debating the basics', so I
probably won't continue with it.

< sighs of relief from the assembled company >

Damien Broderick

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