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

From: phil osborn (
Date: Tue Jul 04 2000 - 00:32:13 MDT

>From: Damien Broderick <>
>Subject: Re: SOC: Social Contract Education (Was: More Green Party)
>Date: Mon, 03 Jul 2000 01:59:11 +1000
>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
> >things like medical care or inter-job income support or job-skills
> >or disability income, but who have made no private provision for these
> >services.
>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
> >crucial factor in the debate that isn't addressed adequately by either
>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
The problems are the one-size-fits-all nature of the solution and the fact
that it's coercive and the free-riders and the fact that when you subsidize
anything, you tend to get more of it. Free medical care, etc. boils down to
paying for it in delays, quotas, rationing and lines, and the demand always
rises to exceed the supply.

Then you have the problem of those who are on the high end of the demand -
the elderly and the terminally ill. It's often clear that you could save
more man years by putting the money into something actually productive -
like education of the young or research into diseases that effect people
still in their productive years - like aging itself, but this raises major
moral issues, especially when you've essentially guaranteed full medical
care for all.

I suggest once again that hypothetical constructs like the "social
contract," will only be effective in changing society when they are turned
into functional, real, legal, economic constructs. A real universal social
contract, spelled out, would eliminate much of the deadlock on these issues.

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