Our Responsibility to Those in Need

From: Lee Corbin (lcorbin@tsoft.com)
Date: Thu Jul 26 2001 - 01:35:38 MDT

Q: what should be done for those who for one reason or another, many through no
real fault of their own, become economically unviable (the market literally has
no need for their labor sufficient to pay them a livable wage)? -Samantha Atkins

Q: Some persons, through no fault of their own, cannot afford medical treatment
(what if you have a stroke at age 16?). Kids or no kids, they can't pay. Are
you saying that they are useless, discardable, by definition not worthy of
being helped? Would you let them starve amid plenty? -Rafal Smigrodzki

(Rafal opposes a GI but candidly (thank you!) wrote "I am willing to help them,
to some extent, and to support the use of governmental oppression to force other
citizens to help, too", at least in regard to life and death situations.)

My answer has to be broken down into three parts: (i) what should in general
be done, and what I would have recommended that countries do which are just
starting out, (ii) what Canada, Germany, the U.S., Australia, and the
rest of the developed world should do in the immediate future, and (iii)
(hardest of all) how the impending MNT and Singularity affect the second

In this posting, I will address (i) only. My model of a new country is
the United States, partly because I know more about it than I do about
the origins of other nations, but partly because by the time that it
officially begun, there existed extremely good traditions of liberty,
self-reliance, prosperity, and productivity. It was no coincidence that
these things arose together.

I don't know for sure at what moment in U.S. history any government
began extracting money from its citizens solely to benefit other
citizens, but it may have been 1913 with the enactment of the Federal
Income Tax. (Still, I don't know when government charity really began.)
But it was a terrible mistake, which, despite its good intentions, has
harmed the lives of millions of people. For every person genuinely
benefitted---whose life was saved or whose health was restored---there
were untold thousands who delayed or postponed permanently the making
of life-changing difficult decisions. This is certainly not to suggest
that Chicago or New York in 1880 was free of crime, drugs, and people
in seemingly hopeless situations. (But then, there have never been large
cities without these problems, whether it's Cairo today or Rome in 100AD.)
But there was no institutionalized underclass, not even in Appalachia,
a place where people couldn't leave unfair and frightful situations
mainly because of their traditions and their fatalism.

The Los Angeles police force may be a good place start to describe some of
the alternatives available to cities in the early years of this century.
In one way, vigilantism is a patent disregard of lawful procedures, but
in another way it exemplifies community spirit. Vigilantism arises when
common citizens---who have to be relatively few in number compared to
the anonymity that afflicts modern cities---act not out of self-interest
but out of a sincere desire to make their community a better place, and
that means, to them, taking the law into their own hands. We commonly
approve, instead, of these same citizens (of communities where, as I say,
people have identities) being deputized under the auspices of a legal
establishment that promises a quick and speedy justice, but justice

The Los Angeles police force was moved, according to a television
documentary I saw, by what was evidently this same spirit (which isn't
too surprising knowing what else they're wont to do). In the 1930's
and 40's they faced an imminent invasion by the Mafia, which had
already firmly established itself in dozens of eastern cities. The
L.A. police would get word that some mobster was going to fly in
and meet him at the airport. Sometimes they'd just grab him and
put him on the next plane back to New York, "thus violating his
civil rights", I suppose. At other times, they'd simply trail a
known mobster on the road, and literally pull him over every two
blocks to demand identification and hassle him in other ways. As a
result the Mafia didn't get established in L.A. until just recently.

Do you know how the L.A. police used to handle homelessness? They'd
take a bum, or other loiterer or vagrant, give him something to eat,
and then drive him to the city limits (which is pretty far away in
L.A.) and just dump him out. Until recently, L.A. didn't have much
of a homeless problem; many of the same people, I imagine, went to
San Francisco.

As cruel as it sounds at first, as uncaring as it appears (and is,
actually), this is the best solution. Sooner or later, except in
a few cases, the drifter will drift into some small town, and get
an extremely low paying job, merely because all his alternatives
are worse. (Naturally, today such an option isn't available because
of the minimum wage laws, and the fact that today's vagrants have
been tolerated for so long, that the reform of any particular one
of them is highly unlikely.)

But all this is what should have been done. I'm afraid that unless
truly Orwellian techniques are used, thousands and thousands of people
today are rather hopelessly wedded to lives of zero economic utility,
drug dependency, and crime. (Yes, many thousands aren't, and many may
turn their lives around.) I'll say more about what I think our options
today are in another post, and then start guessing (like everyone else
is) about the future.


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