The further you chip away at the essential meaning of any social structure, two fundamental causes appear: guiding regulations must aim (however successfully) to further the well-being and opportunity of its free citizens.
Now, what defines a citizen within the population has often changed within societies – take slaves, gender or race discrimination, for example. Likewise the political and economic philosophies behind these societies have also been as varied. However, the fundamental causes of such a unified population remains the same.
Recently, I’ve noticed an increase of opinion articles challenging the suitability of the neo-liberal philosophy.
Personally, I don’t hold a preference towards any system, provided it meets the objectives of improved well-being and opportunity for its citizens. In some society neo-liberal philosophies may achieve these ends, but they certainly do not today in any country I’m aware of.
I know I will be challenged on this conclusion.
And, I also know that neither my opponent nor myself would actually be wrong. The fault would be, as it so often is, that we would not be arguing the same thing.
The whole discrepancy starts with the view of the citizen.
Being more equal
Coupled with neol-liberalism is what is known as Meritocracy. The basic idea behind meritocracy is that the better the person, the more they are showered in fortune. There is something special, or it is the result of endless sacrifice, that leads our betters to their natural economic status.
Yet, over time, we find an increasing divide, not only economically, but socially, between the super rich and the rest, as meritocratic and neo-liberal principles couple in new policy.
For the so-called “land of the free,” it was interesting to witness in recent years the hot debate over basic universal healthcare for all US citizens. In much the same fashion, our own Medicare is always under threat of erosion for much the same reasons:
Why should the successful pay taxes so that society’s “losers” can receive free or subsidised healthcare?
The economic “leaners” as they are called in Australia.
This perspective effectively defines two groups within the population and, to return to the premise above about free citizens, I can only conclude that those who cannot afford adequate health care are not truly citizens with equal rights and dignities compared to their wealthy counterparts.
I happen to disagree with this conclusion. Citizenship in my eyes applies to our whole species, regardless of wealth, race, gender, religion, age or ability.
A society I stand for is one that protects all people from cruelty, slavery and discrimination based on physical / cultural attributes (as opposed to one’s choices). It is a society that provides fair opportunity to all members, based on equal access to quality health care, education and essential utilities / amenities, which services as a fair starting platform for all to aspire to grow. Rights and dignities in such a society are universal, with law enforcers fair and balanced.
As has been said in numerous ways before; how many potential geniuses were snuffed out in the slums before they could ever spark? How fickle is fortune who sends so many falling from grace?
Providing a life beyond subsistence for all, provides greater intellectual capital for industry, a safety net from misfortune, and dignity for those of us who could never stand alone, or who time has exhausted.
The bad cocktail
Maybe neo-liberal ideas could work, if the society held strong social values to champion the lives and opportunities of their neighbours over favour and fortune.
“The wise are informed in what is right, the inferior in what will pay,” being such an example of this idea from Confucius.
Maybe Meritocracy could work, if it truly valued the efforts of all members equitably, for no-one is worthless (service providers shouldn’t need penalty rates just to make ends meet while massive profits from the business activity flow elsewhere).
No, neo-liberal and meritocracy are not compatible philosophies unless we conclude that not all members of a population are true citizens, which of course, I don’t.
And it is the latter – meritocracy – with which I most thoroughly disagree.
Social science shows us that wealth, beyond a given point, is superfluous and even potentially harmful – leading to worse outcomes even for the most wealthy among us.
Seneca also adds, “No man, however, enjoys a blessing that brings anxiety; he is always trying to add a little more. While he puzzles over increasing his wealth, he forgets how to use it. In short, he ceases to be master and becomes a steward.”
The endlessly hot debates over environmental management, climate change, social wealthfare, refugees, wages / taxes and even same-sex marriage have a level of commonality, with the source being this bad cocktail. Who is a citizen, or deserves to be a citizen, with the same universal rights?
Both sides of the debate fail to understand what it is they are actually debating, because they address the symptom and not the cause. Regardless of the topic, we are only trying to define who is eligible for citizenship within our personal world view.
We will continue to fail to answer any of these issues, leading to needless suffering, unless we start with the central cause to them all.
Who deserves to be our equals?