Our Chinese Finger Trap

Socialism is like a Chinese finger trap. Playing with it just a bit look harmless and even fun, but once you start on that road it much easier to get further trapped than it is to free yourself.

Chinese Finger Trap

Image based on stuck for lyfe by Chris Martin.

I read a great example of this in the comments on an article about some proposed seatbelt legislation – specifically the following interchange:

No mandate please | 8:43 a.m. Feb. 14, 2008

If I don’t want to wear a seatbelt, that’s my business. But the sponsors of this bill will cry…”it’s about safety”. Let’s all be honest. Bottom line…it’s not about safety. It’s about revenue. It’s about mining the drivers in Utah for more money over a silly (soon to be) law.

Legislators should stick to real issues. Seatbelt laws are unconstitutional.

Anonymous | 9:06 a.m. Feb. 14, 2008

How many people out there are not willing to wear a seatbelt but more than willing to sue the insurance company for injuries sustained for not wearing a seatbelt.

Anonymous | 9:18 a.m. Feb. 14, 2008

It is your business as long as you don’t expect Utah taxpayers to pick up your medical bills if you are out of work or disabled. Sort of like a smoker. Do it if you want but don’t expect me to pay your bills if you end up with cancer.

Really? | 9:18 a.m. Feb. 14, 2008

Do you really think that not wearing a seat bealt is just your business? Let’s say you don’t have insurance, like many Utahns, who is going to pay your medical bills? You will probably end up on Medicaid and the tax payers will have to pay for you… now let’s say you do have insurance. Do you think there is a possibility that my insurance rates will go up because of your expensive medical bills? Now let’s say you have a wife and kids, and you die due to your neglect, what happens to them? They may go on public assistance as well. They start getting Social Security death benefits. Can you see that more is at stake than “your business”?

YES REALLY | 9:38 a.m. Feb. 14, 2008

Hey Really… Yes I think it is just my business or whoever it is that chooses to not wear a seatbelt. You have a good point on the insurance statement, but that is just one of many things that could make your rates go up or have people get on public assistance. People can start getting Social Security death benefits from anything that might take someones life. I have to agree with the above comment, I do believe its not about safety, it really is about the money. We should have a choice whether or not to wear a seatbelt. Remember this is America.

Sagacious Inquisitor | 9:58 a.m. Feb. 14, 2008

To Really.
Sadly, your comments are based on the Socialistic notion that somehow society is responsible for me. Granted, Socialism is the dangerous system into which we have already slipped too far.

Once we already have a little socialism – such as government paying the costs of health care for those who can’t afford the choices they have made – it gets easy to use that as a lever to argue that the choices they make are no longer theirs to make but are within the reach of government to make those choices for them. The problem is that each time such an argument is made it becomes that much more difficult to be free to make our own choices – responsible for the consequences of our choices, and not responsible for the choices of others.

It is too easy to paint proponents of individual responsibility as uncaring towards those who are less fortunate than they are, but that is an unfair characterization of the position. I am fully in favor of helping someone in need. I absolutely desire that doctors be paid for their time and effort on behalf of people who cannot afford the health care they need.

The difference is that I believe we do a disservice to those who receive such help when the help comes from a nameless, faceless, impersonal government agency rather than coming from caring neighbors or relatives. Not only do they feel no urgency to improve their situations or to repay the kindness they have received in their time of need when aid comes from such an impersonal source, but it is impossible for government to fully tailor that aid to their specific situation which opens up the misfortune of some people to be used as an opportunity for gain by other unscrupulous people. With caring individuals involved in rendering the needed assistance there are greater safeguards against those who would take such advantage and more incentive for those receiving aid to lift themselves as much as possible.

If the vehicle of government could be used to eliminate social ills such as poverty or homelessness we would have found that solution after decades of government intervention. For all the efforts to use government for those noble ends we show little if any progress.

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.
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6 Responses to Our Chinese Finger Trap

  1. mackenzie says:

    It is a compassionate society that provides a net for those with fewer resources. True giving is not based on expectations of receiving something in return, – that is bargaining. I prefer to live in a society that cares about the less fortunate, but compassion is not a method for controlling individual choice.

    The rational that says one should be obligated to wear a seatbelt because if one has an accident, the cost of medical care will in one way or another become the burden of society, is a purely monetary argument, and is in opposition to the indivdual freedom on which our constitution is based and at the same time is not motivated by compassion. If the person not wearing a seatbelt is dead on impact, the monetary argument for wearing a seatbelt no longer applies. There are no medical expenses just burial expenses, which are ultimately unavoidable, and so such an argument ultimately is not compassionate. It is not motivated by value placed on human life.

  2. mackenzie says:

    What if the same argument that Really is applying to the mandatory wearing of seat belts were applied to all the other “what ifs” that exist. What if there were laws that said one had to be tested for every possible disease that exists because if one gets the disease the medical expense will, in one way or the other, become society’s burden. Judging from the number of advertisments on TV, one’s life would be consumed with doctor’s appointments, possibly to the point where there would be no time left over to even think about making a living.

    We live in a world of endless possibilities. How we deal with all the possibilities is a philosophical choice.

  3. David says:

    I absolutely agree that “It is a compassionate society that provides a net for those with fewer resources.” I simply don’t think that government is the proper vehicle to provide that safety net. I have never encountered any Christian church that did not have some welfare or charity program – I say that to show that there are other means of providing a safety net.

    I may not have been clear in my intent when I talked about people feeling “no urgency to improve their situations or to repay the kindness they have received.” Let me illustrate my meaning with a true story.

    As a young graduate student with a couple of kids and no money to speak of, my car broke down (as in – tow it away, it’s dead). My wife’s parents had an extra car at the time and they allowed us to use it for a few months. Now, if I feel an “urgency to improve [my situation] or to repay the kindness” that does not necessarily mean that I go back and pay rent on the car they let me borrow, or that I loan them my car at some time in the future. That would certainly be bargaining as you said. What it means is that, in gratitude for the help I received I try to improve my situation so that I will be prepared to help someone else when they need it – perhaps a cousin or a neighbor. I’m thinking something more along the lines of Pay It Forward.

    Now ask yourself if I or anyone else would be better off if, rather than wanting to improve myself, my in-laws had helped foster an expectation in me that someone would be there to give me something whenever I had a need. Creating such a culture of dependence is exactly what a government safety net does better than private and voluntary giving.

  4. Reach Upward says:

    “…but compassion is not a method for controlling individual choice.”

    That depends on your definition of “compassion.” If compassion entails government programs chucking money at people that are thought to be disadvantaged, then it is definitely a method for controlling individual choice. Specifically, the individual choice of the givers.

    This type of “compassion” is nothing more than being generous with other people’s money. I cannot understand how we have any such right. If I want to be generous with my own resources, that is my privilege and right. But if I want to force my neighbors to also be similarly generous — because it achieves a social good — I have used a virtue to justify reducing another’s liberty. Nor is forced generousity virtuous. The fact that 51% vote to make the other 49% be generous in no way amounts to virtue.

    Like M, I want to live in a society that cares for those that are less fortunate. But I want the people of that society to freely choose their exercise of compassion.

  5. mackenzie says:

    I basically agree withthe idea of less government and less government spending, which is an idea that formed our country.

    But I remember New York City when the city decided to let people out of the mental institutions. Shanty towns at Columbus Circle, and below the Brooklyn Bridge and homeless everywhere living in cardboard boxes. Some people may be lazy and could work, but there are many people who are either too far gone or disabled. I see your point about private giving but I don’t mind government providing a net as well. There are times when there is a great generousity of spirit among the populous and then there are times more callous. There is allways going to be government spending that somebody doesn’t want to fund. Government can’t please all of the people all of the time.

  6. David says:

    Government does not need to please all the people all the time but Washington and our society at large have become way too comfortable with the practice of attempting to create a solution to every problem they can imagine rather than expecting more local groups to bear up under the challenges they face.

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