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Note: For a documentary related to this blog post ("Three Steps to Creating a Caring Community"), see Michael Moore's "Where to Invade Next." Here is a review from the Toronto Film Festival.
The Gazette, September 13, 2015, p. C3
What does it take to create a civic society, a sense of community, a preservation of culture?
Our Declaration of Independence asserts that every American is “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The World Bank reports 2.2 billion people try to subsist on less than $2.00 a day. Our Census Bureau says 45 million Americans (half are children) live below the poverty threshold.
Poverty, whether here or abroad, can put quite a crimp in one’s life, liberty and happiness. Indeed, a Princeton study found you can buy additional happiness -- up to $75,000. (Additional income adds nothing.)
But even in a capitalist (or our corporatist) country, true happiness -- self-actualization, sense of self-worth, a sense of community – requires more than money.
We’re aware of income inequality, the gap between us and the 1%. But what of the happiness gap?
Let’s say roughly 30% of Americans confront challenges and conditions – in addition to finding too much month at the end of the money – that limit their sense of self-fulfillment.
Adam Edelen, Kentucky’s state auditor of public accounts, said “it is not Christian” to cut health coverage; “maybe this side of the aisle should put down the books of Ayn Rand and pick up the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”
The Pope and many religious leaders agree. Others draw similar conclusions from basic ethics and morality.
That ought to be enough. Unfortunately, it’s not. Little rationale beyond trickle-down is required to enact billionaires’ tax breaks. Programs for the 30% have to prove their tax savings – or increased businesses’ profits.
Fortunately, this proof is often available – even if it should not need to be. Most of Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposals are not only supported by 50-to-80% of America’s voters, they have been adopted by most industrialized nations, and found to produce more wealth than they cost.
The 30% are not just homeless drug addicts. Some belong to highly skilled trades, or hold graduate degrees, like a Ph.D. who can’t find a teaching position.
Some cities find the cost of housing for the homeless is less than the total costs of keeping them on the streets.
Mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes cost taxpayers, impact families, and reduce inmates’ education and potential productivity. Tuition-free college education built our nation’s economy after World War II with the GI Bill, California and New York’s later, and Germany’s today. The cost of four years in prison would pay for four years in college. Drug courts are cheaper than prison.
The 30% includes those who can’t afford desperately needed dental and medical care. And yet universal single-payer health care costs less and returns more than emergency room visits – or even health insurance.
Concerned about the economy? It’s 70% driven with consumer spending. Minimum wage increases will be spent immediately. A full employment, federal government as employer of last resort policy, would create substantial improvements to our communities, increase the skills and self-esteem of those now welfare-dependent, and give the economy a boost.
There are similar approaches to other challenges of the 30%. Persons of color who, regardless of socio-economic status, must daily deal with systemic racism. Single mothers earning minimum wage. Persons with physical or mental disabilities. College grads, burdened with debt. Those who’ve lost homes or farms. Those addicted to alcohol or tobacco. Residents of East Los Angeles, without cars, who provide services to those in West LA – after hours on buses.
How do we create a sense of community? We focus first on “doing well by doing good” for the 30%. Then on the “middle class.” And last on the top 1%. Our only problem has been that we had it backwards.
Nicholas Johnson, a native of Iowa City and former FCC commissioner, maintains http://nicholasjohnson.org and http://FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com. Comments: email@example.com