Random (but not really)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Thoughts on Social Responsibility

I’ve been thinking recently about social responsibility and the social contract.

It’s that time of year, so there are lots of people complaining about paying taxes, and bragging about how they manipulate things so they pay a minimum tax bill.

There are also a lot of people who insist on buying only things that are cheap: never pay full price, never buy quality goods.

Why do I think this is an issue? Because that is socially irresponsible and it breaks the social contract.

First, let’s clarify what I’m talking about.

Social contract:
1. the voluntary agreement among individuals by which, according to any of various theories, as of Hobbes, Locke, or Rousseau, organized society is brought into being and invested with the right to secure mutual protection and welfare or to regulate the relations among its members.
2. an agreement for mutual benefit between an individual or group and the government or community as a whole.

When we are part of society, we have implicitly agreed to follow certain rules and regulations that allow large groups of people to function without descending into chaos. We don’t steal, we don’t murder, and we treat fairly with each other.

But the social contract is more than that. In a moral and ethical society, it means we care for those who cannot care for themselves. For example, it’s why we have special legal protections for children.

It also means there are some things that are better managed by the government than by individuals and private companies: law enforcement, roads, and public safety come immediately to mind.

Taxes are the way we pay for these societal needs. If you don’t pay taxes, or attempt to shirk this duty, then you are taking advantage of your fellow citizens.

Let me be clear: I don’t mind paying a little extra to make up for the elderly widow who has minimal income. I don’t mind paying a little extra to cover the single parent trying to make ends meet. These are the things we do in a moral society.

What I do mind is people who can pay their way refusing to do so.

When people scheme to get out of paying their way in society, they are refusing to pay for the roads they drive on, the police that protect them, and the schools that educate future generations.

When people who have the ability to do otherwise choose to spend their money on the cheapest things available, they are making things worse for everyone else.

When people who have the ability to do otherwise buy the cheapest items available, it means they are driving down wages for those who make those goods.

They are supporting sweatshops.
They are forcing farmers to hire illegal immigrants.
They are requiring a minimum wage that is not a living wage.
They are forcing those at the bottom to struggle to pay their rent and put food on the table.
They are forcing those at the bottom to live in substandard and even dangerous housing.
They are encouraging a disposable society, where things are used briefly and discarded.

To make things worse, many of the people who purchase goods at prices lower than the cost of US production are the same people who are against providing any benefits whatsoever to the working poor.

They fail to understand the basics of TANSTAAFL.

We can’t have roads without taxes.
We can’t have schools without taxes.
We can’t have clean water without taxes.
We can’t have safe food without taxes.
We can’t have public health without taxes.

When people insist that the cost of goods remain low, the price still must be paid, but it is paid by those who manufacture and harvest and serve.

The mutilations and deaths of those in the meatpacking industries.
The injuries and deaths of farm workers.
The spread of food-borne illnesses.
Child labor.
A culture and conditions where poor working women are at constant risk for rape and sexual assault.

But what really makes me angry is when those who refuse to pay their taxes, and refuse to support businesses that pay a living wage, profess piety and claim the mantle of Christianity to hide their immoral and unethical behaviors.

Here’s the thing: I was forced to take six years of religion classes in school, and have had more than a passing interest in comparative theology as an adult, so I have more than a basic familiarity with the bible and the tenets of Christianity.

The bible speaks of caring for the poor and the sick. Of helping those in need and forgiving your enemies.

Nowhere does it claim that the poor need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Nowhere does it say that caring for your neighbors is the responsibility of someone else.

Nowhere does it say that we should care for only the people like ourselves, and let the rest of the world sort itself out.

In fact, the bible speaks quite clearly on the subject of paying the taxes.

Matthew 22:17-21 (KJV)
17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.
20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
21 They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

If you choose to weasel out of the social contract, that’s fine. We have free will and are allowed to make our own decisions. But don’t expect me to respect you.

And don’t claim to be a Christian.

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