There was a show back in late 70s and early 80s called Kids are People Too. Surely some of you have seen it. My recollections of the show are hazy at best, but it seems to have been some attempt to do exactly as the title suggests – show kids and grown-ups alike that kids are entitled to full personhood.
It’s a fairly common trick in the history of mankind, to first dehumanize someone (or some group) we intend to victimize. We humans all have some form of conscience which forces us to some level of sympathy toward our fellow man. Thus, to enable us to commit any form of unjust action, we must first convince ourselves that the persons we are to treat unjustly are not fully entitled to the status of personhood. Surely the slave holders in early America did this. We know well that the Nazi’s considered the Jews to be “subhuman”. The list goes on. (Because I don’t want to get off track, I’ll stay away from the “fetus” versus “baby” debate … for now.)
There are other, subtle ways we do this. For instance, when something bad happens to the economy, or when we need to raise some extra cash for the latest war or social program, we go after “the corporations”. But corporations are nothing more than people in various proportions (we call them stockholders). Those companies are owned by people, real people, with full rights to personhood. We seem to think by saying we’ll “tax corporations” that somehow it’s free money. Somehow it won’t have any negative economic impact – only a positive side of more government revenues. We think there’s no “person” that will get hurt, or treated unjustly; just some faceless corporation (and an evil one at that).
I argue that we do the same thing with government. I’ve quite often heard the phrase “the government ought to pay for [fill in expensive program].” The government is just a collection of people. In the case of a democracy, it is a collection of all eligible voters, who have duly appointed representatives (just as those stockholders elected the board for the corporation). So, when we say “the government ought to pay for [expensive program]” what we are really saying is “Americans ought to pay for [expensive program]”; or, more to the point, “my neighbor ought to pay for [expensive program].”
Now, we can surely debate that there are things my neighbor should or shouldn’t pay for. The point is simply that when we recognize that it is everybody who is paying for something when it’s funded by “the government” then we will at least be more sober-minded about our policy preferences. No more thinking of the government as an endless supply of free goods and services without any economic repercussions.
Should my neighbor pay for my health care? Should my neighbor pay for my car? Should my neighbor give me money to keep my business afloat, even though I’ve run it into the ground with bad business decisions? Should my neighbor help me out when I’ve hit hard economic times (as many have)? These are questions worthy of debate. But we must always be mindful that when “the government” is doing any of these things, then it is my neighbor footing the bill, whether he wants to or not.