What a "self-made" man owes to the world

John Scalzi's "A Self-Made Man Looks At How He Made It" is a characteristically great essay about how his life's course from poverty and food stamps to fame and commercial success was only possible because of all the social programs, generous individuals, and public spending that went into his upbringing, and why this makes him proud to pay his taxes today.

My parents’ marriage did not last particularly long and in the early seventies — and off and on for the next several years — my mother found herself in the position of having to rely on the social net of welfare and food stamps to make sure that when she couldn’t find work (or alternately, could find it but it didn’t pay enough), she was able to feed her children and herself. Once again, I owe thanks to America’s taxpayers for making sure I had enough to eat at various times when I was a child.

Not having to wonder how I was going to eat meant my attention could be given to other things, like reading wonderful books. As a child, many of the books I read and loved came from the local libraries where I lived. I can still remember going into a library for the first time and being amazed — utterly amazed — that I could read any book I wanted and that I could even take some of them home, as long as I promised to give each of them back in time. I learned my love of science and story in libraries. I know now that each of those libraries were paid for by the people who lived in the cities the libraries were in, and sometimes by the states they were in as well. I owe the taxpayers of each for the love of books and words.

From kindergarten through the eighth grade, I had a public school education, which at the time in California was very good, because the cuts that would come to education through the good graces of Proposition 13 had not yet trickled down to affect me. My schools in the cities of Covina, Azusa and Glendora all had “gifted and talented” programs that allowed me and my other classmates extra opportunities to expand our minds, aided by excellent teachers, most of whose names I can still rattle off after 30 years: Mrs. Chambers, Mrs. Fox, Mrs. Swirsky, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Kaufman, Ms. Morgan. Through much of this time I was fed through school lunch programs which allowed me a meal for free or reduced rates. In the sixth grade, when again my mother and I found ourselves poor and briefly homeless, and I began feeling depressed, the school’s counselor was there to do his best to keep me on an even keel. These schools and programs were funded locally, through the state and through the federal level. The taxpayers helped me learn, kept me fed, and prevented despair from clouding up my mind.

A Self-Made Man Looks At How He Made It


  1. Yes, recipients of food stamps and other social handouts should most definitely be appreciative to the taxpayers who payed for it. They most certainly don’t owe appreciation to the bureaucrats and politicians. Further,  drivers who pay gas taxes owe no debt of gratitude to “the government” for building roads that the drivers themselves paid for.

    1.  And not only do you entirely miss the point here, but you’ve also made me completely incapable of trolling this thread the way I really wanted to and that really upsets me.

    2. “The Government” provides the framework for the obtainment and delivery of those services. While we all like to malign all levels of government for inefficiencies and bureaucratic shenanigans, the irrefutable truth is that we would not be where we are today without such a framework to operate our society on top of.

      It may be bloated, inefficient, and at times embarrassing, but we haven’t yet evolved a superior solution.

    3.  Think of it this way: The taxpayers and the government are two ends of the same donkey. You can’t have one with out the other, but everyone’s entitled to their own opinion about who is which end.

    4. Of course, because the entire system accreted naturally from its molecular components, with no intervention by politicians or governments at any stage.

    5. You’re wrong about the gas taxes too:

      Highways don’t pay for themselves — Since 1947, the amount of money spent on highways, roads and streets has exceeded the amount raised through gasoline taxes and other so-called “user fees” by $600 billion (2005 dollars), representing a massive transfer of general government funds to highways.

      · Highways “pay for themselves” less today than ever. Currently, highway “user fees” pay only about half the cost of building and maintaining the nation’s network of highways, roads and streets.

      · These figures fail to include the many costs imposed by highway construction on non-users of the system, including damage to the environment and public health and encouragement of sprawling forms of development that impose major costs on the environment and government finances.


      1. PIRG is not exactly a neutral organization. The federal highway system was not built so you could conveniently visit grandma on the weekend. The  primary purpose was for national defense, so it’s acceptable that a large percentage of the cost would be paid for by the government

        1. Just stopping by. I’ve had a busy summer and I don’t have the self-discipline to regulate my time here well. Damn your interesting articles and thoughtful, well-moderated discussions.

          1. I’ve set my router to block access to Boing Boing until 1pm on workdays.

            No, seriously. I really have.

          2. Summer?  Please.  I know where you live.  Unless by busy summer you mean chopping wood to keep from freezing.

          3. Oh god I feel the urge to tell robuluz about google reader, but I’m worried if I do he’ll have to block google.com until 1 pm and that’ll probably kill his productivity too!  :O
            Uhm… robuluz… don’t read this comment… shit.

          4. @GTMoogle:disqus There have been moments when I’ve seriously considered using a proxy site…. but that would just be too fucked up.

  2. I can pretty much relate to everything John Scalzi is talking about. Except for the government assistance part to a degree.  My family definitely needed food stamps, but because my mom worked in a sweatshop & made just enough money to be above the max income, we didn’t have those.  Luckily we lived in a neighborhood where cheap, quality food existed so that wasn’t as big of an issue as it could of been.

    But you know, anyone talking about the “politicians” standing in the way of stuff like this… Get some perspective… Politicians helped get systems like this in place to begin with. It’s not rocket science to understand you help those out in society who can’t help themselves. It is maddening to try to convince folks that is the way it should be.

    Great post.

    1.  Actually, I don’t think that history bears you out. Politicians only like to keep the people they represent happy, or did until it all became about money. FDR started the modern welfare system with the “New Deal” because the Depression of the 30’s became entrenched in the US economy. A lot of politicians over the years have tried with varying degrees of success to scale back or even eliminate the programs designed to help the poor.

      Politicians tend to react rather than initiate. Working conditions in factories were abysmal until labor unions were formed, and only then did any politicians act. Mostly because it became politically expedient to do so. If the poor coal miners had to rely on their representatives to act on their behalf, mining safety would still be atrocious.

      I’m not a labor union guy, though in my youth I was forced to join some labor unions, but when corporate America started destroying the unions, that’s when the people lost their voice.

      1.  I think the politicians only reacted to the Labor Unions because suddenly there was a big block of voters they could identify who could be counted on to generally vote the way their union leaders suggested they vote. That alone is a good reason for unions IMHO, let alone the fact that they can counter the outrageous abuses that employers will foist on their employees if given the chance. Now that said, some unions take things way to far to justify their existence as well. The balancing act between them and employers is the best solution for the working person though. Letting employers run roughshod over their employees – which seems to be the most common situation these days – is not desirable. Its a shame that the unions are being steadily eroded and eliminated.
        I support unions despite the fact that the only one I was ever a member of did nothing but take my dues every month for about 6 months.

      2. Nonsense. I am not anti-Union, but I am realistic. You know why my mom had to work in a sweatshop to support the family? Because my dad was in the Union for only 10 years and they required 12 years for him go on disability. So my dad—a Holocaust survivor & factory worker—who paid the dues, supported the Union & never made a big issue of them was screwed by them.

        Unions, politicians & religion are all ways to organize a united front of people. Nothing more & nothing less.  But blind worship of unions, politicians or religion is ridiculous. Just be realistic & be a conscious citizen of whatever group you are a part of.  And if that group turns on you? Don’t feel bad about speaking your mind.

        1. How was your father “screwed” by the union if he wasn’t a member long enough to qualify for disability according to their own by-laws?  There’s a missing step here.

          1. He was screwed because it was implied that 100% workers comp would kick in after 12 years, but prior to that they would “Work with him…” to make sure he gets something to at least cover hospitalization.  He got 100% of squat. 10 years of dues & votes & then kicked to the curb when he needed them most.

  3.  Are you kidding? There are many solutions/frameworks people should be able to try. Unfortunately we can’t. Why? Because the state won’t allow competition.
    It comes down to force any time you talk about the state’s actions. Whether it’s a monarchy or a democracy there are people, individuals, who harm no one yet are forced into behaviors and actions they would prefer not too undertake. That’s not freedom.
    Whenever you think about the actions of a state remember that the end result of disobeying the actions or dictates is a gun in your face. The cops beating people at the Occupy protests- the state. The cops setting up road blocks trolling for evidence of “illegal” behavior- the state. The TSA- the state. Etc. Etc.
    As Milton Friedman said, “who are these angles who are going to organize society for us?”
    They don’t exist. We, all of us, allow other people to dictate how we live  from the types of cars we can drive to the type of marriage we can have.
    Has no one here read Snow Crash and not thought that there were some good ideas about local private courts or the ability to shop for a government of ones liking? Or A Million Open Doors and thought behaviors/cultures shouldn’t be forced on people?
    Frameworks can and do develop without a top down dictate. As long as  individuals follow something approximating the Non-Aggression Principle they should be free to try any framework they please.
    As for this guy’s essay, why the hell didn’t he get a job? I was washing dishes in a greasy spoon at twelve- and buying my own books. I dislike being powerless and realized early on that I had to make my own money. I won’t even get started on that taxpayer funded education. I still have nightmares about my time in school.

      1. Ah, a snarky rejoinder. My point, admittedly not clearly spelled out, is that the framework has a rotten foundation. An essay celebrating a good outcome that arouse within it says what about the many bad outcomes? It’s never the framework’s fault, it’s just the people who work within it now. I’m referring to the other political party of course.

        1. okay. i’ll give you a reply if you want. i’ve read snow crash. i think the idea of buying different levels of justice is fucking horrible.

          amended: i stopped pining for cyberpunk dystopias when i grew up.

          1.  Do you think we don’t have that in our framework now? The US justice system is horrible- assuming you’re from the US. The point is we shouldn’t be forced to use one system to resolve our disputes. I wasn’t advocating anyone adopt the system from the book, only that it was interesting and made me think. At this point I’m still a minarchist, I’ve haven’t made the metal leap to anarchist. So I see a place for courts, but only in the case of force or fraud. No vice laws at all.

          2. So, as the US system is horrible, we should have an even worse system?

            Travel, read, open your mind, and stop believing that your navel is the center of the universe.

            Many of us are where we are because we had opportunities and chances that would be non existent in a society without safety net.

          3. Since you replied to yourself I’ll reply here. I said that the system in the book made me think. Why on earth would I choose a demonstrably worse one?
            There has been much written on the subject but in general the idea is that individuals or groups could agree on an impartial third party to resolve their disputes.  This third party could be a government entity or a private one (either for profit or not). Many of these decisions would be made before any dispute arouse- for example contract arbitration is used currently.

            And here it is… I’m just a confused republican.
            I actually came to think the way I do after watching apologists for all sorts of systems trying to defend their failed ideologies. Not that the systems might not work for some, it’s that no one should be forced to accept into them. That’s it. No force. Just imagine… cue music.

          4.  Why would I pine for a dystopia? It’s fiction and the author decide to create the universe in a certain way. I don’t think the story would have been nearly as fun if everyone just got along.

          5. @boingboing-8f4a20534264fce22dc1a12a6d8e6158:disqus i was replying to myself because the comment system here only has 4 levels of nesting. it’s impossible to conduct a debate here, nor do i particularly care to debate with you. nonetheless, you can try and find me elsewhere if you’d like via my username.

          1. @boingboing-8f4a20534264fce22dc1a12a6d8e6158:disqus 

            The same typo twice, in different posts.

          2. @google-b636f5703428952838db2f8890a612b6:disqus  No I meant it as a plural…

            In general I hate internet grammar pedantry as much as the next anonymous commenter, but in this case the constant substitution of the word “arouse” for “arose” was painting a very disturbing picture in my head of this dude feverishly composing his semi-coherent rantings while sporting a massive hard-on, and I felt compelled to interject. Also yes I know it should still have an apostrophe after the s.

        2.  @boingboing-8f4a20534264fce22dc1a12a6d8e6158:disqus  I actually came to think the way I do after watching apologists for all sorts of systems trying to defend their failed ideologies.

          Seems like exactly what you’re trying to do here with neoliberalism.

      2.  Yep, I put up a bit of a rant but you commented on it. Now you don’t want to debate? Fine.

        1. hey, i’ve already replied on your level. all you said was “wouldn’t it be cool if…”, and i responded in kind. to be honest, i don’t think you have much more to say.

    1. I won’t even get started on that taxpayer funded education. I still have nightmares about my time in school.

      Your inability to cope with other human beings in a functioning society is not a credential.

      1. Why would you think I’m unable to cope with othe human beings?  Have you never listened to Pink Floyd’s The Wall? My misery in school was almost wholy the result of my interaction with teachers and school administrators.
        Actually if you read my fairly long rant you might have taken note of my anti-authoritarian views and come to this conclusion yourself.

          1. Determining policy for who? I just want to determine my own policy not yours. Do you believe you know how to manage my life better than I?

            Edit: Maybe you do. I need to go to sleep. Aloha.

    2. I think the state and legal systems once they exist encourage irresponsibility in all of us (and I don’t exclude myself). That is one way they justify their existence and why we all pay at least tacit lip-service to them (mostly). How do we make the leap to escape (which I think we must)?

    3. That’s not freedom.

      I can think of some other things are aren’t freedom, that follow from a lack of effective state: for instance, having to choose between death or debt slavery because of bad luck (such as illness or accident in a society without effective health care); having to choose between the risk of assault or living in fear behind barred windows, because your society lacks an effective police force; suffering grievous harm from unregulated products or services; I could go on — please note the recurring theme: violence is also a consequence of an absence of state.

      Frameworks can and do develop without a top down dictate.

      In the absence of an effective state proper, which maintains its position by force where necessary, someone will inevitably seize control by force, and a de facto state will emerge. One that rarely even has the modicum of accountability & respect for liberty of most states proper.

      For example: warlords in Somalia; the Taliban in parts of Afghanistan; perhaps even China in Tibet.

      Can you give a counter-example? A single historical instance of “a framework developing without a top down dictate” that is anything other than a de facto dictatorship or totalitarian state?

      why the hell didn’t he get a job? I was washing dishes in a greasy spoon at twelve

      Of course, your situation is perfectly representative of everyone’s. If you could do it, everyone can!

      Oh, wait. Nope. “Why don’t you get a job?” has got to be the tiredest right-wing soundbite of them all.

      1.  The fact that I think the federal government could well consume something much less than 25 percent of GDP each year does not mean I want to live in the script of “Mad Max”.  

        For many years in my lifetime, the United States provided a very reasonable and livable rule of law at a much lower cost. 

        1. I don’t have statistics to hand on what percentage of GDP the USFG has consumed on a year-by-year basis, but sure, if its cost/benefit ratio is on the way down, that should be looked into. If its cost has increased, but its benefit has increased more-so — well, paint me red and call me a socialist, but I think that’d be a good thing.

          (There are, of course, many details I’m glossing over about waste/inefficiency, the distribution of funds between different branches/projects, and so on and so on.)

          However, tedious blather about the violence inherent in the system, like Stupendousman’s post, doesn’t do that. It’s not rallying against inefficient government, it’s rallying against government, period.

          The position lacks nuance — wanting to live in Mad Max, as you say. That’s the stance I was opposing; I have nothing against people who think government should be cheaper, only those who seem to think that only governments ever use force to get their way.

          1.  “I have nothing against people who think government should be cheaper”

            You may not, but there seem to be a lot of posters on this site who do.

            The US GDP is currently growing at one percent a year and change.  Our federal deficit is running well in excess of 25 percent each year.  That which cannot continue will, of course, stop.

          2. The US GDP is currently growing at one percent a year and change.  Our federal deficit is running well in excess of 25 percent each year.  That which cannot continue will, of course, stop.

            What do you think has to stop? 
            This is a very silly comment.  You’re comparing two numbers that have almost nothing to do with each other.
            Nothing has to stop.  The only consequence of deficit spending is inflation (unless the IMF extorts your government into default).  Seeing as the economy just contracted by a few trillion dollars I don’t think the risk of inflation is really very high right now.
            Before anyone mentions “future generations” let me point out that the government debt is almost entirely owed to US citizens or corporations within the US. In other words, future generations are getting paid interest for lending the current government money.

        2. For many years in my lifetime, the United States provided a very reasonable and livable rule of law at a much lower cost.

          Blame the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not social welfare programs.

          1.  not just those:
            world war 2, the korean war (still ongoing btw), vietnam, the gulf war, the gulf war 2 (the sequel) and america’s rise to superpower and assumed role as world police.
            imperialistic expansion fails…it always does. empires bleed funds out like crazy, build a far too strong military that demands more fighting to justify its existence in peace time and in turn require even more funds. we need to just leave the rest of the world alone. let them deal with their own stuff they care a LOT more about THEIR people than WE do (even the warlords and dictators)
            the wars in iraq and afghanistan and likely here soon iran, are just the most recent symptoms of the larger disease: imperialism and a ridiculously large military budget.

      2. “having to choose between the risk of assault or living in fear behind barred windows, because your society lacks an effective police force”

        I just wanted to point out that this wouldn’t happen, namely because crime isn’t the result of simple risk-reward decisions; unless of course you’re not stealing your neighbours possessions in case you get caught.

          1. I am; but I’m not entirely sure why that affects my understanding of the flaws in our justice system, which have far more consequences for those that are not white, in the US at least.

          1. I’m simply asserting that the primary cause of crime isn’t opportunity; and therefore the removal of the Police wouldn’t turn everyone into criminals.

            I’m not pretending that a world without policing would be a pleasant one though.

        1. unless of course you’re not stealing your neighbours possessions in case you get caught.

          Hell, no.  I’m not stealing their shit because it’s ugly.

    4. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a bolshie anti-authoritarian myself and can think of far too many examples of state violence that I abhor, but… without a strong state (and without those cops I loathe) the alternative is so far worse it’s unimaginable to a modern civilised man but you can still see it in much of the rest of the world. A democratic state is still a poor institution but it’s better than the rule of the sword and the gun when the strong get what they want and do what they want to you. Better hope you’re stronger, better armed than they are, and in greater numbers than them or you’re dead. As a geek, I know I’d lose.

      Pacifism is great if everyone follows it, but random genetics still throws up plenty of bullies, psychos and testosterone fuelled violence freaks. For now we send the worst of these to the army or to jails, the more biddable end up as cops or running corporations depending on social status. Not a great outcome but it keeps civilisation running.

    5. I think the debate you sparked is missing one of the main points of the piece. He’s explaining that he had a wonderful outcome due to public subsidy. He is not saying that it works out for everyone and I’m sure he knows that it doesn’t – he’s lucky that it worked out so well.

      The overall point that I got out of it is that it should be possible to work out for everyone the way it did for him. The fact is that it isn’t, and conservatives and republicans constantly strive to make it so that it’s even less possible!

      I won’t claim that this is the only possible solution, but the point is that if we make public assistance safety nets better, everybody has a better shot at success in life. The conservative argument doesn’t make sense in the real world and only works if you have a lot of money and nothing catastrophic ever happens to you.

      1.  I didn’t miss his point. I thought it wasn’t clearly thought out. He had to know it would invite much debate.

    6. Many European countries provide excellent tax funded education. Some even *pay* their students. So it’s doable.   

      1.  Your point? Libertarian philosophy is based on the Non-Aggression Principle- kind of like Gandhi.
        I think people react so strongly, and mostly negatively, because they have to face the fact- they use force by proxy.

        1. My point is that the self-made libertarian is such an internet cliche that it beggars belief. And please don’t compare Libertarians to Gandhi…

          1. Self made? Cliche? How so?
            Wasn’t Gandhi a proponent of non-aggression? If I remember correctly he was a pacifist which Libertarian philosophy doesn’t really deal with. One could live life by Libertarian principles and be a pacifist.
            Anyway I said kind of like- which the NAP is.

            I suggest you argue against the NAP not those stinky libertarians. They’re all like, hey don’t bother me and I won’t bother you, and have fun, and I think we should help out somewhere, I’ll try to convince you to join.
            Wow those people are nuts!

          2. Stupendousman: so how is that government-researched and funded internet you enjoy? how were those roads you walked on and likely later drove on? how about those bridges and railroads that allowed you to buy food? or government subsidies that allow the food to be cheaper to buy or the government funded research on new higher yield crops or farming techniques?you were still dependent on other people and things provided to you from the government. someone gave you a job, someone made your clothes and house and the computer you use, someone generated the electricity it runs on and pumped and cleaned the water that comes through your tap. unless you live in a woods and make all your own stuff from raw materials your harvest from the woods you depend on other people. you are part of a society and beholden to that society in turn.you are not living in a vacuum, you are not an island unto yourself you are still, on the whole, powerless. because if all that disappears you may well die.

  4. I think they’re missing the point… the entrenched elite want to avoid social support for this very reason.
    1) It takes your tax dollars, decreasing your wealth
    2) It increases the likelihood of future competition

    So killing social programs has two benefits for them. They get to keep more of their cash AND they can keep the little guy down?? Sounds win-win, to me! (At least for the legacy elite).

  5. If the internet survives, I can’t wait to go back and read these types of threads.

  6. If it weren’t for scholarships I wouldn’t be typing this now. But apart from that (Mrs. Lincoln):
    Charlie Stross recently mentioned “Debt: The First 5000 years” by David Graeber, and I’m finding it pretty fascinating (only about 20% through it though). The history of debt economics written by an anthropologist. With an anthropologist’s satisfaction with broad metaphors, tempered by good perspective and insight and by the venality of the subject matter.

  7. I don’t think conservatives want to make this country like Somalia.  I don’t think liberals want us to emulate North Korea either.

    There are a lot of plausible variations on the theme of “how much government is appropriate” while staying well within those two bounds, and it should be possible to discuss the issue without building those respective straw men.

    1. Actually, I think a lot of conservatives wouldn’t mind a variation of North Korea. The state is there for them, screw the little people.

      1. “a lot of conservatives wouldn’t mind a variation of North Korea”

        Can you name one?

          1. Hmmm.

            I’d never even heard of David Barton until today.

            I would agree that his flavor of conservatism is far more extreme than mine, but I don’t see any indication that he favors a North Korean level of regimentation for America.

            I’m not at all surprised you would call him out in response to my “name one” and that was a well played rejoinder.   

            But I certainly don’t think his views map well onto conservatives in general, and they sure as hell don’t map onto Mitt Romney.  My Jewish and agnostic friends in Massachusetts survived Romney’s rule without being thrown in the stocks for blasphemy.  Not even once!!

    2. I don’t think conservatives want to make this country like Somalia.

      No, conservatives want everyone to behave and listen to mommy and daddy ’cause they always know best.  Libertarians want to make this country like Somalia — a wasteland of ignorant and desperate people who are easily manipulated and extorted by the handful of wealthy landholders safe in their keeps with their private security forces.  (It’s not clear how many libertarians understand that this is the likely outcome of their favored policies, but it’s clear that none would admit publicly that this is the goal even if they did realize it.)

    3. I don’t think conservatives want to make this country like Somalia. I don’t think liberals want us to emulate North Korea either.

      What people want or claim to want is not the point. Some people are pretty good at following a chain of events to see cause and effect and, thus, are fairly good at predicting likely outcomes. The kind of libertarians who routinely clog up comment threads (whom I don’t take to be representative of all libertarians) seem to have an extraordinary lack of ability to do that.

  8. I’m a collectivist parasite, so I’m getting a kick out of these replies (sorry, FARK meme…)

    Seriously, as a Canadian, I found myself nodding a lot as I read Scalzi’s essay.  I know libertarians are very serious about the concept of taxes being theft, but I’ve never understood it.

  9. This essay tracks closely to my own experience (at least through college).  For all the talk of freeloaders that’s gone on for time immemorial, the truth is that just about anyone might find themselves in a rough situation at some point in their life.  For me, it was at birth.  My dad was diagnosed with schizophrenia just before I was born and was hospitalized (in the same hospital) during my birth.  Without a social safety net, my family could have fallen apart very easily.  Instead, we turned out ok.  And more importantly for the argument, I turned out better than ok.  I’d like to think that over my lifetime I’m contributing back more to society than my parents took out of it. Maybe I’d be in this same position without government support along the way, but I sincerely doubt it.

    Are there problems with social programs?…yup.  The bottom line is that if you build a system, someone will game it.  It happens in private circles as well (insurance fraud is an example).  The question is do you throw out people (and their potential) who legitimately need a program because there is some abuse?  I’d argue that you need to find the reason for the abuse and address it there.  There are many that differ with this opinion.  Such is the world.

    1. Coming from a “socialist” country (Finland… no, we are not socialist… but I assume looking from a US perspective we are), this kind of discussion is… strange. Here that is just the assumption, that there are social safety nets, exactly because of situations like yours. Anybody can suddenly find themselves with the rug pulled out from under them, and we kind of like the thought that there is something there to catch us.

      And, not only to catch us, but to catch our friends and family, neighbors, the guy that we don’t know… and yes, even the drunkard never-holds-a-job-deadbeat. Because they are fellow citizens, one of us. Having homeless people is a national shame here, it is just the assumption that the city governments should be able to find some roof over everybody’s head. But, the flip side is that as “we” take care of “our own”, it is also seen that other countries should do the same. So beggars that have turned up here from other countries are not looked upon in any favorable view (“home grown” beggars here is pretty uncommon… mostly drunks trying to get a smoke).

      So yes, the worry here is mostly about the social safety net falling apart, that we cannot support our own safety nets. And this is also the reason for _a lot_ of grumbling and unhappines with guaranteeing the loans for our more southernly neighbors… we haven’t quite yet gotten to the point of seeing them as “one of us” to extend the courtesy of safety nets over there.

      1. This Usian doesn’t believe Finland is a socialist country.  This Usian believes Finland is a humane country, and wishes it was possible to restore that kind of humanity to my own country.  

      2. After reading that, I’d love to move to Finland. I could probably deal with the weather.

      3. Hey, as one of your southernly neighbours: Could you spare some cash? We are about to lose our AAA rating. :-)

    2. Whenever someone argues for the elimination of social programs because of abuse, I respond by arguing for the elimination of money because of counterfeiting.

  10. I can’t wait to pay tolls every few miles on every road I drive, once that Libertarian paradise finally blooms. A little inconvenient, but I’ll save so much money! Won’t I?

    1. Yes, imagine instead of the federal freeloader interstate system, you could have a patchwork of toll roads, operated by different companies. Each few miles you could pay a toll. The different companies would have arbitrary and  different rules of the road. Sometimes you could come to a new road and be denied entry because your vehicle doesn’t meet the new roads standards. Any effort to build a national roadway system is blocked at every turn by the existing and wildly profitable road providers, any politician attempting to build a public road is branded a socialist who is attempting to kill tollbooth jobs and impose the bloated government bureaucracy on the more efficient private market.

      OK, yeah, I’m talking about the existing heathcare system.

      1. My favorite part is where the road operators shake down local businesses by threatening to close off-ramps to their section of town.

        Libertarians  (and Anarchists) don’t appear to have the necessary imagination to think of the consequences of their policies. As a capitalist, I can think of a thousand wonderful ways to exploit the small or weak state for my own benefit.

      2.  You forget the bit about some of the road-building companies building their roads under-spec and dangerous. But after a few innocents killed, people will stop using these roads. The freee market takes care of it.

        1.  Same with medicine, food and everything else. People got sick/died and the market made an adjustment! 

          1.  Wouldn’t that make a moving epitaph on a headstone? “He helped the free market make a correction”

  11. The choice between “every man for himself” and “all for one and one for all” is the central issue of American politics. It’s a lesson we haven’t learned even after the monumental failure of trickle down.  Self made men don’t seem to understand that there is no such thing as a self made man.

    We are allowed to build a foundation for future generations. We are allowed to provide a safety net for our fellow citizens; we are allowed to build roads, fund schools, award research grants, preserve national parks, put out fires and do anything else we want to do to insure our safety and success.

    More than anything though, brain cells are our most precious natural resource and we are allowed to find and educate every single one of ’em for the good of everyone. This is what made America great; if the next John Scalzi can’t walk into library, then is this still America? 

    1. Well said.
      Libertarianism is clearly insane and when taken to its logical conclusion, not only impossible, but goes against everything that actually creates a society..
      That being said, the funny thing is that the people that make the most noise generally about “parasites” and the like are in fact either the largest parasites, or lapdogs for them.
      Your Mitt Romney’s of the world (to use a fella in the news recently) fed off society, sucking from every possible source.  These types are the ones lobbying congress for less taxes (for them) fewer regulations (they’re job creators!) and over all – socialism for them, free market for everyone else.  As in heads they win, tails, you lose.
      As I was writing that, I was thinking of David Brooks (as lapdog) and he didn’t disappoint me.
      Writing about Romney in the last week he spewed, “Let’s face it, he’s not a heroic entrepreneur. He’s an efficiency expert. It has been the business of his life to take companies that were mediocre and sclerotic and try to make them efficient and dynamic. It has been his job to be the corporate version of a personal trainer: take people who are puffy and self-indulgent and whip them into shape.”
      Ah, Mr. Brooks. What knee pads you have.

        1. “Libertarianism is clearly insane and when taken to its logical conclusion, not only impossible, but goes against everything that actually creates a society..”

          What if I had stated:  

          “Socialism is clearly insane and when taken to its logical conclusion, not only impossible, but goes against everything that protects individuals”

          1. Any idea taken to its extreme leads to insanity. You get the best results through a healthy balance; best of both worlds.

            One of my favourite political quotes is from 19th century libertarian socialist Bakunin: “Liberty without socialism is privilege and injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.” We need them both.

    2. “The choice between “every man for himself” and “all for one and one for all” is the central issue of American politics. ”   Straw man versus straw man. 

      The central issue is “what level of taxation and government regulation will maximize prosperity for the citizenry as a whole, while (temporary fluctuations aside) keeping the government’s books in balance”

      This involves several sliders, not a single toggle switch.

      1.  Unfortunately, the GOP has decided that taxes cannot be raised at all, only lowered. So to achieve those balanced books, someone has to suffer. And the sufferers always come from the bottom end of the economic scale.

        1.  As wysnwyg says, a core assumption on the right seems to be that anyone who is not successful (financially anyway) is a parasite. They are not rich, ergo, they chose not to be successful, ergo they are not deserving.

          What gets me (to torture this analogy a bit) are the number of parasites willing to vote to kill the host!

      2. The central issue is “what level of taxation and government regulation will maximize prosperity for the citizenry as a whole, while (temporary fluctuations aside) keeping the government’s books in balance”

        Funny how that’s neither how it’s framed nor how it’s argued.  Tax debates in the USA always seem to framed in terms of the “self-made man vs. the parasites” just as Uncle Geo said.

        Can you find me even one argument for a flat tax or lower capital gains taxes that relies on sound economic analysis rather than moral arguments about how we need to be “fair” to wealthy “job creators” and let them keep what they’ve “earned”?

        Edit: I’m serious. If there are sound economic analyses that actually suggest shifting the tax burden from the wealthy to the poor is good for society I’d like to read them.

        1. Odd that the issue is always about what’s hapening to the 1%. The 1% should at least understand the concept of investment. If we do not invest in our people or our infrastructure, where will the next generation of successful people come from -the 1%?  My guess is they don’t really care as long as they’re fine.

          The founders rebelled against not only king and church but also entrenched wealth -the House of Lords- controlling the government.

        2. Who said the tax burden wasn’t already on the poor? 

          Inflation is a hidden tax that hurts the poor and middle class.  
          Many poor people still pay sales tax, social security and great deal of other taxes. 

          Please note that while Corporations “Pay” taxes – it is a guarantee that they pass those taxes onto the consumers. So in the end Corporations do not really pay taxes.  It is shifted to consumers to cover those costs. 

          I don’t see why we can’t talk about reducing the size of government.  If size weren’t an issue we wouldn’t have cities going bankrupt all across the nation.  The trouble comes with ever increasing budgets year after year.  Bloated budgets require heavier and heavier tax burdens or future debt burdens. 

          1. Please note that while Corporations “Pay” taxes – it is a guarantee that they pass those taxes onto the consumers.

            This is said a lot but makes little sense. It’s only true in the same sense that consumers don’t pay taxes, just shift them back to their employers through raising wages. That is: no guarantees.

            Really, corporations can’t just raise prices without reducing demand and so profit; or when they can, they tend to do so anyway. They wouldn’t put so much effort into protesting paying taxes if they didn’t take any of the loss.

          2. @ chenille

            It in fact makes a great deal of sense.
            I do it all the time as a small business and I know for a fact that corporate entities do the same. Nearly all costs are passed to the end consumer.
            As cost of production increases they are passed those costs along to the consumer (or I innovate and find ways to lower my cost of production in order to maintain an even price).
            Taxes are a cost. When taxes increase, prices will likely go up (again the caveat of innovation reducing my COG/COP).

            “It’s only true in the same sense that consumers don’t pay taxes, just shift them back to their employers through raising wages.”

            The difference between wage prices and prices of goods is elasticity.
            Wages are sticky while the prices of goods are more elastic.

            Most wage earners are not able to dictate their wage and change it as quickly as a producer can shift their prices.

          3. @heavystarch:twitter  I’m not saying businesses won’t raise prices, I’m saying that they can’t fully pass on the cost. Because raising prices itself incurs a cost, or they would already be doing it.

            Again, businesses spend a lot of time and money lobbying against taxes. I’m not buying it’s all charity for the little people; the obvious explanation is that contrary to what gets said, those taxes cost them a lot of money.

          4. Of course we can talk about reducing the size of government. My beef is that’s all right wingers want to talk about. A business person ought to know that there are expenses and income. If you focus on only cutting expenses you’ll fail. Investing in new equipment, staff training and advertising builds a business just as investing in quality education and infrastructure allows both businesses and citizens to prosper. We, as citizens, are allowed to decide what to invest in.

            I take issue with the exclusive focus on the size of government and taxation; that, and the assumption that government is already so big that, if we kill most of it off, all our problems will be solved (taxes on the top earners are actually far lower than during our best periods of expansion). This myopic view is an exceedingly simple way of dealing with a complex world.

            It’s a smug and concieted way of behaving for the GOP to come out of the chute saying they want the President to fail, creating gridlock and then opposing any idea he has, even if it was their own -only to then point at him and say he’s done nothing.

            Liberals will never go away. Conservatives will never go away. Adults synthesize from these two viewpoints -each of which has some truth- and compromise.  Or, better yet, work together for creative solutions.

      3. Taxes are a tool; a means to and end. The decision is not the level of taxation but what we decide is important to do to “maximize prosperity for the citizenry as a whole, while (temporary
        fluctuations aside) keeping the government’s books in balance”.

        And if we decide as a nation to do these things and ask the guys at the top to pay a bigger share -like they did when America was at our most prosperous- then that’s just the way it is. Citizens decide -not Citizens United.

  12. My main issue is with Cory’s statement:  “fame and commercial success was only possible because of all the social programs”

    This is a false assumption.   
    If these programs had not existed would 
    Scalzi still have attained the same level of success? Was it his determination and will to succeed that drove him to succeed?  Could these “social programs” have existed outside the framework of taxpayer funded government? Can only government provide social safety nets worthy of taxpayer dollars?  Ultimately your money? 

    1. Can only government provide social safety nets worthy of taxpayer dollars?

      What safety net?  As someone who watched a loved one rot away within our for-profit health care system, I think we should maybe actually TRY a government safety net for average citizens first and then see how we like it, m’kay?

    2.  Scalzi says, “no, he wouldn’t have gotten where he did without all the help.” That was the thesis of his essay.

      I recommend that you go take English 101 at the nearest community college. It’s pretty much the same thing nationwide, includes a lot of How To Extract The Meaning From Essays. You need it.

  13. i was unemployed for quite some time recently. after my father died the family kinda broke apart and i was left on my own. were it not for help from my friends, and food stamps (before getting food stamps i relied on a charity in town, the food stamps was much better) or i woulda probably died on the street. after some time of this i eventually got a really good job, my own place, a car and all that fun stuff. and im grateful to all those organizations that have helped me in my life, not just during my time of need, but throughout my life. like the guy in the article i love libraries, i spent a lot of my time in the local library, read every book they had on science and on a number of other topics (lockpicking, martial arts, philosophy, the works of Shakespeare,etc) the public parks where i would take my dog, the streets i would ride my bike on, the clean city water that came from my tap, the education i got in school, and the thing which has made the most influence in my life and taught me so much, the internet, would not be here were it not for government research and funding.

    i think more people need to realize they are not an island onto themselves, they depend on everyone for what they have. you depend on the farmers and construction workers, the architects and truck drivers, the designers and the assembly line people, you depend on everyone to work as they depend on you society is built on these interactions, we all stand on the shoulders of giants.

    show some gratitude towards your fellow man, and don’t try to take away things that might help him in a time of need.

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