- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Helping people at any cost?

Posted by: Gee ( si ) on March 30, 1999 at 12:21:50:

Most people on this forum appear broadly in favour of helping out the 'less fortunate'

But how far would you be willing to go if you were in charge of everything? What level of discomfort/danger/disease would you let people bear in order to reserve some resources for other activities like long term research, leisure time, development of various technologies, communications, law and order. How can you measure this?

Lets use a simple example. Lets say you decide its correct for a nationalised health service to be run for all the poeple, and that as part of this its important to have emergency services to pick up the injured and ill quickly (ie ambulances). Now lets say that you plan it so that major urban areas are neatly covered by ambulance vehicles. What about those people living in the wilds of Nevada, or in secluded parts of Wales and Scotland? Surely you'd risk their deaths if it took ambulances an hour on windy roads? How do you resolve it? You have several choices, you can build very expensive roads to make journeys quicker, you could build very expensive hospitals to service small villages or you could maintain very expensive fleets of helicopters to give the same service to far away places, you could even forcibly rehouse the people in cities "for their own good".

Note the key words "very expensive". Providing medical, educational services, providing food, shelter and other material goods is very expensive. Whatever resource you spend on this, there are less resources to spend on other things. If you dont like money then think of spending in terms of spending peoples time (which is all tax is anyway). There is that old bugbear scarcity again. Wealth is not created so fast that in a given day you can spend infinity.

So where do you draw the line? I asked this question because I often hear (here and in the media and among people) the equivalent of the phrase "something should be done about it!". The nurses should get more pay, there should be national immunisation plans for this or that rare disease, the people of Africa should be fed, children should be allowed to study what they like for free instead of having to learn skills to pay off debts, inner cities should have community areas and facilities, my grandmother should have a chair lift, eye tests should be 'free' etc etc. Thats a bill for $infinity (or peoples time infinity) please.

So which ones are priorities and which ones will you let slide. There is an underlying issue too, that poverty cannot be practically defined as relative to the wealthiest, because if it is then there will *never* be an end to list of "should haves". Perhaps it would be interesting to see lists of should haves.

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