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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/books/entry_id/905413-A-social-worker-speaks-to-a-libertarian
Rated: E · Book · Writing · #2044345
Writing about what I have been reading and encountering in the media.
#905413 added February 24, 2017 at 12:57pm
Restrictions: None
A social worker speaks to a libertarian

As a former member of the “eastern establishment,” where people don’t know the difference between a turkey vulture and an eagle and don’t realize not knowing matters. (This is a reference to a very famous news broadcaster who did a segment in which he called a vulture an eagle. It was taped, but no one edited it out. We noticed it right off and that is what we remembered; not the point of the broadcast.) It happens that most of our media originates on one coast or the other, and frequently, someone refers to us as “flyover country.” That attitude got Trump elected.
In a previous meditation about this, I used the word meritocracy to describe how things are organized in relation to training and education of the persons doing them. I see absolutely no way to change the fact that those of us with a higher IQ and/or more fruitful learning experiences will tend to be more powerful in society than those with less. Those wealthy people who started with “nothing” had something that we prize above everything in our meritocracy: intelligence and a rich history of learning. A core issue is how do we manage differences in “gifts” in a way that is healthy for everyone? Isn’t that what we mean when we say everyone is entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?”

Meritocracy leads to hierarchy. For example, in local community groups, someone gets an idea of how things should be that is different from the majority. They have confidence in their idea, so, they try to win people over. If this doesn’t work, they face a choice: bide their time and keep trying; shut up and sit down; or find another venue where their idea will be empowered. Few people just sit down and shut up. Those that figure out how to get their idea empowered and enacted become more powerful. This done, they set up structures to support them in their leadership role. And, they seek positions in the structure of the society that will also protect their power because they believe in the rightness of their ideas, technologies, etc. This leads to the biggest dysfunction of hierarchy: the structure becomes the focus of attention rather than the goal it was built to accomplish. (I think I was first introduced to this idea in sociology 101.)

Effective people can pull themselves back from simply protecting the order of things and re-orient to the goal and draw the attention of others back to the goal. They are not necessarily the top of the hierarchy, and in my experience, are rarely the top of the hierarchy. They are people like Martin Luther King, Jr. who kept people focused on the goal and who did not create much of a hierarchy. Instead, he worked within social structures that already existed – churches, community organizations, neighborhood etc. He didn’t sit down and shut up. He didn’t leave the group. He just kept trying and building his effectiveness. He rooted his work in widely accepted community values. He just emphasized the goal and empowered people who agreed with the goal. Whether one agrees or disagrees with his goal, one cannot realistically say he was ineffective.

The medical institution is hierarchically based on demonstrated skills. The structures that support this are law, professional organizational goals, and the needs of the patients, without whom there would be no medical institution. Money is a huge issue in the medical institution. A former CEO of the local hospital said to me once that “medicine” is the largest industry in the world. Well, for certain, this is so here in South Central Missouri, and in the USA. In our society, money equals power. Consequently, looking at the medical institution, where do you find the money? Is it the patient? Well, they may have had money, before they got sick. The way we in the US have structured this institution, it is the sick who are taxed to pay the cost of care of the poor. If I am sick, I contribute more to the running of the institution than if I am well, but this exchange is rarely direct. There is the intermediary of the third party payer. The person who can’t pay gets served, not as well as the one with money, but served nonetheless. Who pays for that? - Why the sick people with access to money. There was a time, in our grandparent’s day, when this was not quite so true because things were more personal; fewer people, smaller communities, less technology. Well, those days are gone and we have had to change. However, we have applied structures to the medical institution that were developed in industry. Like my CEO friend said, medicine is an industry in the minds of most Americans. I doubt this is the best way to think of it.

In a family, we have instrumental activities and nurturing activities. I define instrumental activities as wage earning, and meeting survival needs of shelter, clothing etc. I define nurturing activities as things that help the organisms that make up the family thrive as individuals and as a family. I think we manage these somewhat differently. We try to maintain a schedule of eating, sleeping, social time and time alone. Within the schedule, we are always learning, but we deliberately include teaching and learning activities for everyone. We tend to our bodies and each other’s bodies. This structure must remain flexible to incorporate unusual events such as illness, developmental needs, and adaptation to the environment. The family is the core institution of society. It is able to be flexible because it is small. The bigger it gets, the less flexible, so, we break it down into smaller units, usually defined by reproduction and/or housing.

Large organizations may be effective in producing clearly defined, specific outcomes, but they are inflexible. It is much harder to turn a train around than an airplane. It is harder to turn an army around than a basketball team. Large organizations have a sort of inertia that families don’t have. They are, therefore, not good places for nurturing. But healthcare is a nurturing activity that we relegate to large organizations. The building gets better care than the persons within; the administrators and staff get better care than the patients. These two ideas: nurturing requires flexibility and medicine should be delivered in the same way as manufacture of washing machines are incompatible. This is a major problem in decision making that few people in the national dialogue acknowledge or attempt to resolve.
Just as the institution of medicine is at a crossroads, so, too, is the institution of community/government. We must respond in some way to the needs of people who cannot fully care for themselves whether it be young children, the injured and infirm, or the elderly. Our government made a pact with the people 70 years ago that we would even out the provision of this care and eliminate people dying in the streets when we enacted the Social Security Act of 1934. This is a social contract our country made. In addition, our industries made social contracts with employees about health care and retirement benefits. This contract gave the industries labor they needed in a reliable way in exchange for some guarantee of long-term well-being of the laborers. This worked well in an industrial economy as far as anyone in power could see. In the end, however, those social contracts (that never were as effective as we thought they were,) are breaking down for many reasons. Key to this breakdown is the change from an industrial economy to what some of us refer to as the post-industrial age. The economic institutions that once required labor, now require highly skilled people. In both situations, industrial and post-industrial, there are un-needed people. They are not un-needed because of their intrinsic worth, guaranteed in the Constitution. They are un-needed because they have no role in the economy. The Social Security Act gave them a role: consumer. There is no one who does not consume but in order to do so, they must have money.

In economic institutions, the consumer matters because without consumption, production has no purpose and there is no economic exchange. We could have an economy where people who produce receive resources in return for their production and then consume. This goes really well, until someone is no longer able to produce, or someone who is born needs care. The assumption I see in the libertarian way of thinking is that there will be someone who cares about the helpless ready, willing and able to take care of every helpless human being. Another assumption seems to be that the helpless will become able-bodied at some point, and, a corollary, that the able-bodied are equally able, and always fairly reimbursed for their economic contribution. Both of these assumptions are spurious. The closer to the nurturing role one gets, the less s/he gets paid. The owner of the food service earns much more than the server of the food. The surgeon gets paid dramatically more than the person tending to the patient before and after the surgery, etc. We pay child care workers tending to the youngest, most vulnerable people who are at the peak of their learning ability the least. The older the person gets, the closer to being productive members of the economy, the more we pay their teachers, and the more we spend on their care. There is a point at which this reverses; we call these the “golden years” to cover up the poverty of social/economic worth of these individuals. These economic decisions are not based on what works best for society; they are based on what works best for the economy.

So here is the question we as a nation need to answer: what do we do about our social contracts of the past to make them meet the needs of us today? As libertarians so accurately point out, the assumptions of social security thinking are no longer true. The distribution of people has changed dramatically. Families are smaller leading to a static consumer population. The economic institutions need fewer people. Overpopulation is heating up the planet. If we continue with small families, and it looks as if this will happen despite conservative efforts to interfere with access to birth control, then we have a very different distribution of productive and “extra” people.

There is one area where I strongly disagree with libertarians who say the food supply is the safest it has ever been. This is not true. We don’t even fully understand the problems we are facing that are beginning to impact the food supply. Chemicals being used to make production efficient seem to have some brain toxicity, and are killing off organisms essential to food production. These include microorganisms in the soil and pollinators. You can see the loss of pollinators in your own yard if you have not already observed it. Plant some flowers. Check daily to see how many insects are there to tend them. Try, perhaps, butterfly milkweed. In my yard, they rarely produce seed and I rarely see butterflies on them. Or, count butterflies and or bees in your yard. My experience with plants is they are not getting pollinated and not producing fruit or seed as they used to. It happens in our vegetable garden that some plants have lost their local pollinators entirely. They simply do not grow fruit in our yard. We have gardened this yard organically for 18 years. The earthworms that hardly existed when we moved here are now plentiful, thank goodness. But pollinators are not.
In 1980, during the migration of the Monarch butterflies, If I drove 10 miles, I would see close to 150 at the peak of migration. During the 1000-year flood in the northern midwest about 10 years ago, the population dropped to almost nothing. Now, I am lucky to see 5 monarchs in ten miles due to the population hit from the flooding, and the disappearance of their winter habitat in Mexico caused by human activity. I could go on and on. Our food supply is in great danger. This is the result of “efficient” farming, of thinking man can outwit nature, and of thinking that arises from urban life that “flyover country doesn’t matter.” This said I haven’t even mentioned the impending water crisis. We are currently in the “oil wars.” When that is resolved, we will be fighting over water. No water is being created, but lots of water is being made unusable with mistreatment and pollution. As the population grows, so will human distress. We cannot assume this will all take care of itself. We must act as communities, as states and nation states in ways that will work, or we will find ourselves in a situation as a species that is desperate at the least.

My question is, how will the libertarian thinkers propose that we manage this? I am not interested in some ideal about how it “should be.” I am interested in real ideas that work. I don’t see needed plans in the platform of the Libertarian Party. I see that platform as an abandonment of social contract altogether. I see it as overlooking these very real, serious issues we face. Where can I find someone who is libertarian who is using sound reasoning about these issues? Who is writing that addresses these things?

Finally, I am asking because I am frustrated with the national dialogue. I am frustrated with our focus on institutions more than on problem-solving. I am frustrated with politics as an emotional exercise in winning and losing rather than governing. fWhile the Libertarian Party Platform ignores these issues entirely, I am interested in applying government to address these issues. I wonder how this divide can be resolved in a way that meets everyone's needs?

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