Monday, January 10, 2005


I had this idea while I was stirring my morning oatmeal and thinking about our YMCA membership and how I would go without cable before I terminated that membership. This led me to think about how in Middle Tennessee, the YMCA membership fee is calculated on a sliding scale based on the member's income.

Why is this not more wide-spread in society? What if all major services (like water, electricity, medical, childcare, etc) were charged based on the individual/family's income? Then people who could only afford to pay $20 for water could pay $20 and those who could afford to pay $100 could pay $100...

Does this make sense to anyone else?


appwiz said...

Perhaps you aren't aware that the USSR experimented with Communism for three-quarters of a century. It is now a sordid collection of crises.

Perhaps you aren't aware how the current US tax system works. It's so complex because it is designed in a similar sliding manner.

Perhaps you aren't aware of the privacy implications of providing your gross monthly income to the privately owned water/light/phone company. Spam is bad enough; do you also want emails and letters from those people who promise "You Can Make A Million In A Week?"

Perhaps you aren't aware how many hackers will try to get their hands on that data. Sure, the IRS may protect it with the latest systems, but will John Waterboy have the resources to do the same?

Perhaps you aren't aware how capitalism works.


Balaji said...

I clicked eagerly on the "Comment" link to express my shock at your suggestion... but I see that Rohan has done a pretty good job...
Widespread government enforced subsidies have always been the bane of my home country. It just ends up eroding meritocracy, which in my opinion is the single most important ingredient for a successful society.

Bibb said...

Perhaps Rohan is not aware that Russia/USSR/Russia has been in a "sordid collections of crises" for most of its history and what Tabita is suggesting has little, if anything, to do with Communism, the Soviet strain or not. Running around with a red paint brush is so 1980's.

Perhaps Rohan is not aware that the complexity of the US tax system has less to do with graduated tax tables than the adjustments to income provided for a variety of public purposes - including no small number benefiting the business community.

Perhaps Rohan can do a better job of explaining to us the relationship between Spam and Tabita's idea. Perhaps not.

Perhaps Rohan misses the point of tithing. Last time I heard a sliding scale is reasonably accepted among the world's religions.

Perhaps Tabita is well aware of how capitalism works, thus her idea.

Perhaps we now know that seemingly clever parallel construction in rhetorical arguments is often used to hide lack of substance.

And while I share some of Balaji's concerns about government subsidies I would be interested in the location of a society where meritocracy is not simply a euphemism the wealthy use to justify and extend privilege. In the US we were moving towards a more meritorious society - and were making great strides - but that progress has been slowed considerably, if not halted, in recent years.

As our country turns its back on officially supporting a healthy, large middle class towards the politics and social structure of South America, Tabita's idea deserves deeper, more thoughtful consideration. And the tone of her post more respect.

Have a nice day.

katie said...

Tabita comes from a magical place we call Sweden. Good things, good ideas, and good people come from there. That's my argument.
I don't mind the idea of the sliding scale. My first thought is that it attempts to be 'fair'. My income information is already required for many things - of which I'm not entirely comfortable, but I don't like giving out my social, phone number, or sometimes even name...

Tabita said...

Thank you all for your passionate comments. This is a topic that is very close to my heart, and obviously to many others' as well.

When my brain starts turning in these directions, it is typically trying to solve the universal problem of poverty. I can't understand why those who have much will not share with those who have very little.

The thought I posted is not new, obviously. Just as an example, in Sweden, the government runs excellent childcare facilities that are subsidized for people of lower income. I think this is a fabulous idea. This way all children get an equal start in life. Not like here, where the poor children go to the run-down childcare centers where the children sit around and play Nintendo all day and the rich children go to the stimulating and educational super childcare centers and learn how to read at age 2.

This is where I'm coming from. Why can't we nip poverty in the bud and give everyone an equal chance?

Anonymous said...

AnonD here. I had to put my two conservative cents in here.

I think it's this juxtaposition that's the core of what I disagree with:

"When my brain starts turning in these directions, it is typically trying to solve the universal problem of poverty. I can't understand why those who have much will not share with those who have very little."

If you go back to when I was in supporting myself in grad school in CA and your guys came back from Sweden and were supporting yourself, we were both relatively close to "poverty". Actually, we were still pretty far away by US Census definitions (which I was reminded when I checked are *really* low), but imagine what your income was and then don't you wonder how you ever did it?

My first point is "somehow we managed with so little". My secret was Ramen noodles and rabbit ears.

My second point is that there was *never* any doubt that we would lapse into true poverty, that our trajectory was upward away from poverty. And that's come to pass. However we did it, I don't think either of us depended on gifts from government. (Loans, maybe, but not gifts. And I must declare in the interest of full disclosure that my Berkeley apartment was rent-controlled. :-)

So why was our success assured? My argument is mainly our raising. We had solid, supportive families as foundations. So as much as the government can be used to promote that, I'm generally for it.

And I actually agree that people of means should and could do more, not just with their money, but with their time and just plain caring what is happening in their community. But I just detest the widely held idea that redistributing wealth through an anonymizing filter of government is the first resort or even a good way to solve our problems. If someone gave you $10,000 check with the caveat you *had* to give it away to improve the world, I bet the *last* thing you and most people would do is endorse it over to the US Treasury. You'd find out who needed it somewhere locally and you'd send it. Maybe you'd drop of the check personally and the person or charity receiving it would meet you and have you in mind as they spent the check.

So you gotta change the proverbial "hearts and minds" to get people of means to give more and do more locally. And then somehow you have to work on people's attitudes about family and what it takes to raise children to give them the best chance. Then you'll change things.

Quick wrapup because I gotta make a phone call, but I just hadta chime in. And besides, that should be enough chum to get a 20-page thesis from my brother. :-)


Todd said...
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Todd said...

O.K., I'll take the bait. Changing "hearts and minds" - in a word, "impossible." At least on a large scale. My anthropological theory - people will usually look out for numero uno when left to their own devices. The average human has been and still is prone to greediness, selfishness, etc. There have been exceptions, but these exceptions are not the rule. And even such exceptions are not exempt from selfishness -- no human being ever acts out of pure altruism. It's naive to think otherwise.

You have to change the unjust systems and structures if you ever want to change "hearts and minds," AnonD. What you are suggesting is that people need to have some sort of pseudo-evangelistic conversion experience, and that when enough individuals have such a conversion experience, then there will be a critical mass of converted do-gooders, and society will be better off.

I say -- thank God we didn't wait for the "hearts and minds" of white slaveowners to change before we abolished slavery. Thank God we didn't wait for the "hearts and minds" of whites in the South (particularly politicians) to change before Jim Crow laws were abolished and civil rights legislation was changed. Thank God we changed the unjust system instead, and by doing so, we laid the foundations for people to learn how to treat their fellow human being as they should. No, had we followed your philosophy, who knows how much longer slavery would have continued, or whether or not there would still be Jim Crow laws. Waiting for people to have these conversion experiences while others suffer unjustly unfairly is definitely not the ethical solution.

What all of this means for the conversation at hand is that we cannot sit around and wait for the powerful and wealthy to have these personal conversion experiences where they see the light and come to want to help their fellow human being. When left to their own devices, more often than not, they will look out for themselves (as I probably would if I were rich and powerful). No, you change the system, you allow more people to have a fair shot at a decent living, decent health care, decent living conditions, etc. That's the only way it can happen.

As for whether or not the gov't is the institution that should oversee some limited degree of redistribution of wealth, I think gov't can serve this purpose in a democracy. Despite the unfortunate, irresponsible accusations of communism leveled against Tabita, her ideas do not repudiate a democracy but assume it (Sweden, after all, is a democratic socialist gov't, not a communist state). In a democracy, the people can hold the gov't accountable for how and to what degree it redistributes wealth.

I won't even go into the problem of how the value of a given occupation in America is determined -- why lawyers tend to be compensated much more than, say, teachers, though both contribute just as much to society (the latter perhaps more).


appwiz said...

No one accused Tabita of being a Communist.

Tabita said...

I think he was referring to: "Perhaps you aren't aware that the USSR experimented with Communism for three-quarters of a century." and the fact that you believe that Communism == Socialism, which logically would imply that socialist == communist... ;)

Tabita said...

PS... You should check out what Fluffy has to say about me these days. You guys are quite on the same page... ;)

Todd said...

The USSR remarks, combined with the socialism=communism remarks on other communications, makes it hard not to conclude that Tabita was being placed in the communist camp. If such was not your intention, young honorable Rohan, then our apologies. However, it is hard to measure someone's intention on a blog post or e-mail -- all we have to go by are the words that are used, and in this case, the words that were used did lead to this conclusion, a conclusion that people other than us drew as well. But we both can now see that you were attempting to communicate a slightly different message than what came across initially.

appwiz said...

No apology necessary, Todd. Just wanted to clarify my words.

Balaji said...
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Balaji said...

Feels like this comment is a late addition to this thread. But I can't see a solution emerge and I didn't want to stop.
Bibb's and Todd’s comments has definitely made me sit up and put a little more thought into this. Unfortunately, I have been left very confused... much like Pandora’s Box. Conflicting scenarios keep coming up that make it hard to arrive at an informed conclusion.
Very few can probably claim to completely understand the complexities and intricacies of how our society and financial systems function. I am not one amongst them, but I do have an opinion. Sliding scales are a dicey subject because it doesn't always rely only on cold hard and financially sound reasoning. Feelings of compassion for fellow citizens almost always play a role in it. It would certainly be an ideal world where everyone was equal in all respects. In my opinion, the US for its size, fares decently with equality of opportunity.
I believe that opportunities are created not just by you, but by the actions of preceding generations. Decisions my father took 20 years ago have definitely had an impact on where I am today. That probably supports Tabita's theory of giving everyone an equal start and not be dependent on the previous generation's rights and wrongs. But, equal starts more often than not can be achieved only by handouts. Where is the need for growth, if handouts are available?
To be honest I can't back that last statement at times to even myself. Thoughts of being a bad person for not wanting a humane sliding scale cross my mind. But to give you a glimpse of where I come from... in my country we have a centuries old unjust caste system which systematically favored one small segment of the population and deprived even basic needs to a large segment. The government has tried to set things straight for the past 50 odd years. All they succeeded in doing was to make the system even more complex and retarded. Today I see many people misusing the reservation system and some deserving candidates being sidelined in the name of making things equal, all the while the society itself is still stuck in the middle ages with people not wanting to let go of their caste identities and the prejudices that come with it. Long story short... I can't see the government being the right tool for change. I agree with AnonD. People have to change. Non profit, non governmental agencies are a possible solution. They have the power to inspire and change people's hearts. Organizations like CRY ( I guess my point is that elected politicians are also average humans who will look out for only themselves. I have more faith in people who run organizations such as CRY.
Rohan and I probably view this problem entirely differently than Tabita just because of our origin countries.
This comment post reflects my thoughts fairly accurately - mostly confused.