In the years leading up to the Civil War, there were many arguments in favor of slavery that seemed extremely logical. Most were slippery slope arguments, but they did raise concerns that several people thought were legitimate.
For example, many people believe that if all the slaves were suddenly set free, it would almost certainly cause a revolution. They were sure that once the slaves had freedom (and access to weapons), they would rally and take revenge on the people who had enslaved them. These arguments were basically saying, “Look, we don’t like slavery. We accept that it’s wrong. But at this point, releasing slaves will cause more pain and death and suffering – to blacks and whites – than just keeping slavery intact.”
Many people believed this. It was a very common argument against emancipation. They were (in their minds) legitimately concerned for their own safety and for the safety of their neighbors.
Another common argument was that freeing the slaves would cause a complete economic breakdown and ultimately cause the country’s infrastructure to collapse. They believed releasing the slaves would bankrupt too many slave owners, causing the south to sink into an economic depression that would eventually spread to the entire country. “We don’t like slavery,” they would say, “but we’ve sadly reached a point to where we can’t survive without it. And the slaves won’t be better off living in a country that has completely collapsed. At least now they have homes and meals.”
These people often pushed for laws that improved the treatment of slaves, but they supported keeping slavery intact.
In short, many people conceded that slavery was wrong, but they argued it was sadly what was best for the country as a whole.
It was basically a twisted version of trickle-down economics. They were saying, “If we make life harder on the people on top, it’ll ultimately make life harder on everybody, so we should just keep it like it is.”
Sounds pretty ridiculous, right? Well, those arguments are still used today to keep the people on “the bottom” where they are.
“If we raise the minimum wage, the poorest of the poor might have a little more money, but it’ll hurt the business owners. McDonald’s will just raise the price of burgers and inflation will make it so they didn’t really get a raise at all. And the small business owners won’t be able to afford it, will go out of business, and then these poor people won’t have jobs at all.”
“If we go to a socialized medical system, sure the poor will have access to healthcare, but the cost to taxpayers will be so extreme, the economy will take a nose-dive. And people won’t be motivated to get into the medical profession because they won’t make any money from it.”
Well, guess what? I don’t want doctors who only got into the medical profession because they saw it as a means to make money. I want people who want to help people. And instead of saying “McDonald’s will just raise their prices,” how about we say, “McDonald’s can just make $4 billion in profit instead of $5 billion. Then, the people who work for them can actually afford to live.”
Now, just to be absolutely clear, I’m not comparing socialized medicine and minimum wage rates to slavery. There really is no comparison there. When it comes to oppression and atrocity, slavery wins. Hands down. I’m simply saying the arguments against addressing these problems come from the same flawed slippery-slope arguments against abolishing slavery.
I’m also not saying the arguments against socialized medicine and minimum wage rates don’t raise valid concerns. They absolutely do. Giving all Americans healthcare will cause some hardship, especially at first. Raising the minimum wage will hurt some small businesses. There’s no denying that.
But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse to just stick with the status quo. We shouldn’t say, “Hey, poverty sucks. A lack of healthcare sucks. But is helping these people really what’s best for the country?”
In a word… yes.
Pointing out problems with these issues is a good thing. It helps us recognize obstacles so we can overcome them. The problem is, people aren’t bringing up these concerns as an attempt to overcome the obstacles. People are bringing up these concerns in an attempt to ignore these issues altogether.
We scoff at the words “trickle down economics”, but the driving philosophy behind it still dominates our country. As a country, we put more value on the people who have money. We defend the well-being of the people on top more than we defend the well-being of the people on the bottom. Our country is operating on a trickle-down economics philosophy.
And when you look at the income inequality in America, it has become painfully obvious this approach isn’t working.
A study was recently released showing that American teens are mediocre in science and reading, when compared to the rest of the world. In math, they actually scored below average. Even our top students aren’t top when compared to other countries. Places like Shanghai and Singapore had the best students.
Now, when you compare the educational systems of the top scorers to the American educational system, there’s a fundamental difference in their approach to education. In the America, more money means a better education. That’s not an opinion. It’s just a fact. If you have a lot of money, you get a better education. If you’re poor, you have to work your ass off to even get a chance at a good education. The countries that scored highest, on the other hand, have a very heavy focus on educating the poor. Those countries give no support or aid to people with money because people with money don’t need the aid. Those countries roll the vast majority of educational resources into making sure the poorest people get top-notch educations.
The result is obvious: These countries end up with more educated people.
That basic “bottom up” philosophy is what this country needs. Sure, we should address the potential consequences of helping poverty-stricken people. We should address the consequences of getting every American quality healthcare. We should address the consequences of raising the minimum wage.
But we should start at the bottom, not at the top. We should start with what is right.
Tens of thousands of people die in this country every year because they don’t have access to proper healthcare. That’s an epidemic. Saving these people shouldn’t be dependent upon what kind of impact it would have on the economy. Saving these people should be a given. It should be requirement. Then, once we’ve all accepted that they must be saved, we move to how we accomplish it.
People who work 40 hours a week and still can’t afford to eat a good meal must be helped. That should be a given. Then we move to the how.
The argument that what’s right isn’t always what’s best for the country is, put simply, a bunch of horse hockey.
What’s right is always what’s best.
And doing everything we can to help the least fortunate in this country is what’s right.