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the welfare state is working

An interesting thing about the very pre-revolutionary mutterings about inequality that led to the Occupy movement: there's a significant strand of the discussion that casts the recent expansion of public assistance as problematic. People working hard aren't able to get by without help, the argument goes, while financiers make millions without any particular effort. It's not fair.

I would suggest that, on the contrary, to accept this line of thought is to buy into the conservative American ideal that everyone should be able to succeed with the sweat of their brow. In other words, it's a trap.

A few weeks ago I was talking to a colleague about job prospects and I mentioned that we take advantage of food assistance. When she expressed admiration that we weren't too proud to take help, I replied that, on the contrary, I'm proud that I'm able to support my family on my small salary—plus whatever else we can get. And I am, because I feel that I'm doing something that's important, and doing it very well. Just because society isn't willing to pay teachers—much less the non-certified hourly workers who end up teaching the most difficult children—enough to live on comfortably doesn't mean the job shouldn't be done.

And I'm happy to do it. While I sure wouldn't turn down a raise, I'm not concerned with proving my value to society with my income. Money is a whole nother thing: bankers and lawyers and whatnot work with money and care about it a whole lot, so it's fair that they get to bring so much of it home. Teachers—and farmers and social workers and, I don't know, vet techs—do important work, work that they know is important as they do it, and they don't need to justify the time they spend with a big paycheck at the end of the week. But we all gotta eat, so sometimes the SNAP dollars come in handy.

As an anarchist, I've always faced the question of who would collect the garbage in a moneyless society. (I'm not sure if anyone's ever actually asked me, but you know it's out there.) Aside from the obvious—we anarchists reduce, reuse, and recycle: what garbage?!—there's the example of the millions of people who are already toiling at important work even though they might be able to make better money doing something else. (As an aside, a google search for garbage collector salary comes up with a lot of conservatives complaining about how much union garbagemen get paid.) I don't want to live in a society where money is the only motivator for doing anything; I want everyone to be doing work that they care about for its own sake.

We're not going to get a moneyless society any time soon, sadly: not at the national level anyways. But the better the welfare state, the less important remuneration becomes in people's career decision-making process. Don't pay teachers more, because then all the bankers will want to teach. Just let the bankers play with the money, and make sure the teachers have plenty to eat and places to live. That'll do for the moment.


amen! preach it papa!

Loved this - thank you!

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