Is this the fault of limited government?

The Agency of man is the ability to obey or disobey existing laws.  It is not the ability to alter the consequences that come as a result of obedience or disobedience.

The last couple of winters in Western Colorado have given us many days of brutally freezing weather.  Here, as in most places, cold winters are a fact if life, as are hot summers, love and heartbreak, caution and imprudence, and life and death. A popular social networking site had an interesting comment thread going a few days ago.  It illustrates another ubiquitous thread of public discourse which deals with other contrapuntal ideas; “we the people” and big government, capitalism and socialism, prosperity and taxation, and choice and compulsion.  The thread went something like this. (The conversation has been paraphrased and the names have been changed to protect my butt.)

Libby: I walked out my door this morning to see a police scene and a dead body.  A man had frozen to death on the sidewalk in front of my house.  I can’t believe that this country would let something like this happen. Capitalism depends on someone being able to make a rational choice.  I cannot see this guy freezing to death as a consequence of rational choice.  Socialism would have saved this man.  There I said it.  We need more Socialism!

Demi: I read an article about a program in Canada where they are stopping the AIDS epidemic by giving homeless people and drug addicts, expensive antiviral medications.  This is a good example of how Socialism is protecting the health of the entire population and of how it ends up saving money in the long run.

Libby: Yeah, I have a gripe with people who don’t want higher taxes.  High taxes are good for this country and only rich people end up paying them.  People who oppose high taxes are crybabies and whiners!

Connie: Well I think that people need to work to help people, but everyone can make their own choices and if those choices are destructive there is little that even Socialism can do to help.  In fact, Socialism probably would not have helped this guy.  There are many homeless shelters and churches in town who take in people who live on the street.  The only reason they are turned away is if they’re drunk, high, or dangerous.  The police department in this town has a “Homeless Outreach Task Force” that works to get these people help.  There is a crew of volunteers that go out each day to gather the homeless and guide them to resources.

Demi: Well, it just seems so unfair that some people have homes and some don’t.  We need to make everybody equal.  It is scary to see all the social programs being cut.  The rich benefit from the taxes the government takes from them.  They need to pay too.  We’re in this together.

Libby: Yeah, I think that government workers could do a lot more than churches and community volunteers.  Government health care workers would make the whole system better, along the lines of France.  As far as I’m concerned, capitalist insurance companies have no place in health care.  Socialized health care would make sure that people don’t freeze to death in the streets.

Connie: 98% of the charitable giving in the world comes from the United States of America.  Without a Capitalist system there is no money, no resources to give.  Socialism depends on the hard work of the tax payer, but it drains the tax payer upon whom it depends; drains him of money, motivation, hope.  Socialism can never fill the void of the convicted heart of an individual who chooses to give because it is the right thing to do.  Socialism is force and compulsion, so there can be no charity in a socialist system.

And then Connie linked to the following story:

“The death of a man found at the entrance to an alley earlier this morning has been linked to chronic alcohol use.  A man who was intoxicated apparently stumbled while walking to his home.  It appears that he died from hypothermia.  According to research chronic alcohol abuse is linked to many hypothermia cases. Hypothermia is a condition where the body loses heat faster than it can replenish. It affects the central nervous system as well as the cardiovascular system. Alcohol consumption increases the chance of becoming hypothermic. Alcohol in the bloodstream causes the blood vessels to dilate and increases the blood flow to the skin. This factor increases heat loss from the core of the body while making the person feel warm. Approximately one-third to three-quarters of hypothermia cases are complicated by alcohol.”

Connie: There is nothing Socialism could have done for this guy.  He had a home, just yards from where he probably passed out from intoxication, fell down, and froze to death.

So, the question remains, “can Socialism save us from ourselves?” The question deserves a thoughtful examination.

First there is the HOMELESSNESS question:

In the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, housing was declared a fundamental human right.  In 1976 the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights was ratified by most countries (the United States signed but did not ratify) of the world and it recognized “an adequate standard of living, including housing, as a fundamental human right.”

Q: How has the plight of the homeless improved since that first UN action?

A: It hasn’t.  In fact homelessness in Canada and most European nations has increased since the mid 20th century.  Russia has seen a dramatic increase in homelessness.  Some try to explain that away with the claim that Communism kept people housed and that along with the collapse of the Soviet Union and increased democratization in Eastern Europe came homelessness.  The standard of living in the USSR was depressingly low, with the Communist version of “security” being a subsistence lifestyle.  And homeless statistics were never truthfully reported because it would have cast a poor light on the socialist paradise of Russia.  Journalists who did not whitewash reports of the shameful squalor in the Soviet Union were severely punished.  Homelessness in the United States has also seen an increase since the early 1970s.  The most common reasons for homelessness are the following:

It makes sense that the United States would see an increase in homelessness in the 1970s since substance abuse (especially illegal narcotics) increased, and divorce and family disarray became much more common.  Overall financial difficulties account for a small percentage of people who end up on the streets in developed countries.  Could a socialized health care system have saved the man who fell in a drunken stupor and died steps away from his own house?  No.  He had a home to go to.  He chose to get drunk and, tragically, the choices he made and the weather conditions on that evening lead to his death.

Next the ALCOHOLISM question:

Q:How does socialism improve the lives of people addicted to drugs and/or alcohol?

A: It doesn’t and it never has.  Alcoholism rates are very high in socialized countries.  One example is the Baltic countries in Eastern Europe such as Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Germany.  These countries have rates of alcoholism estimated between 13 and 15% of the adult population, much higher than that of the United States (5% of the adult population).  Drug abuse is harder to gauge since many socialized European countries have lax drug laws, or none at all.  But it is estimated that 10% of the population of teenagers and adults in Europe use drugs on a regular basis. Russia (still socialist, though not technically Communist) has extremely high rates of alcoholism with nearly 50% of deaths being related to alcohol abuse.  Could Socialism have saved the man from getting so drunk that he lost consciousness, fell and froze to death on his own street.  No. In fact socialist governments, their constraints, depressing disincentives, and lack of faith in the individual, tends to increase despair in the population and alcoholism and substance naturally follow.

What could have saved this man who died so dismally on a freezing night in February?  I can only answer this sad question with a truism:

The Agency of man is the ability to obey or disobey existing laws (common sense, wise conduct, prudence, and good judgment included).  It is not the ability to alter the consequences that come as a result of obedience or disobedience.

The applicable laws here are: Winter nights are piercingly cold in Western Colorado.  If you drink alcohol in excess you can become inebriated.  If you are inebriated you may blackout.  If you blackout while outdoors on a piercingly cold night and no one is available to rouse you, you may succumb to hypothermia and die.  This man died senselessly because he disregarded these basic truths.

Had this man sought help, he would have found it.  This community is full of churches and organizations that offer an abundance of services and resources to people with a variety of needs.  Alcoholism, substance abuse, homelessness, family problems, hunger, educational problems, all of these and more, can be effectively addressed in the private sector.  Many charities exist exactly for the problems this many may have had.  No one can know for sure why he chose to drink and be outdoors on such a frigid night.  But that is what he chose to do, and it is a heartbreaking tale.  He lived and died within the conditions of human mortality and agency.  No one and certainly no government, socialist or free, could have saved him from himself.,_Social_and_Cultural_Rights

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Marjorie Haun, Marjorie Haun. Marjorie Haun said: Can Socialism Save Us from Ourselves? What do we do about the guy who froze to death in the street? […]

  2. Scott Yagemann

    Only in the US could a program such as Alcoholics Anonymous have started. Only in a country where charity and the Judeo/Christian ethic of helping someone who needs help could AA have been born. Not in a socialist country. The mindset of socialism is a virus that discourages people from dreaming of a better world. Socialism discourages ACTION. AA has millions of sober members who if not for the fellowship of AA could have ended up like the guy who died from hypothermia. Government programs are notoriously inefficient because those running the programs often lack genuine incentive. Instead they often become more concerned with their own benefit packages. Look at Madison Wisconsin.

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