Recently, an acquaintance remarked that traditional personal wants versus needs’ distinctions do not apply today. He said society define needs, not people; to advance and function effectively, society depends on technology. That’s why technology drives needs, particularly in developed countries. Since poor people can’t afford modern technology, governments must provide them, he stated emphatically.
Stunned, I asked, where do you draw the line for personal responsibility?
He insisted that to survive poverty, tornados, storms, tsunamis, earthquakes, people had a right to jobs, properly built homes, affordable medical help, cell phones, computers, and TVs. These are every North Americans’ needs, he said. Indeed, cell phones, internet access, digital cameras have been a key to many people’s survival when disaster struck, he assured me.
Previously, he said, communications were simple and slow. Folks could not react quickly to influence outcomes from disasters. Storms and tornadoes devastated people who were improperly housed and inadequately organized to compel governments to fix their conditions. Today’s better communications should force governments to respond quickly and effectively to people’s situations.
Continuing, he said governments must shelter disadvantaged people from these disasters and similar occurrences’ effects. Besides, poor people must have facilities to communicate their needs and help-requests speedily to government. Rich people can take care of themselves.
Where are you going with this reasoning? I asked. It’s obvious; he replied. Government must ensure people have jobs, basic communications, housing, and medical benefits.
This is merely socialist dependency ideology, I replied, and then outlined my views.
Certainly, conditions in society influence needs; nevertheless, each person is responsible to fulfill his and her needs, not governments. Many developed countries’ governments, like Canada’s, provide programs to help the ‘poor’ and disadvantaged. Sadly, empirical evidence shows these programs are costly, poorly managed; people abuse them, and some deserving folks get no help.
Society must teach folks to take responsibility for their situations, and give them incentives to move off government subsidies. As well, when relevant, society must find ways for charities and other private groups to deliver help to the population, instead of governments.
Governments have spent billions to help the poor and disadvantaged but their conditions merely deteriorate; governments’ so-called help creates dependencies and wastes billions—that’s not the answer.
Countries should strive for minimum government and maximum private-sector involvement in their economies. Definitely, the private sector has its warts, but combined stakeholders and public pressure can influence businesses easier than electorates can rein in out-of-control governments. Most significant, eventually, business leaders will account; some, though not enough, even have gone to jail for their misdeeds.
Contrast incompetent business leaders with inept government ministers. Government ministers’ waste billions and when they leave government they get significant benefits and pensions regardless of performance; former Ontario premiers Dalton McGuinty and Bob Rae in different decades wrecked the Ontario economy, but have not accounted or been penalized for their disastrous legacies.
I believe the broader issue is personal responsibility, not definition or identification of wants and needs. Before folks rush to demand more government involvement in developed economies, I think they should mull over these matters:
- Sufficient empirical evidence exists to show unequivocally that governments are wasteful, ineffective, and do not create productive jobs. Generally, governments should minimize their involvement in economies.
- Governments create and grow personal dependencies; society should help people move away from these bondages.
- Governments should live within declining budgets and provide specific public assistance always with incentives to wean off recipients.
- Governments must distinguish between people’s temporary setbacks and their sustained endemic dependencies, such as life on welfare.
- People will define wants and needs differently; however, each person must accept that his or her income is a spending ceiling that affects lifestyle choices.
- People must live within their budgets; that’s where their needs and wants must fit. Living within budget might mean cutting back on eating out, entertainment; getting rid of cable, the Internet, cell phones; renting instead of buying homes.
- Governments and individuals must realize that government-imposed burdens–debts, deficits, excessive taxation—constrain economic growth.
Is there empirical evidence that governments’ welfare, housing, or other similar programs to help solve targeted problems improved people’s conditions over the long haul? We need more effective approaches.
Michel A. Bell is author of the The New Managing God’s Money-The Basics, teacher, preacher, founder and president of Managing God’s Money, and a former senior business executive. For Christian financial advice, biblical stewardship advice, and advice on personal effectiveness improvement, and other leadership matters, visit: Managing God’s Money.
Copyright © 2012, Michel A. Bell