One of the comments from my last post said, "we, to some extent, need to be a culture that willingly embraces the role of being our sister's and brother's keepers..." Thanks to Debra Goodman for saying so, and I don't disagree. I'm not sure we can make this argument in a compelling way to those Americans who are determined to see their fellow citizens as "the other."
The only case I can make is an economic one. Although I'd prefer a compassionate society, I'm willing to settle for an economically efficient one, because they turn out to be the same thing, in the long run. It costs less money for government to help a child grow up to be a productive member of society than it does to process an adult through the courts and keep him or her in prison.
We don't have to be compassionate. We don't have to be liberal or conservative. We ought to be pragmatic, and understand that our society is healthier if we don't have to be afraid of violence and aggression at the hands of desperate people. Personally, I would rather my tax dollar pay for the services that help all Americans grow up with an education and hope for the future than have it go to support a burgeoning privatized prison industry.
I would also rather see us pay to finance alternative and renewable energy research and development, because the Republican alternative is to pay fewer taxes, so the governments get to stand back and watch our addiction to oil and natural gas heat up the planet and poison our water.
I get that Americans resent taxation, but government is going to cost money. Our local taxes are as high as they are because our Federal and state taxes are lower. It's not trickle down wealth - it's trickle down taxation, and it's inevitable. Sooner or later, nationally or municipally, we have to pay for government.
Now, is government going to get some things wrong as it spends our money? You bet. And so does the private sector, but they do it with the money we spend on products instead of our tax dollars. Every human institution is going to fail at least a little at everything it tries. There will always be people who game the system, who defraud noble efforts for personal gain. Some of them do it on the small scale, like the fictional "welfare queen" Reagan ran against. Some do it on the grand scale, like the folks who manipulated international lending rates, or the investment bankers who took TARP money and then paid themselves shameful sums of money while other Americans lost their homes and jobs.
The fact that we can't spend government money perfectly, however, is not a reason to disinvest in what government can do. We ought to be watching for waste and fraud in government; we ought to be holding government's feet to the fire and making them do better. As someone who works in the public schools, I can testify that we're doing that right now. But we ought not let government stop doing its rightful work, unless we want to live in the developing world, or the Wild West.