By Angie Vogt, political commentary
The place was a port in Bangladesh.
An American missionary asked a Bangladeshi minister, “What can our congregation in the United States do to help your community?” Without hesitation, the Bangladeshi minister said emphatically: “Stop sending us your clothes!”
This small port town had started a fledgling textile manufacturing effort. The signs of economic activity were positive as people started working for the clothing mill and locals began to purchase clothes. Every now and then, a shipment of free clothing would arrive, no doubt from a “clothing drive” orchestrated by a well-meaning American organization.
Who would know that such a kind gesture could have such disastrous economic effects? The Bangladeshi pastor explained that within a week of the ship’s arrival, the clothing mill would shut down. The local economy would feel the effects for months, as shopkeepers could no longer move their inventory and clothing orders to the mill would nearly disappear. This disastrous cycle was actually preventing the local economy from thriving. But, it was all for the sake of “compassion,” right?
The American missionary told this story at a symposium on globalization that I attended last summer. I heard similar stories from an Anglican priest from Nairobi and a World Vision missionary from Peru. Confusing charity with social justice seems to be as critical to issues of international economic development as it is to domestic policy, and holds true for state politics as well.
For the sake of clarity, let’s define a few terms. Charity is an unearned gift that flows from the love of the giver. It actually refers to unconditional love. It is essentially a spiritual act.
Social justice is ordering society in such a way that is guided by truth and reason, where each is accorded a claim to that which is rightfully his or hers. The rightful claims of a citizen include their right to work and the rightful authority over the fruits of one’s labor (usually money, but often includes other benefits) as well as personal property, to include a person’s very body and self. This implies that taking something from one person without their consent, even if given to a good cause, is not social justice, but is actually a social injustice.
Social justice is blind and, by nature, is institutionalized, because it is sustained by the law and sound economic policy.
There is a third, deceptive creature that many politicians use, sometimes unknowingly and out of ignorance, but nevertheless equally damaging to the ends of social justice, and that creature is false compassion.
Corrupt Roman emperors used false compassion to distract the citizens from the emperors’ greed and incompetence. They would throw elaborate circuses in the Coliseum and loaves of bread to the citizens with the idea that the hungry, depressed citizens would gratefully cheer the generosity of the emperor. The citizens were not supposed to notice that their own exorbitant taxes were paying for the circuses and loaves.
District 30 State Sen. Tracey Eide’s well-meaning column in this paper (“Where is the state’s middle class going,” Dec. 26) is one of the finest examples I’ve ever read of false compassion.
Eide rightly acknowledged in her column that something should to be done to stem the impact of property taxes on homeowners. A few quotes that I found interesting from her column:
“It’s getting more and more difficult for hardworking people to make a comfortable living.”
“My focus, along with many of my Democratic colleagues, will be protecting the pocketbooks of working people and families amidst the rising costs of living: Health care, property taxes and gas prices, to name a few.”
“Property taxes in our state are forcing some people out of their homes.”
Eide and her Democratic colleagues are the reason we have unbearable property and gas taxes as well as expensive health care. For all the complaining I hear about Tim Eyman and his
initiatives, it is important to note that we would not even be discussing property taxes were it not for his many attempts at reigning in the Legislature’s appetite for taxing and spending.
The Democrats have consistently harassed and over-regulated the insurance industry from our state, which has limited our choices for coverage while increasing the costs of all healthcare. Gov. Christine Gregoire doled out her unique version of “circuses and loaves” with her partial state takeover of healthcare last year, by ensuring all families with incomes of up to $80,000 are offered free state-sponsored healthcare (this applied to both citizens and undocumented immigrants). I guess we were supposed to be grateful for her compassion and largesse…with our money.
The governor, with the help of Eide’s “Democratic colleagues” in her first year, cranked up our gas taxes without offering a concrete transportation plan with the extra revenue. And now, Eide wants us to believe that her colleagues are concerned about people losing their homes when the governor, with the help of Democratic colleagues, implemented a tax deferral that further impoverishes these homeowners by charging 7 percent interest on the deferred taxes.
Social justice delayed is social justice denied. Can’t wait to see what kind of circus entertainment the Legislature thinks up this year. Maybe they’ll host a clothing drive.
Federal Way resident Angie Vogt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.