Although John Kenneth Galbraith pointed out how the socialist and capitalist countries are similar, but in the west the
“controlling contentment and resulting belief is now that of the many, not just of the few. It operates under the compelling cover of democracy, albeit a democracy not of all citizens but of those who, in defense of their social and economic advantage, actually go to the polls. The result is government that is accommodated not to reality or common need but to the beliefs of the contented, who are now the majority of those who vote.”
Galbraith points out this discrepancy of governmental treatment of the poor compared to the wealthy in amusing terms, though the consequences are far from amusing:
“The substantial role of the government in subsidizing this well-being deserves more than passing notice. Where the impoverished are concerned — a point to which I return — government support and subsidy are seriously suspect as to need and effectiveness of administration and because of their adverse effect on morals and working morale. This, however, is not true of government support to comparative well-being. By Social Security pensions or their prospect no one is thought damaged, nor, as a depositor, by being rescued from a failed bank. The comparatively affluent can withstand the adverse moral effect of being subsidized and supported by the government, not so the poor.”
Subsidies to the poor are always on a very different level than subsidies for the wealthy. The poor are always underserving, the rich always in need. Not only that but subsidies to the rich or well-off are always for the benefit of society as a whole. Subsidies to the poor are given out of the largesse of the well-off. The rich are to be complemented for permitting their money to be used on the poor. As well, the rich are to be complemented for accepting subsidies not really for themselves but in order to benefit society as a whole. The poor should be looked down on for accepting charity. It shows they are not of strong character. That is just how it works when you control the political process. As a result of such attitudes, when the Green New Deal proposes to spend money to ease inequality of incomes, we must treat the howls of protest from the affluent with careful skepticism. They might have a point, but we should not assume they have a point.
Although Galbraith was describing the United States the same things happen in Canada too. In Canada the contented accept government subsidies through CMHC, CDIC, RRSP’s, farm supports, DREE, and numerous grants to businesses. Particularly the oil and gas sector which has done so much to create the problem of climate change enjoys subsidies in the billions. Subsidizing clean energy or green projects is seen instead with alarm by the contented.
Business sees no problem in going to the public trough for itself, but not so for the poor. They are also extreme in their defence of their own privilege. Witness the recent puny attempt by the Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau in making fairly modest tax reform proposals in Canada principally around reducing the benefits of well-off Canadians in earning money through a corporation rather than personally. Those benefits of course go largely to the rich. In my practice of law it was not common to see homeless people come in to incorporate their scrounging ‘businesses.’
Even though he was a privileged Harvard economist, former Ambassador, and confidant of the rich and famous, Galbraith had similar scepticism:
“While self-interest, as we shall see, does frequently operate under a formal cover of social concern, much social concern is genuinely and generously motivated.
Nonetheless, self-regard is, and predictably, the dominant, indeed the controlling, mood of the contented majority. This becomes wholly evident when public action on behalf of those outside this electoral majority is the issue. If it is to be effective, such action is invariably at public cost. Accordingly, it is regularly resisted as a matter of high, if sometimes rather visibly contrived, principle…”
Given the power of the affluent to influence public opinion, it would be surprising if the Green New Deal were easily proven to be a rational plan to reduce climate change.