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Schubart: Ending The Mission

Conservatives want to reduce government services that alleviate the effects of poverty, addiction, crime, illiteracy, and disease. Liberals want to increase them. But what if both were wrong and our goal instead were to manage towards an economy that creates resilience and enables self-sufficiency for all working Vermonters, eliminating their dependence on non-profit or government support?

Jesus told us the poor will always be with us , but he didn’t tell us to turn a blind eye. We’ll always need a social safety net, but the socio-economic dysfunction we currently tolerate is accelerating the number of Vermonters falling into that net. It now consumes almost 42% of our total budget and it’s not sustainable. We’ll never be able to afford the social safety net we’ll need in the future to accommodate the socio-economic injustice we tolerate today.

Children growing up in chaos fall into the social safety net early and stay there. We learn by example, not authority, and many kids have never known a resilient, independent parent or other good role model. Dispirited, they become alienated and turn to video games where the avatars they create do heroic deeds while they themselves fail at school or turn to drugs where it no longer matters who wins. It’s uncomfortably similar to conditions in the Middle East where too many young people have no place in the economic fabric.

The challenge is to encourage self-sufficiency and independence? If someone’s willing to work full-time or more as many do, they should earn enough to have a warm place to live, have food on the table, educate their kids, and have healthcare at a minimum. And yet the working poor are the fastest growing segment of our population.

In trying to determine where we go wrong, many point to the polarity of wealth and compensation levels as an aberrant example of unregulated capitalism. It’s hard to know if this is a symptom or a cause but if we wish to avoid accelerating social chaos we need to decide if the profit sector’s sole mission is the accretion of personal wealth or should it include the maintenance of a stable, inclusive society? And we must answer these questions before more young Americans enlist in hopeless, quixotic causes like Isis.

Our goal should be to reduce the need for services - not just the services themselves. A non-profit organization or government agency working to achieve its own end, rather than expansion, is one with true social justice in its mission.

Bill Schubart lives and writes in Hinesburg. His latest book is Lila & Theron.
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