Good Questions

In response to my recent opinion piece in the Scotsman, one of my co-workers sneeringly asked, ‘why should I pay for your education?’

It’s a good question. After a bit of reflection, I’ve got a few more good questions….

Why should I pay for someone else’s pension?
I don’t drive a car. Why should I pay for the roads?
I’m here on a two-year visa, and might not be able to stay longer. Why should I make national insurance payments?
I’m not sick. Why should I pay for other people’s healthcare?
I have a job. Why should I pay for people to be on benefits?
My house isn’t burning. Why should I pay for the fire brigade?
I don’t drink alcohol or do drugs. Why should I pay for rehab programs?
I don’t particularly like swamps. Why should I pay for wetland conservation?
I don’t have kids. Why should I pay for schools?
I’m not pregnant. Why should I pay for other women’s maternity leave?
Why should I pay to maintain parks that I don’t use?
I don’t have a dangerous job. Why should I pay for workplace standards to be upheld?
I’m never been accused of a crime. Why should I pay for the courts?

There’s a simple answer to all these questions: we all contribute to the public purse for services that benefit everyone. Someone paid for my co-worker’s education years ago, and it’s only right that he should pay for the current generation. In turn, I’ll pay for the generation after mine.

We might not all benefit directly from every service – I hope to never need the fire brigade, for instance – but when we all contribute to a safety net, we’re all covered if something unexpected happens. But more importantly, none of us is isolated. The rehab program helps an addict recover who might otherwise rob me for drug money. The fire brigade puts out a fire at my neighbor’s house before it spreads to mine. Wetlands and other wilderness areas keep our environment healthy, regardless of whether we ever see them. A good healthcare system maintains a healthy workforce to keep the economy going, and schools prepare children to take their place in society.

Taking a wide view, it’s easy to see the communal benefits of cost-effective public services, which is why so many countries have systems to provide them. It’s frustrating when people get so caught up in their personal concerns that they can’t see how their lives are shaped by public services, directly and indirectly. The media goes a long way to perpetuate this tunnel vision, even while they take for granted very expensive ‘services’ that are at best, beneficial to very few people – and at worst, harmful to everyone.

Why does the media criticize services that benefit everyone, while ignoring harmful wastes of money? Where is the outrage about subsidies for corporations with poor labor and environmental standards? Where is the outrage about unnecessary military interventions and incarceration for minor offences? Where is the outrage about grants for students from wealthy families, and government corruption?

These are the questions we should be asking.

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