In another thread, Tom Craver recently posted:
Giving people necessities to stay alive for a few weeks or months after they've lost everything - fine. Feeding their "basic material" needs year in, year out - bad, evil, foolish, counter-productive, flat out wrong approach.
I (Chris) disagree with the second half of this statement. I do agree that providing basic needs as charity or welfare can be corrosive. But let me suggest a scenario to explore.
1) A community is usually able to collect sufficient rainwater for its needs. In non-drought years, nature supplies its needs, with a very small amount of infrastructure work. This is very easy for the people, and certainly not evil.
2) In severe drought years (1 in 20), the community is put under severe stress. Either people must move away, or water must be imported, or people will sicken and some will die. The community does not have the cash to pay for water importation. Humanitarian delivery of water does not seem evil to me, and it seems to be covered by the first half of Tom's statement.
3) In an attempt to make water supplies more reliable, a large agricultural company installs a water system. Now the people will never have a shortage of water. However, to make the project pay, the people are required to buy their water from the corporation, and are therefore forbidden from collecting rainwater. (This has happened!) To me, this seems, at the least, unfortunate, bordering on evil.
4) In an attempt to solve the problems of 3, a new technology is provided to the community that will provide all the water they need at near-zero cost, even in drought years. 4A) This is provided to communities that don't have an installed corporate water system. 4B) This is provided to communities that do have a corporate water system. To me, both 4A and 4B seem to return to a situation very near 1, which was certainly non-evil. A modern capitalist might say that 4B was evil because it reduced the corporation's profits. I would disagree; I'd call it creative destruction, and I'd say that it would be actively good, and calling it evil is a protectionist position rather than a free-market capitalist position.
Surely no one would suggest that air should be rationed, restricted, and given only to those who would pay. Water similarly seems to be something that should be available as needed, except in cases of unavoidable scarcity. So what about food, clothing, shelter, and even medical care? What would happen if basic versions of these were made available to people, not as charity, but simply as natural resources and human rights?
The obvious, and shallow, answer is that people would breed exponentially until they swarmed past any possible technological supply of resources. But what if we added education, electricity, and (optional!) birth control to the list of freely available basic resources? Something is causing birth rates in Western nations to be even lower than needed for replacement. It seems to be correlated with energy use, affluence, and education of women. Who knows -- maybe it's TV (though I'm tempted to put TV on the "evil" list). The point isn't to design the perfect society. The point is that having basic resources freely available will not necessarily lead to overpopulation.
So, what are the assumptions behind Tom's assertion that feeding people's needs day in and day out is evil? I suspect that one assumption is that the feeding is done in the style of welfare. What if, instead, it were done by providing a certain minimum income to everyone -- rich and poor alike? The state of Alaska does this today, paying an oil dividend to all residents. Google pointed me at a site which makes a case for a "Citizen's Dividend." Rather than regulating and enforcing the provision of food, water, clothing, shelter, and so on, it might be better to just enact a minimum income and let people sort out the rest in a free market. Again, the point is not to design the perfect society; the point is that there are more options than we might expect.
Please note that there is very little of communism or socialism in this post. The idea is not to structure the state around providing the minimum supplies. Providing minimum supplies should be doable with a remarkably small fraction of government -- possibly smaller than the governmental infrastructure used to mail out the U.S. "tax refund" checks a few years ago. And in an MM-enabled society, it should be doable with a remarkably small fraction of the society's economic activity; there's no redistribution of wealth contemplated here; the minimum would be far below the average.
Looking forward to responses from Tom and others...