In a land of plenty, what does the ordinary citizen really need?
What does the ordinary citizen really need? On a collective level, an excellent place to begin analysis is on the expense side, that is, how the Prince is prioritizing the expenditure of the People’s money. Common sense dictates that those items which relate to what the People “need” must first be identified as the so-called necessities of life. These must be distinguished from the things which the People merely “want,” relating not to need but rather a whole host of discretionary items, or simply greed.
In the category of “needs,” much of the conduct of Benjamin Franklin’s early life evidences the truth that the only thing we need is the mere subsistence of bread and water. However, when it comes to human nature, it is amazing,
remarked, how many poor souls, given the simple choice of bread (needed) or beer (discretionary), in fact, would
Over the ensuing centuries, a self-proclaimed “enlightened” People has continually and consistently expanded on what are presumed to be our needs. Concepts incorporating more scientific theories about diet (other necessary subsistence in addition to bread and water), standards of “adequate” housing, “equal opportunities” in education, and “good,” meaning high-paying, jobs are identified.
In the more recent decades of the late 20th century, prior Princes and legislatures have presumed to add to the basic list of needs certain guaranteed “benefits” atop the salaries of public sector jobs. Although contractually promised, and presently protected under our laws, it is doubtful these benefits were ever the subject of valid actuarial accounting practices. Surely, secure retirement payments in the form of lifetime pensions, unconscionable annual expenditures in too many cases, as well as free, unlimited access to health care and related services, are not on the ordinary citizen’s list of needs. But, hence, the Prince calls for more revenue anyway.
When it comes to analysis of “need,” the ordinary citizen is guided by the example of Franklin D. Roosevelt, our 32nd President. In the throes of the Great Depression, F.D.R. left the ordinary citizen with the enduring legacy: a primary obligation of the government is to provide help to its Citizens, especially in their time of need. During that time, need meant food, government bread delivered to hungry people waiting desperately on long lines. The government subsidized clothing, housing and sponsored programs designed to put the People back to work. The New Deal "freedom from fear/freedom from want" experiment was designed to confront an ongoing emergency, because the private sector had failed.
In the category of “wants,” all the People must do to distinguish needs from wants is watch just a bit of television in prime time. In less than an hour, it is apparent that 99% of what talented Madison Avenue marketing professionals advertise involves a wish list, for which the ordinary citizen falls easily. Just how badly does the ordinary citizen need another prescription, marketed by the powerful pharmaceutical industry, to alleviate the phenomenon of “restless leg syndrome?”
Ben Franklin also warned of excessive Debt, an ugly but sometimes necessary evil. If permitted to grow unchecked to the point where it can not realistically expect to be repaid, Debt robs the ordinary citizen of the ability to act independently. Debt thus poses perhaps the greatest danger to fundamental liberty. Its potential adverse consequences can be chilling.
Finally, lawmakers who take an oath of “service” invariably find themselves intertwined with economic interests. In a capitalist economy that often expresses itself in terms of excess, the alliance tends to corrupt both. An understanding of how and why laws are made --- or not made --- is not always apparent. As the line between needs and wants loses definition, the greater good is overwhelmed by an identifiable self-interest component. May the People some day realize that all they truly need is the will to contain it?