Thursday, May 29, 2008

What's So Bad About Safety Nets?

I have been thinking a lot about "safety nets," since I am spending time in a Scandanavian country that is clearly a welfare state.  And, by the way, it is not a bad thing for these Norwegians to be citizens of a welfare state.  We are in the midst of striking season. I joke not.  Many different industries pick this time of year to give it to the man--whether the man is the government or capitalists.  The day after we arrived, the airport went on strike  (what timing, eh?).  Right now many teachers are on strike and proudly wearing their !Streik! t-shirts.  

In any case, I thought about the phrase "safety net" today--a phrase that many feminists have consciously adopted to explain why welfare reform has been bad or other erosions of human rights protections in our own government.  The phrase popped into my mind as I was protecting Maddie from falling off the couch while she was playing this afternoon.  At every moment of her play I was keep a "safety net" in place, knowing full well she was likely to fall off the couch and hurt herself.

When the inevitable happened, and she almost fell backward except for my intervention, she quickly turned her nervous expression into a relieved smile.  And it occurred to me in that moment how problematic so much Republican anti-welfare state rhetoric is.  I thought to myself --what if I didn't catch her and let her fall. Would I have been a better parent?  Would I have shown her the consequences of her behavior and made sure that she would never again be so foolish as to put herself in a high risk situation with no safety net?  You can see how the analogies were developing in my mind.  

Why shouldn't we have national health care like the Scandanavians? Well, because people will take advantage of the entitlement and overuse the services and never learn to utilize only what they need.  Republicans don't see state sponsored services as "safety nets," but as opportunities for citizens to abuse resources and drain the state.  What if we took that attitude toward our young?  

Maybe the analogy is imperfect, but I think there is something to it. If you start to think of a welfare state as a safety net akin to how you make sure children don't needlessly hurt themselves when they are taking new risks or hell, just plain growing up.  Couldn't we see the state the same way? , i.e. nurturing and protecting us when we are young, caring for us when we are ill and elderly?  

I dunno. I personally like this system regardless of the strikes here and there.  You can't help but notice the attention to human welfare in this country and what a difference it makes.