the rich and the poor

Today's New York Times reported on a new policy in San Diego which requires those applying for or receiving public benefits to submit to unannounced visits from investigators looking for welfare fraud.

Anyone who has ever dealt with the welfare system knows that, even if one is applying for something as common as unemployment insurance, the invasions of privacy are onerous and purposefully humiliating. Lose a job, and you'll have to stand in line for hours, yelling your very personal information over a crowded desk. Giving up your privacy is an intentional aspect of a system designed to save money by scaring or confusing people away. As Ayn Rand noted, the hallmark of civilization is its degree of individual privacy--and it seems San Diego is slithering backwards into a tribal, paranoid culture.

We Americans do not care about much except money. Those who travel abroad often note that people in other counties do not incessantly compare their salaries or job prospects. Americans are like annoying couples who talk about nothing except about their children. It is no surprise then that San Diego is willing to sacrifice privacy in order to save a little bit of money.

Our American obsession with spending is, literally, driving us to bankruptcy. In 2006, Americans spent $42 billion more than they earned. American spending increases even as the value of our dollar nosedives. Our economic growth is so sluggish that by 2027 the People's Republic of China is expected to surpass our GDP. About 70% of our GDP is fueled by consumer spending, compared to 43% in Norway. Norway, of course, is the best place in the world to live, according to the United Nations--even with the weather. So much for the world's superpower.


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