Let’s say you are a single mom. Make it even better – a single mom of colour. You ‘work hard’ – not because you necessarily worship at the altar of Ronald Reagan – but because both you and the pup prefer eating to starving and you have no choice. No one cuts you a break – you have to scrounge, hustle, make do, make a plan, make moves, fight like hell, keep going.
You come from a difficult background. You REALLY had to make sacrifices. None of that Maggie Thatcher ‘pull yourself up at the bootstraps’ clichés – you had to conquer your own family, your own impulses, the hood, ordinary life, systemic challenges, multigenerational odds stacked against you, the culture and the system – and all of that not even to get ahead, but just to get by.
All the while – you had to keep your head on straight. Straight as hell. Could never afford stupid and can’t afford it now. Kid needs to eat. Kid needs clothes. Kid needs to go to school. And so you worked both hard and smart and you BRING IT – the A-Game – because like it or not, fair or not, you may not win even if you fight hard but if you don’t fight you know they will only kick you when you are down.
So you – miracle of miracles – do smart. You don’t get yourself into debt. You don’t run up credit card bills like an irresponsible toddler or a stupid person. You don’t throw money away on nonsense like gambling or lottery tickets or liquor. No ma’am and no sir – you know how high the stakes are and you gave up on the false promises of safety nets back when you were a little girl. You work your ass off. You take classes and develop so you can earn more. Like a damn grownup you live on less than you make and you do something smart with the difference. You get some savings. You invest for retirement. You buy your own house – not something ridiculous – something you can pay for and something you can well afford and something that will be good for you and the pup and isn’t extravagant. You don’t drive the flashiest car and you don’t have no labels and you sure as hell haven’t bought yourself anything nice for years – because you know that it’s all up to you.
It’s the end of the week and you sit down in front of the TV – you and the kid over dinner that you whipped up.
The news jingle plays.
The Head Of State of your country gets given some airtime and you watch him deliver his message.
Times, he lets you know, are tough.
You remember that crisis that happened a few years ago? You know, the one where the government forced banks to give homes to people who couldn’t afford it, and then everything crashed, and the greedy bankers had to be saved with taxpayer money, as were the hapless infants who signed on the dotted line for the mortgages?
Well… they had to borrow heavily for that. Correction, not ‘they’. Suddenly, since there is now a crisis, it’s now ‘we’. ‘We’ now have a problem.
Because who knew that creating all that money out of thin air to pay for the reckless adventures of public-private partnerships of the kind described would have adverse effects? You spend all your paycheck before the month is up and you and the pup will just have to starve – but somehow the principles of reality ceases to function when the economy in question is one of the entire collective of households and not just yours.
Yup. And then after that crisis there were others.
That corruption scandal? Turns out things aren’t consequence free, and turns out consequences themselves aren’t free, but goes with costs. Costs that WE now have to pay for – the Leader is sure you understand.
Then there was that other crisis. Also had costs. And we were already overextended at the time.
Well, that took us right up to the very edge of any rational safety margins.
And then, lo and behold, Covid came along. WE had to shut it all down. WE had to manage that crisis. WE gave out money because, you know, things are HARD – in case you haven’t heard.
And then the Boss Man – with his skincare regime and his polished pearly whites, underneath the glare of the glam cams of the journos – declares that WE are now going to have to all work together to make sacrifices for the mess that WE find ourselves in.
It’s totally okay, though, because, the Leader informs you, why, he believes in you. You can get through this.
Also, the government is sending a few billion abroad to help some crisis there. They didn’t have to ask because it is their money, of course, and you gave them the blank checkbook when you put a cross on a piece of paper during the last popularity contest so they could represent you.
When the spending happens, it is up to the responsible and informed experts to decide which causes are noblest. Each time the bill comes due – it’s time for US to be WE again.
And it makes no real difference whether they waste it being corrupt gangsters, sending it to corrupt gangsters, wasting it on nonsense programmes that a special needs chimp could have predicted would never work, being magnanimously generous to some underclass that somehow always ends up not including you personally in the potluck, throwing it down bottomless pits or funding crap not you or anyone you personally know ever asked for – it never includes you – until they raise the rates or the income tax or the sales tax.
Then, as always, it’s WE.
And all that rubbish about Other People’s Money is all good and well until you realize that you are the Other People.
And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.