Mr. Smith Learns a Lesson

Election '04
Editor's Note: Brian Bennett teaches economics and history at Sayville High School in Long Island, New York. A discussion with a conservative colleague inspired him to write the following, which he says generated a great deal of discussion among his students.

Mr. Smith says that he is a conservative because he works hard, and has achieved his success on his own. He wants to keep his hard-earned money, and not have it wasted by the government to support lazy people.

However, Mr. Smith is a public school teacher and a member of a union. He is paid with the tax dollars of many thousands of people, including those who never had children. The pay and benefits he enjoys are the result of a struggle by the many members of organized labor over many years. Many people throughout the world work just as hard as Mr. Smith, yet without the benefits of a union they do not enjoy good pay, benefits, or decent working conditions.

Mr. Smith is a graduate of both the public school system and a state university. Both institutions are supported by tax dollars that subsidized the cost of his education.

Mr. Smith is a homeowner, so he is allowed to take as a tax deduction the interest he pays on his mortgage. This saves him thousands of dollars a year, money that must be made up for by other taxpayers in order to fund government. Renters do not enjoy a deduction for their housing costs.

Mr. Smith's father was also a unionized public employee. The decent pay he received enabled Mr. Smith Jr. to grow up in a stable home, in a decent community, with good schools.

Finally, Mr. Smith's grandfather was a beneficiary of the GI Bill and government-subsidized home loans. These government programs lifted some members of the post-WWII generation into the middle class. This set in motion a positive chain of events from which Mr. Smith ultimately benefitted.

So, did Mr. Smith really achieve his success on his own, without the help of other people or government programs? If not, why would Mr. Smith deny similar assistance to people struggling with poverty today?

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