The frustration of knowing that there are those who take advantage of government programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps) came up during a conversation with a friend the other day. For a number of my friends, that this happens is a reason to question the effectiveness and therefore the worthiness of such programs to the poor. On the flip side we also talked about farm subsidies that were abused by millionaire farmers as another example of potentially ineffective government programs. Our discussions thus turned towards our thoughts on the role of government vs that of the individual and their communities in providing for self and family.
I recently came across Doug Schuler’s description of “Opportunity Spaces” as part of the Public Sphere project.
Inequality can be understood to a large degree as unfair access to opportunities. In the U.S. opportunities for education, employment and health are often tied to economic status. Current social and technological systems are often not being used to create or support opportunity spaces that are equitable even though these are the hallmark of a just society. Without adequate opportunity spaces, marginalized people will almost necessarily prevented from meaningful participation in the society at large.
No one pulls themselves up by their own bootstraps alone. All people and communities need opportunity spaces. Individuals, family, friends, social groups, neighborhood, municipalities, and state and federal governments each have a role in building the services, policies, media, and technology that create new, and improve existing, opportunity spaces for all. I strongly believe we are morally compelled to give special attention to build opportunity spaces for those for whom opportunity spaces have intentionally been taken away.
I disagree with the libertarian perspective that the only way government should participate in building opportunity spaces is by assuring others do not tread on an individual’s liberty. I disagree with socialism that puts the burden primarily on the state so as to assure equality. I do believe we need active public discussion that includes a great diversity of perspectives if we are to have a real hope of realizing a just society that harnesses its resources appropriately to maximize opportunity spaces for all. I welcome hearing from others … what do you think?