Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

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56 If not self, who?

When I was in early grade school, the most popular political satirist was Al Capp. In his comic strip Li’l Abner, the neighborhood youth in Dogpatch built a spaceship. The government was not able to do that because of all the red tape.

One of the last articles in my Ernstraud Magazine described neighborhood cooperation. A tree dropped a large limb that completely blocked traffic past my house. I set about sawing off branches and in fifteen minutes four neighbors with saws had joined me. The street was clear in half an hour. No city bureaucracy could have beat our record.

Much of our appreciation of ancient Greece is a legacy from the leisure class, wealthy individuals. One might say that they put their “idle” time and money to good use erecting buildings that became lasting monuments.

By now it is apparent that today’s title is irony. It means “because there is nobody else, therefore, self.” The government is gridlocked, and the world must be rescued by people. Yes, that means private people, because there is nobody else to do it.

We must put selfishness and acrimony aside and reflect on the long course that led to crippling gridlock. First, there was a system of greed that gouged wages and put wealth into the hands of people who were already in control. The love of money for its own sake led to environmental desecration. Sham elections presented artificial promises based on popularity polling rather than proven administration of justice. Shortsighted goals of the vocal overpowered long-term wise application of well-managed resources.

Lottery winners quickly descend to their previous levels on the wealth thermostat. Bad management is not cured by passing out money. In recognition of human dignity, resources must be more evenly distributed, but not by mindlessly spreading cash. Indiscriminately sending families extra money will not produce a Covid19 vaccine or eliminate maternal mortality. Article 27 pointed out that money is not one of Humans’ Needs. Systemic improvement rests on genuine research carried out with persistent dedication. Article 49 recognized private individuals who have effectively addressed these needs.

Instead of measuring GDP (Gross Domestic Product), which is increased by prison, war, and natural disasters, scholars are now defining GNH (Gross National Happiness). My writings elevate happiness to joy for a reason. We need to hold before ourselves the vision of the more just, more evenly served world we are creating.

There is a proverb “gold is where you find it.” We have a rather good idea where wealth is found. Humanity requires that it be applied as necessary to maximize the common good. My faith in humanity increases as that is done voluntarily.

Therefore, participation of wealthy people is essential to immediate improvement. I cannot build a hospital or a university, but there are many individuals among us who can. They do not act entirely alone. As good managers, they know how to aggregate funding and scholarship to accomplish a major purpose. With vision, that is what they regularly do.

Wealth is not a number in a single bank account. It is not generally liquid. Devoting resources to progress is not check-writing. It is rather dedicated pursuit of meaningful solutions. Mounting an attack on private wealth is no more effective than indiscriminate distribution of cash, which is one possible outcome of such attack. That will not heal society. Skill in the use of wealth is just as necessary as the wealth itself. I do not have that skill, and the electorate does not either.

We should minimize changes in the amount of cash people handle, avoiding sudden windfalls. It is up to prudent managers to see to it that this country, and eventually the world, becomes a happy place where the Humans’ Needs are equally met for all people. That is a question of management. I contribute moral judgment but defer practical implementation to those qualified to achieve it.

Let us praise private benevolence that improves social conditions in ways that government cannot. Gridlock and enforced uniformity fail where intelligent empathy succeeds. When there is no public “who” to do the work, the sufficiently endowed assign the task to themselves. We are not fully human until we are all equal in meeting Humans’ Needs, enjoying freedom from want.

Empathy is expressed in different words. Theology teaches that God provided everything to benefit everybody. Another viewpoint is that human evolution no longer needs to weed out the weak, and the species is ready to assure the fair and equal survival of all its members. Regardless of the language used, healthy people do not gorge on excess while others starve. Fairness is the logical symmetry of individuals.

This simple idealism presents significant work to be done. Obviously, poor people cannot fill in the low spots, making something out of nothing. Spreading dollar value equally on a per capita basis does not address systemic management flaws. As the “little guy” I participate in a complex system I did not invent. People with significant management skill have built the necessary production and distribution systems. The point of social contract theory is that by specializing and improving, we help each other to a common outcome.

Meeting my needs has nothing to do with how much money passes through my hands. Our activities vary, and we do not need identical material surroundings. For example, I am happier in a smaller house while other people require space for more activities. Our needs are met, we are free, when our reasonable expectations are satisfied. We do not measure happiness in money. We realize happiness around us when we are all free from want. We cannot reach that state alone.

Today I am praising a special kind of person, the one who steps up and says, “I can do that.” In answer to the question in the title of the article, there is something you can do that nobody else can do. What responsibility then comes to rest on you? Anything you are capable of achieving. The worker on the assembly line builds a safe car. The person of means eradicates maternal mortality.

The transformation I describe depends on education. Let us focus on early childhood education so that a rising generation will perpetually come on stage with expectations to do this right.


Resources must be concentrated, not dispersed, to achieve benefits that we easily take for granted. Norway provides the world an example. It has significant income from oil exports. That money is not given out as cash to all the households. It is used for developing non-monetary benefits to society at large: infrastructure, education, social services, research, reserves against bad times. The high standard of living is spread across the whole population, to assure that individual Humans’ Needs are fairly and equally met.

Private parties are the ones who can act effectively. It is therefore required of them to volunteer their means to address the common needs of society.

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