Vandal Charity: The New Fairness

Very rapidly now, a notion of fairness is seeping into the collective mind that that looks like highway robbery with a smiley face.

“The weak man how he must, the strong man how he will.”  Irish Proverb

Yesterday I completed my son’s FAFSA application.  For those whose children have not yet begun applying for college, a Free Application for Federal Student Aid is required of virtually every young person seeking acceptance into any sort of institution beyond high school.  The questions are not particularly arduous—I completed them within a couple of hours.  They do, however, involve surrendering sensitive personal information (mostly about finances) to vague government entities whose limits seem to stray well beyond the IRS’s.

That’s my first point of concern: i.e., if you want your kid to go to college, you now have to enter detailed information about your income, savings, and investments into some nebulous database.  A second point that nagged at me was the feeling of being led through several useless hoops by our common ringmaster, Big Brother, since my son clearly would not be eligible for much assistance.  I do not want the federal government’s help, frankly: I wouldn’t accept a dime in federal loans to put my son through school.  This is the wrong time in our nation’s history to be going into debt, especially for a young man who won’t have marketable skills for years.  But why, in that case, am I required to do the application?  I have been advised that many private scholarship funds draw upon FAFSA information to determine eligibility in the case of need-based awards.  I find that this knowledge displaces my annoyance, though, rather than removes it.

For my real question, having emerged from the FAFSA plunge to breathable air, is this: why have my wife and I scrapped and saved for our son’s benefit just so that we may be slapped down to the bottom of the ladder when he needs funds?  Why didn’t we blow our paychecks on expensive cars and fantasy vacations and silly entertainments and glitzy gismos like everyone else around us—why did we allow ourselves to be “caught red-handed” with all this cash in the bank and all these mutual funds?  People who have made far more than we ever did for decades will be far more eligible now than we are for goodies, just because they never allowed one dollar to rub against another in their wallet.

Since our moribund society is now having an ongoing discussion about fairness, may I ask what is fair about this arrangement?  The frugal are punished while the spendthrift are rewarded.  The self-sacrificing are treated like “fat cats” while the self-absorbed are laden with handouts like a starving beggar at an Episcopal retreat.

My attitude, you may say, is not Christian.  Just because a kid’s mother didn’t bother to stay married to any of her children’s sires and squandered all her pay and child support on cell phones and lottery tickets, why should that kid be denied at chance at a better life?  But why, I counter, can this young person not win access to a scholarship by demonstrating some minimal level of competence as a student?  Why would any scholarship be entirely “need-based”?  There’s no reason why even the most impoverished of waifs cannot read a few books during four years of high school, thereby catapulting him far ahead of his peers on the SAT test: no reason, that is, if he actually wants to go to college.

Of course, my third reservation about the whole FAFSA scam is that all of this abundant money for attending college drives tuition costs up for everyone, and that students who accept government “generosity” will become slaves to their loans for years to come.  I suppose these are Reasons 3a and 3b—but both reflect a “scammer” mentality.  Naïve people are being bribed and duped into behaviors that do not, in the long run, serve their best interests.  In fact, the FAFSA debt burden is forgiven, I am told, under certain conditions defined by the government: specifically, if the graduate will serve the government in certain capacities.  This seems to me infinitely more subtle than the Royal Navy’s press gangs during the Napoleonic Wars without really being any different in terms of coercion.

But to return to a broader point… when did highway robbery become “fair”, and why?  For the FAFSA money given in federal loans is raised from my taxes, which gives me that much less to spend on my own son’s education—which means, in turn, that I am not simply being denied funds available to those who didn’t save as I did, but that I (and others like me) are indeed paying out money to wastrels.  The ants are feeding the grasshopper through the long winter.

Why do women who bear four and five children without first having procured gainful skills, or even having bothered to marry any of the fathers in question, enjoy a right to declare you and me the fathers of their penurious brood?  If you discover some sort of logic that justifies picking our pockets in these cases, then would that logic not apply equally to confiscating all of the money I have cautiously saved up to leave to my child as a bequest?  Why should he receive a legacy when the Fatherless Five have none?  Why not stick a gun in my face (or simply send an unarmed squadron of uniformed goons to my door after my own gun has been “collected”) and take every penny I have until I am reduced to the same level of poverty as those I must support?  Why stop at half-measures—why not follow the logic to its Vandal-in-the-saddle conclusion?

It is my Christian duty to help those in need, and I have tried to perform that duty (using my limited resources, more often professional skills than money) in individual cases where I have identified a worthy person to be in dire straits.  It is not my duty, however, to empty my cookie jar indiscriminately for the children of every high-roller who never spared a thought for his or her parental obligations; and even less is it my duty to support gangs of organized hooligans in exacting forced “contributions”. 

I’ve cut my own hair for twenty years to save money.  I’ve worn shoes and clothes till holes wore through to save money.  Other than a trip to have my lenses changed, I haven’t visited any sort of medical facility as a patient for probably thirty years, at least; and that, too, has saved me money.  I don’t make much, but I spend even less—and over a lifetime of Spartan practice, I have created a nice little “rainy day fund” for any of my family members who may need it.  Is it fair that I should be targeted as one of the privileged?  Is it fair that undisciplined fools who never say “no” to any pleasure that crosses their path should all be allowed to jump ahead in a line where my son waits patiently?

I’m getting very, very tired of this kind of reasoning.  I think a lot of us are.  If you’re going to take my money, at least call it stealing.  If your children need my help, then let them ask the rest of us for charity, and they shall receive it.  But let’s have no more of the “fairness” blarney.  Fairness, to those who feast off of it, is any egg the fox can sweet-talk out of the hen, and any carcass the wolf can snatch from the fox.

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