Imagine a magic wand. It was yours alone to wave. One magnificent flourish would guarantee the same standard of shelter, education and health care to everyone on the planet – no exceptions. No more mansions, no more homeless. One size fits all. ‘Them’s the rules’.
Think carefully before you wave your wand. You’d be giving a drug-pedalling pimp a house and taking a castle from a philanthropist on the cusp of funding a cure for cancer. The reverse is equally true. Shelter would be provided to people living in third-world poverty, and mansions would be removed from greedy warlords who have profited on the misery of the innocent. There are billions of variables to this offer. Consider them all. You studied hard at school to buy a mansion with a pool. If you waved your wand, this dream could no longer be a reality. Houses would be the same, built for subsistence to accommodate a burgeoning population – lavish to the billions currently living in poverty, basic to the millions not.
For every argument there’s a counter argument. Surely the doctor working tirelessly to save lives is entitled to a bigger house than the lazy person unwilling to work at all. Surely a single parent working two jobs to make ends meet should go to bed knowing that their children have access to the same education and health care as the kids whose parents have inherited their wealth.
Waving your wand does not prevent tragedy, bullying, crime and bad choices. It does ensure every child has a chance to blossom inside the basics: shelter, education and health care.
Is the world beyond the wand even possible? Doctors, nurses, scientists, teachers and trades people – how would we show individuals like this that we value their contribution? Is our thanks enough? I don’t think so. Hard work and positive contributions to society have to be recognised and rewarded. If we don’t, their ranks would dwindle.
Waving the wand is a philosophical ideal. Economists would need to find a way to redistribute resources without society breaking down. Humanity would need to settle on a new form of reward that would keep people motivated. We are not yet capable of universal altruism. Perhaps we never will.
But I know this – the child you don’t know is just as precious as the child you do. If someone you loved was living on the street through no fault of their own; if this someone needed immediate health care; if you could not afford to help them … I bet you’d wave the wand.
I know I would.
Jonathan K Benton