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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reject crass cruelty

The economics of refugee children

If the most important thing in the world is the Economy and all else is secondary in consideration, then human life is only valuable in as much as it contributes to the efficient maintenance of the Economy. 

In such a world the makers of things and the investors of Capital are of primary importance, while the takers of things and those incapable of meaningful contribution are at best to be considered luxuries and at worst impediments to our great society.

It is easy to understand why Terry Gorman, founder of nativist hate group RIILE, motivated by racism and misanthropy, would be so outraged by the influx of refugee children that he would hold weekly rallies to announce his special kind of awfulness to the world, but it is harder to understand the rationale of those who maintain that they are not motivated by unreasoning hatred, but by simple considerations of market forces and uncontrollable economic reality.

Justin Katz, appearing on Channel 10’s Wingmen recently, maintained that, “illegal immigrants” will put a burden on schools and other social services, even though the group Katz fronts for, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, actively seeks to cut funds for schools and social services. 

In his defense, Katz is merely following his economic ideas to their inevitable conclusion: Since the kinds of  policies the Center advocates for have already made it more difficult to adequately care for at-risk children presently living in Rhode Island, how can our state possibly afford to care for even more at-risk children?

What any potential influx of refugee children will reveal about the Rhode Island economy is what economist Robert Reich calls a vicious circle, a complex working of policies that reinforces itself through a feedback loop with ever more negative economic consequences, at least for most of us. (A very few will attain unimaginable wealth.) 

The rules in Rhode Island have been constructed to deprive the necessities of life to those deemed incapable of meaningful contributions to the all-important Economy. The arrival of hungry children simply makes this fact gallingly apparent.

This is why religious values always fail when stacked up against conservative economic values. 

Bishop Tobin, of the Providence Catholic Diocese, can quite clearly say, on religious grounds, “If the refugee children come to Rhode Island I hope and pray that all the members of our community will work together, in a thoughtful and compassionate way, to welcome them and care for them to the very best of our ability. The Catholic Church will do its part. 

Certainly the children should not be the object of our political scorn” but these words are completely ignored by members of groups like RI Taxpayers [EDITOR'S NOTE: they are the current incarnation of the formerly Charlestown-based RI Statewide Coalition], who publicly “supports Terry Gorman and his RIILE group.”

Larry Girouard, President of RI Taxpayers, allows his website to carry such pleasantries as, “While the feds may be paying the expenses of these children, we all know it will be a matter of time before that expense will be passed to the state taxpayers. This state is under enough financial pressure with a bloated state budget. This is just another expense the taxpayers didn’t need or expect.”

How small.

10485375_720845927976565_2796094709728063953_nWhat are we to make of an economic system bounded by policies that cannot value the lives of children? Are we to simply shrug our shoulders and resign ourselves to an arbitrary rule system, championed by people like Girouard and Katz, that reduces and dehumanizes refugee children to “objects of our political scorn”? 

If the rules are such that multitudes of people must suffer so that a very few might live in unimaginable and undeserved opulence, why are we playing by such rules? 

Why must we reject what is best in ourselves, our empathy, to serve the venal economic wishes of a group of small minded Objectivists more concerned with fostering human greed than human compassion?

Happily, those that would deny food and shelter to refugee children are far outnumbered by the rest of us who see caring for those in need as being essential to our very humanity. Questioning the need to offer assistance to children stuns us. 

It’s impossible to not see such attitudes as some kind of perverse joke and an abandonment of essential human values. “I’m not going to ruin a perfectly good pair of $200 shoes wading into a puddle to save a drowning two-year old,” is something said by villains, not decent people.

When groups like RI Taxpayers or the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity tell us what the rules of the economy should be, we hear them talk about fairness and equity, and we assume that they are honest moral players with whom we disagree. When the pain of their policies fall on us, we bear it, because we have been bewildered by their talk of fairness. 

We believe that our placement in the great Economic game has been determined honestly, and that we are somehow getting what we deserve.

However, at the moment children show up at our door, hungry and without shelter and those that set the rules tell us we are powerless to help, we see the Economy for what it is: a game to keep us poor and powerless.

That’s when we wake up, and tell them we aren’t playing their game anymore.

Steve Ahlquist is a writer, artist and current president of the Humanists of Rhode Island, a non-profit group dedicated to reason, compassion, optimism and action. He also maintains the blog where almost all his writing can be found. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of any organization of which he is a member.

His photos and video are usable under the Creative Commons license. Free to share with credit.
Email: Twitter: @SteveAhlquist