Monday, January 22, 2007

An Individualistic Socialism?

In a casual conversation about the last post, a friend observed that those countries I identify as highly individualistic are also among the more socialist in the world. Certainly that is true of Canada. Canadians expect more of government than Americans do. As another friend said some years ago, "Americans value life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; Canadians value peace, order and good government." "Good government" sounds like an oxymoron to many Americans, for whom the only good government is less government.

Thus Canadians willingly pay significantly higher taxes than our American cousins -- and expect more from our government, from paying for health care to paying for education.

I thought of this point when I ran across a recent news story, which stated that Manitoba is the most generous of the provinces in terms of charitable giving, but ranks behind 26 other states in the USA. The Fraser institute did the study, and concluded: "Americans gave 1.67 per cent of their aggregate personal income to charity, more than double the 0.72 per cent of the total personal income Canadians donated to charity."

One could conclude that Americans are more generous than Canadians, a view at odds with Canadian self-perception. I suggest that our belief that the government can and should take care of so much (that is: socialism) is at least as important a factor.

In the end these points all revolve around trying to understand ourselves as Canadians. We have embraced the concept of good government, that government has a responsibility to take care of its people. Perhaps a sense of entitlement is one way that this basic socialism coincides with the individualism that is also basic to our society.

Canadians have shown our good qualities in many arenas of our world. But there is a corresponding weakness to our relative courtesy and good neighbourliness (compared to brash Americans). We can be as self-centred as anyone, when we put our minds to it.

I do wonder if we will push back against the forces of radical individualism. We may yet do that. But then we will have to find out what really does bind us together. And in a nation of immigrants, even more intentionally immigrant than the USA, finding common ground is a difficult task.

1 comment:

KGMom said...

What an interesting correlation between giving and government services. Not sure what to make of it. In general, I am in favor of government programs that provide safety nets, especially for those who are marginalized.
The thing that bothers me most about the US approach to services like health care, etc. is its hap-hazardness. Some people get help, some people don't.
It has always struck me as almost hypocritical for people in the US to say--well, we wouldn't want our health care to be rationed, like it is in Canada. Of course, the response is--oh, but it is rationed in the US--by coverage or lack thereof.