Do you ever wonder what would happen to certain individuals if there were no government socialized programs? I, like many people who have loved ones in need, worry about it all the time.

My oldest brother is severely autistic. He cannot speak or write, is legally blind and can’t be left alone for any amount of time for fear he may do harm to himself. In a truly capitalist, free-market society there is no place for my brother. He cannot work, he cannot live on his own — he could not survive. Without socialized medicine and support systems, what would happen to him?

My brother lived at home all his life, until a tragic accident left my mother dead and my father disabled. Unfortunately, my siblings and I weren’t in a position to quit our jobs to provide the full-time care he needed. My parents could never bear the thought of him being placed in an institution. Thankfully, that was a scenario our family never had to consider. My brother was placed in a small group home where he has continued to receive amazing care and support.

His care is subsidized by the government. No single charity (let alone a modest personal income) could ever provide the services, medical assistance and constant supervision that he receives. This is a form of socialism. Is it frivolous? Is it wrong? Many people speak out against the “evils of socialism.” But do they support services like those that help my brother?

Most people I know consider themselves capitalist, or are, at the very least, supportive of a capitalist system. I am one of them. I work, live and play in a capitalist society. But I also recognize that capitalism has limits regarding how to care for certain members of society. Caring for those who can’t care for themselves requires compassion. It requires a society that looks beyond greed and productivity and considers the value of human life. Unfortunately, a society that relies solely on capitalism rarely prioritizes those in need.

Thankfully, our nation is a hybrid of capitalism and socialism and, like many democratic nations, we’ve established safety nets and social mechanisms intended to protect our most vulnerable.

Even with government subsidized programs and other available social services, are we truly providing for the mentally and physically disabled, the elderly and those with special needs?

In my opinion, these are forgotten souls who are failed by our society.

Why do I say this? First, the people who care for my brother and others like him are woefully underpaid. They are not alone. Medical and support staff in nursing homes and mental care facilities, home health care workers and school aides get paid a fraction of what nurses and teachers earn. Low salary and limited benefits for these direct service workers mean high turnover. That degree of inconsistency can be extremely disruptive and damaging to the clients (like those suffering with autism) that they serve.

Also, families must often jump through hoops, complete reams of paperwork and navigate complicated bureaucracies to get the help they need. Funding for these programs is held hostage by politicians who lack understanding of vulnerable populations, and is sometimes cut or eliminated, leaving service providers to turn away families and individuals.

We need to invest more to care for people who can’t speak out for themselves. But we also must think beyond the constraints of a free-market, capitalist system in which we measure worth by productivity and profit. If we lived in such a rigid system, as some propose, people like my brother would be labeled a drain on society.

In these times, the mere mention of socialism (or more accurately, social responsibility) is often met with hostility and resistance. But do people really know what they are opposing?

I would ask that the next time you are considering society’s moral responsibilities and the efficacy of socialized programs to ask yourself this simple question: “Do you want to be a member of an empathetic nation which accepts the obligation to care for people like my brother, the elderly, the sick and the disabled?” There’s nothing wrong with answering yes to this question. It simply demonstrates your compassion and humanity.

Faraguna is a founding member of Susquehanna Valley Progress.

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