Dear American Government,
Inevitably, over the years the conditions in America have shifted dramatically. Subsequently and unfortunately, our social contract reflects these changes that have become norms in our society. With a high population of unemployed citizens, low waged jobs, and inadequate support services, the security to most has been abandoned. Instead, our government has encouraged an economy that significantly serves the Elite few. The days of the government maintaining social order, reassuring our founding principles and values, and fighting towards the common interest of the people, are over. The state of our “nation” has returned to what Thomas Hobbes stated best, “solitary, nasty, brutish and short”. Surely, this is not what he, John Locke, and Jean Jacque Rousseau had in mind when arguing for contracts. The goal was to develop a system of order that would provide “the promise of American life”—the promise of opportunity coupled with responsibility for all ”. This goal still stands today. However, as Locke and Rousseau would argue it is time to bring the principles of justice and equality back. Using the social contract theories discussed in class, I will demonstrate how the American government has strayed far away from the vision of theorists aforementioned.
According the theories of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean Jacque Rousseau, following consent among individuals, a social contract is enacted with the purpose of protecting and ensuring a functional society. Such contract is seen in every aspect of modern civilization especially, through the establishment government, “the people unite to surrender some aspect of our freedom to an authority. The authority will guarantee life, property and to a certain extent liberty”. In more modern terms, as the demonstrated in democratic American government, citizens come together on Election Day to vote for government officials that will best represent and meet their needs. In return, they vow to obey and abide by the laws of our nation and elected officials. Sounds fair enough, right? Well the problem with this social contract isn’t the people; it’s more so with the government’s current inability uphold an aspect in their end of the contract.
As reported by the Center for America Progress, “four out of five Americans will experience at least one year of significant economic insecurity at some point during their working years—and half will experience three years or more”. With 9 million unemployed persons, a number families lack the income needed to cover life’s expenses, which lead them into poverty. In 2013, 45.3 million people were in poverty. 26.4 million of those people were between the ages of 18-64 while the other 14.7 million were children under the age of 18. While this may not seem like a problem required to be fixed by the government, indeed it is. The social contract between the citizens and government of America requires the government to protect families by promoting equal opportunities this includes decreasing poverty. Instead the government has increased inequality among the people, as the rich are only ones protected. From 1970 to 2009, “The bottom 20 percent of families saw their incomes decline by 7.4 percent, while the top 5 percent saw their real incomes rise by 72.7 percent”. This gap only continues to widen as the minimum wage becomes insufficient for basic standards of living.
While there are a number of government programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, and HeadStart aimed towards lowering disparities ineducation healthcare etc, the number of poor Americans still remains significantly high. It is important to note that it hasn’t always been this way. A history of success with the government’s social contract was best seen in eras of the Progressive and New Deal. During these times, government aid was at an all time high and employers offered high wages and benefits allowing America to escape the Great Depression. Over time however, the interest of big stakeholder and elite came before those of the workers and community-commonwealth.
To conclude, our current social contract has created chaos rather than fix it. The American people need a contract that is for the well being of everyone. Maybe a social contract that prompts the government to raise minimum wage or tax the elite more than the poor would work. That could be a start.
– Jessica Stephenson, Blog #4, Section #9