“You’re supposed to have slightly less than one-fifth of your population in families producing children,” the man with the beard and rings said, “and at the same time, slightly over a fifth of your population is frozen on welfare…” Then he nodded and made a knowing sound with m’s that seemed so absurd Bron wondered, looking at the colored stones at his ears and knuckles, if he was mentally retarded.
“Well, first,” Sam said from down the table, “there’s very little overlap between those fifths—less than a percent. Second, because credit on basic food, basic shelter, and limited transport is automatic—if you don’t have labor credit, your tokens automatically and immediately put it on the state bill—we don’t support the huge, social service organizations of investigators, interviewers, office organizers, and administrators that are the main expense of your various welfare services here.” (Bron noted even Sam’s inexhaustible affability had developed a bright edge.) “Our very efficient system costs one-tenth per person to support as your cheapest, national, inefficient and totally inadequate system here. Our only costs for housing and feeding a person on welfare is the cost of the food and rent itself, which is kept track of against the state’s credit by the same computer system that keeps track of everyone else’s purchases against his or her own labor credit. In the Satellites, it actually costs minimally less to feed and ouse a person on welfare than it does to feed and house someone living at the same credit standard who’s working, because the bookkeeping is minimally less complicated. Here, with all the hidden charges, it costs from three to ten times more. Also, we have a far higher rotation of people on welfare than Luna has, or either of the sovereign worlds. Our welfare isn’t a social class who are born on it, live on it, and die on it, reproducing half the next welfare generation along the way. Practically everyone spends some time on it. And hardly anyone more than a few years. Our people on welfare live in the same co-ops as everyone else, not separate, economic ghettos. Practically nobody’s going to have children while they’re on it. The whole thing has such a different social value, weaves into the fabric of our society in such a different way, is essentially such a different process, you can’t really call it the same thing as you have here.”
“Oh, I can.” The man fingered a gemmed ear. “Once I spent a month on Galileo; and I was on it!” But he laughed, which seemed like an efficient enough way to halt a subject made unpleasant by the demands of that insistent, earthie ignorance.
—Samuel R. Delany, Trouble on Triton
Triton broke my brain more than any other book I ever read as a kid: I saw things differently after I read it—politics, sexuality, protagonists, sf. I read differently after I read it. And part of it was the thorny, prickly, problematic, nonexistent government of Triton and all the other Satellites, where you’re free to live under whatever system you want to vote for, or squat in the unlicensed free zones of whatever city you like—but behind it all that immutable, implacable, eminently sensible hand that invisibly takes what each might provide and in turn provides what each might need, but that also enables its agents to speak of “a” state and “a” system and to wage war on its behalf let’s not forget.
But it’s this idea of welfare, this road-not-taken over on the other side of the gulch from years of Reagan-Bush-Clinton, this road we might never have been able to take, but is nonetheless so dam’ sensible, where everyone’s given a hand up when they’re setting out regardless of etc. (and where everyone’s a stakeholder, and thus the system’s as untouchable as Social Security)—it’s this that came to mind when I read about a recent appearance on Glenn Beck’s medicine show by the Incredible paterfamilias himself, Craig T. Nelson, who in the course of a rant on how he’s sick of paying taxes for things that do not benefit him by God, said the following—
I’ve been on food stamps and welfare. Did anybody help me out? No!
It’s becoming clear that the question that will define the early 21st century is this: can the white man create a sense of entitled privilege so large even he can see it?
All signs point to no.