There is no wealth like the commonwealth: none of us are rich unless we share a culture that lets us be rich; investing more money in public transportation isn’t good just for those who use public transportation, it’s good for everybody. Yet surely taxing everybody for something only some people use is unfair? What about those who have well-paying jobs and can afford their own transportation? Why should they be taxed to pay to help those who have lesser paying jobs or no jobs at all? Surely that is not a form of capitalism, but some form of socialism? How is it in the interest of the middle class and rich to invest their money into community projects such as public transportation (see public transportation in Bend, Oregon)? Is it not an attack on our freedom when we tax one group of people to support the interests of another group? This is not the case, but even in an economy that primarily operates on capitalistic principles, the personal freedom of democracy is only enhanced by increasing the commonwealth, and the “body” of mankind, when it is properly healthy, enriches the wealthiest as well as the poorest, and in particular, by helping the poorer people in society, the richer can avoid crime and class dissidence that would otherwise threaten their sense of well-being.
We live, after all, in a democracy, and since the “demos” or the people make the laws and vote on policy, there has been a longstanding tradition that we are all owed a universal education, that all American citizens should be made literate, and at the public expense. The aggrandizement of the private citizen is a public duty. This means more than making sure underprivileged children learn to read and write, but it carries over to the mobility of adults, not only those who might want to use the bus or subway for matters of convenience but because they are too poor to afford other forms of transportation. Granting all citizens this power ennobles them to further be what they, in fact, are: citizens equal before the law, and equal to the richest in determining public policy. That was why Benjamin Franklin invented the public library, and why Ralph Waldo Emerson praised cities that gave even the beggar streets to walk on and equal protection under the law. A democracy is not only a group of individuals but a collective, a body working together.
A healthy body is more than sharp eyes and powerful hands to do their duty. The entire body must be kept healthy. Though we might give special attention to the part of the body we use on our job, there is a baseline level of health expected for all body parts. In the same way, a society must have a baseline level of wealth for the middle class and upper class to rest secure in their place. After all, a rich person could go bankrupt and be for time poor. If poverty is so abject and bleak, he will not be able to pull himself back up to riches. Further, if his relatives are poor and there are no public systems to help with this, he will be called by his conscience to bail out his relatives and thus will lose autonomy to run his business or otherwise pursue his purposes and desires. Finally, we must not underestimate the depressive effect of living in a city of squalor despite owning a personal palace: our home is more than the walls around us, but extends to our whole city. People like blood must circulate and come into contact with each other if they are to enrich each other. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It takes a great many cultivated woman – saloons of a bright, elegant, reading woman accustomed to ease and refinement, to spectacles, to pictures, sculpture, poetry, and to elegant society, in order that you should have on Madame de Stael.” Emerson’s many great women must come into contact, must have a shared platform so they can meet. Not only will this make for interesting collisions, but it will make people generally happier. If the public has transportation, the general morale of the city will be higher, and this will influence everybody who passes through the city.
In fact, if the poor are empowered to work jobs or otherwise have their purposes and desires allowed, through having transportation, this will reduce feelings of resentment and desperation, and thus cut crime rates. As Dr. Johnson once said, “men are seldom more innocently employed than when they are making money.” The better that life is for those doing worst in society, the better it is for everybody else because their words and behaviors affect everybody else. If anybody suffers, those around them likewise will suffer. Offering public transportation for whoever wants it, the rich as well as the poor, makes life better for everybody, even those who do not use it. It will render the city a better city to live in, clear-up freeway congestion, and businesses and people will want to join a city that has high morale and makes them feel comfortable to walk the streets.
In society, what’s good for the public is good for everybody. We do not live in a world where every man is an island, each woman out for herself, but we are connected. Since we are all equal contributors to this democracy, and since we relate to each other as an organic body, and since raising the quality of life for all reduces crime rates, such an investment as raising taxes to fund public transportation is good not just for some people, but for all people. Loving your neighbor as yourself and giving to the poor doesn’t need to mean giving bare alms; it can mean investing in public programs that help everybody all together.
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