Moral guides that make sense on a personal and small group level completely break down on the national level.

The Good Samaritan is indeed a wonderful example of neighborly care. I wonder if I would meet the challenge of caring for a wounded victim, even though he’s not a member of my tribe.

Now, putting myself in the position of the Good Samaritan: the robbery and assault victim is right there in front of me. I can see the suffering, and i know with compassion I can widen my neighborly circle and give this stranger my cloak. I don’t want to give up my cloak, but on the other hand it might feel satisfying to help this person.

But at the national level, the real parable is the prosperous bureaucrat flagging me down in the street saying that he’s heard of some people who need care. If I ask for details, quite often the explanation is that there’s a group of people that seem to be suffering some unease because of various childhood traumas, and the bureaucrat just happens to know some professional therapists who might be able to help. There’s also some newly patented (and quite expensive) medication that has shown some promise. After all, as a citizen of the nation it’s my obligation to pay for anyone’s stated need for “mental health’ treatment. No one should suffer anxiety if there’s a therapist available whose paid by someone else. I start to ask for some details about these people — how much are they really suffering? The bureaucrat crisply tells me that’s way above my pay grade — that bureaucrats and therapists are the best judges of what’s needed here. Just leave it to the professionals. I probably fork over the money, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m being scammed

I don’t need to tell you where this is going. At the national level, there’s all sorts of friction and rent-seeking. All social institutions — whether it’s America’s health system or Britain’s NHS — are completely self-serving. Compassion is a personal imperative. The Good Samaritan is a moral exemplar because he gave to someone who has no reciprocal obligation — that’s what makes him noble. There’s no such thing as a noble national institution.

Retired software developer, husband, father. Student of history. Met Fan

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