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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Profit Isn't Everything

The West sees that prosperity is the answer to all problems.  Duh.  We just need to sell that idea to everyone else.

I hear this argument all the time from friends with a libertarian bent; money is everything.  If you have no unions or collective to back you, you're free to make your own choices.  If there's no social safety net or unions to fetter the market, people will be free to go out and get real jobs; the net restricts them from realizing their full potential.  Competition between employers and employees will provide the right tension that will see prosperity fill the pockets of everyone. 

No wait, scratch that - it's money and free choice, not competition, that is the root of all that is good.  If people were forced to think about every piece of minutiae themselves, then they would not just get money, but use it entirely wisely.  Everyone would automatically know to get the right insurances in case of home fires or physical accidents and if they should ever have children or parents with significant special needs, these employees will have become so valuable independently that employers will compete with each other over benefits packages to support those loved ones.  Or, the employees will have enough money to pay for whatever services are needed.  Funny how people who don't believe in handouts still line up for them when they're in need.  They're lucky there's a system in place to help them, but then again - that's how society works.

It's actually these libertarians who are the ones wearing rose-coloured glasses.

It seems to me that in their mind, sloth or crime are the products of socialism, resources are unlimited.  Nature is an inconvenience that can be resolved through financial planning alone.

Droughts, famines, floods?  The damage doesn't matter, if you're covered; if anything, you can buy food  and such from somewhere else.  Simple.  If there are criminals, well, you get rid of them - survival of the fittest.  Illness?  We can all buy our way to health - not that we'd want to support each other in the case of disease; it's up to the sick to plan for their own concerns.  Unfettered free markets and complete individual independence will solve everything.

Only, resources aren't unlimited; if you cut down all the trees in one geographic location - say, Eastern Island - then they don't grow back.  You can kill a civilization that way.  If you want to see what unfettered individual competition looks like, drive on the 401; people changing lanes without looking, riding bumpers, taking unnecessary risks without even realizing they're doing so because they're focused on themselves getting ahead and not minding the traffic.  Selfish driving behaviour is the number one cause of gridlock, but that behaviour is shaped by Western definitions of time pressures.  Time is money, etc, so you need to rush to get things done and with commute times, that becomes difficult.  How much productive time gets lost to commutes and gridlock?

Dan Gardner wrote a piece recently on culture where he referred to the success of Chinese immigrants and said there's a cultural element to that success.  He's not wrong on that - but does that culture focus on a profit motive?  A generalization, to be sure, but Chinese cultures place a greater emphasis on lineage, family and face - something we don't quite seem to get here in the West.  Face isn't about pride, because pride accepts no wrongs; if you can talk or buy your way out of a problem, then there's no problem.  Face includes shame - crippling shame that gets brought not only to oneself, but to one's family, school, etc. 

You could very easily argue, then, that the most "successful" cultures aren't focused on wealth-accumulation and therefore, aren't very free market.

In his piece, Solberg talks about the health crisis.  Huge problem, everyone talks about it, nobody knows how to solve it.  So let's just stop talking about it and move on?

The grand irony is, a lot of inspiration is being taken these days from the First Nations tradition of the medicine wheel; seeing the connections between body and mind (physical and mental health) and the need to look at problems holistically.  An emphasis is put on nurturing individual responsibility and collective support - so, what we have now, only more in-depth and less siloed.  In short, the opposite direction of where the free marketers think healthcare should go.

Which brings up another problem - what of those who don't want to choose unfettered capitalism?  What of those who freely choose a more holistic approach to society?  Should they be forced to adopt a Western model of prosperity?  Harper's already apologized for Residential Schools; surely he doesn't want to add his own chapter to the sad story of Western imperialism. 

The fact is, there are many ways to live and govern; free market capitalism is, much like communism, one system that can only work if everyone buys in and thinking along a certain line.  It'll never happen.  It's a paper system that can never hold.

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