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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.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Rant: RBC and Systems Theory

In other words - so long as the institutions remain competitive, the spoils will trickle down to the people in the system.  It's classic economic theory that assumes standard rules will be applied equally across a system.  The implication is that everyone both understands and is motivated to follow these rules to nurture a strong economic system.
This is just plain wrong.  Businesses that are seeking to be competitive aren't interested in helping laid off employees find new work - that's a frill that would distract from their main purpose, which is making money for their shareholders (with a fair bit landing in the pockets of their Executives, too).  They also aren't interested in helping 21st Century enterprises get their feet under them - they're looking for the sure wins, the proverbial low-hanging fruit.
Herein lies a paradox that keeps society moving in circles.  The political right feels proactive governance is cumbersome and leads to social engineering; they believe government needs to be small and focused solely on punishment to keep people functioning within the parameters of the system (the economy).  The assumption is that rational individuals will intuitively make the choices that are in their best short- and long-term interests; employers will be fair to employees who will see themselves as equal partners selling a valuable product, their labour, at a mutually recognized market value.
They say this at the exact same time that they have recognized we have a national mental health crisis that is in no small part being exacerbated by work cultures that don't empower individuals who themselves don't feel like they have control over their lives or their labour.  They say this while employing crass, manipulative ads in the context of staged political scenarios with the intent of tricking voters into giving them the results they want.
Tony Clement has done nothing to help transition Federal Employees being laid off - in fact, his casual attitude to yellow slips has exacerbated stress and related powerlessness among the employees he is responsible for, and this in spite of the fact he had a ready-made staff-transition strategy that just needed a bit of commitment on his part to enact.
RBC wasn't going to do anything for its casually dismissed employees, either, until they got caught; the bank sees no value in helping those who don't fit within their narrow mandate, even when they're employees.  Will RBC's wrist-slapping encourage other players engaging in callous foreign-service manipulations to see the light and change their practice?  No - they'll instead work extra hard at not getting caught.
Companies selling products or services aren't attempting to make rational cases as to why they have the best products - instead, they're employing increasingly clever marketing to force responses from consumers.  There's nothing natural about supply and demand - the demand is largely manufactured through psychological manipulation.
People aren't rational actors, plain and simple.  When everyone is encouraged to put their own interests first, tragedies of the commons result - tragedies which invariably impact some more than others.  Those predators who land at the top of the food chain can say they are entitled to their wealth and that if those at the bottom wanted more, they'd work for it - but that's delusional; not everyone is born with a shiv in hand, nor the fortune of supportive families or inherited wealth.  We can point to the odd rags-to-riches story to convince ourselves it is possible, but these stories are the exception, not the rule.
The classic economic system does work - but in the same way natural selection does.  Unless we're willing to kill off under performers or simply allow them to die, we will always have an obligation to think beyond our own selfish interests.  Given the real cost of social cancers like poverty, crime and epidemics, one would think that the so-called rational actors at the top would recognize the need to walk the walk when it comes to pro-social engagement, but they don't.  Instead they see their role as "keeping the system going", meaning making themselves money and staying competitive.  Somehow, the system is supposed to take care of the rest.
This leads to the notion of society having two tiers - rational actors who can and should compete on an equal playing field and those who are either criminals or incompetent; both need to be removed from the economy and taken care of separately.  Hence prisons and insane asylums.  But we're finding over time that many of those slotted into the "non-participant" category do have something to offer and can participate, given the right training and accommodation.  How many disabled people who would have been marginalized in the past are now able to offer more to the system?  How many people wear glasses or use hearing aids, or take medication for asthma, diabetes or mental illnesses?
We're trying to reduce a social system into an economic equation, putting a sphere into a square.  It can't work.  It's proven not to work. 
Until we stop stupidly telling ourselves that "the economy" is the only thing that matters, we won't even be able to recognize the broader system we're in.  If we're ever to nurture a social system that works for everyone, we need to spend more time considering social economics.
And if we aren't interested in fostering a system that works for everyone, we will continue to live with the baggage of those supposedly left behind.

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