what are people supposed to do? or, why we need socialism

As I read news stories, read blogs, skim headlines, one question keeps coming to my mind, over and over. What are people supposed to do?

Income insecurity

Wages have been slashed or have been stagnant for years. Corporations continue to eliminate jobs, forcing the survivors to work much harder for the same (or lower) salaries, while the unlucky into a job market that is more like an empty larder.

Jobs that were once full-time and included benefits have been transformed into part-time jobs or contract work, with lower pay, no benefits and no security.

Good jobs are scarce and getting scarcer all the time. We can't all work in retail. Those who manage to get themselves through university and beyond, hoping for more meaningful employment, are burdened with debt for decades.

For those unable to work or unable to find decent employment, social assistance is more difficult to access. For those who do qualify, it provides a level of support that cannot rightfully be called subsistence.

What are people supposed to do?

The higher and higher cost of living

While wages plummet or stagnate, everything costs more, seemingly every day - not only extras and luxuries, but the price of basic survival. Food, shelter, and fuel account for an increasing share of whatever income we have. Many people can't afford gas or public transit to even look for a job. Governments cut public services that are needed for meaningful participation in society, forcing more people into social exclusion, be it from lack of health care, child care, elder care, therapies, basic nutrition, or a decent public library.

And what about extras? What about recreation, leisure time, fun? Increasing numbers of people work two and three jobs to support their families, which means they have less time, patience, and energy to nurture those families and enjoy time together. Living a good life that includes leisure time should not be a luxury that only the wealthy can afford.

When wages are cut by 50%, what are people supposed to do? When the price of food and fuel is more than the family's budget, what are people supposed to do?

This is not an act of god

The condition we find ourselves in is not inevitable. It is not found in nature, not part of some biological or geological system that cannot be altered. These stressful conditions are the product of a system made by humans, and that system is called global capitalism.

When a condition exists all around us from the moment of our birth and is never questioned - when we are not taught that there are alternatives - and when those who do teach alternatives are marginalized - we tend to think that the condition is inevitable. This describes many aspects of our lives. Gender roles. Up until very recently (and still in many places), heterosexuality. The naturalness and inevitability of war. And the naturalness of capitalism.

Ask why

Step back from a moment and think about this. Why should food be sold for profit? In Canada and other advanced nations, it is recognized that health care should not be a profit-making enterprise. If we have a universal right to health care, why don't we have a universal right to not be hungry? Why don't all people have all the food they require for themselves and their families?

Why should the cost of fuel include profit? Why should fuel, which all people need, be subject to speculation, investment and profit?

Why should the people who toil to produce wealth for others struggle for basic survival, while the people who design systems of speculation and profit reap fabulous riches?

Ask how

Why must we accept this system as inevitable? And when we begin to question this system, when we reject it, how can we begin to dismantle it and create an alternative system?

There is enough food to feed every person on this planet. There is enough human ingenuity and determination to halt and reverse climate change. There will always be people who want to make war, but there are many more people who want to end war. How can we achieve these goals?

I don't know the answers to these questions. But I want to discuss them with others who believe, as I do, that a better world is possible.

So then, what are people supposed to do? I don't know. I just know they can't do it alone.

That's why I'm attending Marxism 2012.


Richard said...

My response to this ended up being quite long so I just made a post out of it on my own blog: http://canadiantrends.blogspot.ca/2012/04/this-response-is-important-enough-to-be.html

laura k said...

Apostrophe abuse!

Richard said...

hehe probably.. I'm a programmer, not a writer :)

Dharma Seeker said...

It's hard to for me to get my head around not for profit food because it's a source of pleasure, not only sustenance. Would we have to give up foods we enjoy? Where would the incentive be to create meals that people love to eat? Some ingredients are harder to come by than others. How would it work?

Dharma Seeker said...

I know you said you don't have all the answers, I'm just puzzled.

laura k said...

Well, one way we could conceive of it would be similar to our Canadian health care system. Basic necessities are free of profit and open to all, but extras - elective surgeries, eg - are paid for out of pocket. Perhaps basic groceries, nutrition for the whole family, enough so that there is no hunger or malnutrition, would be profit-free. But you could still run a restaurant, and people could still pay to eat there.

That's one idea. There are other ways it could work.

I do not believe that the only incentive to create meals that are delicious and fun is large amounts of monetary profit. Doctors in Canada do not become incredibly wealthy like many doctors in the US, but they still become doctors.

Joe Gravellese said...

^ and still produce very good health care outcomes. Better than those in the US, for the average citizen.

laura k said...

Thanks for that, Joe. I sometimes forget that USian readers might not realize that.

Dharma Seeker said...

We have a shortage of doctors in Ontario, and have for many, many years. I think that speaks to the fact that many health care providers care about profit/wealth very much. It's not the only reason to be sure but inadequate financial incentives are surely part of it.

laura k said...

Be that as it may, we do have doctors in Canada, and lots of them. They are not paid poverty wages. They earn decent livings. And doctors who want to provide more elective/luxury services outside the system are free to do so.

My point was that providing all people with basic nutrition through a not-for-profit mechanism would not prevent those motivated to prepare and sell more "luxury" (non-basic) food from doing so.

Again, these are just thoughts. There could be a task force of interested people and experts to brainstorm ways in which a non-profit food system might be used to eliminate hunger in Canada. This would not effect the preparation and sale of other types of food.

Dharma Seeker said...

I think that would be wonderful. One thing that really bothers me is that healthy foods are so inaccessible to low income families and food bank users. Fresh produce is cost prohibitive for example. If more people had access to healthful foods it would almost certainly result in savings on the health care side of things.