April 23rd, 2021

Laying It Out: Better together (and cheaper, too)

By Medicine Hat News Opinion on March 20, 2021.

We don’t have to know each other to share the same goals, and we don’t have to like each other to work together to achieve them.

That’s an important aspect for understanding the benefits of collective prosperity – it doesn’t have to clash with our inherent selfishness.

We often describe selfish behaviour as problematic, and we all know ways that can be true, but the fact is we wouldn’t live very long without a built-in drive for self preservation. It doesn’t mean we don’t and won’t perform selfless acts, but we are biologically programmed to stay alive, and that means ensuring our own safety and security.

Of course, our species quickly learned we couldn’t actually have either without the help of others, so we formed packs to stay alive. Just because technology allowed us to build towering cities to house us in the millions, and just because our evolving intelligence took us to the top of the food chain, doesn’t mean we aren’t the pack animals we’ve always been.

We live like predators in 2021 but make no mistake, our species is meant to be prey. And that, at its core, is why we need each other to survive.

Our personal survival is dependent on the pack’s ability to provide the required safety and security, and nothing we build or invent will change that. At best, we’ve used technological advancement to mask it, yet all we needed to unveil the facade was a global pandemic and a daily reminder that the health and safety of the person next to us directly affects our own.

But collective prosperity is so much more than avoiding disease, and if we can see the effects a natural virus can have, and how the threatened collective is clearly also the threatened individual, why not do the same with other threats like, say, poverty and inequality?

Whether you live on the street or in a gated community, you can’t leave the block without seeing or experiencing the effects of our inherently unequal system. I’ve said this multiple times but it cannot be stressed enough: A system of pure competition creates inequality because it literally has nowhere else to go.

And since the ‘haves’ still need the ‘have-nots’ to survive, it’s imperative we ensure the have-nots have what they need.

This isn’t about whether one should be rewarded for hard work or smart choices, as we can all grasp the concept of earning our keep or being a responsible person. If you bust your butt, you deserve reward.

But if the person next to you doesn’t have the necessities of life, no amount of personal effort can keep that from affecting you. We (somewhat) figured that out with needs like health care, education, or infrastructure – which we’ve all agreed to collectively provide – but we stopped short of doing that with so many other essentials, such as food, or water, or shelter, or childcare, or heat, or power, etc.

In our system, whatever isn’t provided by the collective has to be competed for, and in order to exist within that system, we as individuals must compete for the money needed to pay for those things. But by competing for essentials some of us will lose, and those that lose the competition miss out on essentials, which we know is bad for all of us.

In today’s terms, we call the ability to provide basic needs a “living wage,” and no matter how you feel about a minimum wage (Alberta’s is the highest in North America), nearly every Albertan resides where required income is significantly higher than the minimum available.

And when significant portions of society aren’t making a living wage, we end up creating services to provide those necessities anyway, which (by a long shot) are more expensive in the long run. We know for a fact collective health care is cheaper (and healthier), and we know for a fact that a healthy neighbour increases an individual’s chances of being healthy.

The same can be said for income. More money in our neighbour’s pocket means more purchasing power for the collective, and a wealthier collective means more money in the economy to draw from.

Most business owners are fully aware that survival depends on their customer’s purchasing power, and considering more than half our entire economy is citizens simply spending their money, its existence depends on the wealth of the collective.

But, the key to understanding where this falters lies in the areas of our economy where individual businesses or corporations benefit no matter what. In our society, those are almost always the ones profiting off the essentials.

You’re not struggling to pay a living wage at your restaurant, bar or bath-bomb store because providing one is unfair. You’re struggling because most of our income is already used up paying for not just the necessities of life, but also the mass profits required by those who provide them.

If we provided more essentials as a group we’d lower the costs of a living wage through nothing more than lowering the cost of being alive. And, once again, the security of the individual benefits from the collective – it always does.

Being a collectivist doesn’t have to mean caring about a stranger’s survival above your own. It’s almost never true.

All it really means is knowing the best for everyone else is a lot better for you. It’s no coincidence the ones trying to stop us from realizing it are the ones who exploit the collective need in order to no longer need the collective.

A collective provision of essentials would remove them from the equation, and thanks to the system they’re so desperate to protect, they just happen to be highly outnumbered.

Scott Schmidt is the layout editor for the Medicine Hat News. He can be reached at sschmidt@medicinehatnews.com

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