One day, Anouk asked me why everything can't just be free? I said that people can't give their labor away because they need the money to live. She wisely pointed out that, if everything was free, people wouldn't need money at all. "What if some people took more than their share?" I asked. I tried to explain that we need currency to establish value for our time and our products to make sure our trades are fair. In six-year-old terms, of course.
But I was left wondering...
Because people DO take more than their share. CEOs of large companies often earn 300 times more than low-wage earners at said companies. Banks charge us 23% to loan money, but only pay us 2% to borrow it. So many people live in poverty while a few are unfathomably rich.
Every day, I hear reports on the recession. Today the Dow is up, tomorrow it is down. Sales are up. Employment is down. Occasionally, I hear a report that manufacturing is on the rise. I know this is supposed to make us happy, but I can't help imagining trees being felled for wood and paper, rocky slopes being mined for metals, more oil being used to make plastics, more PVC, more dioxins, and more for everyone to unwrap, use, and throw away.
We were not always a production-based economy. There has to be a way to flourish economically without always producing and growing. Granted, our populations continue to increase while resources decrease, so providing clothing and necessities for everyone seems to require manufacturing. But that simply isn't sustainable.
I keep hearing people complain that they don't care about healthcare and climate change right now. It's all about jobs. And I understand that when people are desperate they get tunnel vision. But without resources, the economy fails. I believe we are seeing this in action right now, and everyone is in denial. It just doesn't seem possible that we can have an economic recovery unless we shift our dependence away from manufacturing.
But what does that look like? I have grown up in a world that relies on houses being built, malls filled with shoppers, sweat shops, Walmarts, and growing cities to stimulate the economy. What if no one was trying to be a millionaire (or billionaire, as is so often the case now)? Maybe we could find a way to earn our money without building more and more cars, roads and skyscrapers. And there has to be a way to reduce environmental impact. We always need services: medical professionals, electricians, plumbers, mechanics, farmers, remodelers, artists, etc. It’s not that I wish job loss on all of the contractors and retailers out there. I don't know what the answer is, and I'm pretty sure our president doesn't know either.
That’s probably enough rambling about a subject about which I know very little. I am desperate to see other people begin to recognize that healthcare, environment, agriculture, trade policies, war; it’s all inherently tied to the health of our economy. The only way out is to make huge changes in our social structures, and I’m afraid the general population will not accept this until it is too late. Maybe Anouk and her generation will figure out how to return to a barter system.