Sunday, September 11, 2011
Roots III - The Provider
Motto: 'Ohana means family - no one gets left behind, and no one is ever forgotten. ~Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, Lilo & Stitch
Today I will stop upon another of the root causes that I see for the current crisis. Just to connect with the first two parts, I will remind you that the “roots series” were triggered by my desire to write down some ideas that started to insinuate inside my brain (and soul) in connection to the current crisis. To be more specific, I feel that the crisis we are experiencing these days is not purely financial or economical, social or political. My perception is that current effects in those spheres are actually consequences of an older and deeper-rooted problem, and that is the misunderstanding and misuse of the basic human rights and strange evolution of perception regarding tolerance – how it is and how it should be in a functional world. I would add to the tolerance episode one thing which I did not point out last time - that the public pretence is even worse than manifested intolerance, as it encourages the growth of internally repressed discontent.
Today I am going to approach another effect: the so-called sovereign crisis. In short: one country after another unveils its disability to support future spending (even thou already committed as per the social protection systems in place). It is highly likely that past governments created an over indebtedness in the last years (in Europe, the so-called peripheral economies, especially since creation of the Euro zone). Still, there are more and more voices outlining that the other countries will not be spared of this crisis in the future, as the social protection systems that have been created in the modern years are not sustainable on the long term and should be drastically revised.
Accidentaly I run into this opinion the other day; the idea is partially contested because of the fraud element in the Ponzi idea; however the understanding of the unsustainability of the model is what should really count.
Therefore, it looks like we should not consider that sovereign crisis is linked to potential failure of certain type of state systems - be it liberal (capitalist and/or market-driven) or controlled (communist or religious-driven); it is also not necessarily connected only to the local culture, working environment and efficiency, saving and spending habits.
I go back to the initial issue that triggered the “roots series”: the contemporary human rights. Sometime after the WW2, the basic human rights were significantly enlarged in all areas, one direction being the economic, social and cultural rights ( see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_social_security ). Since then, the population increased significantly in numbers, the work efficiency increased in line with scientific and industrial progress, life expectation is significantly longer. At the same time, health care and education have become more and more expensive, while local and international migration (to the industrial areas, respectively to the most developed countries) is a growing phenomenon. Also during elections period, every party uses social tools to gain votes, therefore the systems grow more and more generous every 4 years. It does not take a genius in mathematics to conclude that the system was deemed to overheat. Every year the budgeting process reveals higher spending need, while the revenue part does not have the same dynamic. For a while, the debt solution seemed cheap and reasonable, however on the long-term this also will eventually turn into a vicious spiral.
This does not stop here. We have on the one hand the beneficiary of the human right – if someone cannot support oneself from own revenues, the State will ensure ‘an adequate standard of living’ (decent housing, health services, daily meal). On the other hand we have the supplier for the human right, respectively the contributor – from own revenues, he must share with the other (usually called ‘the underdog’). There is State support for raising kids, for the unemployed, for the retired, for the disabled etc. And every year the budgets have to be designed and the revenues identified for supporting such system. To this picture, we must add also the resourcefulness of the human kind in terms of finding the easiest way for survival; we should remember Darwin, as his theory applies perfectly to today’s life. People migrate from weaker social systems to stronger ones and make use of the best features. Therefore, the predictability power of those systems is further weakened by variables which they could not foresee or could not dimension properly.
As a consequence of all the above, the most developed countries have quite high (and continuously growing) tax burdens. The so-called emerging and under-developed countries have lower taxes but high (and continuously growing) debt. Who is granting those loans? You may have one guess… that means that when (not ‘if’, but ‘when’!) something will go wrong with the reimbursement, the tax burden in the creditor countries will be increased again. Is this sustainable? Is this fair and reasonable? Was this the purpose of extending the human rights? I must say I do not have an answer to any of those questions.
So, the question should be now: what can we do? Is there still a window of opportunity for real change?
Do not get me wrong: I fully understand the noble purpose of the social systems, however let’s make a thinking exercise: how did people survive before those systems were created? How do people survive today in those countries that do not have the same understanding and rules about human rights as those existing in the developed and civilized countries?
My answer to that question would be simple: family and community. The family is the provider for its children, unemployed, disabled and old (retired) members. The family decides which are offered the opportunity to get proper education and provide higher income; which will stay home and provide hard labor and basic education for the other children; the family will not leave its disabled and old people unprotected, as it has also a community image to protect; the community would support the established, honest and trustworthy families through their time of hardship.
This is how the society used to work. The family balanced the budget and protected its microclimate in order to provide for its members. One step higher, the community did that when the family was in crisis. The State did provide also, but for those categories of people who ‘advanced’ some notable service to the State in return (military, government, legislative, regulatory etc.), more precisely there were pensions however not for everybody. In case you provided a service for the State, then the State provided protection for you in return. No service, no return. You provided only for your family, and then the family was the one providing for you in your older age.
Nowadays people are independent and individualist. Family lost its place in the economy of human life cycle partially because now there is a bigger Provider. The evolution of human rights encouraged that very much. My host on Ego Out (Peter) says that the most predominant religion these days is the one he called ‘Moneyteism’. I fully agree with him.
The most predominant idea in our youngsters’ minds is that commitment and family is old-fashioned. They live the moment, love in succesive intense episodes, then believe they will not need anyone when they will be old and sick. Some even cannot imagine themselves being old and sick, probably also because their old and sick part of the family is comfortably being provided for by some specialized institution. They cannot learn from their wisdom because they do not spend time together. The little children get on their nerves or in the best case scenario just bore them to death.
I found a nice quote about this today: ‘the lack of emotional security of our American young people is due, I believe, to their isolation from the larger family unit. No two people - no mere father and mother - as I have often said, are enough to provide emotional security for a child. He needs to feel himself one in a world of kinfolk, persons of variety in age and temperament, and yet allied to himself by an indissoluble bond which he cannot break if he could, for nature has welded him into it before he was born.’ - Pearl S. Buck
All this happens because our youngsters believe money can buy anything. And there are so many things that can be bought with money! But at the same time so many that cannot!... Let’s take the classic example of a nasty cold – get a handful of medicine or a pre-packed soup, make some tea and drink it, then get into your bed and suffer for some days. Of course the whole package tastes differently if the soup is made with love and actual boiled meat, if the tea is stirred by someone who is actually concerned and so on. Probably people realize for a moment that being sick and alone is not the best combination, but after that they get back in the saddle and spend their time to gain more money and the vicious cycle is resumed.
In the end, the only question that they should ask themselves is if there will be indeed a Provider for their old age. And if they choose the State for that, they should understand that it is a Moneyteism choice – the State does not stir the tea or boil the chicken, does not hug you and does not tell you that you are FAMILY no matter how old, how sick and how grumpy.
One more thing: I focused mainly on the money today; however the same idea applies evenly to education. We rely too much on the State for exclusively providing the education to our children, instead of understanding how much we need to contribute to this ourselves. We promote the role of women in business and politics, sometime publicly point accusatory fingers towards the Western European world that they do not have enough representation of women, that they do not encourage careers for them. Still, if this is done by own free will of those women (and I believe it is), it should not be considered discrimination and should not be changed. I admire very much those women who recognize the need for reviving motherhood and exercise that special role of women in developing strong families and healthy education to their children. We should encourage that instead of interfering with it.
As I always plead for moderate ways, I would say that what we should be doing right now is to reshape the whole social system thinking. I would not say we need to cut it completely, but resize and redefine its purpose, as well as the general paradigm of primary Provider and ‘last-resource’ Provider.
So, I will wrap this up, as I got lost into writing and it came out very long today. What would be then my main message? Let’s look at this crisis just like Japanese do: name it opportunity and change our ways. It may be too late for preserving a way of living, but it is surely not too late for re-shaping our living, in a different way.