My three posts “Austerity is working?” I, II, and III have highlighted that there is an inherent injustice in our world today. And Ian (comments) tell us that even in economic terms austerity is not working. What is the solution?
I reminded us of the amazing and bloodless transition from an Apartheid regime to a Rainbow Nation that was led by Nelson Mandela. It worked because he managed to change the hearts and minds of the people to repent of and forgive past injustices, and be reconciled to one another. He changed the attitudes of the people of the nation of South Africa. He, Desmond Tutu and others reminded people that everyone, black or white, was equally valuable; not equal (as in identical) but Sons of the same Father. His vision was a nation which was a single community which treated everyone as a brother, irrespective of colour. Mandela changed the rules of the game – he change people’s attitudes.
Economics is about predicting the outcome of different actions and regulations. Predictions are based on the response of individuals to those actions educated by the response in similar situations in the past. The distribution of wealth shown in my earlier posts is a result of the initial distribution of wealth, economic rules and regulations, and people’s attitudes. As a simple formula:
Distribution of wealth today = Fn(Distribution yesterday, Economic Policies, Attitudes)
We have seen that the trend of today’s equation is to distribute the wealth more towards the rich. We have seen that most people would prefer a more even (but not uniform) distribution.
But it seems that the only variable in the equation above that anyone advocates changing is Economic Policies. Whether someone is an extreme capitalist or extreme socialist, focus is on tax and spending regulations and regimes – about different Economic Policies.
But what about Attitudes?
I recall a radio interview with one of Margaret Thatcher’s colleagues or friends, asking how she reconciled her hard economic policies with her Christian beliefs. The reply was that privately she looked to charity to ease the discomfort of those who suffered. But of course it would have been impossible for her, or the tough government to tell the nation to be charitable, it would reek of hypocrisy. Instead, her government and policies changed attitudes in that they gave individuals permission to be selfish and greedy – echoed today in Boris Johnson’s speech headlined “Boris Johnson invokes Thatcher spirit with greed is good speech”.
Ian made another comment, that in today’s South Africa there is an “endemic entitlement mentality including laziness, victim mentality, and bitterness that redistribution has not brought what the poor expected”
From these two example. at either end of the wealth spectrum, attitudes focus on self-interest. Such attitudes might be justified by comments like: “It’s not my job to care about anyone else – that’s the government’s responsibility” or “It’s the government’s responsibility to give me a job – it’s my right, I shouldn’t have to suffer”.
In the past humans lived in groups and tribes where everyone knew each other and everyone looked out for each other. People lived in communities and all felt responsible for the good of the community as a whole. There were expectations on individuals to contribute to the community and to help each other if they found someone in need. Relationships were considered important (you had to live with each other after a dispute) and everyone pulled together to make the community work.
Today we live in states where (generalising) we look to the government to look out for others. We don’t really care about the community as a whole so long as we are alright. Relationships matter less because we can always move somewhere else if we fall out with our neighbours, move jobs if we fall out with our boss, and change partners if we fall out with our partner. Our role in and value to society is as a ‘consumer’, and policies focus on giving the consumer what he wants. We have expectations of our government, and having paid our taxes we don’t really see that we should do anything more to help them. As long as we as individuals are comfortable we see no need to do so. We have abdicated our social responsibility to the state.
I think it is time to take it back.
Our attitude needs to change from that of selfish individual consumer. We need to become once again a member of a community, a member of society who feels responsible for society as a whole.
We need to change our expectations of ourselves and others to do what we can to help each other. We need to embrace the attitude of “what can I contribute” and respond according to our abilities. In such a climate we would see for instance Mr Cameron the individual behaving as if we are indeed “all in this together” and using his personal fortune to benefit others. We would see those who are on state benefits asking what they can do to contribute to society – and being given opportunities to contribute.
We need to value each person equally and encourage each to grow to fulfil their potential. Love has been defined as exerting oneself for the well-being of others. We need to love more – achieved by looking outwards. Oswald Chambers said that ‘Self-pity is of the devil”. Self-pity in difficult circumstances leads to bitterness and a victim mentality. Self-pity in comfortable circumstances prevents doing what is right for fear of our own needs in the future.
This new attitude is not completely absent from society (see links at the bottom), but it is rarely promoted and needs boldness and courage because it is so counter cultural. But let’s all be part of the revolution. A revolution in attitudes rather than government. A revolution that says “we are all going to make our society healthy …. Starting with me!” A revolution that calls us to “love one another as we love ourselves”.
So where can we start?
Take a look around and ask “what could I do to help?” “How can I spend my time better?” “How can I spend my money better?” “Who can I help who is struggling?” “Can I be doing something more valuable than watching TV?” There are so many possibilities. Can I help a young person contribute to society and earn some money? What organisations or charities could I help? Can I mentor someone? Can I visit a lonely old person, or pay their heating bills? Now I’m retired, what can I volunteer to help with? Since I have no time with my busy job, can I support important work financially?
But also, encourage others to do the same. When our friends grumble at the government for this or that, challenge them to think differently and take back some personal responsibility. We need to give each other permission to help society, to expect it rather than be surprised by it. We all need to change mindsets. We need to spread the word!
And of course we need to let the government – our representatives know what we want them to truly represent. We need to let them know what sort of economy we want, but we also need to demonstrate that we are ready to contribute too.
So, we are not helpless observers. Each one of us can make a difference. Let’s try.
Here as promised are some links which show some of what is happening already:
In Britain, philanthropy is more dependent than ever on the generosity of the wealthiest, with the richest 1,000 taking a growing, active and more public role in charitable giving. Even as the latest UK Giving report showed a 20% fall in real terms in the amount the public gave to charity last year, the new Sunday Times Giving List survey showed a more than 20% increase in giving by the wealthy elite. http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/business/BusinessRichList/article1246509.ece
And finally, for encouragement, some quotes from one who claimed to speak for God:
“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”
“Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
“Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.”
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy …. for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat and drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?”
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?… You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and they you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”