We used this principle in the case of the epidemic, so why not apply it to our economy as well?
A buddy brought up the line from the song All My Trials a few weeks ago, “If living were something that money could purchase / The rich would live and the poor would die.” which they naturally do. It’s unclear how many avoidable deaths will be caused by this winter’s deadly mix of extreme cold and skyrocketing energy prices, but it doesn’t take a degree in economics to realize that the statistics will favor those without options and resources.
In addition to the fact that financial uncertainty makes it impossible to celebrate, plan for your children, or give gifts to the people you care about, it also makes these activities horrifyingly difficult. When decisions are solely focused on ensuring survival, living with any richness or creativity recedes into the distance. Who suffers from hunger—you or your child? How many jobs can you handle without endangering your physical and mental health to feed the family?
The “expense” of life would be essentially imperceptible in a society where everyone’s security was prioritized. We might take for granted the transaction patterns and structures that keep us alive, such as labor, pay, and welfare. People wouldn’t have to continuously assess how much “living” they could afford because of the innate and intuitive concern for one another’s safety that binds cohesive communities together.
A “cost of living” crisis is a symptom that something fundamental in our conception of society has gone wrong. The underlying presumption that we should be able to trust one another to maintain our security is being questioned when “living” turns into a commodity that some people can buy and others cannot. We are being persuaded to believe that the fundamental human role is that of an individual consumer, getting attractive products, rather than one who contributes to the establishment of a reliable social network, dependable enough to encourage more individuals to become active and generous contributors.
Not all people who repeat “development” as the panacea do it out of fanatical ideological conviction. Some see it as a way to encourage consumers to become more engaged citizens. However, the processes by which growth might be deployed in support of our common security seem to vanish from view when it is presented to us as a self-evident goal. Risk is what “trickles down,” not revenue.
There have been numerous sobering reminders of this during the past 15 years. The 2008 financial crisis highlighted the reality that society paid a higher price for profit-driven risk-taking in the financial sectors than did the well-heeled risk-takers. The pandemic demonstrated that individuals who supplied the safety nets of expertise and care in the face of a global catastrophe were among the employees in the community who were paid the least correctly (I pass over the disgracefulness of those whose priority was to make profits from the marketing of defective or unsuitable medical equipment). And so, once again, we must consider how to create a society in which its members can feel certain that they won’t always be expected to foot the bill for other people’s greed, carelessness, or foolishness.
The cost of living crisis is a case of costs being transferred from the powerful to the weak – from ambitious speculators, market fundamentalists (in and out of government), bare profiteers, and, in the past horrifying 10 months of the war in Ukraine, foreign dictators – to a population that has been aggressively pushed into debt, housing, food, and energy poverty, and precarious working conditions. It shows that we have forgotten the “covenantal” nature of community once more. No one is secure unless everyone is safe, it was said often enough during the pandemic. Have we truly not realized that this is true for both our financial and physical well-being?
The decrease in Christian practice and belief in the UK has received a lot of attention. The Christian and Jewish models of a community in which each person is responsible for all and where costs are not automatically passed from affluent to poor make moral and practical sense, though, if roughly half of England and Wales’ population still identifies as Christian. The question of why we accept a social structure in which precariousness is distributed so inequitably is made even more difficult by the fact that many followers of different faiths would share the same fundamental belief in human interdependence.
According to Martin Luther King, “the deepest force and pressure within all reality bends toward justice,” but not an abstract distributive justice, but rather to a loving, attentive, and generous valuation of each person that sets them free in turn for love, attention, and generosity. This is the story we heard during the carol services.
It is a tale of what life may be like for humans if we were to eventually give up our compulsive need to reduce everything and everyone to monetary calculations. All people could live freely if living were something that money could not buy. The underlying crisis is a failure to acknowledge reality. The true religious and moral shift is the forgetting of this.