Soon enough we’ll be entering into an economic period where we’ll be informed that we can no longer afford those things we believe important. Climate change, poverty, affordable housing, mental health, effective employment, post-secondary education, investments in home-grown businesses – these cost too much, we will be informed, and to create a competitive economy we must learn to let such aspirations go. Which is kind of funny, since Canada has more wealth running through than at any time in our history.
These aren’t merely aspirational desires but fundamental necessities for any modern society to flourish and to be told we can no longer afford them is both a lie and an insult. These are investments – down payments on our present capacity and our future promise for our children. To rip such things out of citizen vocabulary is to close a promise on a democracy that we supposedly cherish and still wish to live by.
There was a time when such things were seen as moral and ethical pursuits for both governments and economies alike. That was before the rationale of bottom-line economies transcended societal necessity and we’ve been falling farther behind ever since.
We’ve tossed “morality” aside as a word or even as a concept because it reminds us of a preachy kind of past when things like religion or dogmatism got too involved in telling us how to live. The trouble is that we have little to replace the term. We speak of ethics, corporate social responsibility, social justice – these are noble in themselves, but still lack the connection between misbehaving and punishment. That hesitancy has permitted economic decisions to be made that wreak havoc on the social order with no accountability. Economics has become increasingly about efficiency, supply and demand, and, above all, the profit margin instead of human good, environmental sustainability and public accountability.
We have permitted ourselves to sink into a kind of existence where morality has become passé just as our economics results in immoral behaviours and outcomes. How much longer will we just accept the imperatives of economic growth over the general welfare of society? Should we continue to tolerate a financial management style that maintains that the loss of good jobs is the price we must all accept if we want future prosperity?
We’ve been at this long enough now to discern that it’s not working out for us, or anybody else, except for the very few. It isn’t merely a trade-off between jobs and wealth, but rather what is best for humanity versus what is crushing it. In the end, it is only humanity that we hold that is our greatest possession.
It might be interesting to note that the term “moral” is working its way back into our language, largely because the damage created by our modern economies is harmful enough since it repeatedly crosses the line between what’s tolerable and what is simply wrong. Something that serious – a practice so pernicious that leaves such dysfunction in its wake – warrants an historic term upon which to be measured against. Moral or immoral fills that need.
A moral economy or an ethical financial architecture could never turn its back on the loss of jobs or place its own benefit over that of billions of others. Most vital of all, an economy linked to human and not just economic progress would recognize climate change for what it is: an all-too-common condition created by corporations and citizens alike. The action of voters electing immoral leaders in order to achieve moral outcomes can only end in chaos.
No political or financial leader should ever compel societies to sacrifice those things they value most – education, healthcare, ecological balance, desire for an affluent existence – in order to achieve economic benefit. Any other field of interest would term such an imposition as immoral.
Michelle Obama noted a short while ago that, “I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values – and follow my own moral compass – then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.” But that’s just the problem: what about everyone else’s hopes and expectations? Those personal values must be joined with those of others if a just society is to be won and held.
The longer we take to press for a more equitable economy the longer our politics will dominate us. The result of our tardiness is now becoming apparent and our governing forces won’t press for the changes required unless we do. That’s how democracy works and is meant to function.
Morality is a societal resource just as it is a personal one. It is only when we recognize that reality and gather together around those shared values that a moral economy can be achieved. Stay independent and separate and the only economic order we will ever know or live under will lead to a future of diminished returns.