The Social Experiment

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It was heartwarming to hear the applause spreading across town last night, coming from people’s windows and balconies, in appreciation of the workers on the front lines of the coronavirus. While appreciating the bravery of all the health care workers and supermarket employees who are in daily direct contact with people who could possibly infect them at any time, we should also remember to appreciate those whom we might not see every day, who are still vital to keeping things running as smoothly as can be expected.

Our farmers, for instance, who are ensuring there is still food on our tables; our postal workers and delivery people who are supplying the things we can’t get from shops right now; and of course, our teachers. Maybe once this pandemic is over and all those parents stuck at home having homeschooled their children for weeks will realize what a truly Herculean effort it is to teach our children, and teachers will finally get the pay and support they need.

If anything good can come out of this pandemic, it is that it will have been the ultimate social experiment. How does the world function across multiple societies when profit is removed from the picture?

People are not working, meaning in many cases that they have no income at present, unless they are salaried; even then, many do not have paid time off. Three in ten Americans have no emergency savings at all. Too many people live paycheck to paycheck, despite working full-time. On a planet with finite resources, Capitalism will not ultimately work. Constant growth is neither possible nor desirable. We need to rework the world economy so growth is not necessary. A universal basic income is a way of doing that.

Sure, you’ll get some people who might not want to do much. But seriously, after sitting on the sofa for even a few days doing nothing but watching Netflix, anyone would begin to climb the walls and want to do something at least a little bit productive. Whether that’s working in the community garden, spending time with an elderly neighbor, working on developing a more efficient battery, or writing a novel, it’s better than the unnecessary work many people are forced to do in order to earn the pittance necessary to keep a roof over their head.

As technology advances and automation increases, everyone should benefit from the reduction in work hours. The only fly in the ointment is when an individual or corporation “owns” those technologies. These technologies should be shared by everyone, both the benefits and the responsibilities. The earth’s resources belong to us all.

So, in the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see what happens when some governments (such as Italy has done) suspend mortgage payments for a few months. More countries might follow suit. What difference will it make? The bottom line is that money is only numbers in a machine.

Another benefit of the virus is that if every country is busy fighting this infection, they might not be as interested in fighting each other. A virus does not discriminate. It doesn’t care what race or ethnicity you are; whether your ancestors fought some other person’s ancestors; or whether you are rich or poor. Perhaps we will finally realize we are all part of the same human race. Jokes about toilet paper aside, there are more stories of people helping each other out than people fighting each other for resources.

So it will be interesting to see how the coming weeks go. If we can all survive this by adapting our profit-based system into a system one provides everyone with what they need, who’s to say we can’t continue to do so?

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