Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.
At one point in my childhood, we had a limousine with a soundproof interior window between the front and back seats.
That was at the height of our relative opulence. My dad had inherited a decent sum of money but unfortunately had the financial acumen of a mushroom – and more than a few other vices. For instance, we owned 57 vehicles over a seven-year period. (I wish that were a typo.)
Between multiple moves and losing money on each car trade-in (we never had more than two vehicles at a time) the money quickly vanished.
Mine was an unusual childhood in that regard, but insecurity was its dominant feature.
Insecurity is the prevailing reality for too many people, all of us living our own stories, all narrated in different ways. (I choose Morgan Freeman – I called it first.)
The trouble is, we’ve built a world that emphasizes insecurity and amplifies fear. Pay your rent or mortgage, or else. Work harder and longer, just to get by. Can’t find a place to live at rates set by the ‘free’ market? You must be doing something wrong, to be so insecure. These are the most negative consequences of unmitigated capitalism.
Astra Taylor, in her new book The Age of Insecurity, calls this “manufactured insecurity.”
While there were social policy gains in Canada after the Second World War, such as unemployment insurance and wage and benefits advances made by stronger labour unions, it didn’t last long. Corporations and acquiescent politicians soon quashed this momentum.
Now, a third of us are trapped in the gig economy, working multiple jobs without benefits, as insecure as citizens can possibly be.
And yet there are ways to relieve the worst outcomes of our economic system.
It should start with a moral framework to help us reorganize our society. Working from the premise of what people need, rather than what the system demands, would be a good first start. Recognizing that when we give others security, we create more security for ourselves should be a prevailing attitude, not seen as an exotic thought of the left.
We know what it takes. Figure out the framework to put people first. This will surely involve stronger unions, a basic income guarantee, fairly priced housing, and a public healthcare system that isn’t shortchanged by a lack of money and imagination.
Yes, the money is there for this. As Taylor writes, when just 10 billionaire men possess six times more wealth than the poorest three billion people on earth, we have a shocking inequality problem. Insecurity has been manufactured by us. How we feel about that – and what we’re prepared to do about it – should be the defining challenge of our time.