Thursday, December 10, 2009

Creating Rough Social Equity

After a brief hiatus, which involved much travel on our part, we’re back for some end-of-the-year postings, which may help you start thinking about some new year resolutions! And now, from Kim Klein…

As I mentioned in my last post, there are a few concepts about the commons which seem to really grab people and one of them is the observation that in order to have a healthy commons, a society must have at least “rough social equity”, a phrase I borrowed from David Bollier. The distance between the richest people and the poorest cannot be vast. Access to health care cannot exist easily for some, with difficulty for others and not at all for millions of others. Parks must be an element of every neighborhood, not just wealthier ones. And so on.

The concept of “rough social equity” is a form of a commons lens which may help propose solutions to some of our nation’s largest problems. Here are just two examples:

The war in Viet Nam ended in large part because the American people (and people around the world) got sick of it, protested in huge gatherings, and toppled elected officials who were in favor of that war. Our current war is equally unpopular but much less protested and the difference is obvious: we don’t have a draft. We don’t have rough social equity. Those going off to fight join of “their own free will” because they see a chance to get an education, a job, possibly a pension. The price may be your legs, your sight, or your life, but people weigh their options and decide to go. A draft would have no exceptions. Everyone, man or woman, 18-25, would have to do some kind of national service. Conscientious objectors could work in hospitals and those who think war is sometimes necessary, but don’t believe in this war, could build bridges or repair roads at home. But everyone would have to serve: rich or poor, in college or not, friends of senators or friends of bus drivers. Rep. Charles Rangel of New York has maintained this position for years, and more recently Bill Moyers called for compulsory service. The minute there would be a draft, thousands of parents who lament the fate of the sons and daughters killed in the war, but do nothing beyond that, would hit the streets. Brothers, sisters, cousins, friends would be demonstrating, writing to congress, writing to the president and this war would end quickly. Would permanent compulsory service lead to world peace? No. But ending this war would be a step in the right direction.

Here is another example:

There is no rough social equity when people feel so small and unimportant that it is not even worth voting, or that their government is so inept or corrupt that voting is meaningless. In Australia, voting is mandatory. You are fined if you don’t show up to vote. To be sure, you can go in the voting machine and just stand there, and no one knows absolutely whether you VOTED or not, but you have to show up and sign in.

In California, people of color are the majority of the population, but older white people are the majority of the voters. Politicians aim their message at who votes. Laws and policies of these politicians tend to favor those who vote. But imagine what would happen when a politician would have to aim his or her message at every adult.

Rough social equity. Not perfect, but much better than what we have now.