Friday, December 19, 2008

A Village of One Hundred

Royal Ontario Museum

My friend Tom Barlow and I sometimes end up on the same page, though you could say he is sci fi and I am fantasy. I applaud his common-sense approach to economics, reflected in this blog entry.

For some time now I, too, have been thinking about how we as a society spend money without really making choices, without realizing that we have limited resources, and that every dollar spent is a choice not to spend it on something else. My own model for bringing it down to earth is to imagine I live in a village of just 100 people of ages and abilities. Now: are we going to give a very old, very sick man dialysis to keep him barely alive for one more year ($60,000, or more), instead of using the money to give everyone in the village basic preventive medical care? That is what we do now. Medicare covers it.

That we are making these choices is not clearly visible to us because of the scattered, privatized nature of our medical care, but also because of our frontier ethic - There's plenty, and whoever gets there first can grab it. Our spending is not done by priority, but by the tussles of power and influence. Medical care is is only an obvious example of the randomness and unfairness of our spending, and I say it as a member of the well-insured privileged class.

The Great Awakening™ (as I have come to think of the amazing sea change we're in) is causing more people to think about these things. Yes, the brown-winged moth is interesting, and every living creature is important, and I'm glad someone cares deeply about it; but I am not willing to sacrifice ten children's lifetime education to study it. And there doesn't seem to be enough money right now for both.

The virtue of imagining A Village of One Hundred is that it is a small enough group that we can imagine real people. Make it an international gathering, and you can see even more clearly how recklessly resources have been distributed. Over here is a child with cholera, whose life can be saved by inexpensive hydration. Are we going to watch her die while, in the village square, we are busy knocking down a useful building to replace it with something newer and grander? I think even the most ardent patron of architecture would not want that. But it is the sort of choice we've been making.

No comments:

Post a Comment