By Guy Dauncey –
Imagine you are struggling to get by on a low income. For some, it doesn’t need much imagining.
Now imagine that as well as not having much money, you live in a community where there is very little affordable housing, no subsidized daycare, no safe bike lanes, and only sporadic public transit. There are no urban farms or community allotments where you can grow food, no farmers’ markets, and no community kitchens—just the food bank to help when your monthly cheque runs out. Imagine, too, that it’s a community without any attractive parks or green spaces, no pleasant urban gathering spaces, and very few community non-profits and initiatives where you can contribute and make a difference in the world, however small.
This is double-dose poverty—it’s personal poverty sandwiched inside community poverty. As a result, as well as struggling financially, you are probably going to struggle with loneliness, isolation, and depression. On bad days, you may feel completely defeated by life.
Now imagine you are the same person on the same fixed low income, but this time you live in a community that has affordable housing co-operatives and subsidized daycare. There’s good public transit and safe bike lanes, making it easy to get around. You can grow food for yourself in a community allotment, buy local organic food at the farmer’s’ market, and enjoy cooking with friends in a weekly community kitchen.
In addition, thanks to the efforts of local people over the past 20 years, the community has lovely parks and walking trails, and great urban gathering spaces where people meet and pass the time of day.
Now take things a step further, and imagine that your community has a well-developed sharing economy, with a neighbourhood tool library and a weekly gift economy circle where people share their needs and help each other in exchange. Imagine the credit union runs a debt management circle to help people climb out of debt, a business start-up program, and a micro-lending circle. Imagine that local businesses network and co-operate, and there’s an active movement to build a new co-operative economy, including financial and legal support for starting consumer and worker co-ops.
To top things off, let’s add three more things. First, everyone in the country receives an unconditional Citizen’s Income, enabling people on welfare to earn extra money without it being deducted from their cheques. Second, every business and bank has adopted a social purpose to serve the common good as well as generate income for the owner. And thirdly, the whole community is committed to environmental stewardship and building a circular economy, with solar energy and zero waste.
And – I nearly forgot! – your community has a host of active community groups and non-profits, and great schools and public libraries. And post-secondary education is free, financed not by a loan but by a subsequent three per cent charge on your income.
Imagine living first in one community, then the other. The difference is not about personal wealth—it’s about community wealth. In the second community you can live in affordable housing, have affordable daycare, travel more affordably, grow food affordably, earn extra income without it being deducted from your Citizens Income, and participate in a host of community activities, meeting people and building a network of friends and supports.
For many years, life has been about putting poverty behind us by working hard, hoping to buy a comfortable home and accumulate personal wealth. Our modern economy has been built on the belief that the pursuit of personal self-interest would lift all boats and create a better world for everyone, thanks to the mysterious ways of the market. Any costs suffered along the way, including the erosion and loss of nature, were dismissed as externalities, not important to the central operation of the economy.
But something is changing deep within our hearts. We observe the housing crisis, the climate crisis, the accumulation of plastic in the world’s oceans, the loss of forests, and the massive inequality between the rich and the rest, fuelling anger and distrust in government. I don’t have data for North America, but in Germany, 88 per cent of respondents to a survey expressed a desire for a new economic order. In Austria, the desire was 90 per cent, and I suspect it may be the same in Canada.
Somewhere deep within, we know nature is not inexhaustible, humans are not disposable, communities should not be left to wither and die, and consumerism is not something to be admired. We know we need something new.
All across the world this new economy is busy being born, with new approaches to business and banking, new approaches to nature, and new forms of co-operative ownership. And at the core of our future communities, as people work to make it happen, there will be community wealth, celebrated and enjoyed by everyone.
As the years go by we will notice that we are abandoning consumerism, and the accumulation of stuff. We will cease consuming and start restoring. We will discover that, compared to personal wealth, community wealth benefits all, and at the end of the day, it is more resilient. Our children will look back on all our stuff and they will say, “Grandpa, grandma, however did you accumulate so much of it?” And something deep will begin to heal.
Guy Dauncey is author of the novel Journey to the Future: A Better World Is Possible. www.journeytothefuture.ca. He lives near Ladysmith, on Vancouver Island.