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As the recent snows turn our home into a Christmas card scene, I am reminded that everyone does better when everyone does better. A decent, prosperous, just society doesn’t just happen. Santa isn’t going to bring it on his sleigh.
Everything good in our society is the result of people working together to make the world a better place for everyone.
It takes a village to raise children. It takes a community of people cooperating and working together for the common good to build a decent society.
We all are indebted to the many activists and reformers who came before us. They created what we have today. We should be thankful they cared enough to sacrifice for our benefit.
My wife and I are very fortunate. We have a warm house and enough to eat. We have adequate income, good health, family and friends. We live in a free, safe and mostly civil community. We are fortunate to have the simple things that make life enjoyable.
We don’t have all this because of our “rugged individualism,” hard work, or being more moral than others. Our good life is not God’s blessing for our piety. We did work hard. We were frugal, gardened, cut fire wood and made do with less (and still do).
But we didn’t pull ourselves up by the boot straps. We received a helping hand from the many people through the years, who worked and sacrificed to create the social structures that now support all of us.
All the good things in our society are the results of people working together for a cleaner, safer, healthier, more just, more egalitarian society. This includes working to create all the public programs often derided as socialism.
But it also includes private insurance programs that began as mutual benefits associations. It includes public and private educational institutions. It includes non-profit organizations like cooperatives. And it includes many charitable and philanthropic organizations.
All social progress in this country has been the result of people organizing to improve people’s lives, run the economy more fairly and increase everyone’s personal security and well being.
None of this progress happened by chance. It didn’t happen because the sainted “founding fathers” created a perfect government. It didn’t happen because of the “free market” or because business leaders cared about their employees and were willing to sharing the fruits of the capitalist economy.
Although religious faith did motivate many activists, Christian charity did not build a better society for everyone. It was abolitionists, feminists, suffragettes, unions organizers, environmentalists, civil right advocates and other liberals who built the society we now all enjoy.
My wife and I were the beneficiaries of the better society these activists created. As children we attended public schools, ate subsidized hot lunch and lived in houses purchased with GI Bill or government-guaranteed mortgages. College educations were possible because of scholarships and government-subsidized state universities.
During our working years we benefited from labor laws, health and safety regulations, equal employment opportunity and consumer protections. Union-represented jobs provided better wages and health benefits. Now a stable retirement is possible because of pension programs, Social Security and Medicare.
Everyone in our country benefits from labor unions. Even if you have never been represented by a union, you benefit from the employment standards advocated by unions. Unions negotiated pay and benefits that set the standard and showed non-union employers what was possible.
The standard 40-hour week, weekends, paid vacations, sick leave and retirement programs exist because of union-negotiated work agreements. Other employers had to adopt similar benefits to compete.
But these benefits and expectations are disappearing with the advent of the “gig” economy.
I often worry about my grandchildren. Will they have the advantages I did? Will they grow up to have a good place to live with a decent job and an adequate retirement? Or will they be living in a totally different world?
Given the social, political, and environmental problems we face, their future could be bleak. Their future may include many lumps of coal in their stockings.
You don’t have to be a curmudgeon to think we have peaked as a nation. When the water, soil, petroleum and other natural resources are used up we will find we can’t eat stocks and bonds.
The resurgence of racism, hate and political ugliness does not bode well for a stable future. We can’t continue down the path of endless war, endless economic growth, increasing populations, environmental destruction and climate change.
Thankfully social, political and economic structures are not immutable laws of nature. They can be made more responsive to the real needs of people.
We can have a more civil public discourse. We can create a better democracy. We could create a more sustainable economy that shares the wealth more equitably. We can stop squandering and destroying the natural resources we all depend on. We can learn to be tolerant of other people’s racial, religious, ethnic, and political differences. We do not have to continue down the road we are currently following.
Some of the necessary change we can simply start doing. Many of you know what I mean and are already doing it.
We can reduce our personal impact on the environment. We can reject the shop-til-you-drop consumerism that thrives on artificial needs created with advertising. We don’t have to have the latest fashion, electronic gadget, a bigger house or a bigger car. We don’t have to accept the domination of mega corp in our lives. We can stop buying from the rapacious companies that mistreat people or the environment.
We can pay more attention to what is going on. We can all do our part to make good change happen. We can elect representatives that do what is best for the majority of people.
One common theme of my writing is that we are all better off when everyone is better off. We are all in this world together and there is no “planet B.”
If we are to have a prosperous, peaceful, sustainable society we have to work together for the common good.