Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Economics of Disability

We all have abilities to varying degrees for certain things in life, and lack abilities for others. What we make of these differences between us is a matter of economics.

In the economic model favoured by libertarians, individuals are left to their own devices to deal with life’s challenges. People with latent talent would not be assisted by others in developing and realising their full potential. People with clever ideas would not get the backing of others in turning those ideas into a large-scale enterprise. Each person, with one’s abilities limited by lack of organised aid from others, and one’s shortcomings magnified through isolation, would thus be left with an impoverished life.

In a cooperative model, where reciprocity and solidarity take centre stage, people organise to give each other systematic support so anyone’s abilities are nurtured and promoted for the benefit of all, and the different inabilities around are compensated for to the disadvantage of none. It does not matter what mix of ability or disability any individual may happen to have. Everyone is treated as equal in so far as they contribute to and are assisted by the collective arrangements in accordance with their respective abilities and needs.

Economic arguments are sometimes presented as a tussle between these two models. But while the cooperative model is one which actually guides progressive reformists as an ideal to strive towards, the libertarian model is just a smokescreen.

In reality, the people who are most vocal with libertarian-sounding advocacy of leaving people to get on with life on their own, are the ones who have already secured the largest support for themselves. But using their status, inherited wealth, and/or a market system that facilitates their profiteering, they are in a position where they have a steadily expanding surplus to more than cover their own shortcomings and disabilities. What they want is to strip others of all collective support so they end up being even more vulnerable, and less able to resist the exploitative demands of the powerful.

It is vital we expose this deception. There is no serious ideology of rugged individualism. If everyone goes down that road, everybody loses out. What the plutocratic elite really wants is to keep preaching to those disabled by illnesses, injuries and poverty the virtue of self-help, while they carry on with the vice of helping themselves to the fruits of others’ labour.

Politicians with a progressive conscience should not be pushed aside by this pernicious rhetoric of unleashing the ‘able’, and resenting the ‘disabled’. It is the economic system that divides us into the elite whose disabilities are well compensated by the excess resources they take from others, and the downtrodden who are disabled by the refusal to give them the necessary support in terms of health, housing, education and employment so they can live a fulfilled life.

It’s not vulnerable people who need to pull their socks up. To adapt a wise saying, it’s the economic system, stupid!


Harry Wallington said...

I was struck, recently, how a newsletter for ME sufferers had been worked on to make it more 'ME' friendly. In fact, the resultant newsletter layout and details were greatly improved for ANYONE to read. It just seemed to illustrative of the way focussing on the needs of the more vulnerable can act as a guide to improving life for all - in a way which might otherwise might not happen. This focus certainly would lead us towards a more egalitarian society all round. In this way, the more vulnerable can actually be seen as a benefit to the whole community?

I will certainly be looking out for more examples of this.

Henry Benedict Tam said...

Harry, thanks for sharing this example, It is so true that the readiness to help each other is ultimately beneficial for all, while the exploitative tendency to marginalise people will hurt everyone in the end.