The term ‘entitlement’ is often used in political discourse to refer to welfare and social net ‘handouts’ that create debate among liberals, realists, socialists and postructuralists alike. These debates focus around the issue of fairness considering that some people work ‘harder’ than others. However, I would like to dissect this term from the definition that refers to the capitalist principle where “a wage laborer’s entitlement is equated by what can be bought with wages earned” (Shaw, D. John). This definition is basically tied to the simple notion that hard work should yield the means of entitlement to food production in a scarce environment. Food scarcity has been the pillar to this particular system which was solidified around the 1800’s at the beginning of the industrial revolution. While the concept of scarcity is not foreign, the notion that our level of industrialization has reached a technological sophistication that can produce all the renewables we need for every single person alive, including food, does come as a shocking revelation to many.
Now if we consider that the human race has the means to produce all the renewables necessary for the sustenance of life of all 7 BN people in the planet. Why is our system still yielding such a high percentage of the population being entitled to below dignified subsistence levels? I want to make clear that I am not only talking about extreme poverty in underdeveloped countries. I am also referring to the millions of people in developed economies, who work extremely hard every day and hardly make enough to buy the basics. Growing inequality trends indicate that more and more people, who are employed, get less and less entitlement to this excess amount of renewables that the world can produce regardless of their hard work.
To illustrate what is happening at a smaller scale, we can imagine a small town of 10 people where there is a hamburger producer who pay his employees the minimum to remain below subsistence and can produce as many hamburgers as he wants but chooses to produce only 5 because of market demand calculations. This producer can purchase 2 of his own hamburgers while the rest of the town chips in and buys the other 3 and divides them among them. The community can produce 10 or more hamburgers but there is no market for it because of the current wage system. The system is limiting their capacity not only to produce enough to feed themselves, but also to develop and consume additional products, because in order to make below subsistence levels in the current system, they employ all the working hours in this one task. This example comes very close to explaining how our economic system works right now given that the constrain of scarcity of most basic necessities has been eliminated by technology.
Here is where the question of morality comes into place. Is a system of entitlement to the basics only by wage, still morally acceptable when modern means of production have eliminated the concept of food scarcity? Could access to food become a human right that we all provide for each other, while we work for wages to attain luxury goods and truly scarce resources? Right now many people work 40-60 hours a week to remain at or below subsistence level, where an efficient system could perhaps deliver the basics in 3 hours a week for an entire family. Such system can’t be developed while we remain fixed in the notion of forcing each other to ‘survive’. If people had the basics covered in a fraction of the time, it could be argued that the luxury good market would grow exponentially compared to now because the excess of hours worked would be spent on luxury goods such as entertainment, technology, vacations, etc. How much more untapped wealth could we create? How would that affect the speed of our technological advancement? And how would this affect peace efforts and human quality of life?
The concern that I want to raise, is that perhaps the current system has stopped making sense at the most basic level of life necessities, which we could have completely covered if we wanted to. It seems ironic that in a world filled with deeply religious people concerned about morals, we would still pray to Gods to deliver us from hardships that are no longer created by nature but by an outdated social construct. Hunger is one of the worst forms of violence that human beings have imposed on each other based on a previous reality of food scarcity. That reality no longer exists, therefore, the concept of perpetuating this dogma, can be equated to a barbaric social practice, where certain groups are deprived of life sustenance only to maintain a ‘tradition.’ The time we are wasting to ‘survive’ in the current system, when we have already mastered survival, seems like an extremely irrational way to pass the time. Why are we still doing this to ourselves? Instead of living to work, we could live to innovate, love, teach, heal, inspire, or for those who prefer, to accumulate more luxury goods. If I did not have to work 50 hours a week, I would be spending more of my time researching ways to move humanity forward. What interests would you pursue with your extra time if everything you need would be covered by working only 20 hours per week?
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