Royal Commissions into both the Banking and Aged Care sectors have and continue to reveal horrifying abuses in the name of profit. My question is; Why are we surprised? Dr Clair Brown, Professor of Economics at the University of California reminds us that western economics is based upon the belief that all people seek to maximise their individual position. Essentially, we are all self-centred and self-serving in our desire to improve our material wellbeing. All of our economic markers of positivity reflect material growth i.e. consumption and profits. They don’t however illustrate our quality of life, time available for leisure and family, emotional wellbeing, or environmental sustainability. So, why are we surprised that businesses place profits ahead of people or the environment?
Does our surprise and our expectation that businesses “do the right thing” reveal that we are not as self-centred as the economists believe? Prof Brown would like us to consider replacing “maximise your own position” with “everyone’s wellbeing is connected”. The mountains of data collected over a 4 year experiment providing a Universal Basic Income in one region of Canada showed just how interconnected we are. Providing a non-means tested basic income to everyone in that region not only alleviated poverty but improved educational standards, health levels and decreased crime, i.e. the cost to the region was outweighed by the savings in both health and law enforcement.
One of the important things to take away from this study is that we (individuals/communities/governments) can and should plan the type of community and lifestyle that we would like to have. For too long we have been led to believe that the ‘market’ is a natural force that we interfere with at our peril. But the market is nothing more than a collection of people making choices. If we assume that our wellbeing is connected and act accordingly, what kind of life could we enjoy?
 For those interested to read more – Evelyn Forget, “The town with no poverty” University of Manitoba, Feb 2011 https://utpjournals.press/doi/pdf/10.3138/cpp.37.3.283