Natural selection in our backyard


A blanket of snow covers the gardens that were white-free all winter long. Yet, the squirrels, raccoons and birds now come to visit. They know something that I, in my seasonal pique, have forgotten.

The world makes adaptation a necessary, not voluntary, rule of survival. We must, in New Brunswick, embrace new ideas for our own natural selection in an increasingly brutal, increasingly competitive society.

Or maybe the ideas are the old, gracious ones that we, in our haste to blame each for so many real and perceived ills, have forgotten.

Consider them, and consider them well: equity, inquiry, generosity, tolerance, and charity. These are the qualities of mind and character that nature selects exclusively for our species. These are the rules of survival we ignore to our shame and at our peril.

No Wall Street banker, hedge-fund manager, serial short-seller, greed is not good. It produces the vast gulf we see now between the tiny number of individuals who “have” everything, and the great mass of humanity who do not.

According to a Forbes Magazine report, quoting an OECD study, two years ago, “Rising (income) inequality is estimated to have knocked more than 10 percentage points off growth in Mexico and New Zealand, nearly 9 points in the United Kingdom, Finland and Norway and between 6 and 7 points in the United States, Italy and Sweden. On the other hand, greater equality prior to the (financial) crisis helped increase GDP per capita in Spain, France and Ireland.”

No politician, pundit, incessantly talking head, dogma is not good. It generates the appalling amount of decidedly uncritical thinking that hobbles enlightened decision-making – the sort of decision-making that engineers effective policies to fight climate change, systemic poverty, family violence, illiteracy and, yes, even crime.

These societal woes also come with a price tag, numbered in the billions of dollars a year. Poverty, alone, is one of the biggest line items in most governments’ account balances. Says the Canada Without Poverty website, “Poverty, thought of as economic deprivation, could be seen as expensive. In reality, poverty is one of the biggest burdens on the economic, healthcare, and criminal justice systems in Canada. In 2011, the federal government spent $19.9 billion on Employment Insurance benefits.”

It necessarily follows, then, that a more equitable, inquiring society is a more generous, tolerant and charitable one. It’s also, in straight economic terms, a more durably successful one.

It is one in which enlightened governments, following rules for maximizing the greatest good for the greatest number of people they represent, intervene when regulated capital markets flout the rules of survival for all but themselves (before, not after, economic calamity descends).

It is one in which the premiums on education, literacy and numeracy are subservient to no other public priority. According to one authority with the IZA World of Labour organization, “In many countries, even relatively low levels of basic skills in numeracy and literacy attract a wage premiums.”

Here, in New Brunswick, we possess the means – as scarce as they sometimes appear – to remake our economy as a more equitable, inquiring, generous, tolerant, and charitable one.

The effort would take no more money – in fact, less – than the federal government is already willing to spend on amorphous notions for funding short-term, job-creation schemes related to infrastructure and clean-technology initiatives in this province.

Our best ideas for our own natural selection are still the old ones – the ones that rarely, if ever, generate headlines on the government-funding circuit.

If we can adapt our thinking, we can survive. We can prosper.

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