Price vs Value

I suppose it´s normal to feel that the world is fucked up, particularly as you are getting older. The world is changing faster than you do, and suddenly people are using strange words, eating weird things, and the magazines are full of celebrities you never saw and never heard of. People have been having these complaints since ancient Greece, I know. Probably before that.

That´s why it´s such a relief to once in a while read someone (preferable younger, and affirmedly more with it than you are) who has seen what you see, and has taken the time to do the research and the analysis, and put it all into words that form beautiful arguments. And somehow, you feel vindicated. Someone has confirmed that you´re not just an old fool.

Nina Björk, a Swedish journalist, literary scholar, and feminist, has done just that in her fairly recent book "Lyckliga i alla sina dagar - om pengars och människors värde" (= happy ever after - about the value of money and human beings). I read it in tandem with a friend, who was equally uplifted by this book. As my friend said: "she is so right!". So, what is Björk saying? Well, she is asking questions, really. She is asking questions like:
  • How come we live in a society where people are out of jobs, at the same time as there is so much work that needs to be done? 
  • Why are parents urged to work longer hours for more pay, and then pay other people to care for their children, and feed their children fast food, because they have no time to cook a proper meal? 
  • How come every task that is not part of the monetary economy is considered worthless, and the people who perform them have low status? 
  • Why are we talking about families as businesses? Why are we talking about society as a business? What can we not talk about because we talk about families and society as businesses?
  • Why is the traditionally male way of acting and feeling the way we are told to strive for? Why are women told to stop having guilt-feelings about not being able to spend time with their children? Can´t guilt be a natural way of knowing when you are doing something wrong?
  • Why are people who try to talk about love and solidarity on the political arena being laughed at and dismissed as "unrealistic"?
  • Why do we reduce acts of love to a matter of exchange? Why do we hold humans incapable of doing anything at all without reward? 
In Sweden, which was once considered to be a socialist country (not entirely true, that), some very radical political decisions have been made in the last few years. Like it is now legal to run schools for profit. It´s legal to run care homes for elderly for profit. It didn´t take long for one case of gross neglect after the other to be rolled up by the media. Not just in private schools and care homes, of course. Even state-owned institutions are now being run like businesses. Patients, schoolchildren and elderly are customers.

This wouldn´t be so bad if those customers had the ability to go elsewhere if they didn´t get value for their money. Problem is, most of them don´t hold the purse themselves. It is held by insurance companies, parents, and trustees. And when they discover that they are not getting their money´s worth of medical treatment, education, or care, it´s often too late. Just recently, a privately run high school was driven into bankrupcy by it´s owner. He took the money and ran, to put it bluntly. And left behind him a number of teachers without jobs, and children without degrees. No doubt, those kids´ parents had chosen that school because they wanted to give their children a better start, as the general idea has been (as put forward by politicians) that private schools, run for profit, are better, more competitive.

Just the other day, a university professor in charge of an investigation into the consequences of this new school system, pointed out that the only place where a similar system has been used is in Pinochet´s Chile. And every assessment of the Swedish schools, domestic and international, shows that Swedish schoolchildren are not getting properly educated, not even learning basic skills. Even in universities, teachers are horrified to find students who can´t write a proper sentence (I know this from personal experience). It´s pretty darn bad, and the reasons are more complex than just being about the economical system directly, but the value system at the base of it makes more damage, in unforeseen ways that the engineers of this system never imagined.

The major problem is, however, that there seems to be a consensus among all parties (with the exception of the far left) that this system is fundamentally good. That all it needs is a bit of tweaking and all will be fine. That profit-motivated people in charge of capitalist corporate structures actually is the way to run a good, caring society. The only thing a Swedish citizen has influence over in the general elections these days is who is going to be at the helm of this "Sweden Inc". And, increasingly, people are voting for the guy they find most charismatic. The one they like. They don´t vote for a party or an ideology any more. Politicians aren´t into ideology. They aren´t saying, "this is what we think a good society looks like, vote for us", they are saying "if you vote for me, I´ll make your wallet fatter". It´s a popularity contest, not politics. It´s hard to mention one politician who isn´t a turncoat. In fact, they are proud to be turncoats! And precious few, certainly not the socialist democrats, who practically made Sweden what it used to be, are asking their voters for something as outdated solidarity.

Even the green party, which has had my vote for the last twenty years, which has questioned the system from time to time, has joined the choir. And instead, up comes the xenophobic parties, evoking images of a golden age, before "globalism", blaming it all on "foreigners taking our jobs and coming to get rich on our welfare system". And one of these parties has even gained representation in the Swedish parliament. Something is rotten - for sure.

Also, there is the threat of environmental collaps. And the only way we seem to be able to lower emissions of carbondioxide, is by economic crisis. Greece, Italy, and Spain are doing their bit for the environment. Not willingly, though. And what Björk is saying, is that as long as we can´t see, can´t talk, outside this paradigm box that we have created, nothing will be done.

It´s like we are on a train heading straight for a cliff and instead of trying to find the break, everyone is in a committee-meeting talking about how to get the train to move faster. That´s how I feel much of the time. Perhaps I feel this more keenly as my own choice of lifestyle sometimes gets questioned. Aggressively even, to the point where I have had to cut some people off. I work part-time. I often say that it´s because I´m trying to write a novel. And it is true that I am. But honestly: I don´t have to work full time. What someone has to do, though, is run this home. (And keep an eye on mum-in-law.) And with a husband that has 1½ jobs that he loves, it´s really a no-brainer, considering that I have no desire to be "out there". What society is trying to do, though, is scaring me into working (or rather, "jobbing") more, earning more money, and consuming more stuff. Contribute to the economic growth. Rewarding me with a good (or at least a little better) pension. In case my husband finds a younger, prettier, and better wife. To improve his status, perhaps. Because that´s what I am told people do. That´s what we are told is what is natural to expect.

Well, what happens happens. God willing, as some would say, I´ll be all right. And I persist in choosing to invest in my relationships, no: to serve the people that I love, adding value to the quality of our lives, making time to be together, to eat well, to exercise, to read, and of course, to improve my writing. Perhaps one day I will have written that novel. Perhaps not.

And I am not alone. There is a whole grassroot movement of minimalists and other insubordinates out there, paying off debt, down-sizing, taking time to serve good causes, and do what they feel are important things, rather than chase the dollar, or the crown, or the euro. I could go on and on about this. As I write I think, oh, and I should mention that, and that, and... But I will stop here. Not everyone is born to be on the front-line. Some of us are here to just live our lives, even if we find ourselves in opposition to the norm. And that is not so bad. That is pretty darn important.

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