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Columns

March 20, 2012

A quarterback can't win the game alone

What is the relationship between democracy and wealth? Democracy is a political system, while wealth relates to economics. We have equal political rights, but we don't all have money. Extreme differences destroy the continuity of community solidarity.

What I recall from elementary school was something like one man, one vote. Some are strong, some are good in sports. Some are more important, and some know they live on the wrong side of the tracks. We do not all like or admire one another. But everyone needs self-respect. To the extent that some feel inferior or ashamed, we are a wounded society bleeding our strength away.

Community, like patriotism, suggests a kind of bonding, along the lines of one for all and all for one. We all have interdependent memberships, and, we hope, roles that confirm our contribution to the economic team.

There are truly no self-made men. We do tend to measure our value by the income we generate. Often the unemployed feel shame. Mitt Romney goes so far as to suggest his success earning money qualifies him for fame, and the presidency.

Especially since the Citizens United ruling, money has the capacity to call the shots, to pull us together or to tear us apart. Because some people hold more dollars than others, one vote per voter gets eroded.

Humans bonding is a function of working together, not an ideological one. Who has not heard of Brothers in Arms? Why do soldiers returning from war so often express a desire to rejoin? Such bonds show how we are hard-wired to respond emphatically to other humans.

We are a social species. We function in groups. We learn from one another. Our strength is in our congregate communities, but our pride is in our individuality.

The first state of development, according to Erik Erickson, is learning trust. That enables our deepest need, which is for intimate attachment. We live in and depend upon having a place in our society, but we call ourselves individual human beings. Our individual need is to belong and have value in the eyes of others.

Our development as people requires a blossoming mutuality between self and others, learning how to depend on others and how to be dependable. We have to find our worth in relation to others, and to prove ourselves worthy in their eyes. We need to be smart enough to be humble, and vulnerable enough to care about the welfare of others. That is empathy.

But it is getting harder and harder to fashion these cut-out patterns of material into wearable costumes. Small towns threaded through hill and dale are no longer vibrant communities.

Too often our children have to move away to find the job they need, if they can find one at all. In many ways the stresses we face are beyond individual control and beyond any local capacity to remedy.

The export or failure of manufacturing jobs is a prime example. This is not just an economic cycle; it is a global phenomenon where work itself is exported to low-wage countries, dunking many into poverty and raising a few into prominent wealth.

An example pushed by the powerful: "Right to Work Laws." RWL is a total misnomer, where everyone has a right to work _ for less, in a race to the bottom. A more socially responsible drive would be for the living wage. The equity of a healthy community requires input from all sides, and that really means the right of labor to organize.

Healthy societies must support mechanisms to redress the huge inequities of power and wealth. To pretend that every employee is a stand-alone free agent, negotiating his employment individually, is farcical. Labor has historically been exploited, even child labor not so long ago.

It disturbs me, therefore, to hear Romney extolling the self-made man at the expense of the team. A quarterback can't win the game alone. We need to build the dimension of community into the recipe of success. We need to strengthen our communities with intelligent planning.

Equity needs to be mutually beneficial, and the sensible way is for labor to be represented in the boardroom, as is done in several other countries, so that teamwork for profit, efficiency, stability and security are knit together in working partnership with similar goals and varieties of roles.

William Masters can be reached at wmasters@thedailystar.com. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.

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