The power of community is an indispensable asset. Particularly, in the months and years ahead, people in this country are likely to experience challenges and demands beyond those that most of us have faced in this lifetime. We are far more likely to succeed going forward as part of a greater community–-grass-roots driven and voluntary in nature.
Until recently in our history, America has been a patchwork of communities. Rural communities, of course; but also self-organizing groups of like-minded people in cities. And religious communities, of course; but also clubs, lodges and fraternities.
The Amish are a prototype for the power of community: sharing life, food, money and labor to the greater good of all. But so are Quaker communities in Philadelphia, Jewish communities in Los Angeles, Mormon communities in Utah and Christian communities in Florida and other Southern states and Knights of Columbus in Catholic parishes everywhere. Masonic lodges throughout the entire country have also defined, and maintained, the strength of community power through leadership–starting with America’s founders in 1776 to leaders in the present day.
Power of community is activated by a few simple precepts: caring for one’s neighbor, being satisfied with material possessions “sufficient for one’s needs,” and willingly sharing surplus with a neighbor in need. In this basic way, communities are far more powerful as a collective group than the sum of their individual parts. The very concept of insurance grew from a community notion: the pooling of risk to avoid catastrophic loss to any one merchant or company.
Grass Roots vs. Top-Down Communities
If power of community is activated by sharing with one’s neighbor, they are also defined by the presence of grass-roots, voluntary participation. Efforts at government-sponsored collectivism–socialism or communism–have failed in every experimental iteration, and will continue to fail each time they are attempted in the present or future.
Government-sponsored collectivism is neither grass-roots in its functionality, nor is it voluntary. The reason for the failures of government-sponsored collectivism is fundamental: people cannot be forced to share, or care, or respond to social needs of others with whom they have no affinity. Community can only be built among the willing, not the coerced. People–not governments–define who their neighbors actually are, and are not. This is the very nature of respect for human choice–the essential element of voluntariness that defines a community.
Life Offers No Guarantees
Only just two weeks ago, there were conversations at a conference of state legislators about the benefits of health care sharing–a community-based alternative to insurance–with a state legislator from a Southern state. She strongly opposed health care sharing as an alternative to health insurance on the basis that health care sharing offers no guarantees, while health insurance is a guaranteed program that people can depend on.
And yet two short weeks later, as of March 17, 2020 (St. Patrick’s Day) the relative attraction of health care sharing arguably seems more appealing than “guaranteed” health insurance–certainly while contemplating the frightening specter of COVAD-19. COVAD-19 is not covered under standard health insurance policies, nor is its testing. As a result, the federal government is scrambling to fill the gap for individuals left without health care or testing.
Conversely, health care sharing is flexible enough to cover both testing and treatment, according to flexible guidelines managed by member representatives. So in this upside-down world in which we suddenly find ourselves, health care sharing’s appeal–community voluntary sharing–suddenly looks more attractive to many people than the illusory guarantees of an insurance policy–which exclude coverage of the most important health risk to our country in modern times.
Distribution of Surplus
The most spectacular failure of government-sponsored collectivism occurs during a crisis when distribution of surplus is badly needed to all members of the group, or country. Without a grass-roots distribution network, surplus is given to the powerful; the powerful are then entrusted to continue the chain of distribution down to each person.
Recall, if you will, the horrible images from TV news (and movies) of US food aid given to starving third-world countries, only to have the lion’s share of the surplus kept by the strong men in power, leaving ordinary people to starve and suffer.
Now transpose that image of the strong man hoarding surplus to our modern US economy, certainly since the financial crisis of 2008. Who doesn’t remember President Bush pleading with America to allow Wall Street bailouts, as a distribution mechanism to have wealth trickle down to everyone else? President Bush’s solution, on the advice of Secretary Henry Paulson, was to entrust Wall Street bankers with the surplus of this country.
President Bush seemed to expect–indeed we ALL expected–that Wall Street would distribute the bailout money–the country’s material surplus–reasonably well across all communities and businesses in the country. Except that did not happen. Like the third-world strongman keeping food surplus for himself, Wall Street bankers used the vast amount of bailout money entrusted to them to re-start speculative trading in derivatives, to enrich themselves and their own community of bankers, at the expense of everyone else in the country.
But should we have realistically expected a different result? Probably not. Wall Street financiers have their own community; and yes, like good community members they have taken care of themselves and their own inside their community. Is it human nature to think beyond those circles? Probably not. Everyone seems to focus on caring for their families and their communities, but not on the abstract needs of people they don’t know or think about.
Current Bailout Requests and Proposals in March, 2020
Having learned the lesson that the government of this country would bailout financial institutions and important corporations in times of need, at this very moment (March 17, 2020) there are numerous bills and proposals to bailout every large company one can think of. Federal Reserve repo and QE operations are focused on the ongoing bailout to Wall Street banks, and now hedge funds and private equity funds that depend on those banks. So, basically, all of Wall Street and Silicon Valley.
Corporate requests for bailouts have been submitted by companies and industries as far flung as oil and gas to airlines. Everyone wants a government bailout. But does history suggest that bailouts–handouts–server any long-term reliable purpose for the people of this country? Probably not.
Giving food surplus to third-world strongmen have never improved the lot of poor people in those countries. Giving bailout cash to Wall Street in 2008 did not solve the financial crisis–it just postponed it, making it worse in the process, until the present day of reckoning, which is unfolding before our very eyes.
Current efforts by Congress, as well-intentioned as they may be, still suffer from the fundamental defects of government-sponsored collectivism: lack of grass-roots voluntary action and lack of a functional distribution system that actually provides help to people on the ground. To be sure, the federal government does have a distribution structure that could possibly work: the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS has immediate ability to interact with virtually every person in this country on a financial basis. But of course, using the IRS as a governmental distribution mechanism has its own set of questions, which will not be discussed in this post. But, the possibility does seem to exist.
Back to the Future: the Power of Community
In times of crisis, the power of community is essential. Grass-roots, self-organized communities of like-minded individuals, with affinity for one another on some basis, have the power to care for and share with others in the community to perform amazing feats.
Communities are capable of efficient distribution to everyone in need. Communities are able to attend to the needs of others when hospitals are overcrowded and health insurance stops paying. Communities are able to attend to the happiness and suffering of others. Like a self-organizing process of nature, communities can fill gaps of need in amazing ways when government-sponsored collective action falls short.
In the weeks and months ahead, we are likely to experience challenges and demands beyond those that most of us have faced in this lifetime, so far. We are far more likely to succeed going forward as part of a greater community–relying on ourselves and our other community members instead of expecting handouts from a government-sponsored program detached from our day-to-day lives. This is the very essence of the power of community.