IN this week’s storytime edition of Speaker’s Corner, North Perth sustainability and community gardening advocate Colin Scott tells us a parable about root vegetables and root causes.
THE regional village was doing quite well for itself selling potatoes.
Many people were employed growing them and local kids had a pathway to earn income and then get married.
Potatoes were traded with another village for bananas and the extra product added a dimension of choice to consumers.
There was a bit of village-to-village trading profit going on but no-one was unduly worried.
At some stage one local potato grower got “smart” and saved his money to buy a boat.
He then traded his potatoes overseas in a more global market place.
This indeed made him rich but he kept asking his workers to tighten their costs. Wages were trimmed so he could get even richer.
Other villages apparently could grow potatoes at a smaller overall cost so it got very competitive.
Village workers had to cut back on their wages through their potato award and the main grower man cut hours for workers. He pushed them harder.
It was a close run thing as to whether or not he could stay open and keep trading globally.
He had regional market share and authorities took notice of what he said. And profit at any cost was what he said. “This is the road to riches,” he trumpeted.
The village people had to readjust their expectations of what they wanted in life.
Very soon they could only afford closed-in housing in peculiar estates that were not especially sustainable. Large blocks of small apartments also became the norm.
Just getting to and from work each day cost a lot of cash. Living costs exploded. Every business in the village wanted a profit (at any cost). They too listened to the “man”.
It soon became a relentless procession to make money and “bugger everyone else”.
Villagers had their hours cut back and so they had to take a second job doing menial work.
They lived frugally by always borrowing money from the money lender, which was in itself a growth industry within the region.
Some people owed so much money they often wondered how they got into such a ridiculous position. They remembered a time when they seemed reasonably happy.
Then something unplanned happened and disease came to the village.
The authorities absolutely forbade potato workers to go and work on the potato plantations.
It was too risky to risk disease spreading in both the potatoes and the local workforce.
But villagers could not afford to withhold their labour. They were living on borrowed breadcrumbs anyway.
Some people went to work sick. They infected other people in the workplace.
But they were desperate. They were making life-changing decisions, for themselves… and for others.
To put bread and food on the table now, even while working sick, or stay at home and do what the authorities said?
There were decisions being made that might risk the whole potato growing industry and whereby there would be no future jobs at all… it was a risky thing for a whole workforce to think this way. The whole edifice of village society might easily collapse.
They chose to take what they could now and forgo any future benefit.
The village remained poor for many years. Authorities explained the situation away as being part of human nature. “What’s wrong with people,” many complained. “Do we live in a selfish society?”
But in actual fact, the way the whole social system was set up in the first place was the root cause of the problem.
The giving over of a sustainable and happy life, to a complete market and money driven economy that pushed average and law abiding citizens to pursue a money grabbing life at all costs that would ultimately decide how they would live and die, was the fable that the village had to live with forever more.