"THE MEEK SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH" -- OR ABOUT SMALL BUSINESS AND COOPERATIVES

By William Markiewicz

In rich countries we have city slums. In Third World countries we have slum cities. In post-Communist Europe we have struggling societies without slums -- weather conditions wouldn't permit them.

In democratic countries, the voters expect solutions to social problems from the government. In consequence politicians are not stingy with promises knowing in advance that they wont be able to keep them. Strikes by public employees expose the chronic shortages in government budgets. And this applies to practically all countries, rich or poor. Exceptions are the Emirates but they are more oil companies than states. Where do governments get their funds? From taxes of course. State businesses run chronic deficits -- and not only under Communism. And who pays taxes? Mainly the middle and working classes. The big corporations, those which really have money, can always find hospitable places offering generous tax conditions. Many governments try to attract international corporations with tax breaks because they create jobs for the local population. In Switzerland, for instance, one of the lesser cantons -- Zoug -- succeeded in attracting international corporations and in a short time became one of the most cosmopolitan places in Europe. So the middle class and the working class bear the main tax burden. With those funds the government has to pay the army, police, prisons, communication network, salary for its own employees, etc., etc. Whatever remains (?) the government can dedicate to social causes. This gives an eloquent enough picture of why governments will never be able to resolve the slum problem or any other linked to economic shortages. Another reason is that government functionaries are less competent than those in private enterprise. This holds true everywhere, not only under communism. The solution must then come from the populations themselves, far away from governments.

Two countries -- Italy and Portugal -- whose populations have a traditionally mistrustful attitude towards the government, have shown how to do it. The Italians have covered the country with a network of small "underground" businesses (to avoid taxes) and the authorities close their eyes because the economy has made giant steps forward. Italy has become one of the prosperous countries in Europe. Portugal, climatically and economically less privileged than Italy, went the cooperative way. Practically all of Portugal has been "co-operatized." The Portuguese have centuries old traditions of collaboration. In Canada we see examples of it. If, for instance, a Portuguese builds a house, other Portuguese will assist him because they know he will be at their disposal when needed. The wives meanwhile prepare meals and the house's backyard becomes a place of village-like feasting.

If anyone sees "communism" in this spirit of collaboration, they should remember that in cooperativism there is no "Central Committee" and everything that happens without government intervention is in fact a negation of communism.

How can we pass from theory to practice? Or, how can the idea of cooperatives be introduced to people who have never been interested in it? In the beginning, as in everything, capital is necessary. Propaganda in media, educational leaflets and brochures -- all cost. On the spot, teams of experts should be sent to study local needs and possibilities and to talk to everybody possible. Each association, neighbourhood group, church group -- even gangs -- is worth contacting. As is well known, getting capital is the hardest part of each initiative. But in this case, the big corporations, which normally escape taxes, will no doubt give financial help because a safer world is good for business. The world of slums, subsidized housing, the unemployed, single mothers, is a source of crime and unrest on the local, national and even international scales. Including the underprivileged in the chain of production and consumption will build a safer world and big business, well aware of that fact, will participate willingly. This will also have a tremendous effect on the world's other pressing issue: overpopulation. Let's not forget that only productive people find large families too expensive. For the third world poor, children are capital, and for the welfare recipient, the number of children is an inconsequential matter because he/she doesn't have to work to support them.


Back to the index of the Vagabond
© Copyright 1995 E-mail to: William Markiewicz
Brought to you with the help of: PD