An Impoverished Big Society?

Dave Killion — April 29, 2012

Further to yesterday’s post, let’s consider Jody Paterson’s evaluation of private charity and mutual aid in Honduras –

“The theory behind a Big Society – popular with the B.C. and Canadian governments as well – is that when governments withdraw social supports, communities step up to close the gap. Volunteerism increases. Citizens draw closer to their neighbours as each takes more responsibility for helping the other. Everybody lives happily ever after, and pays fewer taxes to boot.

So let’s consider the example of Honduras, then. It’s a Big Society if ever there was one, seeing as government does almost nothing and communities really are on their own. An outsider might presume a deeply ingrained culture of neighbourly support in a country like this.
But what the absence of social supports has actually created is a culture of survival. People are so used to living with the fear that the bottom could drop out of their lives at any moment –  because it so often does – that all their energies go to taking care of their own. From what I’ve seen, Honduran families watch out for their family members in all kinds of ways, but anything outside of the family is somebody else’s problem.”


Because Jody thinks Honduras has a free market, she thinks that what she sees is the Big Society you get with a free market. But being wrong about the former means she is wrong about the latter. A Big Society isn’t simply one in which the needs of the less-well-off are attended to privately, it is one in which the actions of free people also serve to increase wealth and ceaselessly reduce the number of people who are impoverished. The Big Society you get with a free market is one in which the vast majority are well off, and have sufficient resources to aid those who are genuinely in need. And since it is a manifestation of voluntary co-operation between consenting people, it is most certainly morally superior to steal-from-the-rich redistributionism.

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