FROM CHARITY TO COLLECDTIVE RESPONSIBILITY



     Honestly speaking, I feel a little out of place here in this region, even though you can hardly blame me for being borne in Europe, out of European parents. Nevertheless, I won't take it ill of you, if you approach my words with a certain apprehension, because it is nothing but the plain truth, that particularly northern Europeans are in the bad habit of knowing exactly what's wrong in the world, except in their own part of it and how all this wrong can be righted once and for all, especially in far away places, of which they haven't the faintest idea of what life is like. The farther away, the easier to solve the problems. Those who did travel to such far away places, like my colonial ancestors, did more wrong than right, although the Caribbean would never have been what it is today, without their wrong doing, which proves, that there is a basic truth in the Spanish saying: "No hay mal que por bien no venga." i.e. There is no evil that will not bring about some good. If any place, the East Caribbean proves it, if it were only for cricket*.



     However, even the ancient Romans already knew that you cannot satisfy the people with games alone; and so did the colonizers. In the Caribbean, virtually all dependent, autonomous and independent countries, have judicial and political systems, that are, more or less, a carbon copy of the systems of their colonizers or former colonizer. However, as a pregnant remark says, in the official report on the disturbances in Curaçao, on May 30 1969: "The labor laws of the Netherlands Antilles have been literally copied from their Dutch counterparts, except for those articles in which protective labor rights are stipulated." These last ones were simply left out. This same remark could probably also be made with regard to most other countries in the Caribbean, except for the French Antilles, where the same systems are applied as in the French motherland and except for the American Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico where North American conditions are generally applicable.



     When we discuss social security, everybody looks, almost instinctively towards Northern Europe, towards the highly socialized societies of the Scandinavian countries, Germany, The Netherlands, Great Britain, Belgium, Luxemburg and France. The further north, so it seems, the more effective the combination of socialist ideals of collectivization and capitalist longing for private enterprise. At least, in Europe. But apart from France, which treats its Caribbean and Pacific possessions simply as part of the French state itself, neither the British, nor the Dutch colonial governments made any effort, to impose their social security systems in their (former) colonies as well. If Trinidad has adopted the British National Health Service, that was a political act of the Trinidanians themselves and when the Dutch Antilles instituted a national old age pension and a widow and orphan allowance, that too was not incited by The Hague, but by Dutch Antillian politicians themselves, which obtained complete autonomy for all internal affairs in 1954.



     It could almost be said, that this reflects the attitudes of the highly developed countries towards the so-called Third World societies. Most of the studies and reports, written by North Americans and Europeans about the problems of third world countries, are often more interesting reading matter for what they do not say, than for what they say and even what they say is often more interesting for the way in which it is said than for the real contents. From whatever angle we look at these writings, they are mostly very far awayish, or, in other words written with the ease with which so many people quickly solve other people's problems which have no immediate effect upon themselves. The farther away, the easier to solve it, at least, in a report. Third World anthropology is a very fashionable university career in Northern Europe because it is so romantic to drive along a highway in a glittering car and dream about the beauty of primitive life in the wilderness which should not be disturbed according to them, by the demolishing influences of the industrialized world.



     It struck me, in one report which I read quite some time ago, that it also made mention of the position of the handicapped in a developing society, but it did so in one breath with: the sick, the elderly and...the poor, something the author would surely never have dared to do for his own country, let alone, to speak of them not in terms of opportunities and rights, but of care.



     In other words, even in the highly developed countries of the so-called First and Second world - whosoever invented these terms, should be condemned to eternal oblivion... - the attitude towards human society is one of a partition into the active and the inactive; i.e. those who earn their own spending money and those who do not. The fact that quite a few of those, classified in the category of the inactive are often far more active than many of those, belonging to the category of the active especially the investors amongst them is considered to be irrelevant, because the inactive only spend a large portion of what the active produce.



     Moreover, this partition of society implies a division into caretakers and those in need of care. From whatever angle we want to look at it, that implies in its turn, a dichotomy of society into superiors and inferiors. That, I'm afraid, is one of the basic weaknesses of the social security systems of the highly socialized societies of Northern Europe. The welfare state is a caretaker state and the groups to be taken care of, become such a burden that the caretakers won't take it any longer. If that is already so in those societies where socialist ideologies have forged a bond with private free enterprise, then what can we expect of the North American systems which are entirely based on public charity, as the food stamp programs clearly demonstrate. In a period of economic recession**, such systems are bound to come under heavy attack because their fundamental vantage point is wrong. They are based on aid to the less privileged, to the lesser brother and the lesser brother will of course be helped, as long as solidarity does not imply cutting into one's own flesh. The fact alone, that we still use such terms as the less privileged demonstrates our innate discriminatory attitudes because these are terms that belong to feudal society where privileges occupied the place of our rights.



     If you should have expected in this address , a blue print for a social security system, which could be implemented by any government, you will be disappointed. Nobody in the world has the concrete answers for every local situation and condition. None of the countries of Northern Europe have given identical answers to their local situations, to such an extent, even, that at this point in history, where the European Community is growing in strength, the problems of integrating national systems into a super-national structure are becoming almost insurmountable. If that goes for Western Europe, we can easily imagine how much more complicated the situation is in Africa, for instance, where to name but one striking example Julius Nyerere of Tanzania launched a unique experiment in socialization of his society based on his philosophy of selfreliance which is certainly worth having a very hard look at, even if others (in and outside of Africa) consider it to be a failure because it did not produce great wealth, something you can hardly expect of a developing country in a few decades. Moreover, where economic wealth and not social justice and human development is the goal, there is something utterly wrong with our philosophy.



     Also, if you should have expected, that this paper would deal only with social security systems for the visually handicapped, you will be disappointed, because social security would be in contradiction with itself, if it were limited to a single group alone. Group benefits per definition, are neither social nor secure as many a trade union is discovering at present in awe. Where there still exist special benefits for blind and visually impaired people alone, which are not the logical consequence of a general system, we have to do with privileges, not with rights. The first such system as far as I know, was instituted in Sweden in 1934 as a compensation allowance for the costs resulting from blindness. Since many years, however, it has been incorporated into one general scheme for all handicapped people, to cover the extra costs inherent in their handicap.



     As we mention European social security systems, that does by no means imply that I am advocating introduction in our region of precisely those systems that are at present under strong attack from within. If we should urge our governments to transplant such systems, we may rest assured that nobody will listen to us. In any case, even without mentioning European or other examples, we may have trouble enough convincing politicians in our region. Politics is, whether we like it or not, mainly concerned with power, economic and otherwise and power is strongly reduced, when favoritism is replaced by social rights. Therefore, the usual knockdown argument is that our countries are too small or too weak to support such systems. This is a purely phony argument which only proves that they don't know what they are talking about or that they deliberately do not want to know, to prevent the existing systems of favoritism to be replaced by legal rights since legal rights diminish arbitrary power. In other words: "It's not that we don't want to keep those poor devils from starving to death, but if we do anything about it, our own power and wealth will be reduced."



     I firmly believe, that it is small minority groups like ours, which have to lay the foundations in our communities for the kind of social attitudes because in the final analysis, that's what it's all about to bring about the changes needed for new approaches to the problems concerned. I'm afraid that at least the subconscious, if not conscious attitudes of our politicians allowing for the exceptions that confirm the rule is one of opportunism and individualism, which go hand in hand anyway. Or, as a Costarrican friend of mine once put it: "Latin Americans have three basic motivations to do whatever they do: the first is 'me', the second is 'me' and the third is 'me'!" I'm afraid that doesn't only go for Latin Americans, while I also know Latin Americans to whom it definitely does not apply.



     It is extremely important to understand the following very well: Any system of social security must have as its basic vantage point, the individualization of the human being, i.e. it must make every individual person independent of favoritism, of small groups of caretakers to whom he has to be grateful for his subsistence. It must, above all, make him equally responsible for his own subsistence as every other member of the society he lives in and belongs to and, and this is no less important than the previous condition it must make him equally responsible for the subsistence of every other member of his society. Contrary to popular belief, this process of individualization which is diametrically opposed to individualism, does not reduce personal freedom; it enhances personal freedom, for it reduces the individual's dependency on a few and makes him coresponsible with the collectivity of society as a whole.



     We cannot stress this point enough because there is a widespread belief, or, perhaps more accurately: misconception that social security programmes reduce personal freedom. Nothing is further from the truth. The problem is that the concept of collectivization and its derivatives is strongly biased by ideological rhetoric. It is certainly true that some collective systems have made the individual completely subordinate to the collectivity but that is not because subordination is inherent in collectivization the contrary is the case but because power politics have imposed, or even superimposed totalitarian systems on individualistic societies, even if in origin from the vantage point of an idealistic ideology, in the end, to guarantee control of society. As in so many cases, all over the world, also in this case, we are faced with a purely hypocritical flag that doesn't cover the cargo at all.



     Collectivization, in its semantic and philosophical sense refers to the process of complexification of society into ever growing networks of cooperation between individuals, families, communities, tribes, nations and blocks of nations. Even private enterprise is becoming more and more collective in nature, also, whether they want to admit it or not, in North America. Virtually no big company is owned any more by one person or one family and in most cases, the directors are just as much employees as the maids are, all of them involved in a collective undertaking from which they all hope to gain the highest possible benefit.



     The stronger the individual personalities joining forces in the collective undertaking, the greater the collective and therewith personal benefits and as a consequence the lower the degree of personal dependency and therefore the greater personal freedom. The greatest danger for this essential movement in human development is individualism because the individualist only joins others for selfprotection and personal interests, whereas the individual personality joins others for a united effort. In other words, individualists shun responsibility, even for themselves, whereas an individual personality accepts full responsibility, not just for himself. The individualist is not prepared to undertake an active role in a collective endeavor for fear of loosing his freedom. He joins the group that offers most protection for his personal interests and leaves it again the moment his personal interests seem subordinate. An individual personality accepts to the full extent his role in the collective endeavor, if need be even against his own immediate personal interests because he knows that the collective achievements will, in the end, benefit him as much as all others.



     It is my firm conviction, that the only social security system that will stand a chance of not only surviving far into the future, but of developing into an optimal and truly humanizing system for all mankind, is one, based on collective responsibility, that is, the acceptance of responsibility of each and every member of society for himself and for each and every other member of society. In other words: one for all and all for one in mutual and reciprocal recognition of equal rights and value.



     The partition of society into the two categories of the active and the inactive which has even been promoted in Northern Europe by trade unionists! contains a blatant denial of equal rights and especially equal value of the so-called inactive category and in the final analysis, attributes value only to the immediate process of moneymaking. In fact, there is no difference whatsoever in this matter between the attitudes of capitalists and communists. To both sides, this must sound like swearing in church!



     There is a general misperception about the category of the so-called inactive. Some modern sociologists, therefore, in an effort to abandon their inherent Ivory Tower position of "observers" and "describers" have recently proposed to substitute the term "inactive" for "shadow labor". In the first place, this does away with a very humiliating stigma on more than half the population in highly developed countries, and in the second place, it recognizes that without shadow labor effective labor would virtually be impossible or at least strongly reduced. The simplest example of this idea is the role of housewives. Not only are they extremely active , quite often a heck of a lot more active than their male counterparts, who earn the family income, but moreover it is still they, in most societies, who make it possible for the male partner to do so. It is their unpaid labor that is essential for paid labor.



     This is of course one of the most striking examples not just of what is meant by shadow labor but also of the discriminatory attitudes towards it. We can go a lot further, however. All students, from the very young to the old ones, are shadow laborers not only in the sense that they are doing unpaid labor i.e. studying (though in some countries, like the Netherlands, a form of "study wage" has been introduced for higher education) but also in the sense that their study activities create a tremendous amount of effective labor for the teaching professions and all other activities directly or indirectly related to education.



     It may sound a little cynical, but in this sense we may even refer to the handicapped and the sick as shadow laborers by virtue of their handicap or sickness, same as the elderly, who, quite often have also important roles to fulfill as caretakers of their grandchildren. And then we still haven't mentioned the very extensive and indispensable group of volunteer workers in all sorts of fields.



     Why isn't shadow labor recognized as active occupation? For the very simple reason, that its recognition as such entails two basic consequences:

  1. equality of value between effective and shadow labor and as a consequence equality of rights and responsibilities. And:
  2. the collective responsibility of society as a whole to implement the rights resulting from this recognition.

     Especially during the 1980's, in recognition of these basic ideas, quite a few voices have begun to advocate a radically new approach to social security, but the political forces that have to implement such changes think only in terms of reducing the costs by lowering benefits and allowances and/or limiting them in time. The main reason is, as I said, that the systems are built upon a foundation of charitable assistance to the needy, not on a vision of equality of value and social justice.



     We will cast a brief glance at two of the more attractive radical new approaches to social justice. The first one is, what is known as "negative income tax" and the second is a "national basic income". Both have more or less the same effect, with one marked difference: "negative income tax" is progressive, same as positive income tax and a national basic income is not.



     With normal income tax, the higher a person's income, the higher the percentage of taxation. In some countries, the highest scale may run up to 60 % of income. Negatively, that would entail, that the lower a person's income below the taxfree level the higher the negative income tax paid to him. Taken to its final consequence, this system would cause a total leveling of all income, which may appeal to some people, but which is certainly not realistic, at least not in our era. However, the system can also be applied in such a way that it recognizes inequality of income so that loss of income as a consequence of disability or involuntary unemployment can be substituted with a percentage of the income lost, naturally with a ceiling level.



     The national basic income is more or less an expansion of a national old age pension to the population as a whole, irrespective of personal income and age. A very large portion of it would automatically flow back into the treasury (which is also the case with old age pensions) due to progressive income tax on all income above the level of the basic national income.



     If we have a good look at some of the social security schemes in Northern Europe, it can be said that in some countries these radical systems are already operational, though in a very complicated and extremely costly sort of way by being split up into a number of bureaucratic systems of which several overlap others. That is one of the reasons why they are crumbling at present under the pressure of economic recession, which works as a strong disincentive for solidarity and altruism.***



     Most of the present day social security systems are compulsory insurances each of them with their own bureaucratic institution to administer them. To name the principal ones: National Old Age Pension; Widow and Orphan Allowance; Sickness Leave Insurance; Health Care Insurance; Unemployment Insurance. In Great Britain the National Health Service (NHS****) is a virtual nationalization of health care. The system has been adopted and perhaps also adapted by Trinidad and Tobago. The Netherlands Antilles copied the Dutch National Old Age Pension and Widow and Orphan Allowance. Unemployment insurance is only applicable for involuntary unemployment and is strongly limited in time.



     Disability insurances may be either national, with a fixed basic allowance like in the case of old age pensions, or linked to employment, in which case they guarantee a percentage of the income lost, depending on the degree of the incapacity to work. In the Netherlands, for instance, both systems exist side by side but the first is not applicable if the second is and vice versa. These schemes also pay for rehabilitation and special aids and adaptations.



     As far as I know, all developed countries have instituted in one form or another the individual right to public financial assistance in those cases where there is no or insufficient income irrespective of the reason why. In the United States this is known as "welfare". The Dutch Antilles have a similar scheme but it differs somewhat from island to island and it cannot be denied that favoritism often plays a role in its application.



     One of the most interesting schemes for our specific group, was, as I already said, instituted as far back as 1934 in Sweden: the so-called "compensation allowance" for the extra costs of living due to blindness. West Germany introduced a special pension scheme after the Second World War on behalf of the many blind war veterans but it was applied to all blind people. The United States has something like that but only for war veterans.



     To complete our list, I must mention the so-called "family allowances", which some nasty minds have called a "breading premium"but history has proved that kind of cynicism wrong. However, cynics aren't interested in history.



     We can divide all these schemes into two groups: a) those offering a basic minimum income and b) those offering a form of negative income tax. As they are functioning now, they have become extremely expensive due to decreased income as a result of increased unemployment. and due to the extremely bulky bureaucracy created to implement them all. Is it really so revolutionary to streamline them all in a simplified basic income combined with negative income tax? The former for the population as a whole (with varying levels for age and family conditions) and the latter for all those, who involuntarily lost a previous income, with the obligation to reintegrate into qualified income generating labor at the risk of dropping down to the basic income if this is willfully refused.



     The National Basic Income eliminates the humiliating practices of what I'd like to call "welfare beggary ", which demands of applicants in needy circumstances to strip metaphorically naked before an impersonal civil servant to get what is called a right but what is no more than an alms bestowed by the community from up high, upon down below, the only difference with medieval charity being, that it is no longer a priest, who acts as executive of communal charity, but civil servants, who have a set of humiliating regulations to adhere to. The American food stamp program proves my point beyond any doubt: same as medieval priests, they won't give the poor devils any money, to decide for themselves what they consider to be their needs, but food, to make sure they aren't going to spend it on booze. Any investor may throw his money down the drain as he likes, and leave hundreds of employees suddenly unemployed and their families in misery. That's the sacred cow of private enterprise!



     Let's put it bluntly:there are no rights without responsibilities and no responsibilities without rights. There is no excuse for any nation, whether big or small, whether strong or weak, to perpetuate a partition of its people into haves and have nots. However small and economically weak a country may be, there is always a gross national income which should be shared by all and not by a happy few alone! Moreover, if smallness would be an argument, which in itself it isn't, that should be all the more reason to enlarge the collective endeavor in a supra national cooperation with other countries which have the same basic problems. The European Union is setting the example to the rest of the world. The Caribbean might do the same. After all, what can be done in cricket can be done elsewhere as well.



     I should like to end my remarks with a serious suggestion: I have tried to lay out the basic ideas that should guide us in our struggle to change attitudes. Mind you, changing attitudes is quite often a matter of creating expectations. Like one man put it: "virtue is the expectation of an other person's virtue." On the other hand, we must be realistic about it. If a piece of wood is very hard, you have to hammer a long time to get a nail down into it. But the only way to get it down, is to go on hammering. In the meantime we may have to look at some short term solutions, before the long term solutions will be achieved. On a short term, we, the visually handicapped, need a decent income. We also need compensation for our extra costs of living. We need funds for our services without having to beg for them all the time and we need above all, opportunities.



     On the long term, our group may well serve as the catalyst to provoke a radically new approach to the social structure of our societies. Let's not forget that people tend to listen to us, because our situation and condition is appealing, because they find it appalling.




  1. [*] Cricket is the most popular sport in the Eastern Caribbean. The Eastern Caribbean have a joint cricket team which scores very high in the Commonwealth cricket competition.

  1. ** Even after the recession of the early 1980's the situation has not changed; only the arguments have: it is now the aging population that is reducing the active population who have to produce the means to maintain the systems.

[***] That is one of the main reasons for their total collapse.

  1. **** The NHS has been under strong attack for quite some time, but the number of Brittains who would like to abolish it altogether is minimal.

[*****] Here too, the argument has changed to blame the growing population of aged people.