My baby’s going to have an amazing start — shouldn’t everyone?
In 1938, the lovely lake-studded and incredibly egalitarian nation of Finland decided that every mother, regardless of income, deserved to have a good start with her child. They believed in the inherent dignity of motherhood, and babyhood, and they decided as a nation to support these very special people. So they sent them a box.
A baby box.
Fast-forward eight decades. The Finnish Baby Box is a veritable right of passage for mothers of all ages and incomes. (When the government discussed canceling the program a few years ago, the public was outraged.) Today, 37,000 baby boxes are given out annually, and they are spectacular:
the box itself is the baby’s first crib
it’s lined with a mattress and sheets and a blanket
there’s a tiny snowsuit
and a bunch of cloth diapers
there’s socks, caps, shirts, pants, mittens, and booties in all sizes necessary for the first year of a baby’s life
don’t forget nail scissors, a toothbrush, thermometer, baby powder, a bath thermometer, and a hairbrush
there are even items for the mother, including bra pads, nipple cream, lubricant, and — quite cheekily — condoms
My wife, being a pure-blood Finn — I’ve literally seen her name in the official blue-and-white register — received her baby box in the mail last week.
It took us over an hour to open. And what a blessing it will prove to mother, father, and baby, seven weeks from now and the year to follow.
It got me thinking about democracy and politics and individualism and communitarianism and caring for each other.
What if everyone got a Life Opportunity Box?
What if we believed everyone deserved a strong start to life?
What items would our life box contain?
What would be the basics necessary to ensure everyone received equal access to opportunity?
The reality is that modern life is like a game of Monopoly, where all the properties have been taken, most people can ill-afford to purchase without unbelievable debt, and rents are soaring as extractive land-lorders convert their rental houses into clerkless hotels.
A Life Opportunity Box could help level the playing field for each new addition to our global family. Here are four items I’d like to see in the box:
1. Free unconditional universal healthcare
Without health, we’re literally dead.
Lack of healthcare coverage has killed millions of Americans and continues to kill around 40,000 people each year with no end in sight. This inequality of opportunity especially affects poor people and people of color the most. If we truly believed that black lives — and immigrant lives, and poor lives — matter, the commons would ensure equal opportunity access to healthcare.
2. Free education through university
Philosophers from Plato to Will Durant have stressed that society will never truly be civil until all education is funded by the commons.
We are only as smart as our most ignorant neighbor.
We are only as wise as our most foolish voter.
Want to upgrade society? Give equal access of opportunity to all students — including poor whites, poor blacks, poor Latinos, and poor immigrants — and watch how this educational meritocracy creates super-star leaders, scientists, technologists, and discoverers who level up our society.
3. Unconditional universal basic income
The reality is that automation is about to destroy the workplace as we know it, with billions of workers around the world being tossed into a maelstrom of upheaval and uncertainty. When people know that their basic needs are covered, they can adopt a longer-term mindset. They can save and invest for the future. They can upgrade their skills and training to become better contributors. Rather than being a chronic drain on the system, we all become proud builders of it.
Everyone at birth should be deeded an acre or two. Not a deed of ownership, just a deed of stewardship. We can never sell it or rent it. When we die, it goes back to the commons. And we can’t wreck it — no GMOs, pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides; just a place to grow healthy while practicing nature stewardship. Adding a piece of land to the social safety net would have all sorts of benefits:
an economic fallback in times of recession, depression, or hyperinflation
a hedge against the systemic skyrocketing of shelter prices
a primary residence in the event of houselessness
a foundation upon which to build a small business
a place of emergency shelter in the event of a city earthquake, flood, or terrorist attack
a base camp for creating art, music, books, and culture
a regular place of retreat from city life for mental health
If we gave everyone a Life Opportunity Box containing just these four items, we would be taking a light-year step forward in our quest for equality of opportunity and a meritocracy that unleashes our best minds to level-up our civilization.
Who would pay for all of this?
We all would, of course.
And it wouldn’t be a heavy burden:
Individualist nations like America could seriously reduce the cost of healthcare if they:
made med school free and flooded the market with doctors to drive down prices
shut down the Big Pharma monopolies
aggressively taxed all non-organic foods, high fructose corn syrup, added sugars, seed oils, known carcinogens, and other toxic foods that we know are destroying health
Ironically, we currently waste a huge amount of money giving people welfare services. In the future, we will kill a whole layer of bureaucracy and deliver income automatically via the blockchain. And ideally, we’ll fund UBI not with tax dollars or printing more fiat currency, but with an entirely self-funding model.
America has 640 million acres of federal land, 197 million acres of state land, and it could always wealth-tax the hyper-elites who own anything over, say, 10,000 acres. 89% of Canada is “crown land,” covering nearly 2.2 billion acres. The United Kingdom could abolish the aristocracy and the monarchy (the queen alone owns 1.96 million acres.) The commons could still own it all, but everyone would get a life-length deed of stewardship for an acre or two.
Or we could just declare war on inequality and add it to the war budget.
My point is that we should share the costs of our new baby box — that’s what the commons is all about. And the investment would pay huge dividends for generations.
Even still, libertarians and “free” marketeers will balk at the idea of a real social safety net, but individualism has proven far too costly — we can actually save money and create real wealth (wellbeing) by working together.
If we claim that all people are created of equal value, regardless of race, sex, or religion, and if we believe that equality of opportunity is the fair and right thing to share with all our neighbors, then health, education, income, and shelter are the four cornerstones.
This is the real social safety net that everyone needs, and if everyone knows they can fall back on this base of grace, who knows how high our societies could ascend.
Okay, your turn: What items would you like to see in the Life Opportunity Box?