Integration is Key

Anyone wrestling with issues in society today quickly comes up against the unexpected consequence.

Push to fix this here, something else breaks over there.

Partly that’s due to a multi-decade-long practice of prizing efficiency over all else. When there’s no slack left in a system, there’s also no capacity to deal with change on the fly.

Partly, too, it’s an effect of increasing specialisation. Different fields no longer interact well with each other.

Yet, if we are to build better communities that solve some of our pressing problems, we’re going to have to get that interaction going.

Beyond that, we’re going to have to integrate across domains to come up with solutions.

For instance, how might you wrestle health care’s exploding costs into control?

Within the bounds of the health care system, you might work towards a shift from acute care and interventionary care to a wellness approach. Keep people healthier, rather than fixing what’s gone wrong, as your first purpose.

That’s good as far as it goes.

Now, suppose you brought the revenue side of government into the mix?

Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, naturally raised (grass-fed, free-range, etc.) animal products do not attract tax.

Processed foods, including the feedlot raised animals? Subject to the Harmonized Sales Tax.

Government gets the revenue to add to the health care system to make the shift to wellness, which will start by requiring that the assembly line and gatekeeper functions of general practitioners change, and that monies go into naturopathy, nutritionists, therapists of many kinds.

Citizens get an economic “hint” as to what to eat to improve their health. You don’t like paying 13% on Cheez Doodles, Little Debbies, or heat-and-serve? Buy fresh and healthy and learn how to prepare it.

Now, add another piece to the puzzle.

There will be taxes on gasoline and diesel — and there will be road charges.

Switzerland handles road charges by requiring a sticker for your car. In other words, you don’t need a whole toll-booth assembly to make it work.

The monies raised do not go into improved automobile infrastructure.

They go into community transport. Small vans for the infirm. Community buses (seating 15 is a good starting point) to take people around the community. Scale it up to full scale bus systems, LRTs, subways as needed.

Put some money into a community bicycle sharing service.

Now add rezoning — or, in many cases, the removal of zoning restrictions.

Let retail and offices mix with housing.

Add a bit of differential taxation here, too. Are you a shop with one outlet? Lowest rate. Are you a franchisee or a multi-outlet organization? Higher rate. Do you insist on a big box layout with ample parking? It goes even higher.

You see, for reasons of health, we’d like to encourage strolling in neighbourhoods. (10,000 steps per day is what’s required: they don’t have to be power runs or fast walks, it’s the number that matters.)

Big gaps for parking lots do not encourage walking. So we penalise them.

Small shopkeepers increase competition and employment simultaneously. So we encourage them.

I could go on … but let’s stop there.

Sound like there isn’t a hope in hell of getting something like this going?

Well, you’re right, up to a point. Our entire existing way of doing things works against these sorts of ideas.

Still, here’s reality: we’re broke. Bankrupt, stony, out of money.

So we can either start to think beyond the limits we’ve set for ourselves to try and keep elements of our society that we value, or we can lose them.

We can insist that issues be solves across municipal, provincial and federal accountability lines.

We can insist that big entities — bureaucracies, corporations, unions, you name it — be put in their place.

We can work toward a highly-fractal society of communities geared to human scale.

Or we can lose it all. Our choice.

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