When I think of how to describe my “economic ecology”, I think a lot about struggle and how it forms a substantial portion of what I consider my inheritance. But, struggle is not solely negative, it’s indicative in part of strength, resilience and a ferocity of hope.
Common refrains around the expansiveness of measures of wealth often ignore how a rigidly capitalistic society tries, in every way possible, to snuff out wealth that’is not coupled to the almighty dollar. Although my non-economic inheritance, such as a growing up in NOLA with a relatively functioning local government, gaining access to social capital from attending good public schools and the further privilege that afforded, are numerous, I am struck – upon reflection- as to how dependent even those factors were on a larger economic context.
For example, functioning local governments are only possible if they are supported by autonomous national governments – an economic privilege many countries do not have. Or consider my access to good quality public education; although I attended one of the very very few quality public schools in New Orleans, I was only afforded that privilege because of where I lived. Had I lived in another parish – and managed to still meet the academic prerequisites for my high school – I would not have been able to attend.
Other social capital in terms of deeper community bonds, seemed further out of reach, for me as a child. I watched my parents contend with the immigration system which thus bred uncertainty in their lives and eventually seeped into uncertainty and apprehension about their relationships. All of which, at its nexus, is connected to their struggle with their economic lives : the lives that were relegated to them as Africans from the motherland and the ones they strove to create as immigrants in America.
Fast forward to my present day as a “somewhat” adult. I often struggle with delineating my economic life and its role. Most of that struggle I engage in by participating in skilled volunteer work: my way of decoupling labor from its capitalistic quantization as money. This has allowed me to expand my social circle – however in a limited manner. I’m at the economic point in my life where I can decouple parts of my labor from monetary compensation and not feel the burden. And the truth of that is both a privilege and a pain point as I know of many others who are prevented from decoupling their labor. From such a vantage point, it is apparent to me, that the future I want is one where everyone has true agency as to where their labor and time is directed. And that their agency not be so implicitly constrained by their economic realities.