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The Commodification of Humanity

Katie Lowell

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Photo Source: Final Toto

In hyper-modernized America it would make sense that everybody is getting paid higher wages for equal work with unrestrained access to the resources necessary to meet their basic needs as human, right? Wrong. Modern America manifests as an increasingly privatized, digitized, and monopolized state in which basic human necessities like water, healthcare, and education are packaged as commodities and sold to American citizens (i.e. consumers) at prices that a minimum waged laborer could not afford.

In a world made mostly of water inhabited by living beings that rely on that water, we’ve created an industry that privatizes this seemingly plentiful resource. According to Jame E McWhinney, author of “Water: The Ultimate Commodity,” only about 1 percent of the earth’s water is readily available for human consumption, this shortage creates incentive for investment. The Dow Jones US Water Index reveals that the 29 stocks affiliated with the water business hold a minimum market capitalization of $150 million. This means that water is traded and sold on the stock market to increase price thus decreasing access for the masses.

In American discourse healthcare is framed as a privilege rather than a basic human right. According to Business Insider, “medical bills are the root cause behind more than 60 percent of all personal bankruptcies in the United States each year.” They also reported that “America’s five biggest for-profit health insurance companies ended 2009 with a combined profit of $12.2 billion.” These numbers show that maintaining health comes at the cost of our livelihood, financial security, and the pursuit of happiness.

Education in the US is a catch 22; you need an education to get a job but you can’t get an education without money. As a result, people are often forced to remain in debt for the most of their adult lives. We value education as the most important and essential institution but continue to limit access to only those who have money, which successfully denies the majority of the American people the ability to participate. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the outstanding student debt of student loans exceeded $1 trillion in 2013 and the number of borrowers has risen by 70 percent since 2004. These numbers are a gross reminder that higher education is most definitely not a right, but a luxury reserved for the wealthy.

So when the resources necessary for human enrichment and survival cost more than the new pair of shoes, what do the median to low income earners choose to buy? The shoes, of course. It also doesn’t help that media discourse frames the shoes, or TV, or tablet, etc, as the avenue to achieve immediate self fulfillment rather than tenacity, empathy, or activism. What’s worse is that the privatization of these basic needs causes the masses to view public resources as consumer goods reserved for the wealthy and to see themselves as the decisions their wallets make rather than the decision we have the power to make as American’s participating in democracy.

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