Lesson Four: Sharing Resources

Students will understand how sharing can help build successful societies.

FL1(b) - Debate whether the primary function of law is to create order or provide freedoms for members of its society.

FL1(j) - Debate criteria for just laws and systems of justice and apply to scenarios and case studies.

A focus of this lesson is sharing resources. The Doddington castaways survived, in part, because they shared basic resources. They also shared work duties according to their abilities. However, their solidarity ultimately broke down over wealth inequality. Fights broke out over sharing some treasure that was salvaged from the wreck.

To look at the broader societal lessons that come from this shipwreck, think about how income is redistributed in our society. Canada has a progressive taxation system: the wealthier a person is, the more tax they pay. The reasons for progressive taxation are not some Robin Hood ideal that the rich should be robbed to give wealth to the poor. Rather, we redistribute wealth in Canada to make society as a whole more healthy and more equal. This making of a more healthy and more equal society is largely accomplished through the provision of public goods and services.

Public goods and services are shared resources. The roads we drive on, the schools we attend, and the hospitals we visit are public good and services. Other examples of how we share resources through public goods and services include pharmacare, public housing, and parks and playgrounds.

For the most part, public goods and services are created and regulated by law.

To understand why we share resources through public goods and services, let’s consider roads. Almost every road in Saskatchewan is a public good, planned, built, and maintained by government.

If roads were not a public good, how would they be constructed? Perhaps you could build the road directly in front of your home, then hope your neighbours would continue the road. But even if that could be done, who would plan where the road should ultimately go? How would the road be maintained? Who would build connecting roads across areas where nobody lived? And what guarantees would you have that you could freely use somebody else’s privately-owned road?

By having the government build and maintain roads as a public good, there are many positive results:
• Costs are reduced
- the theory of “economies of scale” suggests it is cheaper to build roads by central planning than to build them piece-by-piece
• Citizens have greater mobility
- roads facilitate travel by foot, bike, or vehicle
• Businesses generate wealth
- access to and from business is created for customers, employees, and suppliers
• Society has more freedom
- freeing individuals from the task of creating and maintaining their own road networks gives people more time to pursue personal interests
• All citizens have an equal say
- if suggestions about or problems with the road arise, each person can have their say as an equal owner of the road and a moral equivalent as a citizen
• Society is more fair and equal
- because everyone has access to the road, the middle class and the poor have access to the same services as the rich, helping to equalise society

The above example of roads, although simplified, reflects the logic behind most public goods and services. Economist and Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen has pointed out how such sharing benefits everyone, rich and poor. In Development as Freedom, Sen pointed out that most countries with higher public spending
on core services have happier, healthier citizens. Citizens are free to pursue their own individual choices, because they are not spending time trying to work out the basic necessities of life.

Of course, there are limits to what should be public goods and services. Canadians have collectively determined that society is better-off if things like healthcare, parks, schools, old-age pensions, and other such programs are public goods and services, we also realise that not everything needs to be provided by the government. Society will not be better off, for example, if the government takes control of the moustache wax industry. Goods and services that are not necessary for societal well-being are probably best-left to the private sector.

That understood, when a society invests in key public goods and services, the well-being of each individual is built up. This, in turn, builds up the well-being of society as a whole. This is a reason why we share resources in Canadian society. It makes us more cohesive, more healthy, and more equal.

1. Using Teacher’s Background Information, lead class discussion on why societies share certain resources. Have students consider the ways that society benefits as a whole and individual freedom is enhanced when certain necessities of life are equally shared.

2. As a class, read “Sharing Resources: The Doddington”.
• Consider how the men as a whole rejected taking an oath regarding the missing treasure. Can a law or ruling have authority if the majority reject it?
• Consider that the officers used an armed boat to take back the remaining treasure. How does physical force impact the nature of authority? Why is it that only the state has the right to use force in a liberal democracy? Does the state always use this force judiciously?

3. Have students consider Discuss questions, either individually or in small groups.

4. Like most castaways, the Doddington survivors shared a common cause or purpose. Discuss how this common cause was formed, and how Clive’s treasure fractured the cause. Guiding questions could include:
• What was the common purpose of all the castaways when they found themselves stranded on Bird Island?
• How will a common purpose help bond a society?
• How did the treasure impact this common purpose?
• If the castaways knew they had no hope of returning to society, would that have changed the role of the treasure?

5. For deeper consideration of progressive taxation and societal cohesion, check out Lesson 1.4: Paying for Government Services in Our Government, Our Election.

6. For deeper consideration of health care as a public good, check out Absolute Freedom and Universal Health Care in Albert Camus’ The Plague: The Learning Resource.

7. Third Mate William Webb’s account of the wreck of the Doddington, An Authentic Narrative of the Loss of the Doddington Indiaman, is on Google Books.

8. The story of the discovery of Clive of India’s treasure in the 1970s can be found in Clive’s Lost Treasure by Geoffrey and David Allen. Find it at your public library.

Sharing Resources: The Doddington