Reciprocity: A Socialist Solution for Meeting Human Needs

Our current society is made up of givers and takers. But lately there have been a lot of givers who aren’t being given back to; the few takers at the top are taking too much and don’t give back, creating a fundamental imbalance in our society on both an individual and social level. Most us spend a lot of time just surviving. This leaves a lot of people with unmet human needs.

Lately, things like shelter, food, healthcare, and transportation are harder to come by. But so are things like a shoulder to cry on, a hug, someone to help you in a time of need, someone to vent to, and someone to trust. People expect that everyone has a family and friends to fulfill these needs, but many of us have few people we can count on.

This fundamental need for each other is too often overlooked. Human beings are social creatures and rely on each other to meet each other’s needs. But our capitalist society encourages competition over cooperation and rugged individualism over collectivism. In this environment, it has become challenging to connect with each other. For example, most of us don’t know our neighbors. Most of us see our friends and family less but work more than ever. Most of us put our children in child care. Who belongs to social clubs or sports leagues anymore?

So where can we turn if we’re in a tough spot and need help?

We turn to the government in hopes that the social safety net will catch us when we fall. But we find that safety net in tatters, as cuts increase and services decrease.

We turn to our jobs for money, health insurance, vacation time, or family leave. But we find that work is taking more from us every day and giving less back.

We try to turn to friends or family and we find they are less able to help us than they used to be.

I find that nowadays many people are phoning it in when it comes to human connection. We just aren’t there for each other and that’s because we can’t be. We have been rendered inept. And I think what has driven people away from their natural inclination is modern capitalism.

Modern day capitalism has alienated us from our work, our selves, and each other.

It takes so much energy just to get through the day. And sustaining our lives creates so much stress that it’s a wonder we function at all anymore — let alone be productive.

Yet, we are more productive now than ever before — at work. We toil and sweat and work our hearts out while the takers keep the super majority of what we produce. What do we get out in return? A “chance” to eke out an existence as a wage slave.

We don’t get paid to raise children, feed people, or do chores. Yet the demand to do those things is constant. The waged work that most of us do helps us survive, but taking care of our human needs and our loved ones is becoming increasingly difficult to do. The chronic stress that comes with not knowing how you will survive the day or provide for yourself or your family is incredibly traumatic.

The physical and mental consequences of capitalism run deep. When individuals don’t have their emotional needs met, the result is often depression and anxiety. On a societal level, the consequences can manifest as violence, abuse, and trauma, as well as disease, the loss of economic potential, and the inability to effectively parent.

When you think about it, it’s common sense that capitalism and humans are incompatible. Capitalism is a heartless system devoid of anything but a thirst for profits. Human beings are emotional creatures with multiple needs, wants and desires – most of which have nothing to do with profits.

Some might say human needs can be met with the money that comes from wage-producing work. Sure, some needs but not all. In fact, capitalist greed has produced some of the worst economic inequalities we have ever seen, which makes it even harder to meet even the most basic human needs. Because we’re being forced to work so much for so little, we no longer have the time to meet the needs of each other, our children, and our most needy.

The disconnection created by capitalism is also disturbing. People have become so fake! They think they have to be nice to everyone, never make waves, and avoid being authentic and open because that creates vulnerability. Not only do people act this way at work but they also act this way with friends and family — constantly wearing a mask. No one takes risks anymore. No one is willing to put themselves out there. Everyone is afraid. This is no way to live.

I grew up in an Italian family. Italian culture is very open and direct. We also believe in communal living and are very close knit. There is never a day that goes by that affection is not freely given between family members. We share in the good life — food, music, and dancing. We don’t bat an eye at taking two hours to simmer a tomato sauce. We are known for being boisterous and enjoying life to its fullest. My brothers are older than me and still live at home with my parents (that is super traditional in Italian homes). As hard as Italians work, we always put family first and believe in slowly savoring the finer things in life, including each other’s company. When we grew up everyone pitched in and rarely were we alone. We enjoy being together. We want to do things together because we realize it makes things not only easier (since you share burdens and responsibilities and both “good times” and “bad times”) but because it feels better. We see value in being in the company of others. The art of living to Italians is one shared with each other. It has social value.

We also understand that without vulnerability there is no connection. We are not afraid to really be with each other, even in painful or uncomfortable moments. We want to be there for others because we know they want to be there for us. We get what reciprocity means, and we practice it every day of our lives. I think Americans could learn a thing or two from us Italians about how to really live.

That fact is we need social support. Without it the result could actually be death.

We cannot wait for socialism to take root to start reconnecting with each other. Our lives depend on living socialist values in the here and now. This starts with building community and fostering a different way of relating and communicating with one another. We can no longer rely on corporations or the government to support us. We have to reclaim the way we used to do things before capitalism: through cooperation.

It seems we have forgotten about how to truly meet human needs in our rush to do things the most expedient way under the pressures of modern capitalism. We need to slow down and get back to our roots. Living in community instead of isolation creates a better life for us all.


Tina Phillips

is a social worker who enjoys writing, advocacy, good food, and thrifting. She lives in Oakland, CA with her partner, Rachel, four cats, and their dog, Miss Piggy. You can read more of her writing on her blog at

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