Institution or Community?

Dora Raymaker at often gets straight to the point when instances of mistreatment are revealed. This post about a turkey farm where developmentally disabled adults were paid $0.44 an hour generates her question about what separates an institution from a community. She writes that self-determination is the distinctive factor, the essence of community living. I think, too, that this example shows that the difference between exploitation and a placement or job or training is whether the fruits of the efforts go to outside recipients or back to the workers and their community.

Clearly, I’m no Marxist; but that’s not to say that Marx was a dummy. When I think about cooperative farms set up to house autistic teens and adults, I think about these set up to be self-sufficient, with surplus going back into the cooperative itself. I don’t think of these as systems that improve the profits of a corporation somewhere.

Clearly, I’m a capitalist, and the systems that will help our children, as they inexorably, inevitably, grow into adults will have to be sustainable. That is the meaning of social capitalism, the goal of entrepreneurial nonprofit organizations. There are many institutions that run only because of money coming in from elsewhere, and economists can talk for hours about why we pay for public schools, and the cost-benefit analysis that shows that proper placements and services for the disabled are things that we as a society choose to spend money on. To ensure long-term viability, sustainability when parents finally retire, and siblings raise families, and IDEA no longer pays for placements, we have to, as a community of parents, siblings, and yes, Dora, our sons and daughters and sisters and brothers themselves most of all, find ways to help them reveal their worth to society. We already know their value to us.


  1. Tom on June 21, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Not sure what to make of this story, since the blog that you link to (and the ones she links to) don’t give a full run-down of working conditions. Is 44 cents per hour a legal wage for mentally disabled workers in Iowa? Were working conditions inhumane? Was the site inspected frequently? Was the bunkhouse really that bad? 104 years old can mean a lot of things. None of the pieces of evidence seem strong enough to find the owner guilty of trafficing in slavery as some bloggers do. I’d like to know more before final judgement.