For my entire working life the conventional wisdom seems to have been that only a mug would pay their full share of taxes, and that it was every citizen’s duty to reduce their responsibilities in this area to a minimum. Those who succeeded in paying the least amount of taxes have generally been lauded as heroes.
To support super-democracy, super-security and build a thriving super-economy we to need to make substantial investments in our societies. To make those changes to our infrastructure we will have to leverage the strengths of private enterprise to help us reach our public policy objectives.
We struggle with the interface between public initiatives and private enterprise, and the debate tends to be rather crudely proposed as pitting right intention against effective action, as if they were incompatible. In fact they are mutually complimentary, and both absolutely necessary if we are to reach our goals.
So what can we glean from this brief review of the features (conflict, traditions and morality) we must navigate on our path?
• First, all those features do exist and must be navigated. We cannot wish them away.
• Second, they have formed naturally. That is to say that they represent some basically natural aspect of our collective makeup that we must individually own up to. They are not aberrations that we can dismiss as unfortunate. They are simply possibilities that we can seek to exclude from our future, by choosing different aspects of our nature. The difficulty of our passage through them can, and should, serve as a reminder to us about ourselves.
• Third, they are unavoidable and natural, so it behooves us to seek a path that is in harmony with the landscape, which takes advantage of the natural slopes and shelters in the coves eked out by the passage of time. The Path must get across the landscape in order to deliver us to our final destination, and it serves no one to make the journey about flattening mountains or filling valleys. Passage is the password and having built the Path, it will allow everyone to travel along it, from wherever they are now.
In summary, there are three aspects of the world we live in that our path of change has to accommodate: conflict, traditions and morality. These are all reflections of perfectly natural aspects of our human nature, and to fight against them is both futile and fatally distracting.
We have to remember that our purpose is to reach our destination. To do that we need only define a path that navigates the landscape. We need conflicts to be calmed, to reduce their senseless waste. We can allow traditions to fill their role, so long as they do not stifle progress. Morality can continue judging, if it is not harming. To do other than these is to try to change our natures, and that is not the purpose of The Path. The goal of The Path is to show us the way to a sustainable and prosperous future, with, if necessary, all our imperfections unremedied.
So if we’re not going to change these features, what will we do about all the people who have come to identify with them?
Carry on building.
When The Path is mapped all the way to its destination, when they can see the value of the destination and the holistic coherence of its route; their aspirations will trump their old attachments and they will travel with us on the same road.
There is a path across this landscape. We can determine its course, and we can build it.
We have just completed our paper showing a practical path to reaching a sustainable state. This paper brings together various aspects of the Standards of LIFE to focus specifically on why and how universal services are the key to saving our environment. This is an important document – please read it.
Armed with the knowledge in this paper you will be able to explain to others how we can get to a steady state economy and why it will be fantastic once we get there. Truly the next stage in the development of empathic civilization, there’s on need to return to the “dark ages” to save ourselves.
You can read the paper at http://www.standardsoflife.org/Sustainable_Economics as well as download both an ePub version for iPad/iBook/kindle and a PDF version.
The wiki pages are open for adding comments and you can always give feedback via our Facebook page and email to email@example.com.
Enjoy and educate!
What do Spain, Japan and Croatia have in common? They are all suffering the consequences of industrialitis. Industrialitis is the inevitable malaise brought on by the failure to understand our economy as a function of our society, which mastaassizes into disease with the concentration of political power.
Business is actually a function of society, it is fundamentally dependent on the political process to create the conditions for commercial success. Businesses need legal systems, infrastructure, academic research and a host of other supporting conditions in order to operate successfully. It follows that businesses coalesce around political structures, and the level of which political power is concentrated is the level at which commerce is most successful. For the last century political power has been concentrating at the national level, and it is businesses that operate at the national level that get the most attention from national politicians. Some of this is a self reinforcing cycle, but once it has started it is certainly a self-perpetuating structure, mostly innocent but inevitably corruption also accompanies decision density concentration.
The true nature of human society is not adequately or properly represented in the concentration of political power at the national level, nor do national scale businesses harness the full economic potential society. Human scale politics and economics start at the local community and build up from there, and that’s how we need to arrange our political and economic structures if they are to serve the humans that comprise the society.
Spain, Japan and Croatia all have different problems, but they are all symptomatic of industrialitis, and their politicians are grasping for industrial-scale solutions, when what they really need to do is to rightscale their politics. In each case, the hollowing out to local and regional economic activity has followed concentrations of political power to the national level.
In Japan the result of their industrialitis is the loss of rural sustainability as commerce has focused in national and global scale clusters, necessitating economic migration to the cities where those businesses are located. Large-scale businesses are capital intensive and naturally gravitate towards geographic concentrations for their operations, a tendency that is only constrained by limits to market access. This is not a failure of the businesses, it is a natural outcome of their capital intensity. The national Japanese government has tried to employ national-scale solutions in an attempt to maintain the economic and social viability of its rural regions: top-down infrastructure projects, and subsidies. In the former, the national government allocates funds to build or improve infrastructure in rural areas, which results in temporary construction booms without sustained commercial activity. In the latter, a very commonly prescribed remedy in countries with industrialitis, the national government attempts to persuade industrial-scale businesses to do what is not in their self-interest, by providing subsidies and other financial incentives to locate some part of their operations in a region that they would not choose to be in, if left to their commercial instincts. Subsidies have the pernicious effect of corrupting the politics, the market and the businesses that accept them, and only further exacerbates the incentive for businesses to build and maintain political influence. It probably never even crosses the mind of most national politicians that the effective and sustainable solution to regional and local economic self-sufficiency is to devolve political power down to the regions and communities.
In Spain there is an employment crisis, with national unemployment at 20% and youth unemployment running at 64%. This symptom of industrialitis, caused by the concentration of financial capital at the national and supranational levels, is the result of a busted property and construction boom. The failure to develop local and regional economic activity independent of centralized, external capital has left the entire economy at risk, now that the global financial crisis has caused the flow of capital to evaporate. The national government sees itself as saving the regions by bailing out regional banks, but it is really just doing debt collection for national and international banks – everyone still has to carry the debt burden, but without the local and regional economic infrastructure to maintain commercial activity and employment. It probably never even crosses the mind of the average national politician that they need to devolve political power down, to get their economy working and make their society sustainable.
In Croatia people are coming out in spontaneous and leaderless protests against the failure of 20 years of “market capitalism” to deliver any improvement in their lives. The reality is that the national government has been concentrating political and economic resources at the top, while waiting for an even bigger entity, the EU, to rescue them by bringing large-scale businesses to their economy. In the meantime economic policy has consisted only of selling public assets to large, and largely foreign, businesses, further impoverishing their ability to develop internal, localized, self-sustaining economic activity. Their legacy of 20th century Communist centralized planning probably contributed to the failure to develop a more diverse economy, but the failure to devolve political power was the root cause.
When the Industrial Revolution started it developed on top of an existing economy that had local and regional fabrics, but during the last century the codevelopment of large-scale industrial commerce and national political concentration has led detrimentally to an almost exclusive focus on enabling national, and increasingly global, businesses. Many, and far too much of, modern societies have become dependent on the prosperity generated by large-scale industrial businesses, and the large-scale service industries that support them. We have neglected local and regional development in favor of an almost exclusive focus on national and international structures. But the reality of human society is multilayered, wherein each person lives in a community, that is part of a region, that comprises some part of a state; and that natural truth of our existence has to be reflected in the way we organize our power structures and economic fabric if we are to develop sustainable human societies.
This weakness in the sustainability of our societies is not confined to Japan, Spain and Croatia; it is ubiquitous and pervasive around the world. Until we acknowledge the multilayered nature of our human condition, we will not make the adjustments to our political structures necessary to enable more deeply rooted and broadly-based economic fabrics.
If Japan devolves political power to their rural regions, those regions will develop the marketplaces and infrastructure that enables local businesses to meet local needs. If Spain and Croatia did the same they wouldn’t be so dependent on external financing to provide employment for such large percentages of their populations. Every society has sustainable economic potential in the needs and wants of its population, but in order to to develop that potential into prosperity each society has to enable marketplaces at each level of social organization (local, regional, national, etc) where needs can be met by willing providers at freely floating prices. The Industrial Revolution spawned the capital revolution so that the creation and recognition of value was not constrained by physical representation, and this revolutionary development allows for accelerated prosperity in non-capital-intensive micro economies, just as it does in large-scale, capital-intensive ones.
A sustainable economy is: multilayered, scale appropriate enterprise operating in free markets, fostered by universal service societies that enable marketplaces for local, regional, national and international commerce. The prerequisite for a sustainable economy is a multilayered, scale appropriate free democracy.
Scale matters. We cannot look to industrial-scale businesses to satisfy local micro needs, anymore than we can expect national politics to satisfy local community aspirations. We humans are multidimensional beings, living in multilayered social configurations, and only a structural organization of power and commerce that reflects those realities will serve us and enable us to develop sustainably.
Great civilizations require great infrastructure, and great infrastructure has never been a commercial endeavour. It’s time to face reality and get on with the job.
The great societies, those that have spawned the great advances in learning and development, have been built on great infrastructures. Those infrastructures have never been built by commercial enterprises operating in competitive markets. Great infrastructures (like the Egyptian, Chinese, Roman, Indian, Euro-colonial and American) have been built with public funds subsidized by socialized labour.
The greater Los Angeles area has over 20 million people, with less than 20 days’ food supply – if it were not for the roads and other infrastructure, built with public funds and socialized labour during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the entire LA basin could not survive for long: no food, no water, no power. There would be nowhere in the world to land a jumbo jet, if it were not for publicly funded infrastructure.
Now the world needs to move to a new energy infrastructure that complies with our planet’s laws of thermo-dynamics. This infrastructure, where it does get built in time, will get built by the societies that leverage public funds and socialized labour.
What is “socialized labour”? Socialized labour is labour that is provided at below market rates of monetary compensation, and it is available in three varieties:
- forced – involuntary labour coerced by violence and manipulation, such as slavery and prison labour
- reluctant – marginally motivated by meagre rewards and the threat of ostrification
- cooperative – willing labour provided as part of a mutually recognized common purpose from which all will benefit
Which one of those models for socialized labour is likely to yield the effort required to build our new infrastructure?
Some version of forced labour was the choice of ancient civilizations, and some version of reluctant labour is the option provided by today’s social and economic structures. What we will need is a cooperative effort, and that will require social and economic structures akin to those proposed in the Standards of LIFE.
Our current preference for giving public money to commercial organizations, that operate using market-priced labour, will NOT deliver the infrastructure we need at a price we can afford. There isn’t enough money in the world to pay for the infrastructure we need – this is a fact that would be much more obvious to those of us sitting on infrastructure built by our forebears, if we weren’t. Think about it: we’re broke and we haven’t even invested in maintaining the infrastructure we inherited. This is serious and immediate, we must act now.
Option 0: do nothing
Option 1: fantasize about a different future
Option 2: implement Universal Services and start building our 21st C infrastructure
What kind of insanity have we fallen so easily into? When did we become so abstracted from what we know about ourselves that we started to swallow whole such counter-intuitive nonsense? Corporations with social “responsibility”, and public services that make a “profit”? How about vegetarian lions and wooden clothing? Or perhaps we should put sails on cars and wheels on boats?
Corporations that have awareness of the society that holds them, and public services that are accountable for their efficiency are both wonderful things; but let’s not let confusion permeate the proper roles for these different entities in our human sociosystem. Commercial enterprises competing in the market for the right to use limited resources, and public services striving to deliver the highest quality services on limited budgets, are both valid and vital components of a sustainable society and economy. It is important that both attend to their primary roles with due diligence, in order for them to contribute their unique qualities to the greater good.
The reason why the word “socialist” is such an ill fitting description of the modern sustainability movement is because it does not convey the fundamental adherence to the “natural order” of things that is at the heart of new political thinking. We are looking out on the world, and inside ourselves, to determine the natural flows that we can harness to fashion sustainable structures for societies and economies. Objective retrospection of the last 2000 years, and especially the last century, has to lead to a recognition of the natural human capacity for competitive enterprise and the benefits that commercial innovation can deliver. Competitive commercial enterprises are a great thing, we can and must acknowledge that. Bludgeoning those enterprises with responsibility for things that are not their natural role, is a rude fig leaf for lacking the moral courage to take responsibility for what is ours to own.
When we paint commercial enterprise with responsibility for our crumbling social fabric, for the desolation of natural resources or for the poverty of the many, we are absolving ourselves of our own responsibility for those undesirable facets of our modern world. The facts of life are that commercial enterprises are clients of our societies, and it is we, the public citizens of those societies, that must take personal responsibility for describing the environment within which commerce is transacted. We must expect that businesses are driven by their profits, and create a framework within which they can operate in that manner without destroying our social fabric, our natural world or our political supremacy.
Similarly with public services, funded by tax payers to deliver efficient services to the citizenry – these are not (typically) operating in environments where competition is desirable, possible or necessary. The profit motive is a reward system that induces risk taking in a competition to reach the most effective result, a competition that is necessary destructive of the less successful alternatives, and in so being it is inefficient. To the extent that the efficiency and quality of public services benefit from innovation and development, these can be achieved most naturally by opening up their management and direction to wider input from the public, non-profits and academia. Rewarding excellence in the performance of public services, by allowing incentive pay for those that work in their delivery, should not be confused with the services themselves having to adhere to a profit motive – they are separate and independent processes (as corporate experience has proved).
Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to your neighbour what is ours. This is the natural order of things: don’t expect businesses not to be profit driven, and don’t force altruistic services to be profit driven. When we accept what we know is the natural order, we are left holding our own responsibility for defining the intended outcomes, and the frameworks within which we wish those natural forces to operate. And when we assume our responsibility we will find it much easier to have clarity and to be effective in reaching the goals we intend. What happens in the world happens with your permission, unless you are actively doing something to change it; when we all own that fact, we can come into the power that has always been ours.
The purpose of this open letter is to invite you to consider whether the goals of Basic Income can be attained more effectively and more sustainably through the provision of Universal Services.
First, let us say that we heartily agree with the basic objective of moving forward to the next evolution of social organization, and that we find the historical precedents that you cite in support for Basic Income are indeed the very same that support Universal Services. There is not the width of a hair between our visions of a peaceful society, in which each individual can fulfill their potential and use their unique skills and abilities to contribute to the whole in a way that honors their freedom. We both recognize that the empowerment of the individual is the basic fabric of our common society, and that it provides the foundation on which to rebuild a new economy.
Furthermore, the distinctions between our mechanisms for achieving the same goals can be seen as quite subtle, even muted. The basic mechanism of providing a structure within which each and every citizen is guaranteed the bare necessities to sustain life is common to both of our approaches, and it is this commonality that drives us to believe that we are sufficiently of one mind as to be able to bridge our differences and join forces in the pursuit of our common goals. Our differences do not separate our intentions, our commonalities define our opportunity to work together.
The primary difference between Basic Income (BI) and Universal Services (US) is whether or not money is provided to citizens. This is not a difference in intention or objective, it is a distinction in the mechanism used to reach the same goals, based on the same principles. We have studied the fundamental economics of modern, monetary systems and concluded that the most important rebalancing that must occur is to return to the social sphere those costs that are social, and that this is necessary to develop a sustainable economy. If we do not socialize our social costs we cannot make the books balance and we cannot preserve the value of currency.
We recognize that the development of our societies and commerce over the last centuries has left us with an unconscious assumption that monetary instruments are the appropriate, and often only, way to measure and account for value. It is a natural extension of this assumption that we think of welfare and opportunity in terms of monetary values. However when we use money to pay for what is actually a social cost we are both devaluing the currency and creating unsustainable accounting, because we cannot monetize the social benefits that would be necessary to balance the books.
In the US model the same objectives of BI are achieved: every citizen is availed of the basic necessities to sustain life, and the opportunity to develop their contributions to themselves and their society. No one is obliged to “work” to receive the services, and they can use the services as they need them. The level of universal services provided is dependent on what that society can afford, in the same way that the size of the BI grant varies based on the wealth of the society. Many of the enhancements to the functioning of the labor market as well as the environmental benefits are the same with both US and BI. However there are important differences in both the practicality and the impact of US versus BI.
The biggest advantage of US over BI is that it is affordable (and therefore more practical) because it “pays” for the “cost” of the services by socializing the labor portion of the cost of delivering the same services. BI does not change the fundamental accounting practices at the base of the modern capitalist system, which are crumbling under our feet as we speak. US removes the subsistence portion of labor costs from the monetary transactions in the economy, and in so doing balances the economic accounting by constraining the use of money to value only economic assets. The impact of BI is the reverse, it encourages the fallacy that monetary accounting can balance the world, that social good can be paid for and that social costs need to be measured in currency.
The second most important reason why US is preferable to BI is that it enables the development and growth of a microeconomy that can supplant capitalist enterprise as the primary economic fabric of our societies, and this is a fundamentally more sustainable foundation for our society. By removing cash payments from the social support system US effectively enables the provision of micro services rendered for micro payments. When citizens seek to supplement their US in order to afford “luxury” items that are not included in the US they can meet those needs by providing services, products or labor according to their skills and abilities at prices that are effectively the marginal value added. This creates a rich ecosystem of micro transactions that creates a micro economy that meets needs more directly and accurately at lower cost and with less waste. With BI the transactional value of any service, product or labor is increased to a level that is defined by the value of the BI grant more than the value added by the service, product or labor.
Admittedly BI is presented as a supplement to social security, not a replacement, but it is inevitably perceived as an alternative and in practice it would be almost impossible to separate the two. This problems leads to many of the structural issues that BI has difficulty addressing, such as:
- the incentive gap
- effectiveness (size of BI grant)
- appropriateness (differentiated needs)
- and finally the most significant: we still need a social safety net.
The BI community has been extremely inventive and diligent in working to overcome these objections and problems by developing mechanisms that seek to redress these issues through different implementation processes, however this has led to overly complex constructs that further detract from the practicality of BI.
We are fundamentally of one mind regarding the necessity of moving forward to a better socio-economic model that incorporates the unassailable truths of freedom and individuality, and we share the same heritage and the same goals. We hope to unite with such a caring and thoughtful community as you have built around BI, and we would hope that this letter can serve as an introduction to the possibility of uniting forces around a cohesive vision for our common futures that will bring your and our communities together to fight for a better future.
Please consider this an open invitation for engagement and discourse that will yield a common platform incorporating the best of both of our approaches. Check out the framework described in a fair degree of detail at www.standardsoflife.org and let’s get moving forward together.
The Standards of LIFE Community
At it’s heart the concept of the Minimum Wage accepts the subservience of the social order to the economic order, and attempts to extract a concession from the economic system to maintain the fabric of the social system.
What’s the point of having a Minimum Wage? If the idea is to ensure that an individual’s work effort is not exploited so much that they cannot afford to sustain a basic, minimum lifestyle at that pay level, has it worked? No. Why not? Because it is a basically flawed remedy for a social problem imposed on an economic construct. It doesn’t work, it won’t work, and, in fact, it is polluting our political process by encouraging economic interests to subvert our political systems in order to restrain the impact of Minimum Wage legislation on their operations. (James K. Galbraith, Attack on the Middle Class, Mother Jones, Nov/Dec 2010)
In order for the idea of a Minimum Wage to achieve it’s stated objectives, two preconditions have to exist: people must have employment, and the Minimum Wage must be sufficient to sustain life. But in a capitalist society the availability of employment rises and falls with the business cycle of capital-intensive enterprise, so a Minimum Wage does nothing to help the worst off: the UNemployed. And in today’s capital-democracies the political process is subservient to the capitalist process, meaning that the level at which the Minimum Wage is set is subject to the approval of the largest capital interests (who control the politics).
At it’s heart the concept of the Minimum Wage accepts the subservience of the social order to the economic order, and attempts to extract a concession from the economic system to maintain the fabric of the social system. This ‘world view’ is a legacy of the awe with which we witnessed the incredible rise of capitalist enterprise in the 20th C. The basic flaw in that model is the notion that the economic system is sufficient to sustain the social system, it isn’t and won’t ever be – the economy is a subset of society and to no amount of imagination can subvert that reality. This is part of the structural problem at the root of our perilous rush to oblivion, the economy is dependent on the society, not the other way around. It is only when our social support systems are assumptively included in a picture of our society that it appears to the casual observer that the economy is our master. Belief in the ascendency of markets and capitalist economics is akin to belief in creationism, it requires ignorance of the facts. The facts are that our economy is 100% and inextricably dependent on our the health of our society.
On the other hand, no economist locked in a room with only economic theory could construct an argument in support of the Minimum Wage, it is a basically distorting mechanism that meets no economic goals. And that’s the point, the Minimum Wage is a social construct designed to try and deliver a social end. It’s time we stopped trying, and starting actually delivering the end we mean to. If we believe that a citizen is entitled to a basic minimum lifestyle (and we had better believe that if we value a peaceful, sustainable society), then we need to start delivering that, instead of playing with market mechanisms in an attempt to deliver the same. To quote Morpheous, “Stop trying to hit me, and hit me!”
If we carry on with our current approach, we are just floundering around in a nebulous construct that we know, deep down, is completely flawed at its foundation. It’s time to stop playing cricket on a football pitch and move the game to its home turf. Face it, live up to it, call it out and be proud: “We believe that every single person in our society is entitled to the basic services that sustain life. We’re not asking for permission to deliver on that promise, we’re going to deliver on that promise first and sort the rest out on top of that.” That we is you and me, we aren’t asking business to sort it out for us, we are taking responsibility for sorting it out ourselves. We’ll pay for it exclusively out of our income taxes and we’ll get it done without a single dime in corporate taxes, without a mandated wage and without the involuntary participation of any commercial enterprise. It’s our society, we live in it and we take full responsibility for it.
The minimum wage is history, it’s time for the return of sanity, responsibility and honesty. The minimum wage is an excuse for inaction, an innocent but ignorant attempt to pass our buck to people who can’t and won’t do what we say we mean to do. There’s plenty of income tax to do the job, we just need to do it, and for the sake of preserving a thousand years of civilization, we need to start doing it now!
Why borrowing, taxing, printing and cutting are not our only options.
Why we don’t have to tax, borrow, print or cut.
Has it occurred to anyone that these are not our only options?
The prevailing logic (we won’t call it wisdom) goes something like this, and I’m sure you’ll find this very familiar.
We understand the need for a social safety net, especially important in urbanized societies where the poor cannot “return to the farm” in bad times, and the value of certain investments in our social infrastructure that sustain our economy and our social fabric, but we cannot afford to pay for them – meaning that our government does not raise enough in taxes to be able to pay for the services.
Here, below, are the reasons and rationales offered for why this problem is only resolvable through austerity measures, meaning reductions in social services and investments.
1) We cannot raise taxes to create more revenue because those taxes will destimulate our economy, resulting eventually in lower tax revenues. In other words, raising taxes is a self defeating strategy that will only require yet higher taxes in the future, until the economy is so deteriorated that it cannot create sufficient wealth to support the burden of the social infrastructure at any taxation rate.
2) We cannot borrow any more because we have already tried that and now carry so much debt that simply servicing the debt we have is the best we can do.
3) We cannot print money, or at least we cannot be seen to be printing money for very long, because that will devalue our currency and create inflationary pressures in our economy. We all know what happened in Germany before the Second World War.
4) We have no choice but to cut our expenditures, and that means reducing our social services and investment in our social infrastructure.
Now, before we go any further, let’s deal with the objections that have already arisen in your mind.
1) “Taxes can be raised.”
It is true, we could be more effective in our tax collection practices and we could probably tax certain activities more than we are. In most countries, that have income tax rates at or above one third and sales taxes of between ten and twenty percent, there is actually relatively little room to raise taxes without deflating economic activity. However, the most important point here is that it would take really high rates of taxation, high enough that almost everyone would agree they were too high, to raise sufficient revenues to cover an even moderately ambitious social investment program. When you do the math you realize that you cannot tax your way out of this problem. If anyone tells you that you can tax your way out and that there are examples of countries that are, you can safely tell them that those examples, and that math, is dependent on borrowing demand from another society, i.e. unbalanced trade. There is no sustainable taxation solution to the problem of affordable social infrastructure.
2) “We can still borrow more.”
As I write, in the Spring of 2010, this only true for an increasingly small number of countries, rapidly dwindling to only one, and soon to be none. There are counties with vast (unsustainably) exploitable natural resources who can borrow, but they don’t need to.
3) “We can print more money, it’s not the bogey man many say it is. We’ve done it before, we can do it again now. We now have sophisticated financial control mechanisms that allow us to control inflationary pressures. A little inflation is not such a bad thing – it will help to reduce our debt in real terms.”
You can take your pick from those arguments but ask any central banker charged with controlling inflation and you’ll hear a real expert tell you otherwise. Liquidity in a modern economy is a difficult beast to control and playing fast and loose with it will get you in trouble, nine times out of ten. You might be able to increase liquidity inside the banking system for a while, but if that gets out into the general economy (which is where social spending has to occur) you’re going to get inflation.
4) “We can cut other expenses, such as defense, instead.”
A favorite of the passionately well intentioned, but unfortunately deeply flawed. The horrible truth is that the necessary social costs greatly exceed any savings that could be wrangled from waste and militarism. This is not to say that waste and militarism should not be targets for reductions in expenditures, just that even if you’re wildly successful in reducing these expenses you simply won’t be saving enough to pay for the social infrastructure required to make your intentions a reality.
And so we are returned to the matter of cutting expenses. It would seem, and indeed it is true, that we have no choice but to cut our expenses. We can only spend what we can raise from reasonable taxes, and the options to borrow or print our way out of our problems are but short term tactics for delay.
Stumped? Did I take you all the way here just to show you that we have no other options? No, I didn’t. We have to cut expenses but we don’t have to cut our social services. In fact we can increase our services and our rate of investment with the same or less money that we use now. How? Let me show you.
Social services aren’t, can’t, won’t and must not be measured in monetary terms. You aren’t paid in money to help an old lady get off a bus, to change your children’s diapers, pick up a piece of litter or care for an elderly parent. So long as you are secure in your own personal welfare you do these things for free. Well, not actually for free, just free of monetary compensation. You do these things because they are part of your social fabric, and you are rewarded in kind by a cohesive and supporting social fabric around you. Inside the appreciation of this simple mechanism lies the key to unlocking the door that leads to the solution to our problem.
As long as our basic social welfare is secure we make spontaneous and voluntary contributions without monetary compensation. Even those who think of themselves as selfish animals are unavoidably and instinctually engaged by this natural mechanism. We do not have to pay ourselves to deliver our social services, we just have to create the basic security that unlocks our potential for social contribution, by guaranteeing that basic services will be available for anyone who needs them.
The solution that we have not considered yet as an option is revealed to us through simple observation of ourselves in action.
There are still costs that must be paid for with money, but the remaining costs are within reach of a reasonable tax on the economic activity of a sustainable economy. To paraphrase a wiser man than I: pay in money what must be paid in money, and pay in kind what can be paid in kind.
The math adds up, I’ve done it, try it for yourself. Take a reasonable tax on people’s incomes and spend it exclusively on social infrastructure that will guarantee every citizen the bare necessities of life. We can afford to guarantee everyone basic shelter, sustenance, education, healthcare, public transport, access to information and legal services. Not everyone will want them all, most will only use some, and a few will use none at all. But a reasonable tax on economic incomes will generate sufficient monetary revenues to pay for the monetary components of a guaranteed basic social infrastructure for all. The enablement of this basic infrastructure removes the monetary cost of its own delivery through the liberation of natural human tendencies.
The mechanisms to enable this solution are already in place: democracy, tax collection and service delivery. All we have to do is subtly reorient our priorities and activities to dedicate income tax revenues to guarantee a basic standard of life. It would take less than three years to be fully implemented in most nations today, and would not require any dramatic upheavals to any of the basic economic systems already in operation. It will require us to reimagine the possible, but that is well within our grasp.
Here’s how it works. I, and you, are guaranteed by our compatriots at least the bare essentials for a reasonable life: a roof over my head, some healthy food, access to a doctor, education, local public transport and the Internet. Understanding that these basic services are available, I am free to seek whatever work I can find to supplement these services with cash, that I can use for discretionary activities like entertainment and comfort. There is no minimum wage because my basic life sustaining needs are guaranteed, and also I am not forced to accept any job just to keep body and soul together. In fact, I only have to work for as many hours as I need to meet my needs for discretionary income; I am free to spend the rest of my time at leisure or helping out in my community, should I choose to do so. “But what about those who choose to neither work nor contribute?” They would have no discretionary income, and everyone has discretionary desires – in time desire will lead to work and contribution. In this situation the monetary cost of our time is reduced and this same reduction makes the provision of the social services affordable from a reasonable tax. In fact, the more I help out voluntarily in my local community the lower the cost of those services and therefore the lower the rate of tax on my income.
Within three years just about any community could build a community center with a canteen and build or acquire sufficient public housing to fulfill the fundamental elements of the required basic social services. This effort is easily within the grasp of most communities in the industrialized countries. While those are being built nothing else needs to change, and when they are completed and in operation the minimum wage can be abolished. Everyone is freed to work in whatever way they can and want to to earn monetary income. For many life will not have changed at all, they still have their job, go to work every day and earn similar incomes and pay similar taxes. For our governments the cost of delivering social services will have been transformed with plenty of workers delivering the services either completely voluntarily or at substantially lower montary cost, enabling them to balance their budgets while still supporting a vibrant and cohesive social structure.
The square can be circled. This is the option right in front of us that we have not seen. This is the solution, an alternative to socially destructive and ultimately self defeating cuts, that does not require unreasonable taxation, unsustainable borrowing or inflationary printing.
Rinse and repeat, until it sinks in.
After that, to find out more go to Standards of LIFE.