Yesterday, I introduced Yanis Varoufakis’ proposal of work compensation via shared assets as a means to end the division between an owner class and a working class. These assets would provide an earned residual income combining perfectly with an inherited Universal Basic Income (UBI) and a Federal Job Guarantee, to create a virtually Utopian society of prosperity for all, a society in which everybody would be financially secure and, if they so wished, could earn a desired raise of their income in a fair and reliable fashion.
In this combination of a quasi-holy trinity, the UBI — which is a citizen’s dividend based on our national economic resources that we all, not just a few plutocrats, deserve to inherit upon our birth — would provide a safe minimum income for everybody, gainfully employed or not, while the asset-based work compensation would provide a raise for those who want more money, and the federal job guarantee would provide paid work opportunities often missing in a purely profit-driven “free” market — as the millions of un- and under-employed wannabe-workers who are desperately looking for properly paid jobs these days clearly show.
Since the article was getting a bit long, I decided to perform further elaborations in a second article, which is the one on hand. Basically, in this article, I want to flesh things out a little more, both the current system and the one we can aim for, and also what we must do to get there.
To begin, in our current system, we all – who are not rich – contribute through our work to the building and maintenance of our nation, from roads and farms through all sorts of workplaces to schools, hospitals, TV stations, and each other (the support and care we all need at one time or another). However, only the rich end up holding the assets that represent this jointly built nation, while the rest of us are left holding the bag, having to beg for opportunities to sell our time for finite amounts of money per each month or hour worked. As the disowned, we also have to kowtow to the owner class and are often struggling to pay our monthly bills; pay the doctors, medicines, colleges, or college debts; or even just put enough food on the table.
As the system keeps getting worse, some of us don’t even have a home to sleep in between working hours anymore. Yes, there are thousands of workers now who must sleep in cars, parks, or the streets, while the rich “own” nearly all our country in giant chunks each, are on the prowl to grab even more; and the dividends that come rolling in to them are way too huge for them to know what to do with. It’s a lopsided distribution of wealth and income that is both unethical and bad for the economy since it impoverishes growing numbers of people who thereby drop out of the economy when they can no longer afford to buy products and services. Thus the economy ultimately shrinks. The rich are sawing off the branch on which they are sitting.
Meanwhile, many of the poor are homeless with tens of thousands of homes standing empty, waiting for a lucrative sale that will make a bankster another bit richer. In the richest country on Earth, this can only happen when its system is designed to create poverty as the counterweight to the great wealth it creates in other hands, the hands of those who control, shape, and rig the system driven by their greed and ignoring that they are driving the country over a cliff.
Old socialist solutions to this problem aimed for nationalizing all businesses, putting bureaucrats in charge, and paying workers via the same old coins-for-hours model. Unsurprisingly, many of these controllers turned themselves into a new kind of owner class hated by the rest of their peoples. Modern socialists often prefer “worker co-ops” (worker-owned businesses) that put the workers themselves in charge. This definitely works better; but it may be hard to move between such co-ops without losing one’s company assets and beneficial arrangements.
In contrast, Varoufakis’ suggestion — with that added element of mobility coming from being able to take your assets with you as you change jobs, basically swapping them or having them all exist in the form of national assets automatically swapped in and out of companies — is an economic foundation characterized by the greatest possible stability, flexibility, freedom, economic justice, and lowest risk of corruption possible. It is better than insular worker co-ops, still better than the Soviet Union’s state capitalism that did provide greater material security for the working class than Western economies (albeit at other kinds of costs), and a whole lot better than our current system controlled by selfish oligarchs who abuse and impoverish workers, destroy the economy and our environment, and eat democracy for breakfast.
The Shared Assets Economy comprised of a basic income, asset-based work pay, and federal monetization of non-profit jobs is probably the best economic system humanity can ever have.
To not leave anybody out of it, self-employed people (who would not be automatically assetized through employment) should be able to buy the work-acquirable national assets with the cash they receive for their work. To protect people from dropping out or somehow being squeezed out, the national assets should not be available for sale. The work-acquirable national assets should, instead, be an addition to the inherited universal assets on which a universal basic income would be based.
To arrive at this much better system, we will need to restore (or perhaps for the first time create) a functioning democracy, so government will become a partner, rather than obstacle, in the transition. In order to do that, and to know where to go from there, we will need to change our outdated attitudes and false beliefs. We need to leave behind outdated ways of thinking such as that Puritan idea that we don’t work to live but live to work (under slavery-like conditions, at that). We need to abort the crazy notion that only people who suffer in abysmal jobs are good people, and that therefore we must all search out such jobs and waste our entire lives in them whether those jobs do any good for society – and pay us a living wage – or not. We must drop the outdated notion that scarcity requires every able-bodied man and woman (and child?) to toil in an age when machines have eliminated natural scarcity and taken over much of our production — and continue at a rapid rate to take over all remaining jobs. We need a sea change in politics (never again to vote for a corrupt corporatist) and a see change (sic) in our economic understanding.
When the majority of the people understand that our current system is hopelessly flawed and what a great system is possible through fairly shared assets that no longer divide us into callous owners and oppressed laborers, that’s the moment when we can make it happen (possibly even sooner with a sufficiently mobilized population whose leading activists share this vision). This is where information sources like Beanstock’s World (or the book I am writing) come in to sow the seeds, and where you come in to spread them (or help with the initial sowing). Imagine if each reader convinced two more people and they convinced two more, and so on in a continued chain reaction… the awareness of the country could quickly change. That’s why we are all important in changing our world for the better, not just a little better, but a great deal! It’s really up to us.
To prevent the return to gross inequality (and the political bribery which always accompanies it and then corrupts a country), once we achieve a fair-to-all Shared Assets Economy, we should also make sure to place a cap on how much any individual can gain in assets, something reflecting a lifetime’s maximally possible work. Thus, if some individuals were somehow able to gain money and assets much faster than others, they would simply achieve an earlier retirement rather than a privately held, gigantic business with which to take over a government and its country (like has happened to us), ultimately enslaving its people. If they earned a lifetime’s assets in less than a lifetime through brilliance rather than knavery, they would be free to continue applying their brilliance for the betterment of the world, if they so wished, or for maximizing their joy of living in their remaining years, if they preferred, all while receiving the maximum possible income with no further paid work required. But if they gained so much so fast through knavery instead, then their ability to grow their gains through knavery would come to an automatic stop, and they would never attain the level of wealth needed to buy up our government. A vital insurance against crooks and thugs for the rest of us.
In such a system of shared ownership of our economy, material incentives for unpleasant but important work would stay in place but without the horrific degrees of inequality and oppression we currently have to put up with. In such a system, we would not be handled and controlled by a plutocratic owner class or Soviet-type apparatchiks, either. Nor would we be stuck in a particular worker co-op we cannot leave without possibly losing our years of investment or becoming unable to continue in the beneficial setup we had when the next employer turns out to be a traditional exploitation shop. Instead, we would be co-owners of our places of work and our country at large. Rather than suffer the current rule by that rich-folks-casino called Wall Street, which gambles with our lives and livelihoods, we would have a justly co-owned national trust, overseen and governed by us all through a functioning democracy. Through work, we would gradually increase our residual income on top of our inherited safety cushion of a basic income, and have the freedom to switch jobs without dropping out of this great arrangement.
In essence, we would all be small versions of today’s billionaires who live exactly this kind of life on a much larger footprint, one unnecessarily large because no-body can sleep in more than one house at a time or wear 1000 pairs of pants at once. I suspect, in such a society we would also become more socially friendly and ethical again when we would no longer be fighting each other over crumbs, or economic domination, all the time.
What might this bright future look like?
On Wired.com, there appeared an interesting article that ties into this idea by analyzing the economy of Star Trek’s utopia: The Economic Lessons of Star Trek’s Money-Free Society. It reflects on how life would be different in a economy resembling the one proposed above. Here are some salient quotes:
“…a society in which material wealth has become so abundant that possessing it no longer holds any appeal. In such a world the only way to gain status would be by cultivating talent and intellect.”
“Manu Saadia on Star Trek characters: ‘They are consistent with the economic circumstances in which they live. Imagine yourself growing up in a society where there is never any want or need or financial insecurity of any sort. You will be a very different person. You will be absolutely uninterested in conspicuous consumption. … You will probably be interested in things of a higher nature—the cultivation of the mind, education, love, art, and discovery.’”
Now, wouldn’t a Star Trek world be much better for us to live in than our current wolf-eat-dog society and the 1984–Animal-Farm–Brave-New-World–Matrix world we are headed towards? Again, maybe this would make a great conversation topic for Thanksgiving dinners this week.
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