This week, Marguerite Hampton of the Turtle Island Institute reminded me of Robley E. George’s work on future government. It was approximately one year ago, that I published a very brief introduction to his Socioeconomic Democracy.
Utopia or Obivion
Robley E. George
Utopia or Oblivion, that is the question. Bucky Fuller was right. Ah, Utopia. That crucial concept and crucial ambiguity! Is Utopia something that is no place and never will be anywhere? Or is Utopia just around the corner of human consciousness? Is it possible that fundamental improvement in humanity’s obviously improvable condition could be realized rapidly, voluntarily, consciously, peacefully and democratically?
The purpose of this paper is to present to politicosocioeconomic system designers of the next millennium an introduction to the theory, practice, realization and ramifications of Socioeconomic Democracy (SeD), an advanced and fundamentally democratic socioeconomic system. Most of the following material is adapted from this writer’s forthcoming book Socioeconomic Democracy: An Advanced Socioeconomic System.
It will be assumed that this audience is well aware the world requires significantly improved socioeconomic systems. Justifications for seriously considering such improvements will therefore be kept to a minimum. This will maximize the opportunity available to explore some of the many promising properties and possibilities of fundamentally democratic socioeconomic systems
In and out of the “Science of Economics,” the dreams of Utopians and the practical designs for the next millennium, two extremely important concerns are the distributions of wealth and income in any society — and among different societies. The Socioeconomic Democracy model deals directly with the bounds or extreme limits of these two distributions. Specifically
Socioeconomic Democracy is a model economic system, or more precisely, socioeconomic subsystem, in which there is some form of Universal Guaranteed Personal Income as well as some form of Maximum Allowable Personal Wealth, with both the lower bound on personal material poverty and the upper bound on personal material wealth set and adjusted democratically by all society.
Universal Guaranteed Personal Income
In the idealized state of the model, each participant in this democratic socioeconomic system would know that, regardless of what he or she did or did not do, a democratically determined Universal Guaranteed Personal Income (UGI) would always be available. Put another way, society would guarantee each citizen some minimum amount of purchasing power, with that amount determined democratically by all of society and with citizenship the only test for eligibility.
Before we consider any details of the theoretical model of UGI, it is appropriate to note that the idea of UGI is by no means just theoretical. In fact, UGI already exists in many forms hidden under many guises and known by many names. For example, in the United States, the state of Alaska has for many years provided each and every one of its residents an annual cash grant — just for being a resident of the great state of Alaska! Financed by the Alaska Permanent Fund with revenues from the state-owned oil fields, public dividends started to be paid in 1982 and took the form of a genuine Citizen’s Income (CI), or more accurately Social Dividend (SD), two of many forms of UGI. The amount varied from year to year, starting at $1,000 the first year, dropping to $331 in 1983 and then increasing to over $900 for the past few years. We see that the governmental jurisdiction involved in providing some form of UGI need not necessarily be at the federal level.
Depending upon the degree and direction of technological development, this democratically set, societally guaranteed minimum income for all could, if society so decided, be sufficient to satisfy the typical individual’s minimum subsistence needs. The idea here would not be to help the poor; it would rather be to eliminate the poor. We hasten to add, however, that this elimination of poverty significantly benefits the totality of society and not just the presently “poor,” as will become apparent if not already self-evident. Alternatively, other societies might democratically decide to set the guaranteed amount at only a partial subsistence level, as a number of proposals in western Europe are already suggesting.
We note in passing that some such universal income or purchasing power guarantee appears essential before simultaneously fundamental, peaceful and minimum-pain transformations in present economic systems can take place. The unfortunate and unnecessary, though certainly predictable, results of the rather ruthless “shock therapy” marketization, privatization, capitalization and inevitable criminalization and degeneration of segments of Russian society immediately come to mind, though since all present economic systems require significant improvement the need is in fact universal.
History of Universal Guaranteed Income
The general idea of UGI can be traced back at least to both Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, couched in the terminology of their time. In Agrarian Justice, Paine (1796, 1791) continues his discussion begun in Rights of Man regarding the problem of the elimination of poverty and develops further his proposals for limiting the harmful accumulation of excess and improper property with graduated inheritance taxes and ground rents.
A not-so-small and certainly impressive list of promulgators of more or less serious proposals for some form of UGI would include simply the many Nobelists in economics who have at one time or another in their career suggested or concurred with the basic idea. Indeed, it would appear that over half (a majority!) of the economics Nobelists to date have in fact suggested or even advocated some such system. Perhaps more importantly, none of these Nobelists (so far as this writer is aware) has publicly stated that he was wrong earlier and he now believes some form of universal minimum guaranteed income should not be. James Tobin and Herbert Simon, both Nobelists in economics, are presently considering various guaranteed income schemes financed by various taxation schemes.
In the United States, it was Robert Theobald (1963, 1966) who significantly developed and promoted the idea over a quarter century ago, in his pioneering Free Men and Free Markets, Guaranteed Income and others. Then, of course, there was Daniel Moynihan (1973) and the ill-fated FAP fiasco, documented in his Politics of a Guaranteed Income.
Another fundamental form of UGI is Universal Share Ownership (USO). The many Universal Share Ownership Plans (USOPs) that have been proposed in effect provide some income for all through dividends from universally owned shares of productively employed capital. Frequently adamantly distinguished from the more overt forms of Universal Guaranteed Income accomplished by “transfer payments” (by proponents of both conventional UGI and USO), the two basic strategies nevertheless share far more similarities than are generally appreciated or acknowledged. Louis Kelso, aided by an enthusiastic Mortimer Adler (1958), originally conceived and significantly developed the idea of “universal capitalism” through what was then called a “Financed Capitalist Plan” in his first of many books, The Capitalist Manifesto. Stuart Speiser, in a number of informative books as well as by sponsoring a highly regarded series of Essay Contests devoted to the serious study of USOPs, has done much to develop and promote the possibilities.
Throughout western Europe generally, there is considerable and increasing study of the idea. Prompted in part by Keith Roberts’ (1983) classic Automation, Unemployment and the Distribution of Income, as well as by the writings of the early economics Nobelists such as Tinbergen, Myrdal, Meade and others, there is now, for example, the Citizen’s Income Research Group (CIRG) in England, which publishes the Citizen’s Income Bulletin, and the rapidly growing Basic Income European Network (BIEN), which in fact enjoys world-wide membership. (Indeed, there is now a virile international conspiracy to subvert the meaning of the “E” in BIEN, changing it from European to Earth.) This organization, which has been publishing its informative BIEN Newsletter since 1988, has already sponsored a number of ground-breaking international conferences on Basic Income. As a final example, there is the pioneering work by the late Pieter Kooistra (1997) of the Netherlands, contained in his The Ideal Self-Interest, which describes his proposal for a supplementary world economy, initiated, managed and financed by the U.N., to provide an equivalent Basic Income for all people of the world.
Forms of Universal Guaranteed Income
As examples of the many forms and names of UGI, there are at least “classical American” Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI), Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI), Minimum Guaranteed Income (MGI), Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG), Basic Income (BI), Basic Income Guarantee (BIG), Basic Income Grant (BIG), Basic Economic Security (BES), Demogrant (D), Universal Grant (UG), Citizen’s Income (CI), Citizenship Income (CI), National Dividend (ND), General Inheritance (GI), Natural Inheritance (NI), Social Dividend (SD), Social Credit (SC), Social Wage (SW), Citizen’s Wage (CW), Common Heritage Dividend (CHD), State Bonus (SB), Negative Income Tax (NIT), Family Assistance Plan (FAP), Participation Income (PI) and many more including Partial Basic Income (PBI), Transitional Basic Income (TBI) and Partial Negative Income Tax (PNIT), which is what the Earned Income Tax Credit amounts to. Then there are those increasing number of Universal Share Ownership Plan (USOP) proposals, mentioned above, which specifically attempt to give reality to the term “democratic capitalism.” Almost all these particular schemes approximate the theoretical ideal of UGI to a relatively or very high degree. Other methods of guaranteeing some minimum amount of general or restricted purchasing power would more or less approximate the theoretical concept of UGI.
Unresolved Dilemmas of Universal Guaranteed Income
There are a number of other strong similarities among all the multifarious forms of UGI listed above. The different versions of UGI, including USO, also share the same fundamental set of remaining unresolved dilemmas impeding their otherwise almost immediate implementation. Important unresolved issues include:
(1) How much should the UGI be?
(2) Who should decide how much the UGI should be?
(3) Where and how should any necessary funds for UGI be obtained?
(4) Just where does democracy fit in all this?
(5) How soon can all this start to happen?
Maximum Allowable Personal Wealth
In the ideal theoretical model, all participants of the democratic socioeconomic system would understand that all personal material wealth above the democratically determined allowable amount would, by due process, be transferred out of their ownership and control in a manner specified by the democratically designed and implemented laws of the land.
Hence, a rational, self-interested (as the neoclassical saying goes) extremely wealthy participant in the democratic socioeconomic system, who is at or near the upper bound on allowable personal wealth and who further desires increased personal wealth (which he will in all likelihood do, even in the next millennium), would be economically motivated, that is, have “economic incentive,” to increase the well-being of some less wealthy members of society. Only in this manner can these (still-wealthiest) participants persuade (a majority of) the rationally self-interested participants in the democratic society to vote to raise the legal upper limit on allowable personal wealth.
There is, in fact, strong economic incentive for those who are pegged at or near the upper limit on allowable personal wealth to be successful in improving the general welfare. For if the current level of MAW is not producing sufficient improvement in the general welfare, as democratically determined, there is the possibility and probability that the democratic society might democratically decide to reduce the MAW limit even more in order to enlist even more still-wealthy participants and their extra wealth in the noble task of improving the well-being of society in general.
It should perhaps be explicitly stated that the primary effect of a democratically set upper bound on allowable personal wealth is definitely not the sudden availability of that previously private wealth which society, acting peacefully and legally through its democratic government, has decided to acquire for its general welfare. It is rather the permanently altered economic incentive existing for those at or near the upper bound on personal wealth, which aligns the still-wealthy individual’s personal economic interest with the economic interest of society in general. The synergy of the society is thus significantly increased. On the other hand, the revenue raised directly and immediately by this cap on personal wealth or net worth certainly will amount to something and certainly could be used by practically every society on the planet for a variety of presently unmet obligations.
It is evidently necessary to emphasize that we are considering here a maximum limit on allowable personal wealth and not a limit on allowable personal income. The latter is also a possibility, of course, and one which has been explored, advocated and in fact implemented in a variety of situations.
Abbreviated History of Maximum Allowable Wealth
The idea of some form of limit to or upper bound on personal wealth, like the idea of a societally guaranteed income, can be traced back to Thomas Paine, the man who gave the United States of America its name and the necessary encouragement to create the new country. Thomas Jefferson’s familiar belief that taxes should be proportioned to what may annually be spared by the individual is also certainly in line with the general idea of a cap and/or a tax on personal wealth. Regarding Jefferson’s progressive stance concerning taxation, the following.
According to former US President Ronald Reagan, the idea of a progressive income tax came from Karl Marx, “who designed it as the prime essential for a socialist state.” But the shocking fact is that Thomas Jefferson had the idea first. In a letter to James Madison in 1785 (Marx was born in 1818) Jefferson said that a way to lessen inequality in wealth “is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point and to tax the higher portions … in geometrical progression as they rise.” The question becomes: Was Jefferson a Marxist or Marx a Jeffersonian?
Paine’s and Jefferson’s commonsensical views have been shared by many throughout American (and indeed world) history. From ancient Greece (which really was just the day before yesterday) we note that Thales, the mathematically inclined first of the “Seven Sages,” provided an apt, if as yet unheeded, summary of the situation: “If there is neither excessive wealth nor immoderate poverty in a nation, then justice may be said to prevail.” Later, Plato, in his last and most mature Laws, preferred equality in property but realized that was impossible and suggested limits on both poverty and affluence. “When goods are in excess, they produce enmities; and feuds both in States and privately, while if they are deficient they produce, as a rule, serfdom…. It is impossible for [the good man] to be at once both good and excessively rich.” And even Aristotle wrote that “No one should have more than five times the wealth of the poorest person.”
A totally enjoyable, rapid and informative tour through some of the essentials of the class warfare conducted by and (less effectively) against the Rich and Powerful in the good ol’ US of A is provided by Sam Pizzigati (1992) in his recent The Maximum Wage: A Common-Sense Prescription for Revitalizing America — by Taxing the Very Rich. Therein, he also explores the merits of his “Ten Times Rule,” by which there would be an upper limit on income equal to ten times the minimum wage.
As the assets, capital, titles, resources, wealth, net worth, dollars, whatever, acquired by a democratically established maximum allowable personal wealth limit are to benefit all members of society, all members of society might be interested in how these assets are to be deployed. A democratic society might even be interested in democratically deciding how these assets are to be deployed. One immediate question is whether these assets should go directly to the government of, by and for the democratic society to be used in a specified manner or should they be dispersed directly by the present owners in societally acceptable ways preferred by the present owners.
Consider, for a moment, what might be some of the possible uses of the resources made available for public use by an effective and operating upper bound on allowable personal wealth. If the government periodically received payment from individuals in amount equal to how much the individual’s personal fortune exceeded the universally applicable and democratically established MAW limit, just as the government now periodically receives payment from every individual in amount equal to their calculated income tax, these funds could be used as follows:
(1) Considered and treated as general revenue,
(2) Committed by law to reducing the budget deficit or national debt,
(3) Committed by law to finance the democratically chosen UGI,
(4) Combinations of the above,
(5) Whatever else society democratically desires.
On the other hand, there may well be societies so outraged at what they perceive or plainly see to be present and past bungling governmental bureaucracies and personally profiting politicians squandering precious public funds that they democratically adopt a system whereby the extremely wealthy person being relieved of his or her excess personal wealth has complete say (within no doubt legislatively specified options) as to how to dispose of this personal excess wealth to best benefit society. Still other societies might democratically desire to have some fraction of the total assets shaved off by this “max tax” to go to government with the rest to be distributed by the soon-to-be former owners of the resources. Different societies will and should have to decide these matters for themselves. Regardless of the direction taken here, the system would clearly qualify as a form of MAW and, if the upper bound were decided democratically, therefore also a form of SeD.
Regarding the games presently played by those whose personal net worth would be lowered or at least limited by a democratically set MAW bound, new and challenging competitions with like-minded people would now become possible replacements. For example, one subclass of entrepreneurs might still strive to maximize personal profits and wealth, thereby maximizing the dollar amount of their personal contribution to the General Welfare at tax time. Alternatively, another group of entrepreneurs might see just how close they could steer their enterprises to break-even operations, thereby giving not one cent to government via the “max tax” but rather maximizing the direct benefits of their activities for the well being of society in general.
A few words should perhaps be said about confiscation. As with taxes on personal wealth via “property taxes,” so the confiscation of personal wealth is nearly universally practiced and, at least until recently, nearly universally accepted. After all, is not the collection of Federal Income Tax, by another name, confiscation of a portion of a person’s present and no-doubt hard-earned wealth? Would the person’s immediate wealth without the income tax not be increased by just that tax? And does this not now apply to practically everybody, whether or not they can afford it? — as the arguments go. Thus neither taxes on personal wealth nor confiscation of some personal wealth are novel to the American (or global) Legal scene.
It is observed that if it were the democratic desire of a particular society to not appropriate any presently held personal wealth through a democratically set MAW limit, that society might still want to adopt an upper limit on personal wealth set at, say, twice (or one dollar more than) the present net worth of the wealthiest citizen. This would in effect be saying that society agrees to let everyone keep all they’ve got so far but that there will be a limit to just how much longer this societally harmful game will be played. Like the future itself, the possibilities are endless
A successfully functioning democracy is far more than merely a societal decision-making process. From basic essentials such as universal and lifelong access to growth-inducing education and learning opportunities, the ready availability of a variety of opportunities to do good, productive and satisfying work, accurate and timely information, time and conditions allowing all participants to seriously reflect on important issues and an open, non-secretive society and on to the more intangible though just as essential spirit of egalitarian respect and goodwill for everyone, a healthy and vibrant democracy encompasses all this and much more.
Inevitably, however, societal decisions have to be made and will be required throughout the next millennium. Perhaps needless to say, in some instances making no decision is making a momentous decision. It has been argued that decisions affecting all society ought to be made by all society. One reason democracy should play a role in the design of improved economic systems, under this argument, is that economic systems impact everyone in a multitude of intimate ways. Ergo, it follows that everyone should impact the design of their economic system. In any case, in a democratic society hypothesized here, these decisions and this design can be done democratically
The societal decision-making process employing the principle one participant, one vote; majority rule or win (when used, say, to select between candidate A or candidate B or, perhaps in desperation, even candidate C to some public office) can be usefully viewed as an example of what might be called qualitative democracy. If a democratic decision (arrived at by employing the above principle of majority rule) is in fact obtained, there at least could be a qualitative difference in the performance of the office, department or administration, depending on who, specifically, is elected to that office. This of course by no means implies that electing different politicians, even from different political parties, to some particular political office necessarily guarantees a significantly different policy or quality of performance. Examples to the contrary are too numerous. Likewise, when the matter being voted on is something like passage of government-issued bonds, the possible outcomes can again be qualitatively different.
In all these voting situations (deciding the election of candidates or adoption of public indebtedness to finance worthy but expensive projects), the majority-receiving winner of the voting “takes all.” At least in theory, the winner alone determines the quality, i.e., the nature and characteristics, of the post-election situation. This produces problems.
Of course, a democratic decision (using the above-mentioned majority rule) is not necessarily guaranteed to be even possible. For example, if none of the three above-mentioned candidates, A, B or C, receives a majority of the votes, the “majority rule” does not help or even apply since there is no majority. Because of this possible and not infrequent occurrence, societies have adopted rules for the unequivocal resolution of the election when this happens or frequently to preclude it from happening. Overt or covert prohibition of third party candidates and acceptance of minority-rule plurality resolutions are two of many devices to dissolve the conflict.
In contrast with the extensive existence and employment of qualitative democracy, there is at present no widely accepted procedure by which each individual participant in a democratic society can directly vote his or her particular preference for an amount or magnitude of something in question, with the democratically determined, societally desired amount unequivocally resulting. Accordingly, whole classes of societal questions are not now asked and cannot now be answered democratically.
But the fact that there is no widely accepted or widely known procedure for society to democratically decide desired magnitudes does not mean that no such procedure exists. Duncan Black (1958) in his Theory of Committees and Elections and Economics Nobelist Kenneth Arrow (1963) in his Social Choice and Individual Values independently and more or less simultaneously established the important mathematical result and procedure over a generation ago. These informative mathematical economists, in their now classic contributions, have provided the theory which shows that the median value of the participants’ (voters’) preference distribution is the amount the democratic society as a whole is “for” — assuming the minimal operational one participant, one vote; majority rule decision-making process. Only the median value can command a majority’s favor in pair-wise votings with all other amounts.
Roughly speaking, this means that the democratically determined amount is such that half the voters want that much or more while the other half want that much or less. The democratically desired amount is that amount preferred by the median or “middle” voting participant. Hence
There is a simple and mathematically correct procedure by which all participants of a democratic society can democratically determine societally preferred amounts or magnitudes of important societally impacting parameters.
The history of the development of the mathematical theory and understanding of elections makes interesting and sometimes amusing reading. Part II of Black’s Theory of Committees and Elections provides a convenient summary of the early development of this intellectual activity.
As Black reminds us, systematic theorizing on elections and committees was part of the general updraft of thought during the Enlightenment. It was the general problem of what to do when no clear majority exists that initially occupied Jean-Charles de Borda, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet, Pierre-Simon, Marquis de Laplace, the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and, for our present purposes, Francis Galton.
Writing in Nature in 1907, Galton’s “One Vote, One Value” points out that “A certain class of problems do not as yet appear to be solved according to scientific rules, though they are of much importance and of frequent recurrence. Two examples will suffice. (1) A jury has to assess damages. (2) The council of a society has to fix on a sum of money, suitable for some particular purpose. Each voter, whether of the jury or of the council, has equal authority with each of his colleagues. How can the right conclusion be reached, considering that there may be as many different estimates as there are members? That conclusion is clearly not the average of all the estimates, which would give a voting power to ‘cranks’ in proportion to their crankiness. One absurdly large or small estimate would leave a greater impress on the results than one of reasonable amount, and the more an estimate diverges from the bulk of the rest, the more influence would it exert. I wish to point out that the estimate to which least objection can be raised is the middlemost estimate, the number of votes that it is too high being exactly balanced by the number of votes that it is too low. Every other estimate is condemned by a majority of voters as being either too high or too low.”
Borda’s work initiated the serious scientific study of the properties, possibilities and pitfalls of majority rule. Since Black and Arrow and some of their contemporary workers, the discipline has, of course, blossomed into the now rich and elegant field variously referred to as social, public or collective choice.
For the interested technician, it is certainly the case that this procedure (majority rule; median value of distribution of personal preferences) requires the satisfied assumption of “single-peakedness” for consistent, unambiguous solution. Arrow has shown with his celebrated “Impossibility Theorem” that general personal preference distributions (as opposed to, for example, single-peaked personal preference distributions), combined with a few other seemingly innocous requirements, can lead to ambiguous results.
Black discusses the shapes of practical preference curves. “While in practice a member’s preference curve may be of any shape whatever, there is reason to expect that, in some important practical problems the valuations actually carried out will tend to take the form of isolated points on single-peaked curves. This would be particularly likely to happen if the committee were considering different possible sizes of a numerical quantity and choosing one size in preference to the others. It might, for example, be reaching a decision with regard to a price of a product to be marketed by a firm, or the output for a future period, or the wage rate of labour, or the height of a particular tax, or the legal school-leaving age, and so on.”
It should be clear that wide variations in societies (all of which would still be democratic) are possible with Socioeconomic Democracy. Here, we note some of the possible theoretical variations of the SeD model. Later, we will look at the larger set of possible socioeconomic systems which, while not strictly satisfying all the requirements of the ideal theoretical model, are nevertheless on a continuum that approaches and to varying degrees approximates the theoretical model.
Observe that if a particular participant in this democratic socioeconomic system were opposed to a societally guaranteed minimum income for all, that participant could vote to place the lower limit on UGI at zero. If a majority of participants so voted, it would be the democratically determined desire of that society to have no UGI.
Similarly, any participant who would be opposed to a maximum bound on allowable personal wealth, for any reason, could vote to place that upper limit at, say, infinity. If a majority of participants so voted, it would be the democratically determined desire of that society to have no upper bound on net personal wealth. Subsequent votings on these questions could, of course, change the magnitudes of these democratically set and adjusted parameters.
Four basically different possibilities are therefore immediate. There could be democratic societies wherein (1) reasonable limits on both MAW and UGI were democratically desired and established, (2) an upper limit on MAW but no lower bound on UGI was desired by the society, (3) a lower bound on UGI but no upper limit on MAW was wanted, and (4) no limit on either MAW or UGI was wanted by that society, as democratically determined.
Limits on Both Maximum Allowable Wealth (MAW) and Universal Guaranteed Income (UGI)
A democratic society could decide to adopt what it considers reasonable and appropriate amounts for both limits. This would, presumably, have followed a period of public discussion, research, education and thought. Any society that adopted a reasonable, sustainable and effective upper bound on allowable personal wealth and lower bound on tolerable personal poverty would clearly be demonstrating an understanding of, and a dedication to, meaningful democracy — and all that implies. Such a society would be conscious of the many desirable possibilities stemming from the universal satisfaction of basic human needs. It would be attempting to make the most of humanity’s already sufficiently painful historical development and take advantage of, or, to use another popular term, exploit, the beneficial potentiality.
Limit on MAW, No Limit on UGI.
Some societies might think it best to have, and therefore democratically vote to establish, a finite upper bound on MAW but reject any UGI. Such societies might reason that it is the obligation of all those in the private sector who have been fortunate enough to be materially “successful” to insure the creation of a situation in which everyone in society who wants to live a satisfying, productive life has the opportunity — not fleeting but continuous — to do so. Nevertheless, such a society could democratically reject the idea of directly providing governmentally guaranteed minimum purchasing power for everyone.
Limit on UGI, No Limit on MAW.
Some other societies might democratically decide to have a nonzero lower bound on UGI but no finite upper bound on MAW. Such societies would in general be saying they feel strongly that everyone should be guaranteed at least the minimum human essentials including continuing opportunities to develop into healthy and healthily productive people, where those minimum essentials and opportunities are to be democratically determined. But beyond this, when all minimum essentials are satisfied, these societies basically believe that every participant in the democratic socioeconomic system should be free to attempt to accumulate unlimited personal wealth, just as now, if that is what they want or the only thing they know how to do with their lives and so long as it is done legally. Of course, depending upon the form and amount of the lower bound actually established, as well as its method of finance, such economic systems may or may not be sustainable in the long run.
No Limits on Either MAW or UGI.
Finally, there is the possible society which has heard about, discussed, thought about, understands and then democratically rejects both limits. This kind of society might be said to have the attitude of not being concerned about the Ultra Rich concentrating as much societal and planetary wealth as the laws, their making, buying, bending or breaking allow and not being concerned about the “disadvantaged” poor who live a million different miseries — with or without dignity — and not being concerned about a shrinking middle class being robbed by some people busily concentrating wealth and some other people busily stealing in an attempt to survive or live at a comfort level suggested by current “consumer” motivating advertising. Yet such a society would nevertheless be very different from contemporary society which likewise has no such limits. The crucial difference, of course, is that the society which collectively voted for no limits on either MAW or UGI would have given conscious and democratic consent to living in such a system with such extremes.
For the first three of the above four possible categories, quantitative differences in the magnitudes of the bounds would provide considerable further variety and healthy experimentation. For example, concerning MAW, different societies could differ as to the degree of “tightness” of that limit. “Loose” control would be where only a few percent of a society are actually pegged at the upper limit on allowable personal wealth. A “tight” control could have, theoretically, up to (but no more than, or it would not be democratic) something like 49 percent of the population pegged at the democratically set MAW limit. The tighter the societal control on the democratically set MAW limit, the lower the bound and the more people constrained at that bound, harnessed, as it were, by self-interest, to actively work to benefit all society
We can here only briefly note a few of the many different dimensions of justification for some form of Socioeconomic Democracy. Certainly no claim of completeness is made; interested readers are encouraged to pursue these matters further.
Also, it is by no means implied that all these justifications are necessarily of more or less equal weight. Indeed, some might say, of each justification, that it is more important than all the others put together. Others might object that, of these justifications, some are like “apples” while others are like “oranges.” Still others, with more modest ambitions, might simply be satisfied that they all point in more or less the same general direction.
Anthropological justification may be obtained from Ruth Benedict, as provided by Abraham Maslow and John Honigmann (1970) when they made available some of Benedict’s previously unpublished notes in the American Anthropologist. Philosophical justification can be more or less obtained from John Rawls’ (1971) classic A Theory of Justice — though the minor “Malibu Surfer” problem does admittedly remain to be resolved. For psychological support one could consult Abraham Maslow’s (1968) Toward a Psychology of Being and one should consult Charles Hampden-Turner’s (1970) inspiring Radical Man: The Process of Psycho-Social Development and one must consult Erich Fromm’s (1966) “Psychological Aspects of the Guaranteed Income” (in Theobald’s Guaranteed Income) and Paul Wachtel’s (1989) The Poverty of Affluence: A Psychological Portrait of the American Way of Life. Regarding religious justification for something like SeD, where to start?! Neglecting, reluctantly, Jesus’s observation regarding a camel, the eye of a needle, a rich man and entry into God’s Kingdom, and acknowledging that this will, in some circles, no doubt be considered blatant religious discrimination, we limit reference here to Economic Justice for All prepared by the US National Conference of Catholic Bishops (1986), simply noting its similarity to the work of numerous other denominations, religions, nationalities and organizations. Finally, there is the all-inspiring and still unrealized United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Socioeconomic Democracy and Islamic Economics
Consider next Islam. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we note that Islam started out with some ideas similar to those considered here. In particular, we note the relationships, similarities and differences between Socioeconomic Democracy and Zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam. Zakat is a tax on wealth to be productively used basically for the poor, to eliminate poverty and realize a fully healthy and productive society for all.
Very briefly, the primary objective of the prophetic mission of Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was to create and establish a healthy, happy and balanced society based on the fundamental values of fraternity and equity not known in the pre-Islamic world. This attempt at a comprehensive improvement in humanity’s condition took place more than a millennium before the Declaration of Independence and The Wealth of Nations, and certainly a very long time before Marx, Keynes or Rawls.
To be sure, while Zakat was used, quite successfully, during the first century of a robust Islam, it has fallen into more or less disuse, as many first principles of prophets seem wont to do. Domination by western economies has no doubt contributed to the neglect or suppression of the practice of Zakat.
Interest in Zakat has reawakened in the second half of the twentieth century. Illustrative of this recent intellectual activity is Muhammad A. Mannan’s (1986) classic Islamic Economics: Theory and Practice and Muhammad A. Khan’s (1991) valuable “The Future of Islamic Economics” appearing in a recent Futures, both of which emphatically remind us of the fundamental nature of Zakat, at least for an Islami, and its bright future. Nasim S. Shirazi (1996) has provided a valuable reality check with regard to the present practice of Zakat. In his System of Zakat in Pakistan: An Appraisal, Shirazi presents the results of extensive research on the system of Zakat and Ushr and its implementation in Pakistan, which was the first country in the contemporary Islamic world to attempt to institute a system of Zakat.
Regarding democracy, the world’s Islamic people struggle for its correct definition and meaningful realization, just as all other people on the planet are now doing. James Dator, Ikram Azam and Sohail Inayatullah (1996), in The Futures of Democracy in Pakistan and the Developing World provides one of an increasing number of serious works on the analysis and articulation of Islamic democracy. Promising signs regarding democracy are in fact everywhere to be seen by those who will look.
Rapidly recapitulating, the Prophet Muhammad conceived (or was given) the rather reasonable and commonsensical idea of allowing (through taxes) those of society with the most extra wealth to financially and otherwise help those of society presently in need so as to produce a society wherein everyone has the opportunity to grow strong, thankful and happy and able to contribute to their humanity and its further development. Zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam, is a religious requirement to “promote the General Welfare,” to use a phrase made popular by the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution, written over a millennium later. Zakat is essentially a form of, or at least an approximation to, Socioeconomic Democracy, or, perhaps, vice versa.
If the Qur’an specified a tax on wealth, as opposed to a limit on wealth as discussed here, perhaps it was that even Muhammad himself could not at the time conceive of, let alone predict, way back then that eventually there would be megamultibillionaires and hungry people. And while “no interest” is perhaps the most familiar characteristic of Islami economics — to many Islami and non-Islami alike — it certainly is the case that it is not “no interest” but Zakat that is one of the five Pillars of Islam. In passing, it is noted that all the great religions originally condemned the practice of interest on loans
Incentive and Self-Interest
In order to fully appreciate the implications and ramifications of Socioeconomic Democracy, it is best to keep foremost in mind the altered economic incentives created not only for those at or near the democratically set lower bound on personal income and the democratically set upper bound on personal wealth but for all participants of society. One of the stated, indeed heralded, goals of most past and present economic system designs and redesigns has been “the creation of economic incentive” in an attempt to accomplish this or that.
As the former engineer and popular psychosocial critic and transformationist, the late Willis Harman (1976), put it in his pioneering An Incomplete Guide to the Future, “One of the most effective ways to bring about change in individual and organizational behavior without infringing on personal liberties is to provide economic incentive for desired behavior. Much of our present predicament can be traced to the fact that basic economic incentives run counter to socially desirable objectives. For instance, many methods of increasing corporate profits have undesirable ecological or social consequences, and short-term economic considerations often penalize future generations. But incentives can be established that help bring the actions of persons and corporations into line with society’s needs.”
Let us therefore briefly consider the economic incentive created by Socioeconomic Democracy. We might begin with that alleged friend of all humankind, the rational, self-interested Economic Man, motivated by an insatiable desire for good ol’ general purpose money and all the fame, fun, power and control it can buy. We note first, with some amusement, that all past and present economic systems and economic system changes that were consciously and intentionally created, using economic incentives and self-interest in an attempt to influence human behavior, were and are examples of social, economic and socioeconomic engineering. In many cases, it was not good or effective or democratically desired, but it was socioeconomic engineering, nonetheless. We also, graciously, it would seem, ignore the obvious question: “How can a self-interested person be rationally insatiable?”
Incentive from Universal Gurananteed Income
Regarding the economic incentives created by a democratically set and adjusted universal lower bound on personal income, the matter has been extensively discussed by numerous other writers and we will not devote much time to it here. Suffice it to say that as Robert Theobald (1962), in The Challenge of Abundance, long ago unabashedly put it, the guaranteed income ” … could, at last, make Jefferson’s ideal a reality in modern society by providing independent means, which would allow each individual to obtain minimum amounts of clothing, food, and shelter. They would not keep the family in luxury but would provide the necessities of life. The unemployed would be assured of a reasonable standard of living. The student, the writer, the artist, the visionary, the dissenter could live on this income if they considered their work sufficiently important.” So too could the environmentalist, the ecologist, the deep ecologist, the inventor, those courageous and caring people who wish to serve, using their talents and blessings, in remote, poor or ravaged areas, those training for a first or different job and those out of a meaningful job basically because of inadequacies of contemporary economic theories, economic priests and economic policies.
Incentive from Maximum Allowable Wealth
Consider now the incentives and self-interests associated with a democratically set and adjusted maximum allowable personal wealth limit. At the high end of the now-truncated personal wealth distribution, all the participants of the democratic socioeconomic system who are pegged at or just below the MAW limit would know that only by deploying their still-immense personal fortunes for the significant betterment of society in general can they induce a rationally self-interested majority to vote to raise the allowable upper limit on personal fortunes. This is because some of the majority holding the MAW limit down to where it presently is could then realistically anticipate the possibility of their own personal fortunes or well-being growing to exceed the present MAW limit, thanks to the now much more synergetic and positively productive, not to mention democratic, societal arrangements. They would then be willing, indeed want, to vote for a higher MAW level, being rationally self-interested participants in the democratic society. As an exercise, the reader can anticipate the attitudinal and behavioral modifications resulting from the economic incentive provided those whose personal net worth is considerably (many orders of magnitude!) less than the societally set upper bound on allowable personal wealth
As described here, Socioeconomic Democracy is an ideal theoretical model socioeconomic system. By ideal is meant “a conception of something in its perfection, a standard of perfection or excellence, to be taken as a model for imitation.” The use of the word theoretical, however, in no way implies, nor should it be inferred, that this discussion is in some sense “impractical.” Careful theoretical reasoning can be and frequently is profoundly practical and can have profound practical implications, applications and ramifications.
As employed here, practical approximations refer to real, implementable politicosocioeconomic systems whose properties approximate, that is, come close to in some sense, the ideal theoretical model of Socieoconomic Democracy. It is of interest to examine at least a few of these many practical and implementable approximations to the ideal theoretical model. It is not unlikely that a variety of different approximations to the ideal theoretical model can, should or will be considered and implemented in different societies at different times under different circumstances.
Approximations to Universal Guaranteed Income
Regarding Universal Guaranteed Personal Income, it has already been observed that there are numerous particular forms of UGI. Recall that there are at least GAI, GMI, BI, BIG, MGI, BES, CI, ND, SD, NIT, FAP and many more including PBI and TBI (and, presumably, PCI and TCI), as well as the various USOPs. All these particular schemes approximate the theoretical ideal of UGI to a relatively high though varying degree. Other systems of guaranteeing some minimum amount of general or restricted purchasing power or guaranteeing some minimum amount of goods and services would more or less approximate the ideal theoretical concept of UGI. Of course, none of these systems, as originally proposed, suggested that the amount of the guaranteed income be set democratically and very few of these systems suggested that anybody other than the presently shrinking middle class should pay for it.
Somewhat more distant but also more politically possible approximations to “pure” UGI are obtained by relaxing in turn each of its defining attributes. For example, one approximation to Universal Guaranteed Income is Universally Guaranteed Goods and Services. One particular long-established principle of any civilized society is universal public education. Some universal public education (whatever its quality, expense and purpose) is national policy in the United States and certainly most other industrialized and developing countries. Universal guaranteed public education is a very real form of, or approximation to, Universal Partial Basic Income, with the service in lieu of income being the governmentally (publicly) funded and provided public education for a few years. Universal guaranteed medical care, likewise available in almost all self-proclaimed civilized societies, is another approximation to UGI. Universal prenatal care, immunization, child care and preschool education and training are also in fact forms of Universal Partial Basic Income with the income provided in the form of the paid-for cost(s) of the service(s) provided. The reader can no doubt easily think of many other examples of PBI that in fact already exist.
Instead of unqualified UGI, various approximations could (and actually do) stipulate satisfaction of particular requirements or qualifications. Such qualifications can easily and quickly become very far removed from the ideal and efficiency of UGI, but it is informative to appreciate the fact that such qualifications do lie on a continuum that leads to UGI. Thus all so-called means tested and/or targeted welfare programs are approximations to UGI, though in many cases expensive, inefficient, decidedly undemocratic and distant approximations indeed. Or in lieu of unqualified, the democratically adopted approximation to UGI could require some form of community or national service to be eligible.
Finally, for this extremely abbreviated list of possible approximations to the UGI aspects of SeD, we should again acknowledge the reality of Universal Partial Basic Income in, of all places, the good ol’ US of A. More specifically, the PBI guaranteed by the state of Alaska, which has its universal annual grant to all residents of one year or more. One could argue that the one-year residency requirement for eligibility makes the Alaska grant not completely universal or unqualified. Logically speaking, that is certainly so, which then makes it an excellent approximation.
Approximations to Maximum Allowable Wealth
Concerning popular approximations to Maximum Allowable Personal Wealth, seemingly the closest thing to a limit on personal wealth is a tax on personal wealth. And while there is a large literature considering the legal aspects of some form of upper limit to a person’s personal wealth, there is far more researched literature concerned with aspects and possibilities of taxation of personal wealth, though they share many similarities.
Regardless of arguments for a tax on wealth, such a tax is at best only an approximation to a limit on wealth. This is because the economic incentive created by a governmentally or societally set tax on personal wealth is fundamentally different from the economic incentive created by a democratically set limit on personal wealth. Nevertheless, such a tax is clearly a step in the general direction of a limit on wealth and as such is at least an approximation to a bound on allowable personal wealth. In the case of some proposals by the late Vance Packard (1989) in his extremely informative The Ultra Rich: How Much Is Too Much?, we see how well a steeply progressive tax on wealth might ultimately approximate the effects of a limit on wealth more or less painlessly introduced over a span of many years. Of course, Packard’s particular parameter settings employed in his scenarios could also be set democratically.
Another familiar form of a tax on wealth, the Inheritance Tax, is in fact a time-delayed or time-deferred tax on wealth. As such, it is therefore also an approximation to a limit on wealth, which agrees with our common sensibilities. Another nuance yet, there have been proposals for a limit on inheritance, which would be a time-deferred approximation to a limit on personal wealth. A far more distant and poor approximation to a limit on wealth is a progressive tax on income. Yet admittedly, that is a closer approximation to a MAW limit than a regressive tax on income and certainly a closer approximation than another tax on the middle class. A more comprehensive list of the possibilities for politically and economically acceptable approximations to a maximum allowable personal wealth limit can of course be obtained by systematically examining and relaxing in turn and in combination each of its defining attributes, just as with approximations to UGI.
Approximations to Democracy
Approximations to democracy, like approximations to anything else, can be fairly close or fairly distant. Fairly distant approximations to democracy, while they may last a long time and indeed seem determined to last forever, are seldom satisfying and, in the long run, clearly unstable and unsustainable. Whether “representative” democracy is a fairly close approximation to democracy would appear to be situation-dependent. Whether democracy should always be representative is of course another interesting question.
An approximation to all participants of society democratically setting the UGI and MAW limits would be having only those citizens at least 18 years of age, say, vote to decide the magnitudes of the two bounds. Approximations other than with an age restriction, even less democratic and more removed from the theoretical ideal of SeD, would include restrictions on voters by sex, race, religion, wealth or lack thereof, height, weight, color of eyes or other inconsequential criteria — almost all of which have been used in the past.
Another kind of approximation to the democratic ideal is the situation characterized by different political parties and candidates advocating different amounts for the two bounds, depending upon their particular understanding of the general will of the society. In some particular democratic societies, different political parties could offer to the public their opinions of what the democratic desire of the total society would, could or perhaps even should be regarding the upper bound on MAW and the lower bound on UGI. No doubt there would be differences of opinion among the different political parties as to what indeed are the democratically desired values of these two important socioeconomic system parameters. If democratic procedures were followed to determine ascendancy to political power, it would seem the winning political party might, in some sense at least, be said to have spoken for the democratic society as a whole. Thus it would seem that the above-described process is at least an approximation to the process of determining the two parameters by direct democracy.
The ideal theoretical model of Socioeconomic Democracy can therefore be approximated in a number of different yet meaningful ways. The attentive reader can surely provide many more examples.
The rational study and objective comparison of alternative future possibilities provide the opportunity to make a contribution toward societally desirable societal evolution. However, in order to realize the beneficial potential of research into the nature of the possible future, reasonable care must be exercised in defining the alternatives. The serious student of the future must, of course, be willing to consider presently non-existing situations. Complementing this requirement is the necessity of establishing that the alternatives considered are in fact physically realizable and feasible.
As can only be briefly outlined here, physical realizability is easily established in the case of SeD. It is done by simply indicating the important aspects of the implementation process necessary to realize SeD.
The precise procedure by which the societally desired bounds on minimum guaranteed personal income and maximum allowable personal wealth could be determined depends, among other things, on the state of technological development of the particular democratic society. An obvious and immediate possibility, applicable almost anywhere, would be appropriately quantized multiple-choice arrays printed on voting ballots. From this elementary though certainly satisfactory method, the gamut of more or less sophisticated technological systems successively approximating “instant democracy” could be considered.
The functions and modes of operation required to effectively administer a just and democratic socioeconomic system would all have to be specified, designed and implemented through appropriate legislation. Of course, there would be considerable reduction in administrative bureaucracy and bureaucratic intrusiveness, due in large measure to the universal, inclusive nature of the system.
The legal technicalities of establishing and maintaining a democratically determined upper bound on MAW and lower bound on UGI for all must, of course, be fully satisfied. Legislation prescribing the new and quantified democratic decision-making process would undoubtedly be necessary. The specific details of the laws describing the particular forms of the democratically set upper wealth and lower income limits remain to be delineated and made the law of the land. In all likelihood, various approximations to one or more aspects of the ideal theoretical model would in fact be realized and the particular legislation to so do would have to be conceived, written, discussed, thought about, revised, thought about some more, passed and implemented.
In many contemporary political systems, a constitutional amendment might be required to properly or explicitly ground all the essential elements of SeD in the constitutional foundation of the society. Any such constitutional amendment would therefore have to be drafted and adopted. While this might seem an impediment to some, to others it might be viewed as the proper amount of work a society should have to perform before, it could be said, that society had earned the right to enjoy the societal benefits of SeD. This necessarily public discussion of the subject could only be of benefit.
Using reasonable estimates of the many beneficial effects resulting from democratically established bounds on MAW and UGI, an estimation of the total economic impact should and certainly could be determined before system realization. In areas where current understanding cannot, with sufficient accuracy, predict the magnitudes of these effects, parametric analysis would be appropriate. New and societally beneficial avenues of relevant research would, at the same time, be identified. Simulation studies, long an effective tool of economic (not to mention engineering) analysis, are easily conceived and conducted.
Public opinion polls concerning these and related questions would doubtless prove of considerable value in supplying needed and missing information. Delphi and other consensus-creating processes could perhaps also be effectively utilized. The results of such necessarily multidisciplinary analysis, which nevertheless could be partially performed by economists, lawyers and other monodisciplinarians, would suggest feasible, reasonable and perhaps even optimal values for these bounds. These results, with their supporting analysis, could be made public in a variety of ways with public opinion polls being employed to supply citizen feedback for what would undoubtedly be an iterative design process.
Bounds on guaranteed personal income and allowable personal wealth democratically set can not be realized until at least a majority of the voting citizens in a contemporary economic system learn about, understand and favor such a democratic wealth and income distribution boundary controller subsystem. Actually, of course, it can be anticipated that in more that a few situations, something more than a majority of the citizens of a society will have to favor a democratic resolution of the matter before a democratic resolution of the matter can be realized. Especially if, as mentioned earlier, a constitutional amendment is required. It is difficult to think of any historical economic system change of such magnitude that was subjected to such informed public scrutiny prior to voluntary and democratic societal acceptance and adoption as by definition must be the case with SeD. Such necessary public discussion of the matter would eventually democratically resolve not only whether some form of SeD should be established but more importantly would go a long way in determining how much the bounds should be set at under the present circumstances.
In any case, coalitions of political parties, committed to passage of the necessary legislation, is one possible adoption procedure open in some societies. On the other hand, being an alternative to all existing economic systems, SeD provides a well-defined, humanistic, just and democratic focus about which a new or rejuvenated popular political party could (re)organize and (re)capture political power. Prior to the legal establishment of an actually democratic bound-setting procedure, these political parties could, as earlier mentioned, propose specific magnitudes for the bounds, which would reflect their understanding of the General Will of that society. At least for the necessary transitional phase, this last scheme might be considered an almost reasonable approximation to the ideal theoretical model.
It should also be clear that the possibility of a just and democratic socioeconomic system, which would actually benefit all citizens of society, provides strong economic incentive for all rationally, self-interested citizens to actively participate in the political process — something currently considered not worth the time and trouble, in the minds of many and indeed a majority, since, under present circumstances, it isn’t seen to be relevant to their lives.
It should be clear by now that Socioeconomic Democracy would have significant ramifications throughout many realms of human existence and activity. Here we will quickly review some of these many ramifications.
The following description of the beneficial impact of SeD on numerous serious societal problems is not necessarily designed to advocate the implementation of SeD. Rather, it is a description of what will happen as a result of a society realizing — by democratically implementing — SeD. That is to say, we are here describing yet more properties of SeD. On the other hand, others might be inclined to view these particular properties of SeD as further justifications for some form of the democratic socioeconomic system.
Equally important to understand, all of these ramifications will occur simultaneously. That is, the citizens of a democratic society who adopt some form of Socioeconomic Democracy will experience a lessening of a multitude of serious and expensive societal problems all at the same time. This is a natural result of the necessary systemic improvement. Nature does nothing for a single purpose and neither should humans, a subset of nature. It might even not be surprising but rather expected that numerous desirable effects would issue simultaneously from an advancement in socioeconomic system design more in harmony with healthy organic natural development.
It is in fact far easier to solve or reduce a large number of interrelated societal problems simultaneously than it is to independently attempt to solve a collection of individual problems incorrectly considered or assumed to be unrelated. And it is the only way society can resolve what systems theorist Russell Ackoff (1974), in his Redesigning the Future: A Systems Approach to Societal Problems, has called a Mess, which is a “system of interrelated problems.” As Ackoff puts it, “The solution to a mess can seldom be obtained by independently solving each of the problems of which it is composed.” Indeed, considering the “urban mess” as an example, Ackoff observes that “Efforts to deal separately with such aspects of urban life as transportation, health, crime, and education seem to aggravate the total situation.” And more generally, he tells us that “the synthetic mode of thought, when applied to systems problems, is called the systems approach…. This approach is based on the observation that when each part of a system performs as well as possible relative to the criteria applied to it, the system as a whole seldom performs as well as possible relative to the criteria applied to it.”
Of course, simultaneous does not imply instantaneous. The time constants of social and behavioral change are measured in days, months and years — sometimes even generations, centuries and millennia. But the very real economic incentives created by SeD might be expected to fairly rapidly motivate at least all the “rationally self-interested” participants of the assumed democratic society.
The extent to which the various societal problems are reduced or completely resolved depends upon many factors. Among these are:
(1) The specific forms, amounts and details of the two bounds that are democratically adopted. (2) How informed, thoughtful, realistic and effective the citizens of the democratic society are when they democratically establish the two bounds with their votes.
In any case, we here primarily identify and indicate the direction of the change (improvement), with the magnitude of the change considerably dependent on the above factors as well as other considerations, including the society’s present socioeconomic system (which partially determines the particular mix and severity of its present societal problems) and the nature, amount and availability of resources. As will become evident, however, for practically all the problems and practically all societies, the beneficial effect of Socioeconomic Democracy would appear to be positive and at least significant.
A major portion of the discussion will deal with some of the already acknowledged societal problems experienced primarily in the more or less industrially developed societies. Attention will also be given, however, to the so-called developing and underdeveloped societies of the world. And, of course, many problems are experienced in common across practically all societies, secular or spiritual and regardless of resources. The problems of women, children, poverty and violence immediately come to mind.
Further, it will be assumed for much (but not all) of the discussion that some form of meaningful universally guaranteed income has been democratically established at some sustainable and healthy subsistence level. Likewise, it will be assumed that some form of meaningful upper bound on allowable personal wealth has also been democratically established at some effective level. Variations from this nominal situation will be clear from the context.
It is readily acknowledged that this short description of the many societally beneficial ramifications of Socioeconomic Democracy is by no means exhaustive or complete. On the contrary, it is just the beginning. Neither are all serious societal problems considered here nor are all aspects of any particular problem analyzed or even mentioned. Amusingly enough, the Union of International Associations (1991), in its informative Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, has listed and briefly described over 13,000 world problems confronting humanity. Here, we simply lightly touch on certain aspects of a few particular problems society finds troubling and outline the desirable impact of Socioeconomic Democracy on these problems.
Keeping in mind the economic incentives and possibilities created by the theoretical model of the democratically set bounds on minimum guaranteed personal income and maximum allowable personal wealth, let us now consider a number of these beneficial ramifications of Socioeconomic Democracy — all of which, it is reemphasized, will occur simultaneously.
Automation, Computerization and Robotization
“What is to be done?” A famous question, uttered at one time or another by practically everyone who was anyone! In the present case, what is to be done in a few years when automation, computerization and robotization are able to produce almost everything the whole of humanity could possibly need and a good bit of what humanity could reasonably want while requiring (partially for higher accuracy, efficiency and productivity) next to nobody to push the buttons?
A thoughtful, democratic society (the kind hypothesized in this study) could, and no doubt would, adopt Socioeconomic Democracy and thereby guarantee universal, direct and meaningful benefit from humanity’s heritage of advancing technological capability. Automation, eagerly waiting in the wings and already peeking out from behind the curtains, could finally be allowed and indeed encouraged to make its societally beneficial grand entrance. All “featherbedding,” including the maintenance of outdated industries and their controlling bureaucracies (public and private), could then be easily eliminated to everyone’s advantage. And with excessive consumerism significantly curbed by the incentives of SeD, perhaps even our neoLuddite and bioregional friends might finally be convinced of the merit of the improvement and join the rest of us in celebrating the real accomplishments of those engineers who have, down through history, designed systems intended for the betterment of all humanity.
The common technological heritage of humanity has been reinvested time and time again, accruing compound interest over years, decades, generations, centuries and millennia. It is an interesting question just how many inventions and discoveries were intended for the direct benefit of humanity in general and how many were intended to benefit only various subsets of humanity. Inheritance theory, as with economic theory in general, has much yet to ponder, learn and share. Patents and copyrights may or may not be foremost in the mind of the design engineer.
Budget Deficits and National Debts
Suffice to say now that Socioeconomic Democracy would derive necessary funds from and provide societally synergetic economic incentive for the obviously most “successful” members of society to rapidly reduce and eventually eliminate harmful national budget deficits and more harmful national debts. National surpluses, not only for rainy but even sunny and exploratory days, would be possible. The typical intergenerational injustice of accumulating and bequeathing debt to future generations could finally be terminated. And any of those who presently obtain their personal income by the care and feeding of huge national debt would still have at least their subsistence needs met by a UGI — democratically set, it would be hoped, at a sufficiently high level to help guarantee not only survival but some sense of satisfaction in life, even though their former livelihood and guaranteed personal income have been eliminated by human progress.
Save perhaps for a bureaucrat, bureaucracy is generally considered a significant societal problem — often most prominent in “developed” socioeconomic systems. For the bureaucrat, it is not infrequently a dull-to-absurd, but seemingly necessary, means to a guaranteed personal income. SeD would be most effective in reducing societally expensive, unproductive, intrusive and undesirable bureaucracy. Bureaus which better society, in the democratic opinion of that society, can be expected to remain and become even more efficient and effective.
For example, with SeD, practically all present social welfare bureaucracies which administer myriad uncoordinated and often competing, wrongly incentivized Welfare programs, Food Stamps, AFDC (for both Children and Corporations), Unemployment Compensation, Retirement plans, Old-Age Pensions, even Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and all those other near bankrupt megasystems of the federal government which now or will soon require complete restructuring, would no longer be necessary and could be immediately or slowly and systematically eliminated while simultaneously satisfying all legitimate human need during the transition. These bureaucracies will either be independently restructured without acknowledgement of and coordination with the necessary restructuring or elimination of the other subsystems in society’s presently sputtering SupraWelfare System or, as a result of SeD, the problems the bureaucracies have been erected ostensibly to solve will be solved universally, democratically and far more efficiently. One way or another, the bureaucracies and the programs are going to change fundamentally. In like manner, it can be (and has many times been) shown that forces, both economic and otherwise, would be generated by SeD to reduce bureaucracy in other areas such as education and all aspects of government at all levels, including the military.
Whether speaking of the continuing conditions of children in the good ol’ US of A, which again significantly leads the rest of the rich industrial nations in the high rate of child poverty, or in the rest of the world, where many children labor and languish, malnourished and unimmunized, the right to childhood is as violated by contemporary economic systems as by past economic systems. Whether children are forced into slavery, corporate profit-motivated labor, prostitution or crime for survival is the shame of us all. It should be clear Socioeconomic Democracy would go a long way toward eliminating the violations of the rights of children — nationally, globally, and for a variety of reasons. Having solved the national debt problem with SeD ipso facto reduces undeserving debt saddled upon the future generations of children because of the excesses, cowardice or relative unconsciousness of past and present generations of adults.
Crime and Punishment
While there certainly are many faces of crime, it should be immediately clear that SeD is capable of differentiating between crimes caused by need and crimes caused by greed, because SeD can and does eliminate need (as democratically determined) and therefore any crime caused by it. At long last, society could really get tough on the remaining crime presently caused by greed, without being concerned with any possible twinges, pangs, outrages of conscience or expressions of concern for those committing crime out of need. It can even be anticipated that overwhelming majorities of law-abiding, sensitive citizens might coalesce to form a consensus supporting a solution to the remaining crime problem by throwing all people apprehended and found guilty of crimes caused not by need (since that will have been eliminated by SeD and will no longer be a fact or a defense) but by greed into a jail equipped with only such amenities as can be afforded by the prisoner’s forfeited UGI during his (or her) residency.
The sheer terror (that good ol’ “economic incentive”) often associated with being fired, laid off, terminated, downsized or outsourced in a global market where there are far more people than jobs would, of course, no longer be experienced with SeD (since at least the individual’s subsistence needs would be quaranteed). Hence, far fewer people would become so desperate and distorted after being fired to massacre former employers, fellow employees, innocent bystanders, shoppers in malls, customers in Post Offices and school children in schoolyards.
At the outset, it is emphasized that the whole world is in development. The dimensions of development include at least its physical, environmental, scientific, technological, economic, social, psychological, political, ethical, sustainable, spiritual and cosmic aspects. Different societies — as different individuals — have developed to different extents down these different dimensions.
Both the democratically set maximum allowable personal wealth limit and the democratically set universal guaranteed income contribute, in significant ways, to healthy development along essentially all these dimensions, as the interested reader is invited to verify for herself. These two limits would also provide a societal “future shock absorber” which is at once simple and societally controlled. For the “underdeveloped” nations of the world, many of whom continue to seek alternatives to the strict capitalist and socialist development models, SeD would allow all the peoples of those nations to democratically control the rate and direction of development — heretofore almost always an ugly and inhuman process. In the “developed” countries, where fundamental technological change is bound to take place one way or another, further healthy development would be realized by the economic incentive created with the two democratically set limits.
Both growth and development would result under Socioeconomic Democracy, with the quality of both receiving major emphasis and economic encouragement.
Ecology, Environment and Pollution
Neither the well-being (welfare) of society in general nor the well-being of individuals of society are well served by present polluting practices promoted by the economic incentives created by contemporary socioeconomic systems. Socioeconomic Democracy would do much to reduce further pollution and in fact would provide strong economic incentive and opportunity to help restore the presently degraded environment — throughout this polluted planet. Serious concern (and love) could then be shown not only for our children but for that seventh generation.
From a universal, democratically set guaranteed income at least four benefits are immediate. First, this guaranteed income would financially allow people to refuse to work in industries which significantly pollute the environment. That reduces pollution. Second, the guaranteed income would sustain people while they demanded nonpollution-producing jobs and even jobs to reduce present pollution. That reduces pollution even more. Third, the democratically set guaranteed income for all would allow more people to refuse to buy the significantly polluting products of industry. Pollution is thereby reduced even further. Fourth, this guaranteed income would allow more people to demand nonpolluting products from industry and even products and processes which ecologically complement other existing products and processes. All this contributes to the well-being and welfare of everyone and everything — including the environment, solid, liquid and gaseous.
Consider next the basic effect on pollution of a democratically set and adjusted maximum allowable personal wealth limit. Any self-interested, rational participant at or near the upper bound on allowable personal wealth would no longer be economically motivated to generate personal profit, whether currently legal or not, at the expense of significant environmental pollution, i.e., at the expense of other members of society. This is because society could pay for the added costs of the pollution with funds obtained by democratically reducing the allowable wealth limit even more. Further, such societal control would be most effective because it would be operating at the source of the pollution rather than attempting to repurify the total volume of the polluted medium — a societally expensive suggestion frequently offered by those proposing to manufacture and market technological fixes.
It should be clear that SeD would effectively resolve, among others, the problems of financing, providing and rewarding dedicated quality teachers for, and successfully imparting to students the importance of a meaningful education — especially in a democratic and increasingly technological society. It is assumed that at least one of the more important goals of education is increased clear thinking capability on the part of students and ultimately the participants of the democratic society. To realize SeD, people will have to start thinking — it will be an education in itself. With SeD, there is strong economic incentive for the still-wealthy pegged at the democratically set upper bound on allowable personal wealth to see that this goal of quality education is indeed accomplished. And (some form of) a universal guaranteed income at least helps to guarantee everyone the opportunity for an education of their choice, when and as desired — if they really want it. The essential participation of parents in the education of their children (always recognized as important, but because of the stresses and conflicts caused by inefficient contemporary socioeconomic systems, often insufficiently provided) could far more easily be provided with SeD in place — for, it is by now hoped, obvious reasons.
The rapidly approaching bankruptcy of the many megasystems societies have designed to express at least partial gratitude to the previous generation for bearing and nurturing them does seem a shame. But as Occidentals all surely know by now, a crisis is an opportunity. In this case, with SeD, it is the opportunity to eliminate the financial, intellectual and moral crisis in the quality of life for all the elderly by democratically creating a more advanced, efficient and effective socioeconomic system to accomplish the desired task.
Socioeconomic Democracy clearly satisfies numerous legitimate demands articulated by or for the feminine majority of humanity. For example, SeD would guarantee all people the opportunity to participate meaningfully in the socioeconomic sphere. All poverty, including the major portion experienced by women (and their children), would be eliminated democratically and completely. No longer would there be such a thing as “unpaid labor.” Indeed, guaranteed income for all would cover all women who frequently labor totally unpaid to bear and rear the prevailing socioeconomic system its next generation of laborers and warriors. Thus finally would matriarchic nurturing be acknowledged as crucial to human existence, survival, and development, not in more glowing words but with something a little more substantial.
If it is the democratic preference of the particular society, SeD certainly could cover all human embryos (female and male), regardless of, or depending upon, the circumstances of conception. In any case and far more importantly, with all women guaranteed some measure of economic independence, SeD certainly would dramatically reduce the number of unwanted, unnecessary or harmful pregnancies and births. Hence, the desire of those who claim a “right to choose” would converge with the desire of those who claim a “right to life” but evidently merely mean at present a “right to birth” regardless of the lifetime of consequences.
Democratically set guaranteed income for all would be the universal safeguard against any significant economic hardship experienced by anybody (most often by women and children) as a result of changing family relationships. No longer would a woman — or a man — be forced to prostitute herself — or himself — in order to obtain what a majority of the members of society consider a satisfactory subsistence. Highly priced prostitution, in the oldest as well as all more recently established professions, including economics, would also tend to be reduced, as the interested reader is urged to thoughtfully verify for herself. The democratically set, universally guaranteed income would be available to all older women who require it and the democratically set maximum bound on personal wealth would provide economic incentive for the still rich, famous and powerful to cause meaningful, acceptable and satisfying work to be made available for all older women who desire it.
Now, some form of democratically set, societally guaranteed income for all would make that portion of present society which is most adversely affected by inflation essentially immune thereto. For if inflation exists, for any reason, the democratically set UGI could simply be increased by subsequent votings to match the higher cost of living. This procedure could ultimately be automated, thus eliminating need of frequent votings during periods of high inflationary rates, by employing a “cost-of-living index” to appropriately adjust a periodically reset UGI level by ballot. Note that such a societal safeguard against inflation basically provides guaranteed minimum purchasing power during periods of high (as well as low) inflationary rates. Implications for a true “free market” are enormous.
Among many other things, SeD would eliminate (or significantly reduce) all “wage push” inflation because there would then be reasonable and democratic control over the extremes in the distribution of wealth and income. Wage earners would for the first time have their just economic reward and there would be no need for labor to “push” for their just economic reward. No longer would workers be held hostage by economic incentive operating off contemporary income and wealth distributions and no longer would they be forced to accept wages many orders of magnitude lower than others who clearly do no more for humanity. As noted later, this also eliminates disruptive but presently necessary labor strikes.
A democratically set maximum allowable personal wealth limit would also do much to ease inflationary pressures. Among many other important effects, it would provide economic incentive for the still-wealthy near the upper bound on MAW to find out what really causes inflation and put a stop to it since until they do the democratically set UGI can be raised to keep up with inflation and the MAW limit can be reduced to help pay for it.
The enhancement of societal well-being possible with Socioeconomic Democracy ipso facto provides an effective and positive deterrent to international warfare, here assumed undesirable and to be eliminated. The simultaneous resolution of a large number of serious societal problems eliminates at once many causes of — and equally important, many excuses for — war.
Beyond this, other beneficial effects can be anticipated. For example, those participants in the democratic socioeconomic system who are personally at or near the societally set upper bound on allowable personal wealth would no longer have personal economic incentive to promote war or military intimidation, whether involving their own country or other nations. They could no longer gain personal wealth by such action and could well lose it, especially if their society democratically decided to further reduce the allowable personal wealth bound to finance involvement in the hostilities.
Democratically set, governmentally guaranteed personal income for everyone also provides many direct deterrents to warfare. Among other strong effects, it would eliminate any economically “handicapped” class which, of course, has historically provided warring nations with a convenient pool of combatants. Such guaranteed income also solves the very real and almost always neglected problem of necessary income for all those who presently derive their personal income from warfare, its threat, preparation, or promotion, either directly or indirectly.
Whether intranational conflict has components of cultural differences, color, gender, age, race, religion, class, caste and/or whatever else people manage to quibble about, a common thread is almost always economic. But with SeD, that common cause of intranational conflict is simply and democratically eliminated. Forthrightly, the hypothesized just and democratic society, acting through its democratic socioeconomic system, has publicly acknowledged and declared its commitment to the general welfare. Here again, we assume that intranational conflict is undesirable and to be eliminated — in spite of all the highly paying jobs, guaranteed income, wealth redistribution and increasing GDP that intranational conflict creates.
As a single specific example of the harm caused by present intranational conflict (and international conflict, for that matter), consider the lowly landmine. Economically produced by the millions (in contemporary socioeconomic systems with contemporary economic incentives), these particular creations of creative, scientifically trained and, no doubt, highly paid minds could, of course, also be discussed under the problem of pollution, which is what they are for everyone else after the boys are done playing war and have gone home or been buried. To be sure, they are a rather deadly form of pollution, but then, in the long run, what pollution isn’t? Or they could be discussed under “medical care” for instantly, if crudely, amputated limbs. Or they could be discussed under involuntary unemployment, which is what is produced if the victims somehow survive the explosion and then have to try to figure out a way to compete for survival in the global marketplace. They could be discussed under drug abuse, which is certainly one unfortunate but predictable ultimate result of seeing one’s surviving loved ones limping about on crutches or trying to get around in wheelchairs because of the stupid war, the stupid war promoters and the stupid landmines. Perhaps and probably all these and the myriad other ultimate ramifications of profitably produced, distributed and abandoned landmines will sow the seeds for the next conflict, which can then kick start a sluggish and uncompetitive economy, bringing again momentary prosperity with the economic boom accompanying the next intra- or international conflict.
Whether rooted in the requirement to “work or be shot” or “work or starve to death,” involuntary employment, if not identical with, certainly shades into slavery. A most important characteristic of any societally satisfying economic system — and one totally ignored by practically all contemporary economic systems — is therefore the ability to eliminate or substantially reduce involuntary employment. It bears reemphasis; it is here assumed that involuntary employment (or, for that matter, involuntary anything) is undesirable and is to be reduced or eliminated throughout society.
Socioeconomic Democracy does well in this regard. A democratically determined universally available guaranteed income, set somewhere around subsistence, would allow most of those presently involuntarily employed to terminate personally unsatisfying and/or societally detrimental employment — at least if they were really serious about it. Note that the amount of income guaranteed everyone and set democratically would determine just how much involuntary employment could be eliminated, with effectiveness increasing as the societally set UGI level is increased. On the other side of the spectrum, those near the democratically determined upper limit on allowable personal wealth would be economically encouraged to help make all truly necessary and desirable societal work personally satisfying for and voluntarily sought by those who want to perform such work. The percentage of the population enlisted in this societally desirable endeavor increases as the level of the democratically set allowable personal wealth limit decreases.
Socioeconomic Democracy would also be an effective safeguard against the problem of involuntary unemployment. Quickly reviewing, if a person is involuntarily unemployed, for any reason and for any duration, that person’s basic needs, democratically determined, would still be satisfied. This necessary minimum income would be available regardless of whether the unemployment was frictional, cyclical, structural or simply theory-impaired. Indeed, this income, guaranteed against the shortcomings of economic theory and the onslaught of work-eliminating technology, would eventually allow “unemployment” to become a good thing — something no current scarcity-assuming (actually, scarcity-producing, scarcity-maintaining and scarcity-glorifying) economic system can do. Until that time, those at or near the democratically set maximum allowable personal wealth limit would have considerable monetary motivation to see that acceptable, reasonably remunerative and societally beneficial work is made available for all who desire such structured activity.
Labor Strife and Strikes
Societal inconvenience and disruption caused by labor strikes are, of course, experienced only in those politicosocioeconomic systems wherein this particular form of protest and request for redress is permitted and employed. A valid solution to the societal problems caused by labor strikes must clearly contain, among other things, the legitimate goals of the strikers. Equally important, a truly valid solution would accomplish these goals at no illegitimate expense or inconvenience to any other members of society. A general and efficient solution would simultaneously realize the same degree of legitimate socioeconomic redress for all members of society.
Socioeconomic Democracy renders labor strikes more or less obsolete and would unquestionably significantly reduce their occurrence. This is so because practically every legitimate goal of labor, yet articulated or not and succinctly summarizable as a just demand for democratic participation in the socioeconomic system, is realized with SeD. The causes of a large number of labor strikes would therefore be eliminated. Further, all other participants in the democratic socioeconomic system could only benefit from the elimination of societally disruptive yet presently necessary labor strikes.
Medical and Health Care
We have already indicated that some universal guaranteed medical and (for efficiency’s sake) health care is a form of (partial) UGI. We here merely observe that SeD (especially a democratically set MAW limit) would encourage and cause a desirable metamorphosis of the economic motivations within the medical professions and more importantly the medical business professions which attempt to profitably package and provide medical, dental and pharmaceutical care.
The metamorphosis of the military has been taking place for many years now but has of late accelerated. Accompanied by lively discussion, to be sure, there is the metamorphosis of the relationship of women to the military (including inter alia both the expanding roles of women serving in the military and the various “uses” made of women in both friendly and occupied territories by the military). There is the metamorphosis of the purpose of military capability from solely controlled or wanton destruction and dominance to increasingly peacekeeping activities (a service as dangerous and courageously performed as old-fashioned frontline, face-to-face trench combat) and on to the increasing use of specialized military forces for rapid rescue, disaster relief and general humanitarian missions (again requiring considerable courage and commitment).
This military metamorphosis is taking place at the same time as the complementing metamorphosis in the meaning of national security. Certainly governmental departments concerned with the interior, the environment, the economy, medicine and public health, education, etc., are significant parts of a metamorphosing department of defense, intelligently concerned with true national security. Then there is the by-no-means resolved but certainly evolving issue of “gays” and “straights” having the opportunity or obligation to serve their country in its military.
SeD would encourage and facilitate the healthy metamorphosis of the military. As the reader is seeing, SeD would simultaneously reduce or eliminate many of the causes of and excuses and provisions for war. In particular, actually unnecessary international conflict would be more difficult and less common with SeD, as discussed earlier. The proud tradition of the military and the warrior would certainly not cease with the diminution of war. All of the above-mentioned changes and other new ways to serve would be developed and expanded. A National Service Corps, obligatory or voluntary, perhaps associated with some approximation to SeD, could eventually grow within and become a proud part or branch of the military service. Throughout the metamorphosis of the military, the military personnel of all countries can and will continue to serve their countries with courage, strength, intelligence, compassion and good humor.
As the experience of the unfortunately relatively feeble and financially constrained, if valiant, US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) efforts in the USA to socialize some of the costs of widespread natural disasters emphasizes, almost all such efforts have in the past been partially helpful but too often too little and too late. These formally and governmentally organized responses to natural disasters have been both too little and too late primarily because society has not yet made an unquenchable commitment to the welfare of all its citizens.
In the hypothesized just and democratic socioeconomic system, as defined here, all (or at least a majority) of the participants will have made such a commitment. A balanced budget, reduced societal debt (both public and private) and reduced expenditures on society’s other shrinking problems due to SeD will make available far more funds and capabilities to maximize beneficial response to and minimize harmful effects caused by the predictably continuing sequence of multibillion dollar “unexpected” natural disasters. Reduced present debt and ultimately societal surplus from SeD, as opposed to more debt from contemporary socioeconomic systems, would help insure availability of necessary resources to ameliorate the inevitable suffering and loss accompanying major natural disasters. The metamorphosis of the military provides enormous potential for further rapid, effective and massive response capability during and after, as well as anticipatory preparation prior to, natural disasters, if democratically desired.
Do consider the possibilities. From a comet slamming into the planet (Jupiter, thank you, and praise be to God!), to hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones, earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, blizzards, floods, mud slides, droughts, fires, periodic El NiÒos and all the other impressive natural processes, they will all continue to occur even if humanity does not, by its actions, affect by one iota Gaia’s health and well-being. On the other hand, and being realistic and responsible, it could be acknowledged that some detrimental effects of human action have already taken place, more are to come and it is by no means clear just how harmful things really are or will get and just how big a disaster humanity will really manage to create. Adding to natural and man-made megadisasters the Wrath of God, who is perhaps understandably upset with how humanity has been carrying on lately, and it would appear prudent for humanity to quickly create a planetary surplus and society to create a national surplus.
The determination of the impact of Socioeconomic Democracy on the personally profitable and societally detrimental practice of planned obsolescence is confidently left to the reader.
It should be clear that the almost ubiquitous problem of voting, whether that problem be manifest as an oppressive requirement to vote, a present lack of the opportunity to vote, or merely a growing majority not bothering to vote, would be substantially eliminated if the questions to be decided at election time were the democratic determination of the bounds on universal guaranteed minimum income and maximum allowable personal wealth. The political apathy expressed by many tens of millions of Americans (and others throughout the world) who do not vote has, of course, little to do with the alleged inconvenience of registering and voting and far more to do with the disenchantment with the seemingly near bankrupt political process and little to vote for.
As mentioned earlier, some have argued for a basic or citizen’s income on the grounds that the UGI would be, among many other things, payment to participate meaningfully, wholeheartedly and thoughtfully in society and its politicosocioeconomic system. The UGI could be viewed, employing neoclassical free-market theory, as a necessary salary providing economic incentive for everyone to participate in the finally relevant ritual of voting.
One alleged obstacle to increased political voting (what with electronic feedback of election results instantaneously radiating across, say, the United States) is the projection of election winners prior to all voting polls closing. A not uncommon complaint comes from California, though the Great State of Hawaii sees the sun for many hours after California is wrapped in darkness. And then there is Russia! In any case, when voting to democratically determine the two bounds of SeD at a federal level, each vote, whether the first cast, the last cast or any of those cast in between, would be of equal weight and impact on the final outcome — and would, as observed above, in all likelihood be eagerly cast. Then, while at the polling booth or filling out the mail-in ballot, the participant might even bother to cast a vote for some President and Congressperson candidates.
The myriad manifestations of the ubiquitous problem of poverty assault our senses daily. It is of interest to eliminate poverty. But if we are serious about the desire to eliminate poverty, it behooves us to pay appropriate attention to the meaning of the word. From almost unbelievably obliging dictionaries, we are given the following apropos phrases demonstrating meanings of the word poverty:
(1) State or condition of having little or no money, goods or means of support, as in broke.
(2) Lack of something specified, as in poverty of intellect.
(3) Deficiency of desirable ingredients or qualities, as in poverty of charity.
(4) Scantiness or insufficiency, as in poverty of the “Safety Net.”
Beyond these more or less common definitions and interpretations of the word poverty, there is the poverty of practically everything else. There is the poverty of affluence and the poverty of progress. There is the Poverty of Liberalism (both 19th and 20th century versions), the poverty of socialism and the poverty of the welfare state. There is the poverty of education and the poverty of the academic community. There is the poverty of the university economics departments that can’t figure out a better economic system to eliminate the poverty they and everybody else daily experience, ignore or guarantee their personal income by “working on.” Certainly hope, confidence and justified faith appear impoverished. Perhaps most important of all, there is the poverty of ideas to solve, once and for all, the unnecessary and harmful planetary problem of poverty.
Clearly, Socioeconomic Democracy would end poverty “as we know it.”
Consider next the impact of Socioeconomic Democracy on the variegated problem of “racism.” First, it should be observed that according to recent scientific discovery and understanding, not to mention common sense, there is but one race — the human race. We all share, scientifically speaking, a common Greatmother, who lived hundreds of thousands of years ago in Africa — and who, no doubt, thought about, cared and wished well for all her Greatchildren. So whatever the squabble among humans, it is and indeed definitely displays the characteristics of a family fight. Thus, with only one race there can really be no real problem of racism!
Admittedly, however, this simple scientific fact has not as yet penetrated general consciousness or persuaded a large number of people from behaving in ways which display and dramatize their continuing confusion concerning the matter. But both those who play the part of “racist pigs” (whatever the “race”) and those whose roles so far have been to suffer the constant pangs of and rebel against “racism” are thereby distracted, perhaps as intended, from the resolution of their easily resolved and far more important common problem of economic exploitation, economic injustice and/or simple economic oversight by simple economists. Resolve the important problem, the economic distribution problem, and “racism” as we now know it will almost vanish.
Any residual “racism” (after Socioeconomic Democracy has universally solved the really important economic distribution problem — and, for that matter, the production, productivity and productiveness — problems) will certainly not be something to fear, dread or even get bent out of shape over. Rather, any vestiges of “racism” would then be something to ridicule or, more thoughtfully yet, pity, or, more thoughtfully yet, ignore, while paying attention to the far more interesting, delightful and fascinating aspects of life on the beautiful planet Earth — home of the human race.
The problem of “sexism,” we respectfully submit, is very much like the problem of “racism” — at least in certain crucial aspects and structure. It will become apparent that a significant portion of practically anything that can at all reasonably and productively be referred to as harmful and undesirable “sexism” will be eliminated when the current decidedly undemocratic socioeconomic system has been replaced with SeD. It is reserved for the reader to think of literally dozens of reasons why this would be so and dozens of examples of what might be expected with a democratic socioeconomic system.
As will be seen, SeD reduces the societal problems caused by presently motivated technology as well as provides incentive for the redirection of technological development towards greater satisfaction of societal, i.e., individual, needs. That is to say, SeD would help realize the desirable but unrealized promise of technology, as well as reduce and help eliminate the undesirable but unfortunately realized potentials of technology.
Being guaranteed an income — minimal though it may initially be — people could, and some portion of them would, refuse to work on technological projects not clearly dedicated to the well-being of all society. The relationship here to involuntary employment should be obvious. Further, this guaranteed income could, and at least a portion of it would, be devoted to the development of societally profitable appropriate technology — as opposed to personally profitable but societally detrimental technological development economically encouraged by many present socioeconomic system arrangements. As with other societal problems, the beneficial effects of a democratically set universal guaranteed income, in taming technology for the unequivocal advantage of humanity, depend upon the magnitude of that income. If this magnitude is democratically set at a subsistence level, the impact would be quite significant.
Just as important, those at or near the democratically set maximum allowable personal wealth limit would be economically encouraged to give appropriate thought to the trade-off between short-term personal gain and possible long-term societal loss resulting from an exploited potential of technology. For if, overall, society is harmed by particular technological developments (as is frequently the case, presently), society could increase its democratically set guaranteed income to offset the added expense of rectifying the harm. Conservation would then logically imply, and even self-interested humans would eventually get around to, societal reduction of the maximum allowable personal wealth limit to finance any actual increase in governmentally provided income payments. On the other hand, technological developments which significantly benefit society in general would at the same time tend to personally benefit the still-wealthy participants in the hypothesized democratic socioeconomic system, since these developments hold the promise of eventually raising the MAW limit.
If the reader has gotten this far, it should be perfectly clear by now that a fully blossomed Socioeconomic Democracy would indeed end welfare “as we know it.” In its place would be an advanced socioeconomic system which would allow society to more easily, realistically, productively, satisfyingly, efficiently, effectively, ecologically and democratically guarantee the welfare of humanity and posterity.
The above-described properties and ramifications of Socioeconomic Democracy are admittedly only very brief sketches of portions of the impact of a democratic socioeconomic system on a few of society’s many serious but unnecessary problems. A more detailed discussion of some of these and other ramifications was provided in this writer’s earlier book published in 1972 and in his current book, Socioeconomic Democracy: An Advanced Socioeconomic System. However, the interested reader is urged to develop and extend for herself the ramifications in those areas of particular personal interest. Contemporary socioeconomic systems are truly prolific so far as producing problems; much work remains to be done. Then, of course, there is the whole new realm of desirable democratic future possibilities which beckons and begs to be explored.
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About Robley E. George