Inner Growth Requires Time to Self Reflect

I would say that in the area of economics I have only ever had three light-bulb moments: perceiving the source of surplus value (Marx); encountering the principle of effective demand (Kalecki, Keynes); and understanding the implications of monetary sovereignty (MMT). Each of these insights had a big impact on me and made sense of a lot of other things all at once.

In thinking about paths to a better society, the understanding of monetary sovereignty seems the most important of the insights. It makes clear that real resources are the only genuine constraint and that, regardless of what capitalists or ‘bond vigilantes’ might think of the matter, economic activity need not be for profit, growth is not compulsory, materialism is not the only alternative, and the wage-labor relation or income tied to labor time is not a law of nature. None of these things are necessary or inevitable for a monetarily sovereign society, if we so choose.

But what will we choose? Do we even know what we really want? As regular commentator jrbarch often points out most eloquently, to know what we really want, we have to know ourselves. Light-bulb moments in our inner lives require self-reflection.

At the moment, the economic system is geared toward us tuning out, both from ourselves and others, and to keep our gaze on external reward and punishment, or simply distractions, rather than personal fulfillment and meaningful engagement with those around us.

Economics can’t solve this problem, of course, but the economy could be organized in ways that better facilitate people’s quest for fulfillment. For starters, if everybody on the planet was guaranteed economic security – enough food, clothing, shelter, adequate amenities and access to an expanded commons – there would be more opportunity to opt out of materialist pursuits beyond the basic minimum and more time to look within and to each other.

I am especially interested in progressive policies that enhance the freedom of all individuals to follow their own paths. In this respect, the ‘job or income guarantee‘ (JIG) seems appealing because it would have something in it for everybody. Individuals who wanted to be free of the wage labor relation could be. If that thought frightened the bejesus out of some people who happened to be unemployed, they could opt for a guaranteed job instead, working under the direction of others. Those who were not interested in – or ready to – forgo material pursuits wouldn’t have to.

Some dislike the idea that individuals who opt out of the wage labor relation might receive an income without necessarily contributing to production, but I don’t share this concern.

First, everybody would have the same choice.

Second, the objection implies a narrow conception of production. Are we only concerned with the production of a particular range of widgets, or output that can be sold at positive prices in a market? I say we should be interested in the production of life itself, in its broadest sense. Contributions outside the wage labor relation can be just as socially beneficial – in many cases, more so – than contributions made from within it.

Third, I believe it would be a rare person who, after looking inward and learning more about themselves, decided that he or she wished to make no positive social contribution. I believe that, to the contrary, individuals who understand what most fulfills them will be more likely to take actions that are in harmony with their own well-being and that of those around them. They will also be inclined to share what they have learned with others.

But the JIG is just one possible means of providing basic economic security to all. Any form of guaranteed income, whether conditional or unconditional, would be a step forward from where we are at the moment. A job guarantee, for example, would not only ensure an income, but, by design, allow each individual to choose his or her hours, including half-time, quarter-time, etc., and so provide an opportunity, if desired, to devote more time to non-material pursuits.

9 thoughts on “Inner Growth Requires Time to Self Reflect

  1. Yes, Peter, when people on planet earth stop living in the wrong dimension, somewhere in the twighlight zone, where wrong is right and the opposite, your great ideas will be applied. It will happen sooner or later, I know.

  2. “It will happen sooner or later, I know.”

    Do we get to come back in x centuries and see it? Or do we just get to imagine it now, before it happens? :)

  3. I personally much prefer the job guarantee.

    Speaking on my experience, I find that a job, any job, provides structure to one’s life. Admittedly, this can and often is a terrible experience; but I don’t think it needs to be so.

    A job gives you a reason to wake up in the morning, imposes some discipline, provides one outlet to one’s energies, keeps your mind focused on something, allows one to link with other people. It makes you a worker: someone valuable.

    If one does a job one cares about, as opposed to simply making some parasite richer, there is this sense of pride and satisfaction for what one accomplishes. Even if is something as simple as treating a customer like a human being.

    I think this explains why people, after retiring, fall into depression.

    Mind you, this doesn’t mean every day will be wonderful. They won’t. Actually, even if socialism and communism ever succeed and are established, not every day will be wonderful. Not every person will be nice, pretty, smart and even if they were, perhaps you won’t like them, regardless. But I can see no reason why good days cannot outnumber bad ones.

  4. Good comment, Magpie. In the case of a JIG, no doubt a lot of people would share your preference for the job-guarantee option over the basic-income option, due to a measure of external discipline, imposed structure in their lives, etc., and presumably a higher income.

    In my view, that is neither good nor bad. It would be such people’s preference, and everybody should be entitled to a job if that is the form in which they want their social participation to take.

    In all likelihood, some people, perhaps a minority, would opt for the basic income over a job, others would prefer the job guarantee, and many others would opt for seeking riches far beyond either the basic income or the job-guarantee wage. I don’t see a problem. They would all be following their own preferred paths to the best of their abilities.

  5. A JG without a BIG is basically “workfare.” That’s the way it would be sold politically to conservatives anyway. So I think it is the wrong way to argue for progressives and radicals.

  6. If possible I suggest looking into Australia’s Work-for-the-dole (WFD) scheme – it is basically a JG and the level of payment is definitely below poverty line. Some of the US takes on the JG I have seen amount to the Aussie WFD.

    This is one of the reasons Bill Mitchell goes out of his way to say:

    The JG is, categorically, not a more elaborate form of Workfare.

    Workfare does not provide secure employment with conditions consistent with norms established in the community with respect to non-wage benefits and the like.

    Workfare does not ensure stable living incomes are provided to the workers. Workfare is a program, where the State extracts a contribution from the unemployed for their welfare payments. The State, however, takes no responsibility for the failure of the economy to generate enough jobs.

  7. Without closing the door to the BIG for those who might strongly prefer it, I agree with Prof. Mitchell’s views, as presented by Senexx above.

    I believe the reluctance some may have towards the JG could be partly due to a wrong, but understandable, comparison to the “Work for the Dole” program (part of John Howard’s “legacy”) Senexx also mentioned (or a recent similar ConDem initiative in the UK)

    David Ruccio has some comments that I believe are pertinent:

    Employer of Last Resort?
    http://anticap.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/employer-of-last-resort/

  8. Good point by both Senexx and Magpie. I think Tom’s point, which I agree with, is that opponents of the policy as well as right-wing would-be implementers of the policy would be likely to twist the concept into workfare. I think including a BIG along with the JG is the best safeguard against this. (I have just put up a short post suggesting as much.)

  9. The key trick that stops a JG being workfare is that you can *choose* to go on it. You don’t have to be sacked, made redundant or anything else. You just hand your notice in and shift to the JG. It’s just another job in the competitive market for jobs.

    That deals with the resentment issue. You can’t reasonably resent somebody doing something that you can just choose to do yourself.

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