Opposing Visions of the Future

The recent discussions over what is or is not Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) have brought out some differences in perspective on broader questions of where we might want to head as a society. As far as I am concerned, the Modern Monetary Theorists have defined their theory to include both descriptive and prescriptive elements, and that is fine. For non-academics who have taken a strong interest in MMT in the blogosphere, the definition provided by the academics has clarified our position relative to it. There are some on the political right who would not consider themselves to fall within the definition. And, of course, there are some of us on the political left who likewise consider ourselves outside the definition. In this post, I thought it might be interesting to touch on what appear to be some similarities and differences in vision between those on the left and right.

In one of Cullen Roche’s recent posts, there is a passage that can serve as a good basis for discussion:

Modern day economists seek the holy grail of macroeconomics which has come to be price stability and full employment. These two features of modern macro are held up on pedestals as if giving a person a job and a steady wage is all one needs to live a happy and prosperous life. I say these goals entirely miss the point and steal the potential lives that future generations can live. What we should seek is the way in which we maximize our living standards. In doing so we reach the true holy grail of macroeconomics – the thing that every human seeks – the fountain of youth, hence, more TIME. After all, it is only through increased productivity, innovation, creativity and ultimately higher living standards that we are able to attain this.

Parts of this passage resonate quite strongly with me, although the level of generality conceals major differences in perspective. In particular, I can agree that “giving a person a job and a steady wage” is not “all one needs to live a happy and prosperous life”. I can also agree that we should “maximize our living standards”, if broadly defined to mean quality of life, and that “only through increased productivity, innovation, creativity and ultimately higher living standards” can we free up more “TIME”. I will consider these points in turn.
 

A Job Does Not Ensure a Happy and Prosperous Life

In my view, a precondition for living a full and happy life is income security. Until that basic requirement is met, a person will be too preoccupied with gaining access to the means of bare subsistence to have much time or energy to lead a free and creatively fulfilling life. Insecurity brings stress and narrows focus to the most basic aspects of existence. For that reason alone, income security is a necessary though not sufficient condition for living a happy and prosperous life.

Ideally, all people would have income security, but they would also be free to determine for themselves what made them happy, provided only that their actions did not impinge on the liberty of others, and how they could best contribute to the social good. They would be free to act individually or in voluntary combination with others as they saw fit.

The position of some on both the left and right seems to be that nobody is entitled to income security unless they in some sense “earn” it. Some on the right seem to go further and suggest that there should not even be an assurance that people will be able to “earn” a secure income if it is not profitable for somebody that they do so.

This is clearly an area of ideological difference and it is not clear that it can be resolved through logical debate. My own view is that it is difficult to square the macroeconomic understanding that unemployment is a government policy choice with the denial of access to income security either through the provision of guaranteed employment or a guaranteed income. If neither is to be provided, I see no reason why the propertyless should respect property rights, nor why the physically strong or well armed could be expected not to resort to forcible alterations of the prevailing distribution of resources.

But even if it is granted that everybody should be enabled to obtain income security, this still leaves the question of how this will be done. To propose a Job Guarantee either in isolation or in combination with conditional welfare payments is to make a judgment that people without independent means should have to sell their labor power to an employer in exchange for a wage or salary if they wish to have income security.

This, of course, is where disagreements with MMT can come into play from the left of the political spectrum. A Job Guarantee reinforces the commodification of labor power. It reinforces the work ethic and the tying of income to the wage labor relation.

From this perspective, the Job Guarantee is a backward step. It appeases and reinforces bigoted, small-minded attitudes regarding, for example, the “deserving poor” and related forms of middle-class self-righteousness, and narrows the vision of life to one in which most productive activity must be conducted on terms dictated by capitalists and capitalist governments.

For some, though certainly not all, Modern Monetary Theorists, the key selling point of the Job Guarantee seems to be its functionality to capitalists. It keeps workers who would otherwise be unemployed “job ready”, ensuring the reserve army of labor remains a credible threat to employed workers, keeping them docile and pliant. It keeps productive activity and the mindset of workers geared towards the profit requirements of capitalists. It keeps society, in general, focused on serving the narrow sectional interests of what has become a backward-thinking, regressive class of owners and rentiers.
 

Maximizing Living Standards and Time

Presumably most people would agree with the vague goal of maximizing living standards, but would disagree widely on what they mean by living standards.

I take living standards in a broad sense to mean not only material well-being but the amount of free time and resources people have to pursue activities that enrich lives in the fullest sense, spiritually, creatively, intellectually, physically, as well as materially. To the fullest extent possible, unrewarding or unpleasant labor should be replaced by machines. Mechanized production methods can be producing material outputs while humans are freed to produce life in the fullest and richest sense.

Here, again, by attempting to tie productive activity to the narrow interests of capitalists, the Job Guarantee would serve to limit human development. Capitalism requires not just a surplus in material terms but surplus value, and the basis of surplus value is surplus labor. To preserve capitalism, labor power needs to remain commodified. (I explain how this is technically possible even in a highly advanced economy in Implications of a Purely Mechanized Economy.) Technological advance and mechanization create the potential for material abundance without the existence of the wage labor relation and surplus value. To confine much of human activity only to forms acceptable to capitalists becomes increasingly preposterous the further productivity advances.

I think we should be preparing now to make the transition to greater free time, not standing in the way of this transition. I appreciate the argument made by some leading MMTers (those whose views I am most sympathetic to) that we could broaden the scope of what is considered productive through a liberal implementation of the Job Guarantee. Surfers and musicians, for example, might be able to undertake their activities of choice within the program, combined with a minimal social service element. Taken to the extreme, this would seem to serve a similar purpose to a Basic Income Guarantee, in that people could ultimately choose to do as they please and never intend to obtain wage or salary employment in the regular economy. This would have the potential to undermine capitalism, particularly the wage labor relation, in a similar way to the Basic Income Guarantee, and to that extent I would applaud it.

But if that is the Job Guarantee to be implemented, why not just drop the pretense of determining which activities qualify for the Job Guarantee and call it a Basic Income Guarantee? This would have the added advantage of encouraging a conceptual break between income and the wage labor relation. A person’s activities would be acknowledged as a matter of free choice without need of justification.

The most legitimate answer MMTers give to this question, in my view, is that the Job Guarantee requirements would initially need to be more stringent, for political reasons, but that they would nonetheless be susceptible to broadening over time. The problem I have with this is that it seems to concede the small gains in collective consciousness that have already been made in undermining the wage labor relation through the provision of unemployment benefits.

However, I sense that many in the blogosphere would not actually give this answer in any case, but rather would object to such a liberal application of the Job Guarantee. Some appear to favor workfare and hold to particular notions of “mutual obligation” and the “deserving poor”, or otherwise intend for capitalism to be preserved and want the Job Guarantee to serve that end.
 

Visions of the Future

It seems to me that there are basically two different visions of where we should be going as a society. For many, not just those on the right, the intention is to preserve capitalist social relations, above all property rights and a class of people who do not possess independent means and so are compelled to sell their labor power to capitalists in exchange for a wage or salary. As technological improvements and mechanization proceed, the intention is to keep the screws tight on the dependent class; i.e. those dependent on capitalists for access to income security (“wage dependency”) or the state for conditional welfare (“welfare dependency”). Capitalism is a system almost entirely based on dependency, and it seems that many people wish to preserve it.

An alternative is to free all people from dependency. Here, the intention is to end the wage labor relation. As much as possible, technological advance and mechanization can free people from unpleasant activities to pursue more fulfilling productive activities and leisure. During the transition, those who are currently in the dependent class who wish to receive higher incomes than others could do so through participation in wage or salary employment, and those who desired such employment but could not obtain it in the regular economy could opt for the Job Guarantee. Meanwhile, people who were ready to embrace free time could be enabled to do so through a Basic Income Guarantee. Independence for all can only occur to the extent capitalist social relations are put behind us. Undermining those coercive social relations is a small step on the way to freedom and liberation.

25 thoughts on “Opposing Visions of the Future

  1. “A person’s activities would be acknowledged as a matter of free choice without need of justification. ”

    It needs to be more than that. Society then has to encourage people to engage – give options and something for them to do.

    But certainly there needs to be a more equitable distribution of time. Time is the one commodity we all have a finite supply of.

  2. Agreed, Neil. And there also need to be resources made available, increasingly over time, for people to undertake their various activities. This would occur more and more as it became feasible with rising productivity.

    There are a few points from previous posts that I possibly could have reiterated, but for brevity I was trying not to repeat everything I’ve already written. Basically, my thinking has not changed dramatically over the last dozen or so posts, although it is being modified somewhat as a result of the discussions. I am still thinking in terms of the JIG, with people given freedom to make the adjustment to more free time only as they feel ready to embrace it. There is a small change in my thinking, outlined in my previous post, about my concerns with implementing a JG prior to the BIG or similar unconditional component. I’d prefer them to come in together or even for the order to be reversed as a safeguard against more draconian versions of the JG being introduced.

    This post was prompted mainly by reading some of Tom Hickey’s comments on the topic and also Cullen’s posts at Pragmatic Capitalism. There seem to be some similarities in the conceptions of an “ideal” society for both right and left libertarians, even though the ways of getting there appear to be diametrically opposed. Both appear to want maximal freedom and liberty, although this is no doubt conceived differently in various respects.

  3. The underlying argument is whether people have a right to live a life free from poverty.

    Given that some are still struggling with the idea that Healthcare that meets the needs of everyone, that is free at the point of delivery and is based on clinical need, not ability to pay should be an unalienable right, we may have a long struggle over those principles.

    I don’t see the JG operating at a higher level of resources than the IG behind it as being a problem, any more than Jobs operating at a higher level of resources than the JG is a problem.

    The key is winning that argument over the right to a life free from poverty. MMT shows that is simply a choice society needs to make – much as decades ago we decided to sort out healthcare.

  4. Other than on the internet, do you often come across the view that people should not be guaranteed access to free health care or income security? Maybe it’s the circles I move in, but I don’t come across this view very often. Yet, on the internet, it seems to be everywhere. Maybe it’s just an internet army hired by the Koch brothers or something to create a false impression of the societal mood? 🙂

  5. “Other than on the internet, do you often come across the view that people should not be guaranteed access to free health care or income security?”

    It’s usually countered with the “we can’t afford it” line, which then backs onto the “I don’t want them to have more, as that will mean I have less” underlying selfishness.

    “If they have more, we all have more” doesn’t work against the beliefs of the inner child. It’s totally counter-intuitive.

    What people say they want, and what they are prepared to give up resources (even if that is a fallacy) are two different things.

  6. “The position of some on both the left and the right seems to be that nobody is entitled to income security unless they in some sense “earn” it. Some on the right seem to go further and suggest that there should not even be an assurance that people will be able to “earn” a secure income if it is not profitable for somebody that they do so.

    This is clearly an area of ideological difference and it is not clear that it can be resolved through logical debate.”

    For me, this is clearly an area of ethical choice difference and, as such, it is clear that it cannot be resolved through logical argument: agreement cannot be attained. Ethical choices cannot be determined by logic or science. Uttering logical or scientific (or any kind of) arguments make sense only when common ethical choices grant common purpose.

  7. “For some, though certainly not all, Modern Monetary Theorists, the key selling point of the Job Guarantee seems to be its functionality to capitalists.”

    peterc, your writing on this post and others implies (to me) that the “capitalist” and “worker” classes reflect permanent non-overlapping divisions of the population. However, I think in the “idealized” capitalism that every worker is a potential capitalist, ready as soon as they have an innovative enough idea to spring into action getting a loan and starting a new business to compete with existing industry. This is part of the core engine of productivity and higher living standards, and I have seen it happen in real life experience.

    In the real world of course existing capitalists do everything in their power, including “buying” the political system, to retain their position in society and create monopolies or oligopolies, and they have been quite successful at it. I think those who are content with capitalism believe this problem can be minimized with enough effort. Perhaps Marx (who I haven’t read but I know you are very familiar with) showed why this division between workers and capitalists inevitably must become semi-permanent as part of human nature… I don’t know.

    I also disagree that “[for some MMTers] the key selling point of the JG seems to be its functionality to capitalists… ensuring the reserve army of labor remains a credible threat to employed workers, keeping them docile and pliant.” These workers are all potential capitalists, and the JG is supposed to enhance their productivity in general. Plus I think the MMT emphasis I’ve seen in this area is all about price stability, not feeding corporate profits. In fact MMTers are AGAINST a lot of top-down keynesian spending because they believe it gives a much bigger boost to corporate profits than the bottom-up JG approach does.

    In case anyone missed them and is curious, I also had some comments the other day on an older post regarding why I think an income guarantee (or at least a “property and means of subsistence living guarantee”) is inevitable in the FAR FUTURE, but I think in the years between now and then any form of income guarantee will always come under continuous political attack (whether or not it is a good idea for society).

  8. When people understand MMT they will realize capital isn’t what it used to be in the past and shouldn’t be entitled for the leading, or any role in the future.

  9. Peter, I think you are running together some fairly universal norms of human social life – norms having to do with reciprocity, obligation and work – with capitalism itself. I don’t think it is appropriate to disparage every system of obligation to others as though it were all some kind of nasty and smug bourgeois meanness.

    Can’t even socialists defend a work ethic, and also recognize that there are few free lunches in the world? Isn’t there an old line about “From each according to his ability …”?

    Even in a world without capitalists you would have organized work and the goods generated by that work. And in a society governed by ideals of equality, the benefits and burdens of life should be shared equally.

    Every kind of society, every arrangement for organizing a common life among a group of individuals, needs some notions of obligation and entitlement. I think some such ideals as “Don’t take without giving,” “Do your fair share,” or “Help shoulder the load” will always have some purchase on the human moral conscience so long as there are human societies. In fact, I think the perception that capitalists violate those ideals is behind most of the critiques of capitalism. Capitalists are often criticized as exploiters and parasites, taking way more out than they are putting in.

    You never define “capitalism”. I get the impression that for you that term stands for almost every aspect of human social and economic organization which stands in the way of what we have now and the paradise on Earth that could be. But some of the challenges and burdens of social life are built into the exigencies of organized group effort of any kind, among weak and vulnerable mortal creatures who are required to expend a certain amount of time doing rather unpleasant things just to extract from the world the best kind of life of which they are capable.

    If we do ever achieve a society in which most of the hard stuff is taken care of by machines, and human beings occupy themselves primarily with pleasurable and intrinsically rewarding activities, then there will still presumably be some minimal amount of unpleasant work to be done. Shouldn’t that work be shared equally to the greatest practical extent possible? And shouldn’t there be a clear mutual expectations among the people in the society about what each member is expected to contribute in exchange for the benefits of social membership that they are receiving?

    Personally, I don’t think the automated world of play and leisure will ever exist. People have been predicting such a world for a long time, but I don’t think we are really any closer to it. People will always want more, and will always want to transform their current situation into something significantly better. And I suspect the transformation of whatever exists at any one time into something better will always require kinds of work effort which, while unpleasant in themselves are worth undertaking because of what they can achieve.

  10. Dan,

    The issue is more to do with how wealth and income inequalities arise, and how they are perpetuated over time, intra and inter generationally. These inequalities represent not just differences in consumption of resources, but also differences in access to power and influence. While some forms of such inequality could be desirable from the perspective of social well being, many are not, and are often very deleterious to the well being of the entire community.

    The dynamics of such wealth and income flow has been tackled in the field of econo-physics, and leads to some very good insights. I have provided some links in my comment at Fred Decker’s site

  11. Peter,

    Have you defined the options anywhere in terms of the ‘pension’ people get?

    ie do they get more, less, the same depending upon whether they fall into different categories?

  12. Dan, thanks for your thoughts. I am not suggesting people don’t contribute. I am suggesting that ideally there would be no compulsion in the system and that contribution would not necessarily register in (flawed) monetary measures such as GDP. And I am also considering the transition, in which it is already possible for those who want to opt for free time to do so while others who still desire to receive more than others (many people) can attempt to do so through participation in wage and salary employment.

    I discussed what I mean by capitalism here.

  13. hbl: Thanks for your insights and for the link to your earlier comment, which is also an excellent one.

    Regarding each worker being a potential capitalist, I don’t consider that to be an argument in favor of the current system. Capitalism relies on the existence of a class (most people) who must work for a wage or salary or rely on somebody who does (e.g. a dependent in the household). One worker may become a capitalist, but in aggregate most workers must remain workers. Some might say that this is reflective of productive contribution, but that is not a legitimate claim to make on behalf of markets, because the outcome is reflective of the initial distribution and also because (as the capital debates established) market incomes do not reflect productiveness. All this leaves aside that, over time, the trend is in the opposite direction. The tendency is towards centralization of capital and fewer capitalists proportionately.

    I don’t buy arguments that private markets encourage innovation and technological progress, because innovation depends on basic research and the private sector chronically under invests in that (because there are positive externalities). Most technological progress is the result of government funding and public sector involvement. It is true that there is a competitive imperative to implement new technology once it exists

  14. Neil: I would prefer more free goods and services, rather than worrying about paying different amounts to different individuals. Someone who needs more health care would consume more of that service free of charge. Each individual, as far as I am concerned, could then just be paid the same basic (monetary) income when it came to obtaining access to goods or services with positive prices.

  15. peterc,

    Thanks for the reply! A few thoughts in response…

    “Capitalism relies on the existence of a class (most people) who must work for a wage or salary or rely on somebody who does…”

    I don’t think that’s inherent to capitalism, I think it’s inherent to LIFE. We don’t yet have an unlimited army of robots growing our food and building our shelter. Yes, some capitalists may get a “free ride” beyond what they “deserve” once successful, but is that really the majority?

    “One worker may become a capitalist, but in aggregate most workers must remain workers.”

    In the US some surveys show around 25% of the population is self-employed. Still a minority, but not a trivial amount. Of course I recognize many of those are barely scraping by and they’re far from all “captains of industry”. But assuming we are discussing capitalists as business owners (rather than focusing on who owns the large “means of production” — factories etc) then my personal experience is there is a lot of flow between workers and capitalists… The tree company employee who starts a competing firm that costs customers less because it does things more efficiently without as much costly equipment… the professional services splinter group that competes with the company the workers left… I see examples all the time. Not every capitalist pushes the next big global frontier in science and technology, but the dynamism keeps existing companies on their toes so they don’t get too bloated, inefficient, and lazy, and thus helps limit adverse macro trends in productivity and inflation.

    “The tendency is towards centralization of capital”

    I certainly agree that’s been a big problem, especially in recent decades, but I am also optimistic that policy, tax structure, etc can address it. (Unless political corruption is inevitable in capitalism, an argument I am not well informed on the two sides of.) But I understand there are countries that manage better than the US.

    “innovation depends on basic research”

    The big flashy stuff that makes it into popular science periodicals does, yes… And I agree there is sometimes an important role for government in this area like you say (but not always… e.g., Intel, AMD, etc have been driving forward computer chip innovation just fine). But innovation via the incentives of capitalism is happening continually at the micro scale on up and is as much about continual renewal and maintaining or optimizing organizational processes as about the next big scientific breakthroughs. At least, IMHO 🙂

  16. The feudal mode of production is characterized by serfs producing a surplus, part of which they keep for themselves, and part of which belongs to their lord.

    The capitalist mode of production is characterized by workers producing a surplus, which then becomes the property of the owners, who then decide what to do with it.

    The communist mode of production is characterized by workers producing a surplus, who retain ownership of that surplus, and are the ones who decide what to do with it.

    Marx looked at human societies and saw that they all produced a surplus (goods and services) but differed in the way they went about doing this. He basically asked:
    Who produces the surplus?
    Who gets the surplus?
    Who decides what will be done with it?

    Marx showed that the capitalist mode of production leads to conflict and that it is exploitative.

  17. This is a thought in process: am not sure how it really contributes to the Capitalism discussion, but the basics never change …. The premise is, that there is an energy within a human being that everybody would label as ‘good’. It is known (becomes knowledge) through feeling and experience, not thinking. To the degree that the personality is in touch with this energy within itself, and is able to understand, appreciate, enjoy and hold steady in the consciousness its presence – are reflected on the outside individually collectively even nationally,
    the qualities of the persona’s’ goals and pursuits. The world is a mirror.

    Therefore this energy of the ‘good’, ever present in every human being ever drawn breath, is the conditioning energy of every other energy that flows within the human persona – dependent upon the awareness and responsiveness of the persona to its presence.

    The ‘good’ conditions the mind and is responsible for the inertia,
    activity and harmony (qualities) of the thoughts and desires therein; and the direction of the ego. The ‘good’ is an evolutionary energy in man.

    With this is mind, so far the thought process (in regard to the material life of the personality) has been this:

    People
    Values & Trust

    – Human beings ‘value’ things;
    – They do not like their values compromised;
    – Sometimes they exchange things according to their values;
    – Human values are dynamic, and are symbolised (externalised) in real space and time;
    – When kids play they demonstrate this dynamic interaction of values – settlement can be had only when each party to an agreement is satisfied. Each child is in themselves the ‘in the moment value’;
    – That is why people wish each other Peace – then prosperity – they know values without peace, ends in chaos.
    – That which is of greatest value to any human being – is Breath! Without it, naught else is possible!

    Credits
    – People use ‘credit’ as a somewhat imperfect ‘store of value thru Time’ – the credit of one person a debit for another;
    – When a debt is extinguished, so too is the credit – they sum to zero;
    – When human beings respect each other, values and credits are sustained – honesty, trust, confidence, respect, right human relationships, are always the life breath of values and credits.

    Material Wealth & Human Energy
    – Material wealth arises from the skin of the earth and its resources;
    – Productivity involves expenditure of human energy, money is a symbol of its concretisation;
    – Immorality is the appropriation of human energy to harm others;
    – The amount of goods and services that can be exchanged is a function of the natural world, human creativity, productivity and relationships;
    – Human values impact on the planet’s ecosystems, environment and ourselves, and are reflected in every living thing’s livelihood;
    – Real human beings, a real planet, real resources, real products, and a real environment – the monetary system is just a scoreboard;
    – The purpose of money is to minister to human need;
    – Human energy is also felt and experienced, every day and every moment;
    – Caveat for Bankers et al: nobody is rich unless they feel rich …

    Which is just stating the bleeding obvious I suppose. Somehow, I always feel that an understanding (or absence of understanding) of human existence is at the root of all of our stupidity in this world!! We are more like children (except our toy guns and cars are real) than responsible adults. The first sign of a maturing outlook is responsibility as they say …. (sigh)!!!!!

  18. Oh – just a footnote about one aspect of ‘involuntary unemployment’ (applies to me).

    How should I measure myself; which yardstick should I use? Why measure myself at all? Should I care if other people want to measure me, by their yardsticks? Is that my reality? By what yardstick should I measure other people, that is real?

    I am alive and there is no greater success story for me, greater than that! Yes I need my human dignity; yes I need the basics. Even a little bird can get up and ‘go to work’ each day, but I can’t! Should I feel incomplete? Not when it comes to comparing being alive with the alternative! Besides, I can always find something to do with just a little imagination – (conditional happiness)! Draw lines in the blog waters ….. (sorry peter)!

    I have seen more human dignity and knowing/(feeling) of self-worth on the visage of a simple Zulu cattle hearder than on HRH the Queen of England (pardon your majesty)! Or on the faces of some kids now and again, or really old people who too are unemployed. Something shines through.

    The aboriginal people of my country, whose spirit was smashed and continues to be trodden on by the ‘society’ in which I live, who graciously accepted a meaningless apology hoping that it would eventually translate to something, are ‘involuntarily unemployed’. Something has been eclipsed.

    Does it all come down to a formula? Or is the formula just one little piece in the jigsaw puzzle that has both an inner and outer dimension …?

  19. Good post. I agree completely with your values that reject the JG. But I’m wondering, nowhere in the post do you specifically speak about property rights and how they’d be re-distributed to assure equality of power in society. I think that’s one of the major faults of the left side of the MMT / fiat currency paradigm in that it seems to imply we can successfully attack capitalism through the “back door” by money alone. As if we’re somehow afraid to challenge it more directly.

    I’ve been reading a bit lately and want to do more on the spirit that animated the French Revolution and especially the Jacobins. Egalite was the basic spirit which went beyond the English word equality. I think it’s captured a bit, but only a bit, with the Occupy movement. It’s a more activist and positive assertion that we’re all equal and a firm rejection of all claims to authority and power. BIG, as I often see it expressed, focuses totally on a minimum income and a somewhat more equal sharing but not at all on egalite. I think that’s wrong on both moral and practical grounds. I don’t need to state the moral grounds here. But practically, I think a large percentage of the public would be more receptive to a strong “manly” assertion of “egalite” rather than a weak demand to share the wealth a bit more. Egalite goes to the soul; BIG looks more like a welfare program.

  20. Jim: I agree. A JIG or BIG can only be a small step toward what is possible. I have probably been giving the topic too much weight in recent posts, relative to the importance I place on it in the grander scheme of things. I also agree with others such as Tom Hickey who have pointed out the limited nature of these kinds of policy solutions. I need to think a lot more about the bigger picture and try to start addressing that more.

    hbl: Laura’s comment addresses the way I view the distinction between capitalism and other surplus-creating societies. Thanks for your insights, which extend beyond that point.

    jrbarch: Your contributions add a whole other dimension to the discussion. I am reflecting on them in addition to reading various materials provided in links by Tom and Clonal Antibody. Thank you.

    Everyone: Thanks for the fantastic contributions, in this and other threads. I really appreciate it. Cheers.

  21. JIG will probably lead to the abolishment of State as we know. The down-scaling will be required in order to minimize free-riding and mistrust and to maximize self-responsibility and mutual respect among small and smaller societies. The size of current population and state makes it impossible. The problem could be partially solved with a direct democracy for which current technological level already provides a solid basis. However it will also require immense control on aliens. Because, as David Graeber showed, money is required only to deal with aliens. Unemployment and price stability are by-products of money and once money is eliminated, then the macroeconomic problem collapses into trivial tribal society. And those tribals can represent special interests like facebooking or windsurfing.

  22. I don’t understand why you start off with Modern Monetary Theory. Are you trying to mask this obviously Marxist tract with references to market economics? Your proposed system falls apart at even the first cut. Who produces the robots which perform all the unpleasant work in your system? And if the answer is robots, who makes those? Does one generation in five toil their entire lives producing the first robots, which then produce all other robots, until they wear out and generation six must toil again? There are a thousand other holes to be poked here (who controls the robots, who prevents over-allocation of resources, what level is a basic income, etc), but I’ll just leave it at that first one for now.

  23. Zack: I am influenced by Marx and have never tried to pretend otherwise. If you look back over my previous posts, you will find quite a few of them are concerned with Marx, especially in terms of what his work suggests about capitalism and possible future alternatives.

    The reason this post starts with Modern Monetary Theory is that its context is a debate between MMTers. As you are probably already aware, the academics propose a JG, some in the blogosphere who tend to be on the right oppose it, and a few on the left such as myself prefer a JIG or a BIG.

    The increasing mechanization of repetitive production methods is a process that occurs over time, and is likely to accelerate greatly over the next few decades. Humans create the first machines, humans in combination with machines create later generations of machines and robots, in the future robots may increasingly create robots. I don’t know. But that is beside the point. As it becomes possible to mechanize a production method, it becomes possible to free workers who used to be involved with that production method to do other things. The question is whether we wish to keep labor power commodified as mechanization proceeds or choose to organize productive activities on another basis. I discuss how either social path is possible here. You’ll notice that your bogeyman Marx features again.

    Regarding the basic income, there has already been a lot of research on the topic. There are notable social scientists in Europe who have registered their support for the idea, including two recipients of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences (“Nobel Prize”). You can find information here.

  24. Hi Peter, I’ve been reading some of your older posts and wanted to respond to:

    “Other than on the internet, do you often come across the view that people should not be guaranteed access to free health care or income security? Maybe its the circles I move in, but I don’t come across this view very often. Yet, on the internet, it seems to be everywhere. Maybe it’s just an internet army hired by the Koch brothers or something to create a false impression of the societal mood?”

    I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know any of these people either WHEN it comes down to specific questions about the role of the government. To me, America has a conservative “image” more than adhering to conservative principles. It’s fashionable these days to be against “big” government in a Marlboro Man like way.

    But here’s what is interesting. I recently took the survey over at AmericansElect (200+ questions supposedly answered over 7M times) and was surprised at the results since these are the sort of forums that Ron Paul supporters dominate (ie, all government is evil). Disclosure: I fall smack-dab in the center of the lower left-hand quadrant in the Political Compass test. So imagine my shock that in every single politically-charged issue, my responses where well within the majority (and a clear majority at that). Here is a sampling:

    In your view, on average, are U.S. public school teachers paid too much, too little, or about the right amount?
    A 7% Too much
    B 66% Too little
    C 22% About the right amount
    D 5% Unsure
    How much, if at all, do you worry about not being able to pay medical costs for a serious illness or an accident?
    A 38% Worry a lot
    B 31% Worry some
    C 18% Worry a little
    D 12% Do not worry at all
    E 1% Unsure
    In your view, does the current U.S. tax system favor the rich, the middle class, the poor, or does it treat them all equally?
    A 74% Favors the rich
    B 2% Favors the middle class
    C 15% Favors the poor
    D 3% Treats them all equally
    E 5% OtherF2%Unsure
    Would you be willing to pay more in taxes to maintain Medicaid and if so, how much more?
    A 35% No
    B 12% Yes-$10 a year
    C 15% Yes-$50 a year
    D 25% Yes-$100 a year
    E 9% Yes-$500 a year
    F 3% Yes-$1,000 a year
    G 2% Yes-$2,000 a year
    (Note: 35% say ‘no’ but there will be a subsection of ppl in this group that are not necessarily against Medicaid, they simply don’t want to pay more for it; 65% obviously not only support the program, but would pony-up more tax dollars for it. Almost the same exact distribution was found for programs like SS, Medicare, inc investment in education and aid to states). In stark contrast to the following:
    Would you be willing to pay more in taxes to maintain the U.S. military and if so, how much more?
    A 59% No
    B 8% Yes-$10 a year
    C 9% Yes-$50 a year
    D 15% Yes-$100 a year
    E 6% Yes-$500 a year
    F 2% Yes-$1,000 a year
    G 2% Yes-$2,000 a year
    Do you believe life has gotten better or worse for working-class Americans in the past 20 years?
    A 11% Better
    B 85% Worse
    C 4% Unsure
    In order to address the country’s growing energy needs, do you favor or oppose building more public transportation such as subways, trains, and bus systems?
    A 60% Strongly favor
    B 27% Somewhat favor
    C 7% Somewhat oppose
    D 5% Strongly oppose
    E 1% Unsure
    In general, do you agree or disagree that religion and religious values have a place in America’s public schools?
    A 14% Strongly agree
    B 17% Tend to agree
    C 20% Tend to disagree
    D 47% Strongly disagree
    E 2% Unsure
    Thinking about solving the nation’s energy problems, which of the following do you think the U.S. should be MOST focused on?
    A 16% Ensuring we have a lot of energy resources by producing more oil, gas, and coal supplies
    B 68% Developing new energy resources by improving renewable energies like wind and solar
    C 15% Making better use of the energy we have by encouraging people to conserve more
    D 1% Unsure
    In order to address the country’s growing energy needs, do you favor or oppose further government regulation of emissions by U.S. factories?
    A 52% Strongly favor
    B 27% Somewhat favor
    C 11% Somewhat oppose
    D 9% Strongly oppose
    E 2% Unsure

    And my personal favorite which debunks even my own thinking that America has only a conservative image when being asked general questions about the role of government without getting into specifics:

    Which of the following statements comes closest to your personal opinion?
    A 55% In a recession, it is better for the government to intervene to increase its spending until the private sector recovers
    B 39% In a recession, it is better to let the private sector fend for itself—a free market approach is best
    C 7% Unsure

    According to this survey, not only are people in favor of government, it strongly suggests they would like a “big” one. Socialists, all of them! 😉

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