As I understand it (pp. 204-205, 211), Wood states that Athens provided a measure of citizenship with rights for its slaves which was historically new. In contrast, the modern Western notion of private property in capitalism presumes that an elite leading class should have rights that are not shared by royalty or common citizens. So if you were suggesting that nominal slavery is a sign of exploitation, then it remains to be shown that modernity actually treats the average person with more principled value than Greece treated those described "plainly" - yet with some effective honor - as slaves.
Athenian slaves couldn't vote or hold property, they could be freely traded, their families could be broken up at will, for starters. So are you arguing that modernity doesn't
treat "the average person with more principled value than Greece?" (classical Athens particularly)
You have imagined some problems with driving an economy "officially" through public courts and committees. Setting aside (for now) that we already have massive public-entrepreneur ties (sometimes reasonably known as collusion under our less public model)...
And that's a big part of the argument I'm making - your idea pretends to drive corporations out of governance, but in fact you're taking away any pretense of separation between business and government.
What if you're onto something process-wise, and it really does take a tyrant to get from here to something better...
I think I've said the opposite - I think that if you centralize everything and put things into the hands of tyrants or vast all-powerful bureaucracies, you get something terrible
based on the "power corrupts" principle.
Let's look a little at this notion of complexity. I think maybe we're both falling into it, here but bear with me. I feel like you're setting up a kind of straw man argument by saying you need a precise formula for something that is admittedly rather complex. How can I convince you of ultimate "practicality," without dropping a gigantic national budget loaded with department rules on the desk? Had I such a budget, you might still use that as proof that no local powers should be trusted to manage such a sweeping thing -- even, I gather from your quick dismissal of local capabilities, where the interests of their own people were directly involved.
This is a summary of the argument so far:
kylie: We can redistribute all the wealth equally.
Me: How do you ensure that the government will remain accountable once you give it all the power to redistribute and manage the wealth?
kylie: We'll make it more transparent, democratic, and local.
And now you're saying:
kylie: Well, it's beyond me to give details like that.
I'm not asking for a 20,000 page code of laws, but I'm asking for something a little more sophisticated than "We'll hand out coupons." I'm not asking for minutia, I'm asking for substance.
Then we have principles. You say that democratizing control over goods and services such that some uses of time are more valued than others, will necessarily create a more complex bureaucracy than the tax system you favor. Even if it would be more complex, I don't really see why it would necessarily be more corrupt.
I'm going to make a point here since you've complained about this before: You still haven't specified how you're going to "democratize control over goods and services," so I have to speculate. I'm going to speculate that you mean something like nationalizing the industry.
1. Regulations are already quite complex, but when the government takes control of an industry, that's going to increase the complexity of law by an order of magnitude. As I said earlier, the power that lawyers (and their clients, i.e., businessmen) enjoy lies in the complexity of law; every sentence of law that someone writes is an opportunity for a loophole. Every loophole is a place that someone who's already powerful will wiggle their way through.
2. Every time that an industry is nationalized, it creates opportunities for patronage. Every opportunity for patronage is an opportunity for corruption. Every opportunity for patronage increases the power of incumbents, who can sell off positions or leverage their power over nationalized industries to help them win elections and drive out opposition.
Whereas when you separate government and business, if a business becomes corrupt, then (assuming that anti-trust law works) that business will go out of business because it's not going to be able to deliver efficiently to customers. Automatically. So there's a great incentive not to be corrupt.
Now, if you want to complain about corruption of government by businesses, well, how much harder is that when those businesses are already part of government? The Saudis, for instance, nationalized their country's oil industry a long time ago; who's the bitch today?
Your concerns of runaway hoarding or speculation suggest to me that people must always operate the same way they have in a monetary system with few limits on that sort of thing. I'm trying to think of a different system to begin with. This sounds to me like saying for example: Public health care must be too expensive, simply because private health care has been too expensive up until now. Isn't that apples and oranges, appeal to a dated precedent?
The reason that it's "apples and apples" is that it's organizations of people in my system, and organizations of people in your system. I don't think your system is fundamentally different; so far you haven't presented a reason for anyone to think "Oh, well, people will suddenly play nice, suddenly large organizations will be benevolent." This goes back to the consistency issue - you think that businessmen don't play nice, libertarians think that governments don't play nice, I take the consistent position that no one
plays nice so we have to balance all of them against each other.
If you refuse from the get-go to imagine the principle working (say, you might think nothing in history could possibly support this idea), then we have an impasse.
What if the principle doesn't work?
We have a system now that essentially says some people's time and projects are more valuable than others.
Because it is. If two billion people benefit from Project A and no one benefits from Project B, then Project A is more valuable. If Caleb spends his time working on project A, and Daniel spends his time working on Project B, then Caleb is spending his time better and should be rewarded for that.
It is in itself horribly complex, and most people feel they cannot understand or manipulate it.
I wouldn't describe it as "horribly complex" - I mean, there are a lot of details, but to have a working knowledge of how the thing works is easier than it's ever been. You can look up what S-corps and C-corps do online and get a working knowledge of it. I do think that we should make greater effort to educate people in business, law, and economics.
Is your alternative easier to understand or manipulate?
Granted, it might be possible to shake this up some through a flat percent income tax or a better battery of code. Do you think that is actually forthcoming?
You're talking about overthrowing the system; I'm talking about reforming it. I think reform is necessarily more likely than revolution; anyone who wants revolution will be at least pressure for reform.
Or would you imagine that since it might be cynically speaking "sustainable," that the upper classes will keep larger gains from the past decades?
I don't think anything is static. The people supported progressive taxes and a new, socially minded economy after WWII in most western countries and they got it; this replaced a vastly unequal social system that lingered from the gilded age. Since 1970, I'd agree that there was a shift in favor of the wealthy but I don't think that that's fixed.
The long-term concern I have with simple tax policy is that money being extremely convertible, there is little to slow anyone from undoing it at the drop of a hat. Social systems by definition can be undone. Yet if we conceive the switch is so simple, we know most people have little control and arguably thus, less real sense of ownership at all.
I don't understand why making money less convertible would change this.
You seem to see higher risks from cheating and from political decentralization in the abstract (we haven't really looked around, except for Texas on education - have you ever, say, lived in a smaller country?) than benefits from many people choosing more of their lifestyles and having more basic guarantees of security. I'm not fully convinced that is a difference founded on simply mechanical questions.
As opposed to what kind of questions?
I mean, we're comparing systems. We're arguing about whether or not humanity should adopt system A or system B. We have to evaluate, mechanically, the advantages and disadvantages of these systems because we're talking about the welfare of humanity. This is a mechanical comparison and a mechanical question.
I think our current notion of ownership puts all the benefit of the doubt with business - witness the government continually "forced" to bail them out and helping to break the system's supposedly inviolable principle that people are paid big bucks to take the biggest risks.
People are compensated for taking on risk because otherwise they would always take safe bets. Development and growth require someone to take on risk, whether or not it's the government or business that takes it on that risk.
These banks were bailed out because not bailing out would crash the economy for ten years. That was the alternative. The banks did not make good decisions, no one says they did, and yet the fact remains that it would crash the economy. The strategy is to rewrite the rules so that the things that caused this crash won't happen again and the government doesn't have to bail them out again.
No, it isn't perfect. But unless you have a system that's less prone to bad behavior...
I'm not sure if you have inconsistent ideas about some "automatic" role of the present leading class in strategic decisions, or if you simply think I do.
If you replace Bill Gates and Warren Buffett with Lenin and Trotsky, you will still have a ruling class. I don't deny that you can replace Warren Buffett and Bill Gates and friends, but I do deny that you can get rid of ruling classes entirely as long as you have organized society. The people you replace Warren and Bill with will become a new
ruling class and very quickly they will come to behave like one.
Above you said I was hell bent on financially disempowering all of the business people, period. You're installing me on two different positions there. In the earlier post, you also said I would ban them from office -- which I never suggested. Short of devolving more power to local communities directly, it might be useful to restructure formal relationships between certain offices and business, to allow the public more say in whether what's now often (honestly) unredeemable money to them, should do something more for their lives... I have said repeatedly that I would like a mechanism that gives more people directly affected by allocations of resources more capacity to have occupations they care for and some ability to selectively reward projects that they feel benefit their livelihoods and communities.
And again this is just generalities. Everyone would like
to make government more local, everyone would like
to let people have more say. Well...how?
The typical answer when countries try to try this sort of thing is "Big, powerful, corrupt government!" and it works as well as can be expected.
Part of change, whether it's a simple flat rate tax or ambitious regime for communal goals, has to be a notion that there will be some very unpredictable but politically acceptable risk. If there is no jumping without a perfect formula -- while the public is continually trained to systematically attack any vague "threat" of disturbance to the established hierarchy with all its abuses -- then the trade-off is effective complicity.
And there are a lot of different social systems we could
try but I'm not willing to gamble civilization and the lifetimes of millions of people on whether they're good or not. Some of them are extremely stupid. We have to analyze them before trying them.
I'm not against change or reform - things like public health care I'm totally for - but these are very well-substantiated reforms, not leaping off cliffs. There is a real, substantial, tremendous difference between what you have so far described (or gestured toward) and something concrete like health care reform.
Whether or not you call it such, that position treats dilemmas and disasters we can predict as acceptable costs.
Whatever you want to call them, I appreciate them as flaws. Acceptable costs, whatever. I would like to fix them, but I will not accept a "fix" that creates more dilemmas and disasters than existed before the fix. I fear your system does precisely that.