Tag Archives: capitalism

Economic Liberties in Direct Democracy

 We each value differently. Some of us place virtually no value in owning a surplus of material goods, i.e. accumulated wealth. Conversely, the valuations of some are largely socially comparative, such that the value of all things is contingent upon its value to a certain select group — therefore the more of such a thing the better.

But if an immoral act is one that, were everyone to engage in it, would at least marginally leave the world worse off — an act, in other words, that at least indirectly harms the innocent — how would the accumulation of wealth — above and beyond a satisfaction of the necessities of life — rank in terms of morality? Since we long ago ensured that future generations will no longer struggle against the ravages of nature itself, nor face any real threat of invasion, does not our continued, compulsive accumulation of material wealth for its own sake bring more harm to our environment than benefit to our society?

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Evolution has yielded at least two primary offspring survival strategies: The individuals within a species or sub-species may increase the likelihood of passing down their own genes to future generations by either having as many offspring as nature can sustain or by having only a few offspring very well provided for.

But in a species as generally successful as the human being has been, if success for many is at least unconsciously measured by the highest number of children marginally provided for — or even by the extent of wealth secured to only a very few children — then the consequent accumulation of humans and of wealth, which must come through the exploitation of a finite supply of natural resources, may well end up doing the world and its future generations more harm than good — all owing to a lack of awareness of strong drives inherited from eons past.

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The mere mention of a direct democracy surely stirs within the minds of many Americans a series of nightmarish scenes — tumultuous masses scaling and toppling capital monuments to titans of industry — invading then our very homes in search of the unearned and the over-prized — finally, triumphantly passing among themselves roughly equal shares in a newly confiscated wealth — a Michael Moore-as-Robespierre bloody revolution.

And were this proposed constitution not just the democratization of our polity but equally a redistribution of our wealth, this reflexive, fearful overreaction would indeed be justified. Surely it would then contemplate the very grimmest Orwellian purge to rid the nation not only of “undue ownership” but of the inherited talent — or the accidental ambition to develop that talent — that so often manifests itself in wide disparities of wealth in a capitalistic society.

Shall we be rid of capitalism then? Make everyone an equal owner in all things? If we were to adopt such a plan, long before a requisite human beneficence were enshrined within our figurative constitutions, we would surely invite far more harm than good. It would be immoral to blindly forsake the protections afforded us by our current system absent a realistic, improved alternative.

Amendment XII – Any self-sovereign, adult citizen shall be welcome to purchase or to lease property, or to contract services or employment, private or public, subject to equivalent qualifications and on equal terms. But no contract entered into with a minor, or made by force or fraud, shall be enforceable by law.

Yet neither ought we give free reign to capitalism, particularly in light of the learned and inherited drives we as humans seem so far from transcending. Simply to unleash the free market because it is the most efficient use of available resources yet begs the question: How much of this can we take? One who acts without moral awareness, let alone an ideal, is closer to a robot than a sentient being.

No corporation reporting no current earnings or profit, or a loss, shall award raises, bonuses or other extraordinary emoluments to its executives, for or during the same fiscal period, unless with the express, contemporaneous assent of all of its owners.

(from Amendment XIII)

The presented constitutional document is therefore designed to foster a greater understanding of the morality of conscientiousness, specifically with regard to harm done to the innocent. Thus it preserves the protections of life and property inherent to a moral society; it limits to local precincts the scope of our political ambitions; and it maximizes the public accountability placed upon both our leaders and upon ourselves.

Citizens shall retain the right to form workers unions whenever the labor at issue is a service for which any citizen can refuse to pay by refusing the service itself and the product of such service.

(The provision above effectively abolishes public service workers unions, which  use the power of the state to exact payments for services from tax-paying citizens who do not need or use those services.)

Lawful unions shall retain the right to strike whenever an interruption in work would not endanger public safety, withhold labor for which a prospective striker was previously paid, or withhold a service or product for which a person cannot lawfully refuse to pay.

(from Amendment XIII)

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Money is just a medium through which we express subjective valuations. On-the-spot bartering and trading had its limitations; thus we exchange paper symbols of value that we trust will hold their worth until we exchange them again in the future. If the number of these paper symbols were vastly increased, and not everyone received their proportionate share, then some consumers would be enriched relative to others. They could then outbid the rest for goods or services and pay back debts with paper that would no longer buy what it did when it was first lent, since the prices of most things would have been raised for all of us by this bidding between the newly enriched.

When gold coins were the currency they had a value all their own, with a supply that could not easily be manipulated. Later, when new paper bills were limited in number to the supply of exchangeable gold, this too helped to stabilize the value of the paper. What we have today, of course, affords us no such safeguarding of the value of this paper: The Federal Reserve may print new money at will; and banks may lend out most of the money they were entrusted to hold available in deposit.

Whether or not a new system of indirect value exchange might be adopted upon ratification of this Constitution — or yet a return to a barter and trade economy — will be entirely up to the People themselves — and to their Secretary of the Treasury, whom they entrust with the authority to stabilize the currency — and whom they have the power to replace every year.

The Secretary of the Treasury shall have the power to assess and collect the fees and revenues enumerated by this Constitution; to issue one-year Treasury notes on the credit of the United States; to pay the debts and expenses of the United States; to coin or print money, stabilize the value thereof, and of foreign money; to fix the standard of weights and measures; to establish uniform guidelines on the subject of bankruptcies; and to safeguard against the devaluation and counterfeiting of the securities and current money of the United States. But no money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in consequence of appropriations authorized by law; and a regular statement and account of the receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.

(from Amendment XI)

The overarching goal of this document is a moral one in nature — not one intended to optimize the free exchange of goods and services so as to perpetuate unconscious evolutionary drives — nor to impose an economic equalization among the ingenious and the disingenuous alike — but to curb the harm we do to the innocents of today and tomorrow and thus secure unto the greatest majority of us an enduring, moral way of life.

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Morality and the Minimum Wage

 Were America to be invaded by a massive foreign force and all able-bodied, law-abiding citizens called upon to act courageously in defense of our common homeland, would it not then seem a vulgar injustice after repelling this formidable enemy were any such patriots then relegated to working at wages below a level providing even a subsistence lifestyle — while yet others returned to their newly secured private wealth and their well-paying positions? Ought not the diligence and the integrity that protects and preserves the free enterprise system for all citizens at least earn for hard-working individuals an escape from a life of dependency, indebtedness and drudgery?

Here our common values and our underlying morality are on trial. Does honest work merit an honest pay? Is there inherent value in integrity and hard work? Let us leave aside for the moment those who free ride upon society and even those who bring children into poverty. Must single working Americans in order to live independently as adults toil at more than one job, live with relatives, and assume personal debt for training and education — all as the price for survival in a supposedly just nation?

Might this be where a free market forces the hand of the invisible individual?

Is modest living and quiet dignity then impossible, or perhaps just unacceptable, for those who, though their skills are limited, would yet be content with their lives? Must fast food workers and janitors be ashamed of their stations? Ought we pity them? And is the price of being an American that all must ambitiously scramble toward the next tax bracket?

Instituting a minimum wage sufficient to guarantee a law-abiding full-time single worker his basic needs — food, shelter, clothing — would stand as proof that we Americans value the very values that sustain us. This would not, however, be a redistributive scheme for expropriating all wealth. Nor would any direct transfer of either an interest in, or the control of, private property be defensible — let alone feasible.

In fact with any hypothetical employee or stockholder control of business a more wasteful use of resources would likely follow: as each citizen would vote for his own self-interests, interests determined by both short-sighted and far-sighted perspectives and by the individual’s share of common sense — or lack of any. The result would be an averaging out of good with bad ideas. While the decision-making of a CEO is more often directed by experience and by a single-minded, highly competitive and so, more often than not, efficient use of resources.

By no means, though, ought the nation’s highest goal be the greatest economic output. Capitalism may indeed deliver the most efficient use of resources and provide us the highest floor of subsistence for all. But is this necessarily moral — or even wise? Ought irreversible environmental damage and mass species extinction be of eventual concern to us? And ought our system be measured by quantity of human life, instead of by the quality of it?

The idea of putting more capital into more hands, as the minimum wage seemingly would do, isn’t necessarily a desirable goal in itself. This would undoubtedly accelerate the destructive exploitation of our natural world through an overproduction of material goods. With more income most people would simply purchase more products and services — each requiring its own natural resources. And thanks to their marginal increase in wealth, some people would also have larger families — children who would themselves consume additional resources.

So what’s so good about a minimum wage then? Isn’t the consequent overpopulation and environmental destruction also immoral? Yes, of course it is. But because the minimum wage sets the wage floor artificially high — i.e. higher than would support the fullest employment possible — it also limits job opportunities and so exerts pressure on those who cannot afford children not to have them: it thereby moderates both population growth and economic growth — this otherwise-destructive, immoral, runaway economic growth — even as it rightly rewards honest work.

That our government currently provides a ready alternative to low-skill, low-wage labor in the form of welfare programs — food stamps, unemployment insurance, etc. — only rewards people for not working, for bringing more children into poverty, and for scamming honest citizens. These safety-net provisions would have to be sunsetted over the course of no more than a few generations, so that each successive generation would face increasingly fewer alternatives to responsible family planning and honest full-time work.

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Value itself is subjective. But values are indispensable. Honesty and hard work ought not be relegated to an economic model of subjective valuation. It stretches credulity to believe that the salary of a CEO is 500 times greater than the company’s lowest-paid laborers; either because the market “demands” such an arrangement, where in other companies it apparently does not; or because this disparity reflects an objectively demonstrable, just valuation of his unique contributions to the survival of the enterprise — as though CEOs, with their obnoxious salaries, weren’t often replaced.

The entire compensation system of the mid-sized or larger company could adjust to accommodate a higher minimum wage, as anyone who has any experience with the wasted time and resources, the general incompetence and the typical redundancy inside most companies could confirm. There are also fortunes spent on ineffective advertising and government lobbying — another advantage of direct democracy — and the consequent tax shelters and special provisions in law. Suffice it to say that most companies are grossly inefficient.

The federal minimum wage acts with a blind uniformity and with a public transparency. It helps those who are actively helping themselves. A regionalized CPI could be used to determine a level for the minimum wage that would provide a local resident sufficient means to afford the necessities of life in his area, as represented by a “basket” of goods and services that all independent, hardworking Americans deserve.

The most obvious alternatives to a moral minimum wage are to continue this amoral welfare state, which now threatens the fiscal life of the nation; or to be rid of the welfare state altogether and the minimum wage with it: Let then the free market flex its invisible hand. Perhaps all honest, low-skilled, hardworking Americans would earn only two dollars an hour; but the price of basic needs might drop in some relation to the lowered cost of labor; such that marginally more poor people could live in relatively more widespread poverty. And the planet could be exploited and overrun until we’re all equally damned.

Or we might express our sounder values through our policies and our polity. We might institute a moral minimum wage and ratify a direct democracy.