3. Seeking Just Rewards
Much more seriously than they themselves realize,
property is their God, their only God, which long ago replaced in their hearts the heavenly god of the Christians. And, like the latter, in days of yore, the bourgeois are capable of suffering martyrdom and death for the sake of this God.
Suppose that based on last chapters core arguments and further thought and exploration we come to agree that people ought to be paid only according to how hard they work and how onerous their work conditions are. To attain these ends we must reduce and ultimately eliminate reward for property, power, and output; reduce and finally eliminate the impact of race and gender on remuner- ation; and increase reward for effort and sacrifice to appropriate levels. What kinds of demands can we implement in the present that would benefit deserving constituencies now, and also move us toward Just Rewards in the long run?
For every dollar the boss has and didnt work for, one of us worked for
a dollar and didnt get it.
-Big Bill Haywood
At the extreme, people like Bill Gates earn many millions per day, from profits on capital. Below Gates and others like him, a few percent in the U.S. economy receive millions per month or year from capital. Next down, about 20 percent of the population monopolize most productive skills, decision- making levers, and other variables that enhance bargaining power in wage negotiations. At the high end of this group we find athletes and movie stars who can earn many millions of dollars yearly. More typically we find folks who monopolize the levers of day-to-day decision making and largely control and define their own work conditions and pace and that of othersincluding doctors, lawyers, managers, high level engineers, and elite university facultyand who earn yearly incomes ranging from roughly $100,000 to $500,000 and sometimes much more. It is hard to figure an average for this coordinator class, but $200,000 yearly is indicative. Beneath these folks, we find working people, and then the unemployed poor.
36 THINKING FORWARD
The top one percent of the population holds about 40% of the U.S. wealth. Bill Gates alone has (or had at the time of this writing) just a bit more wealth than Zimbabwe, Ghana, Iceland, Panama, Costa Rica, Kenya, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic combined. The next 9% holds another 33% of the wealth, so that all together the top 10% holds just under three-quarters of the wealth of the U.S.. The next 10% holds about 11.5% of U.S. wealth (which is to say these folks have more or less an average share each). The next 40% of the population holds about 15% of the wealth. The last 40% holds all together about one half a percent, essentially, nothing. Similarly, the average pay in the top twenty percent is about eight times the average in the bottom 40%. The average pay in the top 1% is over 30 times the average in the bottom 40%. And in the really high echelons, the average U.S. CEO made 209 times the pay of factory workers in 1996.
Our first demands for Just Rewards aim to redistribute income or wealth from the capitalist and coordinator/managerial classes either to the general social good or directly to the most needy in society. Here are some worthy focuses.
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Profit taxes take wealth that ought not accrue to some folks and return it to the social pot, thereby reducing excessive disparities. The ultimate demand is a 100% profit tax since profit does not reward effort or sacrifice and we have decided that effort and sacrifice (and need when appropriate) are all that should justify income. However, in addition to an ultimate goal, we need short-term demands attainable in the present. It is like building a skyscraper: You dont erect girders for the top floors before you lay them for the lower floors. The first tasks in creating a skyscraper need to provide a foundation for those that come later, and likewise winning short-term economic demands needs to reward deserving constituencies and also strengthen their dissent and empower them to win more gains in the future. A movement for a participatory economy might sensibly demand a 50% profit tax, fighting for it in a manner that explains why profits per se are misguided tools of economic distribution.
Wealth, Inheritance, and Luxury Goods Taxes
A wealth tax makes it hard to retain great wealth. An inheritance tax makes it hard to bequeath great wealth to offspring. A luxury tax takes a cut whenever someone buys something beyond what most people can afford. Again, a 100% inheritance tax above some modest level makes moral sense, as does a high wealth tax that reduces holdings before they are bequeathed. Revenues from both these taxes could finance desirable public health care, education, communication, and other programs. In a few years even a 30% wealth tax would hugely reduce disparities in holdings and generate public funds to invest in socially guided programs to rid society of homelessness, hunger, inadequate schools, and other offensive features.
38 THINKING FORWARD
Income due to institutional, organizational, or personal advantages also violates the norm we established last chapterthat is, to remunerate only effort and sacrificeand is therefore neither moral nor efficient. A way to move toward Just Rewards, therefore, is to demand highly graduated income taxes. This again provides a vehicle to better the lot of those in need in ways that create lasting gains in consciousness and empowerment.
As a last caveat, with all the above tax proposals it is critical that government isnt spending tax revenues on welfare for the rich, giving everything collected back to the wealthiest sectors and undercutting the value of taxing in the first place. Rather the demand for what to do with increased taxes on the wealthy needs to be to rebuild inner cities, enhance public health, improve public education, etc.
There are really not many jobs that actually
require a penis or a vagina, and all other
occupations should be open to everyone.
In addition to people owning capital or monopolizing conditions that enhance bargaining power, racism and sexism can also distort remuneration, bending it away from rewarding only effort and sacrifice by miscounting the effort and sacrifice and the worthiness of particular constituencies.
While the typical white household in the U.S. had $18,000 in financial wealth (net worth minus equity in owner-occupied housing) in 1995, which is the latest year for which complete figures are available at the time of writing, the typical black household had just $200 and the typical Hispanic household had zero. Similarly, in 1991, 39.2 percent of white American households had incomes less than $25,000, but among Hispanics 54.4 percent were below $25,000, and for black Americans 60.6 percent were less than $25,000.
THINKING FORWARD 39
Similarly, women who work outside the home earn only 62% as much as men, which is up from 47% in 1980 and from 38% in 1970. Struggle does pay off, but the situation is still obviously inadequate. Women who work full-time earn three-quarters what men do, up from the three-fifths that prevailed through most of the 1970s.
Likewise, and even more important, despite great advances in the past forty years, people of different races and genders still dont generally get comparable work. Instead, by a variety of mechanisms, not only income for jobs, but also jobs themselves are often allocated on the basis of race or gender. In that sense, the culture and conditions of U.S. employment have for a long time acted as a kind of affirmative action for whites and men, providing them bastions of employment more or less blocked off to other constituencies.
Demands that would equalize pay for comparable work, remove barriers to entry to better jobs, and facilitate entry to fields with currently skewed participation will all help reduce race and gender effects on income. Typically advocates of existing relations try to portray affirmative action as seeking to undercut white-only and male-only jobs in ways that divide workers from one another. One obvious solution is to have affirmative action both for overcoming caste oppression (race and gender) and for overcoming class oppression as well. A second solution is to finance affirmative action out of funds redistributed from the top, coupling affirmative action with demands for full employment to ensure that the gains of affirmative action for excluded groups dont result in worsening conditions for white male workers already suffering the impoverishment and indignities of capitalism.
The love of money as a possessionas distinguished from the love of money
as a means to the enjoyments and realities of lifewill be recognized for
what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal,
semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the
specialists in mental disease.
-John Maynard Keynes
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Beneath capitalists and coordinators in modern capitalist economies are normal workers who lack capital, who lack inflated bargaining power due to access to decision-making and skill monopolies, who work without significant say over their conditions, who follow orders given by others, and who are rarely remunerated at an appropriate rate for their effort and sacrifice. Perhaps one out of five adults in the United States fall in the property owning or the skill and decision monopolizing classes. The remaining four fifths are the working class and receive relatively meager income and accumulate minimal wealth despite expending more effort and sacrifice in their work than the elite coordinators and capitalists. The third set of programmatic demands for Just Rewards seeks to raise remuneration for those currently being paid too little for the effort and sacrifice they expend. There are many approaches.
Part of the income accruing from various taxes should support government full employment policies that will have the following beneficial results: (1) the unemployed immediately gain employment and income, (2) all workers benefit from increased bargaining power due to reduced fear of being fired, and (3) society benefits from additional output guided by social choice rather than profit-seeking.
Minimum wage supports
Increasing the minimum wage, in conjunction with attaining full employment, puts a floor on personal income. However, minimum wage jobs are almost always the most onerous. Thus, if we were already rewarding only effort and sacrifice, they would be the highest paid in society, not the lowest. Still, a short-run program must move modestly in the right direction before it can gather momentum and finally win magnificent new structures. Thus a demand for a minimum wage that is 60% of the average income for the economy would be a good short-term beginning point. To howls that this would bankrupt many businesses, an answer might be to reduce payroll at higher levels in those businesses or for the government to use accrued profit and property taxes to subsidize worthy smaller operations made needy by the program. On the other hand, we should note that operations which cannot pay appropriate wages are in many instances not ones that are socially desirable to maintain, and if we have full employment, their having to close up shop is not a debit of our demands. To make this point starksuppose that if McDonalds had to pay just wages and provide just conditions (much less cover the health costs its food induces) it couldnt earn profits for its owners. Do we lose if McDonalds is in that manner forced out of business? Well, its owners would certainly lose the profits they were accruing by paying their employees horribly. But the employees, in a full employment economy, would only benefit.
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Social wage payments
The social wage is a loose term for government policies that benefit working people. This includes expenditures on public health care, education, housing, and infrastructure, or even price supports on essential goods or food stuffs, so as to reduce income demands on the poor. Policies that increase allocations for the Social Wage redistribute societys product to benefit those in need, and thus also move society toward Just Rewards.
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Reverse income taxes
Just as it is possible to collect taxes, it is also possible to pay reverse taxes. Since our economy doesnt directly remunerate according to effort and sacrifice, the government can tax and pay to correct deviations from this norm, not only taking away from those who are over-rewarded, but also paying out to those who are under-rewarded. The ideal demand is for a socially regulated accounting of job types that generates a measure of their broad implications for effort and sacrifice, plus a reverse payment for those that are under-remunerated by the market system. In this manner the funds accrued from profit, wealth, luxury, inheritance, and income taxes can be redistributed not only to social wage payments for public education, health care, etc., but also as reverse taxes paid directly to workers who are earning less than their job requirements warrant. Obviously, even demands well short of optimal would be very progressive in their impact, and the discussion and organization required to bring them about could only be positive.
Job actions for higher wages
Naturally, a program seeking participatory economics will also support
union and rank and file efforts to win higher wages by collective bargaining,
strikes, etc. This raises incomes that are currently too low. It can also
cut into incomes that are currently too high. And this program should foster
activism that prepares the organizational means and worker commitment to
win still further gains.
Fighting For Just Rewards in a Movement for Participatory Economics
It is not, as has sometimes been said by those indulging in metaphysical
woolliness, just a question of giving the worker the total product of
his labor, it is a question of completely reshaping the relationships
... in the factory, in the village,
in the store, in production, and in distribution of supplies.
- Peter Kropotkin
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One does not sell the ground
upon which the people walk.
- Crazy Horse
Finally, a movement that seeks Just Rewards in society has to practice what it preaches. If society ought to have Just Rewards, so should movement work have Just Rewards. This is necessary for the movement: (a) to be believable, (b) to expand its own understanding of what its aims entail, (c) to provide hope through its internal practice, and (d) to welcome and nurture diverse participation. This last point is especially important but rarely enunciated. What underpaid person would believe in the honesty of a movement that talks about attaining Just Rewards in society, but that doesnt practice Just Rewards internally? Thus, in a consistent movement for a participatory economy, its own internal dues (movement taxation) and wage rates should exceed its Just Reward demands for society.