Routes to Economic Vision: Criminality

Economies can have theft, fraud, etc. What would it mean to say we would like to have an economy that minimizes the likelihood of such occurrences?

Well, the first possible meaning might be that we want an economy that has the death penalty for theft, and has a huge police state for uncovering all instances. But obviously that is not moving toward better outcomes.

The second possible meaning might be that we want an economy that makes theft relatively unattractive. Ways to do this would be reducing people’s desperate need for additional income, making the steps of accomplishing theft difficult to carry out, and making it hard to enjoy the fruits of theft, as well as establishing a broad social ethos that frowns on theft-like behavior.

Capitalism, of course does the exact opposite of all this, and in doing so propels widespread cheating and theft, and perhaps also reveals a bit more about how we might go about theft reduction.

In capitalism there are always many people who are exceptionally poor and desperate for additional income, on the one hand, and also huge disparities of wealth egging people on to want to catch up to those above or to maintain their tenuous advantages. Corporate theft in capitalism is barely distinguishable from corporate business as usual. The actions are effectively the same: one only lies a bit, or keeps some facts secret, charges wrong, etc. It is easy to enjoy the fruits of theft in capitalism because the fact of having great wealth casts no a priori aspersions on the wealthy – in fact, quite the contrary, it suggests accomplishment and conveys stature, tending to make one immune from investigation and criticism. When you manage to steal effectively, you can parlay gained wealth into still more wealth. And finally, the broad social ethos of capitalism is that you ought to get what you can by any means you can muster – which is surely about as close to an invitation to theft and fraud as one could find in social life. No wonder capitalist economies are hamstrung/fueled by theft, graft, and fraud at every level of their operations.

Okay, so how do we do better in a different economy? First, we eliminate poverty and gross disparities in income and wealth, as well as insecurity about the future. Do not tie income to unstable factors. Second, we create an allocation system which makes it very hard to cheat by reducing the avenues by which anyone can pursue personal income to ones that are public and largely unmanipulable. Third, and in particular, we establish an economy that provides income such that to have excessive amounts of wealth means, a priori, that one is a thief. In this case it is impossible to flaunt stolen wealth, or to even display it visibly at all. To enjoy it means to hunker down in a basement with it. Fourth, we create a condition in which having extra wealth does not make it easier to accrue still more wealth or to engage in still broader and more damaging behavior. And of course fifth, we create a general social ethos of mutual concern and solidarity rather than rats racing with other rats.

There are probably a variety of ways to accomplish the above ends, at least to a degree. But it is hard to think of an economic arrangement that accomplishes these tasks more fully and comprehensively than parecon, it seems to me. In parecon, there is only small variation in income levels due to some people preferring to work longer or harder than average, and some preferring to work less long and less hard. There is no poverty. There is no instability regarding income, for example, and no such thing as losing market and thus losing income. You can’t enrich yourself by increasing sales or by pursuing other avenues that could be traveled via fraud and deception, and in any event all attributes of production and distribution are public. Significant theft would yield wealth that shouts out that the perpetrator is a thief, and would therefore have to be enjoyed entirely surreptitiously. There is no way to utilize wealth to accrue more wealth or power…there is no buying of productive assets or positions, in fact no enriching or empowering assets or positions even exist to buy. And the social ethos is diametrically opposed to the logic of crime, as well.

The above is all just assertion, a statement of what I believe to be the case, of course — but I think a look at descriptions of parecon in light of an understanding of the obstacles and facilitators of crime will bear the assertions out.

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