I should confess that I can’t exactly map my economic goals and principles in terms of the common "Parecon vs Market Socialism" dichotomy that has emerged at ZCom and the Solidarity Economy site. In my first blog on economics, I proposed four economic reforms – not my original ideas – that I believe are essential to ending capitalism: universal unionization, universal public-financed secondary education, universal healthcare, and a guaranteed basic income.
I see these as "transitional reforms" – a term disliked by Michael Albert for reasons I don’t entirely get. What I mean by transitional reforms, as opposed to what some Orthodox Marxists may mean, are those reforms that substantially alter the flow of wealth distribution, but don’t quite abolish capitalism. They set the stage for mass worker empowerment which can then eventuate in finally ending capitalism.
In the present system, most workers in a capitalist economy work 5 eight-hour days. Most workers earn barely enough to make ends meet during that 40 hour week. Many don’t make ends meet and so they work additional part-time jobs. Most workers don’t have a college education. Most workers don’t really like the work they do and wouldn’t have picked it as their dream job. Most workers make considerably less than the top tier of wealth. The top tier wealthy control the lion’s share of political and economic decisions.
There are some basic social needs that any economy needs to meet. Food, clothing, shelter, transportation, healthcare, and education are among these primary needs. Capitalism has met these needs via the 40-hour workweek and near-poverty wages for most workers. Capitalism also produces many luxury items that are unnecessary, such as foie gras, Cadillacs, diamond jewelry, and private jets. It seems obvious that if wealth were more equally distributed and luxury production curtailed, the primary social needs of the mass of society could be filled with less than a 40-hour workweek. Automation is increasing exponentially the productive capacity of our labor and one can foresee an era when most manufacturing will require very little labor at all.
However, if we move to this "jobless" era with the present inequalities intact, the result will be massive unparalleled poverty. This was the premonition of Marx which lay behind his prediction of working-class emmiseration under the capitalism. However, I think he may have underappreciated that most of that emmiseration would arise not from super-exploitation, but from the systematic obsolescence of human labor.
If we can’t switch from distributing the primary necessities of life without requiring wage earnings as payment, then emmiseration will ensue. I believe that long before we get to that point, the pressure from the masses to create a different form of distribution will become compelling, even catastrophic. This scenario is the impetus behind my support for a basic guaranteed income (BGI).
A BGI will address the concerns of displaced workers and obsolescent occupations by supporting directly the search for new sources of income. In addition to this, the granting of universal secondary education will address mass retraining needs.
I actually think that we can institute the BGI in increments. Beginning with perhaps a 5-10% initial grant, this can be increased in phased proportions until some optimal threshold is acheived. I’d guess that greater than 50%, but less than 100% of a person’s economic needs would be directly granted from public funds in the advanced stages of labor obsolescence.
I want to offer a fantasy description of my typical day in the economy of the future when I have a 50% BGI. I’m employed with a travel firm, working from my home office. I take reservations from the future form of the internet, which will be enhanced to allow 3-D telepresence transactions. I do this work 5 hours a day, 4 days a week to qualify for my 50% BGI. Once I finish a day’s work, I am free to pursue my personal passion, contributing to a hypermedia future-net "channel" on religion and political philosophy. I am working on a CGI documentary about the history of Quakerism.
Later that week, I fulfill a 3 hour requirement to provide childcare. All men are trained to do this work and it is mandatory as part of a gender-equity initiative. I am also required to attend workplace meetings to discuss problems and solutions to issues affecting workers in my occupation.
As society decides to drastically curtail air travel, my industry is going through an uncertain time as we transition to non-polluting futuristic transportation alternatives. There isn’t really enough work in travel reservations to maintain the current workforce. I decide that I want to receive certification in psychiatry. The field has become very advanced with medications and therapies that work wonders. Even though my country has moved to a 50% BGI and almost universal employment, reducing the demand for psychiatry, there is extreme demand in some areas where poverty is still rampant. I sign up and my educational plan now replaces my job as the required effort to earn my BGI. Work-study assignments in psychiatric research provide the other 50% of my necessities.
– To Be Continued –