UTOPIA A or B
Two visions for the future
by Mike Mercer
The Montreal Review, May, 2010
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Addressing Marx's claim about social structure
In the decade of debate, the question of social superstructure was inevitably raised. The Marxist claim that ideas and institutions of a society: its ideology, worked to support the underlying economic forms: exploitative practices, could not be ignored. Did the modern liberal democracy with its free market act as a tool to oppress the majority: the workers, for the benefit of the minority: the capital owner?
Camp-A supported the accusation wholeheartedly. Although many of its intellectuals quickly proclaimed that they were not endorsing communism. They did offer various socialist models for the new society, in which the state would act to ensure that exploitations were minimized, while still enabling people to do business and make money. "We may set limits on the market and how rich you can get, but we do not want to totally dismantle capitalism in the quest for equality. If you want to improve your life above the average you will have the right to do so, assuming you don't abuse anyone to get what you want." said an economics spokesman for Camp-A.
Camp-B rejected the Marxist accusation as tired old intellectualism. The market offered opportunities for everyone to freely engage in arrangements that were mutually beneficial. Under modern liberal democratic law, no one was forced into a situation of exploitation. "The forces of supply and demand regulate the working environment, not some conspiratorial gang of capitalists. Anyhow, our ideology is about freedom not oppression." said a financial expert from Camp-B.
The question of "real" freedom & equality
Coming out of the debate over Marxist claims was the pointed question about formal freedoms vs. actual opportunities. Camp-A argued that the right to a thing did not guarantee you actually got the thing. They pointed to the frequent accounts of people being forced into inhumane work because of situational pressures, as an inconsistency in freedom theory. Said people enjoyed legal protection form exploitation, but they had no effective way to avoid being exploited. They voluntarily took low pay, no security, jobs because they had to put food on the table.
Camp-A intellectuals pushed for real equality of opportunities. In the economic realm this meant having guaranteed safety net, a minimum basic income; so that people could refuse work they deemed unfit, without suffering the consequences that would normally drive them to take any job they could get. In essence Camp-A wanted to invert the traditional labor market relationship. Normally the pool of workers is large and the number of available jobs small, thus the advantage lies with the employer and wages stay low. (Except in some highly skilled jobs where they are not many qualified workers) In this setting competition between workers for jobs acts to the benefit of capital and to the detriment of labor. Under a basic guaranteed income system, the employer would find workers more demanding when they negotiate their terms of employment.
Camp-B reactions to the radical notions of a guaranteed income were built on two arguments; 1. People should not get something for nothing. 2. Giving people a free lunch would destroy the work ethic. As an important subset of the first argument, the question of how to pay for such a scheme was raised.
A basic principle in Camp-B held that an individual should not be forced to contribute to any social programs. Of course they may do so if they wished. The state should minimize taxation and involvement, allowing individuals to succeed or fail on their own merits. As to the second argument about degradation of the work ethic, fear of economic disruption loomed large. Without the traditional model of labor relations, it was reasoned, inflation would sky rocket: as worker's demands for higher wages were met, prices would have to increase to protect profit margins.
The "real" freedom and equality issue was not limited to economics. The notion that all people are equal before the law was called into question. Certainly it was a formal truth, but in actual practice a rich man had the advantage because he could hire investigators, lawyers and expert witnesses. All people were entitled to a fair trial but the real situation was sometimes very unfair, especially in matters of civil suit where a person faced a corporation. Thus Camp-A developed a proposal for "legal-care" a system in which everyone paid the same fee for a layer who was randomly chosen from the pool of available, qualified talent. It was compared to a hospital visit under medic-care, in which you would see a doctor, but you had no control over which doctor you got. Some members of Camp-B mocked the idea and pointed to the obscenely long waiting room times in Canadian hospitals. The response from Camp-A was an affirmation to improve the medical system.
Refinement of Economic Plans
As the decade of debate went on both Camps produced more documents about how to build the Utopia they wanted. Economic ideas were frequently picked at in great detail. Of course many items could only be debated in abstract as the full effects could not be known unless the plan was put into effect. Both camps claimed that the free market would continue and that privet property would be respected. Although Camp-A was full of socialist ideas, it did not seriously want a communist society or planned economy.
Camp-A announced that the market would continue to exist but it would not be the free-market, as an institution who's freedom was more important that the health and welfare of the people. Reasonable limits would be set on profit making for both individuals and corporations, as part of the plan to reduce the wealth gap.
Companies who did not like the new rules of the game were free to depart, but they would face the prospect of being denied access to the market place of the nation. The market would no longer be free in terms of unrestricted rights for companies to do business.
A corporation listed as "unfriendly" would face tariffs or exclusion, under a comprehensive examination of ownership review. The examination would primarily look for names of stock holders and compare them to those on the unfriendly list, so that a company could not simply change its name and reorganize, then do business as usual. At the end of the day a corporation is only a fiction, it is the people involved in it that matter. Thus it was argued, that to be effective economic policy laws must aim at the owners not at the shell.
The UCPP (Universal Citizen Payment Plan)
The plan of a guaranteed income allowed the replacement of several existing social services: welfare, unemployment insurance and old age pensions, which were all rolled into the UCPP. As a universal plan there was no longer a need for a large bureaucracy of case workers to keep track of the participants. Each citizen would be given a bank account with the Central State Bank and the payment would automatically be deposited on the first of each month. For the most part the system could be automated. The exact amount of income would be calculated per region, to provide a subsistence level. If a person valued his free time most of all, he would be able to live without work. But for most people, who enjoyed the things money can buy, the UCPP allowed them to work as much or as little as they chose. However it should be pointed out that, like many aspects of Camp-A's platform, the UCPP is a privilege not a right. Certain requirements are attached to it; they are considered your civil responsibilities as a good citizen.
Camp-B affirmed its belief in a free competitive market. The state's role was declared to be minimal, based on two principles. First the notion of safety standards, so that all products and services are certified fit for the public. Second the notion of anti-monopoly regulations, to prevent any single companies or small oligarchy, from dominating any given field. A third principle, although not designed as an economic policy, was the reduction in government size. This entailed massive privatization of the public services. The right to work hard, be inventive and get rich was entrenched alongside the sacred right to privet property.
The main point of reform over the old economic policy was strict anti-monopoly laws, aimed at providing real competition between corporations and the opportunity for small businesses to prosper in local areas. This initiative, although not popular with most of the corporate elite, was hugely supported by the grass roots groups who wanted a return to "small town America life".
Minimum Wage and ELC ( Emergency Line of Credit )
After much debate it was decided that 40 hours of work at minimum wage must provide enough income for subsistence level. Thus the basic wage was linked to the poverty line, which was subject to annual review. This policy caused little surprise compared to the rest of the plan, which called for the dismantling of most existing social services including: welfare, unemployment insurance and old age security. The ELC would act as a replacement aid system for people down on their luck. Only those who met certain requirements, proof of need, would be eligible. The ELC would allow an individual to draw on a State held line of credit, up to a set amount per month, at a reasonable interest rate. The credit could be repaid with cash or by community service work. The logic of the ELC is that people should not get free hand outs, but they are entitled as responsible citizens to borrow from the State. The beauty of the ELC is that it is not a continuous drain on government funds.
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Genealogy of Utopias A & B
The Question of Human Nature
Addressing Marx's claim about social structure
Who should rule Utopia?
Urban Planning & On the doorstep of Utopia
Bibliography for Utopia A or B
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