Monday, February 24, 2014

Work, Unemployment and Aggregate Demand

(I originally posted this as a series of comments on a 2012 post at Steve Randy Waldman's Interfluidity. In that post, Steve suggested that we should think of redistribution under capitalism as "the poor collectively sell[ing] insurance against riot and revolution, which the rich are happy to pay for with modest quantities of efficiently produced goods.")

In Theories of Surplus Value, Marx writes:
Assume that the productivity of industry is so advanced that whereas earlier two-thirds of the population were directly engaged in material production, now it is only one-third. Previously 2/3 produced means of subsistence for 3/3; now 1/3 produce for 3/3. Previously 1/3 was net revenue (as distinct from the revenue of the labourers), now 2/3. Leaving [class] contradictions out of account, the nation would now use 1/3 of its time for direct production, where previously it needed 2/3. Equally distributed, all would have 2/3 more time for unproductive labour and leisure. But in capitalist production everything seems and in fact is contradictory… Those two-thirds of the population consist partly of the owners of profit and rent, partly of unproductive labourers (who also, owing to competition, are badly paid). The latter help the former to consume the revenue and give them in return an equivalent in services—or impose their services on them, like the political unproductive labourers. It can be supposed that—with the exception of the horde of flunkeys, the soldiers, sailors, police, lower officials and so on, mistresses, grooms, clowns and jugglers—these unproductive labourers will on the whole have a higher level of culture than the unproductive workers had previously, and in particular that ill-paid artists, musicians, lawyers, physicians, scholars, schoolmasters, inventors, etc., will also have increased in number.
A large and growing share of employment, in other words, is unnecessary from a technical standpoint. It exists because useless jobs are more conducive to social stability than either mass poverty or a social wage. The payments the majority of the population receives for not rioting or rebelling look better when they are dressed up as payment for our work as mistresses, grooms, jugglers -- or as yoga instructors or economics professors. This way, people are still dependent on a boss. In a differently organized world, we could dispense with most of these jobs and take the benefits of increased productivity in some combination of shorter hours for productive workers and a shift toward more intrinsically fulfilling (craft-like) forms of productive work.

By starting from here we can think more sensibly about employment and unemployment. From a macroeconomic standpoint, all we need is that expenditure on unproductive labor changes in some rough proportion with income.

From my point of view, the essential facts about employment are (1) As long as the most socially accepted form of claim on the social product is wages for work, work will be found for people, along the lines Marx suggests. (This is not true in poor societies, where a large portion of the poor engage in subsistence labor, of either the traditional or garbage-picking variety.) And (2) In the short run, employment will rise and fall as the rich feel a smaller or a greater need for the insurance-value of financial wealth.

As soon as you being to think about employment in terms of an input of labor to a production process, you've taken a wrong turn. We should not try to give supply-based explanations of unemployment, i.e. to show how the allocation of some stock of productive resources by some decision makers could generate unemployment. Unemployment is strictly a phenomenon of aggregate demand.

Unemployment in advanced countries is not characterized by exogenous factor supplies and Leontief-type production functions, where some factors are exhausted leaving an excess supply of their complements.  (The implicit model that lies behind various robots-will-take-all-the-jobs stories.) Unemployment in capitalist economies involves laid-off workers and idle factories; it involves unemployed construction workers and rising homelessness; it involves idle farmworkers and apples rotting on the trees. Unemployment never develops because we need fewer people to make the stuff, but because less stuff is being made. (Again, things are different in poor countries, and in the early stages of industrialization historically.) Unemployment cannot be explained without talking about aggregate demand any more than financial crises can be explained without talking about money and credit. It exists only to the extent that income and expenditure are determined simultaneously.

Unemployment rises when planned money expenditure falls for a given expected money income. Unemployment falls when planned money expenditure rises for a given expected money income. Conditions of production have no (direct) effect one way or the other.

Recognizing that unemployment is an aggregate expenditure phenomenon, not a labor-market phenomenon, helps avoid many errors. For example:

It is natural to think of unemployed people as people not engaged in productive work. This is wrong. The two things have nothing to do with each other. Unemployed people are those whose usual or primary claim on the social product takes the form of a wage, but who are not currently receiving a wage. There are lots of people who do not receive wages but are not unemployed because they have other claims on the social product — children, retirees, students, caregivers, the institutionalized, etc. Almost all of tehse people are capable of productive work, and many are actively engaged in it — caregiving and other forms of household production are essential to society’s continued existence. At the same time, there many people who do receive wages but who are not engaged in productive work; one way to define these is as people whose employment forms part of consumption out of profits or rents.

While there is no relationship between people’s capability for and/or engagement in useful work, on the one hand, and employment, on the other, there is a close link between aggregate expenditure and employment, simply because a very large fraction of expenditure takes the form directly or indirectly of wages, and aggregate wages adjust mainly on the extensive rather than the intensive margin. So when we see people unemployed, we should never ask, why does the production of society’s desired outputs no longer require their labor input? That is a nonsense question that will lead nowhere but confusion. Instead we should ask, why has there been a fall in planned expenditure?


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Going beyond the 2012 conversation, two further thoughts:

1. The tendency to talk about unemployment in terms of why some peoples' labor is no longer needed for production, is symptomatic of a larger confusion. This is the confusion of imagining money claims and payments as a more or less transparent representation of physical and social realities, as opposed to a distinct system that rests on but is substantially independent from underlying social and biological existence. Baseball requires human beings who can throw, hit and run; but the rules of baseball are not simply shorthand for people's general activity of throwing, hitting and running. Needless to say, economics education assiduously cultivates the mixing-up of the money game with the substrate upon which it is played.

2. It's natural to think of productive and unproductive labor as two distinct kinds of employment, or at least as opposite poles on a well-defined continuum. Marx usually writes this way. But I don't think this is right, or at least it becomes less valid as the division of labor becomes more extensive and as productive activity becomes more directly social and involves more coordination of activities widely separated in space and time, and more dependent on the accumulation of scientific and technical knowledge.

Today our collective productive and creative activity requires the compliance of a very large number of people, both active and passive. This post will never be read by anyone if I don't keep on typing. It will also never be read if the various tasks aren't performed that are required to operate the servers where this blog is hosted, my internet connection and yours, the various nodes between our computers, the utilities that supply electricity to all the above, and so on. It would not be read if someone hadn't assembled the computers, and transported and sold them to us; and if someone hadn't developed the required technologies, step by step as far back as you want to go. It would not be read, or at least not by anyone except me and a few friends, if various people hadn't linked to this blog over the years, and shared it on social media; and more broadly, if the development of blogs hadn't gotten people into the habit of reading posts like this. Also, the post won't be read if someone breaks into my house before before I finish writing it, and steals my laptop or smashes it with a hammer.

All of these steps are necessary to the production of a blog post. Some of them we recognize as "labor" entitled to wages, like whoever is watching the dials at Ravenswood. Some we definitely don't, like the all-important not-stealing and not-smashing steps. And the status of some, like linking and sharing,  is being renegotiated. Again, a factory only runs if the workers choose to show up rather than stay home in bed; we reserve a share of the factory's output to reward them for making that choice. It also only runs if passersby choose not to throw bricks through the windows; we don't reserve any share of the output for them. But if we were going to write down the physical requirements for production to take place, the two choices would enter equivalently.

In a context where a large part of the conditions of production appear as tangible goods with physically rival uses; where the knowledge required for production was not itself produced for the market; where patterns of consumption are stable; where the division of labor is limited; where most cooperation takes the form of arms-length exchanges of goods rather than active coordination of productive activity; where production does not involve large commitments of fixed capital that are vulnerable to disruption; then the idea that there are distinct identifiable factors of production might not be too big a distortion of reality. In that context, splitting claims on the social product into shares attributable to each "factor" is not too disruptive; if anything, it can be a great catalyst for the development of productive capacities. But as the development of capitalism transforms and extends the division of labor, it becomes more and more difficult to separate out which activities that are contributing to a particular production process. So terms like productivity or productive labor lose touch with social reality.

You can find this argument in chapters 13-14 and 32 of Capital Volume 1. The brief discussion in chapter 32 is especially interesting, since Marx makes it clear that it is precisely this process that will bring capitalism to an end -- not a fall in the rate of profit, which is never mentioned, nor a violent overthrow, which is explicitly rejected. But that thought will have to wait for another time.

20 comments:

  1. "All of these steps are necessary to the production of a blog post. Some of them we recognize as 'labor' entitled to wages, like whoever is watching the dials at Ravenswood. Some we definitely don't, like the all-important not-stealing and not-smashing steps."

    It's not important to your overall point, but I think that treating non-actions -- not stealing and not smashing the laptop -- as interchangeable with positive actions is problematic. I suppose that there are certain precedents for this -- payments of hush money or "protection" to blackmailers and racketeers, AAA transfers to farmers for not growing crops -- but these are cases notably lacking widespread approval.

    Will

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    1. I'm of two minds about this. You're right, as far as labor goes the distinction seems pretty clearcut. And we could even formalize it by saying that work is (usually) costly to the person doing the work, while refraining from vandalism is costless (again usually -- some people really love to break things). So there is a fundamental economic reason to make the distinction.

      On the other hand, when it comes to other "factors" the distinction is not so clearcut. Let's say you're at work and suddenly all the lights go out. Someone shows up at the door and says, give me $100 and I'll reconnect your power, otherwise, get used to candles. If that person happens to be holding a piece of paper marked "utility bill," we consider the $100 a payment for a factor of production. If they are just holding a pair of shears, we don't. But from the point of view of the physical production process, the two cases are identical.

      Also, do you remember that review of that stupid Michael Douglas movie Falling Down you wrote years ago? You made the point then that urban life is only possible because all of us have scripts that allow us to interact with strangers without fighting, stealing, breaking things. Those scripts -- and the work that goes into disseminating and upholding them -- is an essential condition of production, insofar as the division of labor requires large numbers of strangers to interact.

      But you are right, this is all separate form the main point.

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  2. Ravenswood? Don't you mean Braidwood?

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    1. I was in Brooklyn when I was typing.

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  3. Insufficient demand can prevent the economy from fully utilizing its resources and cause involuntary unemployment.

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    1. Even bots today realise that demand side economics is the way to go!

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  4. I appreciate your view, expressed in further thought 2, that it is not useful to speak in terms of productive and unproductive labor. If one were to randomly sample one hour of paid effort across the economy and grade those hours for economic "productivity" or "necessity" do we really expect to find the high grade hours strongly clustered in certain areas or professions? (I mean, my profession of course, but not otherwise.) Now take a sample of unpaid effort -- more or less productive?

    On the other hand, I can't believe the extreme case, that every persons' effort is equally likely to be productive. The list that Marx mentions includes some vocations that must rate lower than e.g. a machinist, teacher, or pilot, on average.

    So now, please forgive my naive question about compensation. Should people be paid based on how productive they are (with a bonus for respecting both the laws of the country and the value of other people's property), or should people be paid for how much economic activity they generate? I hate the argument that the incremental value of a persons labor is accurately priced by market forces. So I tend to worry at it, like a broken tooth. However, I can't see how we could accurately assess the productivity of someone's effort. This leads back to the idea that maybe we are all contributing an indistinguishable amount, and that seems wrong too. I don't think that I would get to keep my job for long if all jobs paid an equal compensation, so I will always argue against that idea!

    It is common to talk about the idea that nobody would collect the garbage without getting paid, but we don't actually pay them much. We also frequently talk about how much we pay hedge fund managers, but not so much about how hard it is to find someone to do it. If I had to work for no pay, I would totally pick hedge fund manager over garbage collector -- its 7 degrees outside!

    How do you think pay (and the distribution of the social product more broadly) should be affected, ideally, by the decline and dispersal of the fraction of necessary work?

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  5. So good, as usual. And as usual, I agree with you almost 100%. (I know the obverse is often not true...) Would just tweak some details. Here, an unorganized handful:

    "In the short run, employment will rise and fall as the rich feel a smaller or a greater need for the insurance-value of financial wealth."

    And as the total value of financial assets (the stock of money, M) increases and decreases. Problem being, of course, that pessimism decreases both M, and in a mutually interdependent effect, willingness to spend from that M (V).

    A consumption function that does not include term for wealth (with an interdependent relationship to income) is fatally flawed. (I haven't been able to find any good work on such an interdependent function. Do you know of any?)

    "Unemployment rises when planned money expenditure falls for a given expected money income."

    Per my previous on the consumption function, I would say, rather:

    Unemployment rises when money expenditure falls. It falls for two reasons: 1. there is less money, and 2. there is less willingness to spend what money there is. Each is affected by income.

    "unemployment is an aggregate expenditure phenomenon"

    Exactly right. Which leads (skipping a couple of steps) to another conclusion: low labor share (of income and especially wealth) is a "structural" problem -- arguably the central structural problem that our highly-productive and highly-unequal society faces.

    "economics education assiduously cultivates the mixing-up of the money game with the substrate upon which it is played. "

    So true. Epitomized by the oxymoronic usage, "financial capital."

    So you left us hanging. What will cause the demise of capitalism? Or is SRW right in a post I'm too lazy to dig up, that FDR proved Marx wrong on this point -- showed how the flexibility of the capitalist (and democratic) system was/is far greater than Marx thought. In my words, in short, it could give rise to downward redistribution to countervail the wealth/income concentration that is inevitable without it.

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  6. And (somewhat obvious corrolary): if low labor share is a structural problem, we can fix that problem by simply increasing labor share through redistribution. Labor share is labor power. Cue Evan Soltas.

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  7. Thanks for the comments, Steve, and sorry for the slow response.

    And as the total value of financial assets (the stock of money, M) increases and decreases. Problem being, of course, that pessimism decreases both M, and in a mutually interdependent effect, willingness to spend from that M (V).

    As we've discussed at length at Nick's place, I do not think there is any economically meaningful quantitates in modern economies that corresponds to M. The correct way to state it is that units with the capacity for balance sheet adjustment will shift toward more liquid balance-sheet positions. Increasing the share of relatively money-like assets on the asset side is one form among others that this shift can take.

    (At the moment I think that these kinds of balance sheet adjustments are most important for financial institutions, followed by large corporations that can treat their capital structure as a choice variable. I think it is not so important for rich households, which don't have significant liabilities and whose asset positions -- I think -- are fairly stable. But this is a secondary point and I could easily be convinced otherwise on it.)

    A consumption function that does not include term for wealth (with an interdependent relationship to income) is fatally flawed. (I haven't been able to find any good work on such an interdependent function. Do you know of any?

    There was stuff on this looking at the tech bubble in the 1990s, I recall. Personally I'm afraid I don't find it a very interesting question. In terms of understanding macroeconomic dynamics, we are interested in how tightly current expenditure is coupled to current income. Of course units' financial position is one of the things that will affect this, but I don't see any special role for wealth in this respect. Certainly nobody is choosing consumption to optimize utility under a budget constraint or anything silly like that.

    Unemployment rises when money expenditure falls.

    No, sorry, that won't do. Of course it is true, but trivially, since the labor share is very stable in the short run. The question is which way causality runs. The Keynesian position is that the expenditure chosen **at a given income** changes first, and only after that does realized income and output change. Price effects are stabilizing -- you don't buy that bagel, I'll get it for half price at closing time. Income effects are destabilizing -- if neither of us buys a bagel, the bagel-shop owner won't buy stuff from us tomorrow. So instability requires a relatively strong coupling of expenditure to income.

    low labor share (of income and especially wealth) is a "structural" problem -- arguably the central structural problem that our highly-productive and highly-unequal society faces.

    I disagree. Capitalism works fine with a low labor share. It's a problem for most of us human beings, yes, but it's not a problem for the system.

    What will cause the demise of capitalism?

    The creeping socialization of production, under the pressure of capitalism itself. The individual entrepreneur gives way to the professionally managed corporation. The lone genius gives way to the research university. Physical capital you can pick up and sell gives way to "human capital," brands, and similar claims on surplus that are inextricably tied up with social relations. The Rothschilds and Morgans give way to central banks. The objective criteria of profit and loss in the market for goods gives way to the subjective judgement of the providers of finance in the credit markets. And the judgment of the credit markets come increasingly under the administration of the central bank. And one day, we look out the window and say, "hey, it's socialism."

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  8. Hey Josh:

    Finally getting back to this. (Thanks!) Hoping you read comments on old posts...

    re: a wealth term in consumption functions

    "In terms of understanding macroeconomic dynamics, we are interested in how tightly current expenditure is coupled to current income."

    Why aren't we interested in how tightly current expenditure is coupled to current wealth (and distribution/concentration of wealth)?

    > I don't see any special role for wealth in this respect.

    I'm kind of astounded. If incomes were all the same, but wealth was much more or less concentrated, you don't think that would have any bearing on the behavior of the economy? Given how much I admire your thinking, I really hesitate to suggest that you're thinking inside a paradigm/mental model in which only income affects consumption. (The inevitable conclusion inside there being that only income affects consumption.) But...

    If a person has x income and no wealth, spending will be the same as if they have x income and high wealth? Doesn't a consumption function for heterogenous agents have to take that into account?

    > Capitalism works fine with a low labor share.

    I think you're saying "with a low labor share *of income*." There's empirical support for that. See Lane Kenworthy's recent in the NYT:

    http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/economix/2014/03/25/qa-a-sociologist-on-inequality/?smid=tw-share

    But what about labor share of wealth? There's very little empirics on that, because (as Piketty makes very clear) there's just not much data available. But that measurement difficulty doesn't mean it doesn't matter. It might matter a whole lot, have a rather profound effect.

    You may remember my feeble attempt to look at this question:

    http://www.asymptosis.com/wealth-equality-and-prosperity.html

    > What will cause the demise of capitalism?

    Thanks for that answer. I've read it multiple times and will again.

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    1. But what about labor share of wealth? There's very little empirics on that, because (as Piketty makes very clear) there's just not much data available. But that measurement difficulty doesn't mean it doesn't matter. It might matter a whole lot, have a rather profound effect.

      Have you seen this? http://gabriel-zucman.eu/files/SaezZucman2014Slides.pdf

      Saez and Zucman give the following distribution for US wealth (defined as net worth):
      bottom 50%: 0
      50-90%: 25% (almost entirely pensions and housing)
      90-99%: 35%
      99-99.9%: 20%
      top 0.1%: 20%

      So no, there is no meaningful “labor share of wealth.” And that’s a good thing! A big part of social and political progress over the past century has been a great expansion of the claims on the social product that take forms other than wealth. <a

      Fun fact: Did you know that the net worth of the median Greek household is almost double the net worth of the median German household?
      (www.ecb.europa.eu/home/pdf/research/HFCS_Statistical_Tables_Wave1.pdf)

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    2. Yeah I tweeted and reditted that link. Piketty makes the same point about the bottom 50%.

      "So no, there is no meaningful “labor share of wealth.” And that’s a good thing! A big part of social and political progress over the past century has been a great expansion of the claims on the social product that take forms other than wealth."

      That only makes sense if that 50% line is constant. "Look! No change but the poor have much higher claims on producting/income." But that's certainly not a given.

      cf. my "be prepared to scoll" graph of wealth distribution.

      Wouldn't it be a better thing if the bottom 50% had 10% of wealth instead of 0%?

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  9. Hoping you read comments on old posts…

    Of course. The conversations with people like you are the best part of doing this.

    "In terms of understanding macroeconomic dynamics, we are interested in how tightly current expenditure is coupled to current income."

    Why aren't we interested in how tightly current expenditure is coupled to current wealth (and distribution/concentration of wealth)?


    If incomes were all the same, but wealth was much more or less concentrated, you don't think that would have any bearing on the behavior of the economy?

    We’re talking at cross purposes here a bit. I said “in terms of understanding macroeconomic dynamics” for a reason. The goal here is not just to describe consumption behavior. The goal is to understand how output can depend on expenditure, and how capitalist economies can have periods of high and low activity without any change in the conditions of production or other “fundamentals”. For these questions, it’s the positive feedback loop between income and expenditure that matters. Of course lots of other things influence expenditure besides current income, but they don’t produce endogenous instability or multiple equilibria the way the income-expenditure link does, because they don’t themselves depend on current expenditure. I’m not saying we should focus on the income —> expenditure link because that is the only thing that matters for the determination of expenditure; I’m saying we should focus on it because of the existence of the expenditure —> income link. There’s nothing equivalent for wealth. (Except in the case of asset bubbles, where, yes, something similar applies. But that’s not what we’re talking about.)

    If a person has x income and no wealth, spending will be the same as if they have x income and high wealth? Doesn't a consumption function for heterogenous agents have to take that into account?

    In principle yes. Again, for present purposes it doesn’t matter. The important question is the relative importance of current income and everything else, including wealth. The stronger the effect of income, the greater the effect a change in desired expenditure will have on output, and the easier it is for there to be both high and low income equilibria. So yes, sure, wealth affects consumption, but as far as business cycle dynamics are concerned, that’s just one of the various factors that stabilizes expenditure in the face of changes in income.

    But now I have to take back the concession I just made. First of all, I’m not convinced that “wealth” is that important for consumption. I don’t think the lifetime-utility-maximizing, intertemporally-optimizing household of the models exists. It seems to me that households can generally be divided into wealth-accumulating households whose consumption is set at some conventional level dictate by their social position, and liquidity-constrained households whose current consumption is limited by their access to funds. In neither case is there a direct link from wealth to consumption. Of course asset ownership may figure into which social position is guiding the consumption of accumulating households, and may help relieve liquidity constraints for the constrained households, but either way that’s an indirect effect, not a direct link from “wealth” to consumption.

    Furthermore, I don’t think “wealth” is even that useful a concept. (That’s why I put it in quote.) That word, it seems to me, is mixing together two distinct concepts: net worth and asset ownership. At the very top of the distribution, the 0.01%, I don’t think there are significant household liabilities so the two definitions of wealth will be equivalent, but otherwise you need to be explicit which one you mean. Economists usually think of wealth as net worth, but lower down the distribution net worth is not really meaningful, since apart from owner-occupied housing the vast majority of claims by and against working class households don’t appear on balance sheets.

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  10. I think our cross-purposes might be rooted in cyclical vs. sectoral. I'm thinking mainly about the latter. But they're really interwoven.

    This Calculated Risk graph kind of epitomizes that for me:

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-4EKkbrdkld8/UxnL3ktIz6I/AAAAAAAAeNE/XcVURyQpXNk/s1600/EmployRecFeb2014.jpg

    '81, '91, 2001, 2008

    The dynamics of business cycles seem to have taken on a different character since the 70s, and that change seems to be accelerating. It's perhaps only coincidence that this coincides with the rapid concentration of wealth and income over the same period, but the basic arithmetic of declining marginal propensity to spend (out of wealth, or out of income [and much income comes from wealth]) does provide at least the basis of a theoretical explanation.

    So thinking inside the business cycle (and the Keynesian models of that, all of which are missing a wealth term in the consumption function) might be blind to this larger secular trend, where business cycles themselves are changing.

    This of course might all go back to Fed reaction functions. Market monetarists like to claim that the Fed always acts last. That's the only reasonably cogent argument I've heard against the "underconsumption" secular-stagnation theory (underconsumption relative to either income or wealth or some function of the two). I would counter by saying that nobody ever acts last.

    This is slightly incoherent, a lot of conceptual leaps happening, but I'm thinking you'll get my gist...

    Cheers,

    Steve

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  11. Wouldn't it be a better thing if the bottom 50% had 10% of wealth instead of 0%?

    My goal is for everyone to have a 0% share of wealth. :-)

    (Or more precisely, for "share of wealth" to have the same social significance as "share of Pokemon cards.")

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    1. A noble utopian vision.

      But landing between the cyclical and the eternal...

      If we want to get to 0%, do we start by shifting that line up to 60%, or down to 40?

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    2. JW Mason, "My goal is for everyone to have a 0% share of wealth. :-) (Or more precisely, for "share of wealth" to have the same social significance as "share of Pokemon cards.")"

      I'm fascinated but not quite grasping this idea. It seems the opposite to the view I'm coming to this with which makes it all the more interesting for me. Are you meaning that you would like the economic and political influence of wealth to be somehow eliminated? How is that to be brought about from our current, "money talks" and "wealth is power" set up? If the organizational influence of wealth is removed, what should replace it? I mean we now get food, computers, transport, utilities etc provided in a manner governed by the profit motive -doesn't that depend on wealth having an economic influence? Are you wanting technocratic, political mechanisms? My worry about political/technocratic control is that it strangely but inevitably leads to only elite concerns being considered and the average Joe being trodden on. My impression is that command economies give us Concord whilst inclusive capitalism gives us the Boeing 747. People have a natural tendency to want to work on the best of the best; they only attend to the mundane everyday stuff, that we all need, if money makes it seem interesting. In the UK, our NHS health care system is an example - doctors want to do the cutting edge procedures that are only done at top centers in the world- no one cares about basic logistic screw ups that mean that mundane procedures are not provided in a timely fashion to save lives.
      That is why I do think wealth governing what is done is the way to go -BUT that wealth needs to be with everyone so that what gets done reflects what everyone wants.
      Sorry if I just misunderstood your point.

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    3. I think the importance of money in our current social and economic arrangements is much less than it appears.

      You say, for example, that "no one cares" about routine health care in the UK, because there is no possibility of personal gain from it. But of course that's not true. If it were really the case that "nobody cared," health care would not be delivered at all. In reality, the world is full of doctors -- in the UK and elsewhere -- who make great efforts to provide appropriate care for their patients, without getting any personal benefit from it themselves. Even in the US, I am quite confident that when I take my kid to the pediatrician, the doctor is not considering his personal financial gain when he decides what tests to perform, or whether to recommend any additional care. (If I thought the doctor were making recommendations based on his personal financial interests, I would find another doctor!) When I decide what to teach next semester, or what textbook to use, I assure you that the difference it will make to my income never crosses my mind. I assume no one is paying you to post comments on blogs, yet evidently you put quite a lot of effort and care into it. It's precisely because this kind of disinterested desire to do one's job well -- what Michelet called "the professional conscience" -- is so universal that you can ignore it.

      In fact, in my opinion, it is the organization of productive activity by money that is a utopian dream, which requires the constant re-transformation of society against its natural tendencies.

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