Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone is not enough to produce widely shared prosperity.
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Common GoodOne of the purposes of government and of community is to serve the common good. How well is America living up to that?

Fred Foldvary: A Geoist Robinson Crusoe Story

Once upon a time, Robinson G. Crusoe was the only survivor of a ship that sunk. He floated on a piece of wood to an unpopulated island. Robinson was an absolute geoist. He believed with his mind, heart, and soul that everyone should have an equal share of land rent.

Since he was the only person on this island, it was all his. He surveyed the island and found that the only crop available for cultivation was alfalfa sprouts. The land was divided into 5 grades that could grow 8, 6, 4, 2, and zero bushels of alfalfa sprouts per month. There was one acre each for 8, 6, and 4, and 100 acres of 2-bushel land. For 8 hours per day of labor, he could work 4 acres. So he could grow, per month, 8+6+4+2 = 20 bushels of alfalfa sprouts, much more than enough to feed on.

One day another survivor of a sunken ship floated to the island. His name was Friday George. Friday was a boring talker and kept chattering about trivialities, which greatly irritated Robinson. "I possess the whole island. You may only have this rocky area," said Robinson. ...

Robinson realized that it did not matter which lands he possessed. He could possess better land, but so long as the rent is split equally, if the wage rate is equal, their income will not be affected. Lawyers say that possession is nine tenths of the law, but the law of rent says, possession does not matter.

If the rent is split equally, those who possess land and want to maximize their income will possess only that amount that maximizes income for all. If they possess too much land, they would drive wages down and rents up, leaving less for the possessors. So it does not matter who owns what land, if the rent is equally split. ... Read the whole piece


Mason Gaffney: 18 Fallacies

4. "If property falls, America falls"
Wrong, at least in my opinion. Property is not an end in itself; it is a means of getting resources put to their best use for the general good.

To secure that end, property rights are instituted among men, deriving their just standing from the consent of the unpropertied.

Whenever any form of property becomes destructive of that end, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new principles most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Consent of the unpropertied?

That means property must work for the benefit of all, not just those who own property.

But abolish property!?

That is a red flag indeed, but note I said alter or abolish, and it is our own Declaration of Independence I am paraphrasing.

Like Jefferson, I generally prefer alter to abolish: 'abolishing' something is nihilistic until we know what we want to replace it with.

The point is, we have many degrees of freedom as citizens; we are not bound body and soul by decisions made, or allegedly made, in the past.  ... Read the whole article

Joseph Stiglitz: October, 2002, interview

Q: You criticized "The Washington Consensus." From reading your book, I see that you summarize that set of doctrines as "1) Fiscal Austerity, 2) Privatization, and 3) Market Liberalization." What are, in your view, the central weaknesses of the policies that flow from the Consensus?

JES: It didn't work. I mean, the weaknesses are not that these are necessarily bad in their own right, but it's the balance. Fiscal prudence is a good thing. But they pushed it beyond where it ought to have been. Market Liberalization is a good thing, but not if it's done too fast.

Q: Would you say, then, that there is a structural flaw in the market system?

JES: There are many limitations. We all know that there are lots of examples where markets fail, and you need a role for government. So where the structural problem is, it's their belief that there's not a role for government to play. And that markets can solve every problem. That's the structural failure: "Markets are perfect, and can solve every problem."

Q: For this interview, I also read George Soros' book, On Globalization, which I know you reviewed in the New York Review of Books. In it he states, "It is market fundamentalism, which holds that the social good is best served by allowing people to pursue their self-interest without any thought for the social good — the two being identical — that is a perversion of human nature" (p.179).

JES: Yes, George and I are very similar in our views.

Q: Don't you think we need to go deeper and look at the rules that govern the unequal bargaining power between the rich and the poor? Isn't that what really has to be attacked?

JES: Yes, that's what I'm saying in the book. The underlying problem is the way the rules are made. If the rules are bad, you need to ask the question, "how did those rules get established?" And it's the processes by which the rules get made that is the underlying source of the problem. ... read the entire interview


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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper