Thursday, February 28, 2013

Most people support slavery

A less sensationalist headline is that most people accept oppression at a level that is so close to slavery as to be functionally identical to slavery.  We might think that upon learning this, most people might turn against oppression, but instead most people will hate this article, and defend oppression.  This is an article in favour of basic income/social dividends as a tool for political reform, social happiness, and freedom.  To explain the headline, let's first understand oppression and freedom as a continuous line. Listed in order of most oppressive to most free:

Cattle: Your value is meat, body hair and body fluids
18th century slave: Your value is your work.  You receive privileges of food, shelter, rest.
Prisoner: You are a slave for a limited amount of time.  You may be a slave for a seemingly valid reason (if actually guilty of victimizing another living being).
Soldier: Though you may have vacation time, and may have joined voluntarily under inducements of education and peacetime, you are obligated to fulfill activities likely to get you killed.
Regulated slave:  Children and pets.  They must do what they are told, but they enjoy strong legal protections against abuse.
Released Felon: You are deprived of many survival tools available to freer persons such as social benefits and legitimate job opportunities, and face harsher penalties and suspicions for future crime.
Low wage worker: Limited choice of food and shelter, but a desperate obligation to work
Medium wage worker:  More choices on spending, but continued desperate reliance on employer and obligation to work.
The burden of funding retirement: Preparing for the eventuality of being unwanted or unable to work places an obligation to work harder today.
The burden of funding healthcare: Funding possible current or eventual illness and incapcity consumes a portion of your work.
The burden of repaying education costs:  Education is an investment that promises requiring less future work for the same benefits. Those without the privilege of being able to pay for that investment, may be burdened with irrevocable expensive loans and underperforming value of that education.
Self-imposed dependence: such as an expensive lifestyle or dependence on social services.  The first is a dependence on work.  The latter is dependence on poverty, and a restraint from work.
Financial independence:  The freedom from work.  It can reflect a wide range of wealth levels, and can be partial independence such as freedom from full time work, or work that mostly involves directing other's work and profiting from it.
The freedom to corrupt markets: Monopolies and abuse of trade.  Oppression of labour and oppression of investors.
The freedom to influence politicians: Pay the gatekeepers of government to channel society's and social funds towards one self.

Understanding freedom vs. oppression
The above models freedom within a society as a function of individual wealth, and individual work burdens.  The key point is that traditional conservative rhetoric for freedom and low taxes, advocates for freedom of the freest members of society.  Income taxes do not impede freedom.  They do not prevent financial independence.  Since taxes are always redistributed somehow, the wealthy and freest will collect the taxed funds back for themselves as a result of spending of the redistributed taxes, or directly from corporate government handouts.

Freedom of opportunity
The above model, by itself, tells us that most Cubans are Freer than the poorest Americans.  While that is true, its also true that there are many Americans who have more freedom of opportunity than most Cubans.  If we can fantasize the existence of "ethical capitalism", the key potential for opportunity exists when there is opportunity for profit.  Opportunity can still exist without oppression of labour, and without the "opportunity" of squeezing maximum profit out of society.  With opportunity for profit, it is possible, and a way can be found, to risk time, energy, and capital on something new and uncertain.

Within America, the freedom of opportunity is constrained for those at the oppressed end of the model.  Taking the risk of education or starting a business is repressed by an immediate requirement for work, and a dependence on employer provided healthcare.

The good and bad of government
Society has the right to make social decisions.  Decisions through majority is fair and practical.  Decisions that make the vast majority of society's lives more affordable and practical, such as social funding of healthcare, roads, and retirement are entirely valid and beneficial social programs. Funding social decisions through income taxes is fair.

The evil of government occurs when taxes are used to fund a war chest, when gatekeepers of that war chest use it not just for the literal evil of war, but use the authority of government to advance any private interest over the social interest.  More generally, it is a deep concern for abuse whenever a permission gatekeeper is allowed discretion to favour narrow interests over social interests.  Sometimes the deep concern for abuse and bias can be countered by net positive outcomes of the gatekeeper function, through a complex and difficult analysis, but whenever a gatekeeper function can be eliminated with equal or better results, it should be.

The rationale for anti slavery
The real wrong of slavery must be that slaves are forced to work, and not that they are merely mistreated.  We could instead develop a complicated regulatory framework that allowed slavery, but prevented physical abuse, mandated a (maximum) 40 hour work week, and regulated minimum quality standards for food, lodging, and healthcare.  The major problem with such an approach is that over time pro-slaver biases creep into the enforcement of the apparent concessions to slaves, until social anger builds enough to incite revolution.

While the modern near-slaves, those who are obligated to work for low pay, enjoy choices in allocating their budgets for food, shelter and healthcare, the dream of a better future for themselves and children is less plausible today than it was 70 years ago.  Increased government and education funding corruption, budgeting and population unsustainability, together with productivity increases means that workers/slaves will be less useful/valuable in the future, and thus there will be less opportunity to break free from near-slavery.

For businesses that can benefit from the control of slaves, the shift from negative reinforcement (punishment) to positive reinforcement (rewards) was a more effective means of control.  The slave owners are relieved of a large security cost by giving slaves the illusion of freedom, and they get better work output by having the slaves compete with each other for the privilege of working for them.

I started this section with the statement that the wrong of slavery is the obligation to work.  Most people don't think very long on the matter but might answer that slavery is wrong because Lincoln won, or because being owned feels icky.  But, the need to consent to a new master creates a power imbalance in the labour market.  There are many more sellers of labour than buyers.  Some of whon, are desperate for work/cash.  The employers can almost always dictate the terms of employment and duties within regulatory allowances.

basic income as a solution to slavery
Basic income is providing cash to all citizens.  If the amount is in the range of $7k to $10k, it can be paid out of existing tax levels by replacing other social services, and making the benefit taxable so that high income earning citizens pay back a larger portion than poorer citizens.  Basic income can also be paid in part or instead through money printing.

Basic income has many social, political and economic advantages, but the one pertinent to this article is that it balances power in the labour market.  It eliminates desperation as a reason to work, and everyone that wants a job will find a job.  It can replace much workplace regulations as well.  Minimum wage, maximum hours, rules for layoffs, and so on.  The level of $7k-$10k is designed specifically (though guesstimated) as a target that balances exactly the bargaining power (between employers and employees) in the low skill labour market.

The case for employers to prefer basic income over slavery
Even if employers lose bargaining power in the labour market as a result of basic income, putting a lot more cash into the hands of society, and giving them a significantly less risky life, will significantly increase citizens ability and willingness to spend, and so benefit successful businesses.

Since basic income of $10k/year is equivalent to a $5/hour raise to full time workers, and $10/hour raise to half time workers, there is no obvious reason for employees who are not oppressed to refuse to do work they did without basic income as a supplement, and to continue to do the work at the same employer-paid wage.  Its a good problem to have for businesses to need more employees to meet the demand of many new potential customers.

The case for employers to prefer slavery
A darker argument is that low wage workers all hate their work, and hate their employer, and would prefer to do nothing and earn basic income only, over earning more by continuing to work at the same wage as before.  The darker argument contines with low wage workers would all demand a very high wage to do their previous work, and then medium wage workers, who are assumed to all hate low wage slaves, would also either quit or demand significant wages to retain a social status gap over those who were "lesser slaves."

This darker argument essentially depends on low wages being the oppressive slavery that I accuse it of being.  It's mostly an argument against a commonly proposed and confused alternative to basic income called guaranteed/minimum income, which is a bad idea because as it typically guarantees a minimum of $20k/year, it provides no reward whatsoever to anyone that works for a wage lower than that total.

Even if I disagree with the expectation that most people would refuse to work if provided with basic income, its difficult to disprove.  The most important point, is that such a fear confirms the state of slavery, and implementing basic income not only would eliminate that slavery, but no matter the outcome would create a world we could get use to without inconveniences to most.

How the rest of us support slavery
Retired and near-retired citizens have no reason to care for the long term future of society, and no reason to care for employment conditions if they are no longer seeking work.  Oppressive slavery may (be expected to) lower the cost of consumer goods.

Oppressing anyone who is paid lower than you, or in a job you do not expect to ever do, may keep prices down, and provide you with someone to feel superior to.  These feelings may be racially motivated, may be motivated by hope of becoming an oppressor one day, or may be a product of brainwashing I cannot explain.  People will attack these ideas, even though they lack any obvious self-interest to do so.  Basic income would at least provide you with the same benefits as are given to any other class, and so eliminate any grievance you may have about imagined abuse of social services.

The rest of us support low wage slavery even when we support enhanced regulations designed to make the lives of the slaves more comfortable.  Very complex rules for identifying the oppressed, and then fixing cases individually, can help create empires for that purpose, but it layers empires over band-aids instead of abolishing slavery.  This motivation is almost always based in ideological support of unions

Just as some people support class/race based oppression of the poor, the opposite reaction of oppressing capital by being too "pro-slave class" is in fact being pro class warfare, instead of eliminating the war.

Technology advances are a good thing
Self driving cars would eliminate many jobs.  As would any automation-assisted self-service enabling for food-service, shopping, and even manufacturing.  Eliminating jobs through productivity increases is great for society if there is some income redistribution, because it cuts the cost of living, and creates more value per citizen.  If there is any concern that removing the obligation to work will increase wage and cost pressures, then that will facilitate labour replacing automation and technology.  If the opposite downward pressure on wages occurs as a result of basic income, then market forces will delay much automation.  The decision to allow or block self-driving cars should not be based on corrupt political protection or oppression of the labour market.

A key to future innovation and spreading the benefits of that innovation to an entire society or humanity, is eliminating the notion that work is mandatory and necessary.  The alternative of asking labour to unite and rise up is a losing proposition, because unionized labour strength occurred during periods of high labour demand.

The culture of work is irrational
The culture of work is the belief that work should be obligated on the poor.  It is irrational mainly because forcing someone to dig a hole and then refill it in order to collect welfare services helps you in no way whatsoever.  In fact, if that same person drank beer all day or watched television, it would help employ beer workers and advertising salesmen, and give them (or beer/advertising industry beneficiaries) the opportunity and time to purchase whatever products keep you employed.  Similarly, the entire bureaucracy that supervises social welfare recipients to prevent fraud and idleness, is useless and would best serve society by being idle instead.  Idleness at least carries the possibility of doing something useful/productive.  Forced uselessness actively prohibits using that time to be productive.  Basic income gives everyone the freedom to do anything, while welfare services incentivizes recipients to do nothing (because it takes away benefits when recipients work).

"but I don't want to work to support someone who chooses not to work"
To understand why this thinking is wrong, consider work as being one of two categories.  The first category being "work that must be done or arranged" such as house chores.  In this category, it is unfair if one household member does all the work, but it is not unfair if other household members agree to pay the only one willing to do the work.  Its also fair to allow 2 or more people to bid against each other for the right to be paid for the work.

The other classification of work can be simplified as "do whatever you are told in exchange for paycheck".  You are a privileged winner to receive the paycheck, and that privilege ultimately comes from customers that support your work.  You have no reason to care how customers receive their funding to support your work, other than possibly object if they are paid to do something useless or evil.

Basic income and social dividends should be seen as a giant make work program, which happens to be market driven, and so necessarily leads to useful work to collect the spending individuals want to make.  It furthermore eliminates poverty, and desperation-based slavery to work.

Freedom and income redistribution
Basic income funded through taxation, even at a minimum subsistence level, provides everyone with financial independence.  Even if the freest people are taxed more than the poorest, they remain freer with more consumption choices and influence.  Basic income also provides freedom of opportunity by allowing even the poorest people to fund their education or business startups.  Redistribution from winners to losers, through taxation and basic income, allows winners to spend the same and losers to spend more (compared to no redistribution), and so creates opportunity for both winners and losers to work to collect the available money from society.

Basic income as an entitlement provides a safety net for both rich and poor, allowing for more risk, and less savings.  A lower necessity to save necessarily creates more spending, and so more opportunity for work.

Natural Finance as a similar anti-oppression tool
Natural Finance Soft Loans are business loans without fixed repayment terms.  Instead, they are repaid when business cashflow materializes.  Soft loans are non-oppressive to borrowers because it allows them to borrow large amounts without giving up control of the business, or imposing fixed monthly repayment obligations that it might not meet in the short term.  Soft loans are non-oppressive to investors because it forces successful borrowers to repay investments instead of holding them in perpetuity, or colluding with initial investors to defraud future investors, and soft loans benefit investors by supporting higher interest-rate/repayment-obligations from borrowers because the borrower can afford more when terms are non oppressive.  Investors also benefit from the queue structure of soft loans, which ensures complete investor certainty, at the time of investment, as to the level of cashflow or revenue required to fully repay them.

Natural finance also creates non oppression among owners by encouraging communal partnerships as the ownership structure, and provides option instruments to help capital-less partners join, or potential large investors invest cautiously until success benchmarks are made.  A 3rd party comptrollership function ensures trust in the business, and together with the simplicity of contractual terms, creates partnership opportunities for the business by facilitating supplier, customer, employee, and other investor partnerships.

Finance is nearly as corrupt a market as Labour.  The key conceptual framework for eliminating oppression in markets are systems that replace regulatory whack-a-mole patchwork that react to oppressive transactions with simplified elimination of conflicts of interest that exist within those markets.

There is a relationship between basic income and natural finance.  The main/only concern with soft loans is the possibility that a borrower has no intention/ability of ever creating a successful business, and will use the money to benefit himself.  The main financial control within a natural financed company to prevent this abuse is low cash salaries for management  and complete discretion for future success-based compensation.  Basic income facilitates the early stage startup of a company by subsidizing its founder's salaries.  If there is no obligation for someone to work, there is no incentive for them to waste their time by pretending to run a company.

1 comment:

  1. Phenomenal thinking and proposals. Posted to Hacker News. (