I’d like to comment on a blog I read almost every day: from RanPrieur.com on income inequality and politics—
…I don’t want everyone to have equal wealth. The world is more interesting if some people live in mansions while other people live in shacks — as long as the people in mansions have no more real power, and the people in shacks don’t have to obey the holders of money to be permitted to live.
If you’re a gamer, you’re familiar with subgames or minigames. You can go into the shooting gallery in Zelda, or the casino in Grand Theft Auto, and have some fun getting money to buy some perks in the outside world, but you can’t get any really important powers, because then the minigame would take over the main game. Our society is a bad game because the money-based minigames have taken it over. Financial investment is a minigame that has gone so far out of balance that the best players think they’re playing the Big Game, that they’re at the heart of the creation of value.
Now we’re getting into metaphysics, because what is the big game anyway? If the world is intrinsically meaningless, then we can just declare that financial investment is the whole meaning of life. Jesus said “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” and there are different interpretations, where “camel” means rope, or “the eye of a needle” was a narrow city gate, or Jesus was a mushroom. In any case, the idea is that life does have an intrinsic meaning, and wealth makes us bigger in a way that blocks us from finding it. I would say poverty is even worse, if lack of money forces you to think about money all the time. To sense deeper values, we need to clear our minds of money, and we can redesign society to make this easier.
My favorite utopian economy is Rick Webb’s interpretation of Star Trek. Of course we don’t have fabricators, but we can get close to that culture with two reforms that are physically and economically possible right now (but not yet politically). One is to take money out of politics, and the other is an unconditional basic income.
I like Ran Prieur’s writing a lot, and I understand the points he’s making here, which I think are solid even though I don’t totally agree with all of them. In particular, I would like some clarification (from anybody) on the idea of “getting money out of politics,” because from what I can tell money is politics, i.e. politics is the justification for power via wealth concentration (read into “wealth” anything from money—real or not—to wheat to potable water, etc.). You could hypothetically make it so that political campaigns are completely funded by the tax payers, but it wouldn’t take long for people with a lot of land, wheat, water, etc. to figure out ways around pesky election cycles (they’ve had generations of practice). I guess I fail to envision how someone living in a mansion, i.e. taking up more space and resources on a finite planet than someone in a shack, could ever not be wielding more power, categorically.
Plus, who is the government? It’s supposed to be comprised of a cross-section of society but everyone knows it’s an insular, elite group—groomed effectively from birth (or before it) to be stakeholders in an ever tightening circle. How do you undo that with a mechanism as toothless as voting?
An unconditional basic income would go a long way to making our society more livable, but even that doesn’t address the power that comes from owning institutions, or, say, owning the water under someone’s property. With a basic income, less people would have to work long hours to pay their bills and service their debts, etc., but again, corporations will find a way around that, like they always have with every other roadblock they’ve ever encountered. In short, our degradation and ultimate collapse will have been brought about because corporations are too good at what they do, and there’s no way to stop them.