Proposal for a new social contract
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24-08-2011, 10:44 AM
 
Proposal for a new social contract

We are a species of contradictions:

Co-operation and competition; desire for freedom and for power; generosity and greed; loyalty and enmity

In a social context this duality manifests itself as freedom from, and compassion for, one another.

The different social systems in our history were built on different assumptions of human nature.

- Capitalism assumes that our primary motivation is greedy self interest (freedom and competition)
- Communism is built on the assumption that we can be like a family, each caring equally for all (compassion and sharing).
- Socialism of various kinds try to find a compromise between those extremes.

So far without much success, because the compromises were arbitrary, piecemeal, without a clearly defined principle.

Can we find a compromise acceptable to most people?

I believe we can.

Let’s agree that we acknowledge both of our needs: freedom from, and compassion for, one another. Let us agree that the compassion part has priority, up to where the basic survival needs of every citizen in our country is assured. Beyond this point our priorities change and our need for freedom takes over.

The concept I have in mind is a variety of the ‘Basic Income Alternative’ a policy that has been and is currently studied by various western governments (including Ireland and Canada).

In my version, we have a two-compartment economy, with the two parts completely isolated from each other. One, the public sector, is communist in nature, while the second, the private sector, is pure capitalism.

In the public sector, basic human needs are the responsibility of the national government and takes priority over every other human activity. In the public sector there is no money.

The government is in charge of all the industries and infrastructure (without exception) required to provide basic human needs: food, clothing, housing, health, education, communication, transportation.

The government controls all the resources necessary to eliminate poverty and make sure every citizen’s basic needs are satisfied.

The basic human needs can be easily calculated by using scientific data on age-dependent calorie requirements, climate-dependent clothing and housing requirement, population-dependent health- and education-requirement and the necessary energy and raw-material production, as well as the necessary infrastructure in transportation and communication. It could be easily planned – and adapted, as conditions change - based on physiological, climatic and demographic data.

Production in this economy presupposes that the sector is self contained, the nation has all the resources required to implement this system; no foreign trade is required.

Basic human needs are very easy to satisfy - we have all the resources and the technology to do it in abundance today, if we put everything else on hold and eliminate all waste (ostentation, lavish entertainment, military, finance, duplication and competition) until basic human needs are satisfied. In my opinion no ethical human being could justify spending any amount of resources on those items I just listed, as long as there is one hungry child or homeless citizen in the country.

This does not mean that I would want to live without arts or sports or some luxuries, but the beauty of the system is that I would not have to. The key word above is ***ABUNDANCE***. With intelligent organization, elimination of wasteful competition and duplication, we could produce ***ENOUGH*** of the basic necessities to accommodate individual differences in needs and statistical fluctuations in demand, with a comfortable margin of safety.

No regulation on the individual level is necessary. The produced goods and services could be made freely available: people could just help themselves in the warehouses, find the ‘basic quality’ house they need, close to the place where they work. If basic needs are guaranteed, no sane person would bother with hoarding, so no artificial shortages would happen (the assumption being that insane persons are in a very tiny minority).

Besides being in charge of all production activity to satisfy this goal, the government will have to maintain the police and the courts to make sure the system is defended against criminals, sociopaths and psychopaths. Another beauty of the system is that once basic needs are satisfied, the level of crime, violence and destructive behavior will decrease drastically.

The time an average citizen will have to work in the Public Sector could be as low as 2-3 hours per workday. This minimal contribution can be accumulated in advance to provide for vacations and personal projects, but would not be transferable to make sure no person has a ‘free ride’. You don’t have to ‘save up’ for illness and retirement, because those are provided for by the excess safety buffer built into the system.

The government would stay the sole ‘owner’ of all natural resources that are common birthright of all citizens. Among these are primarily land, air, water, space, forests, wildlife, mineral deposits, communication frequency bands. Nobody can expropriate any of this for exclusive personal use beyond what they are entitled to in their basic needs (these needs are defined by national consensus, reached by referendum, based on scientific and demographic data).

After basic needs are satisfied and poverty, hunger, preventable illness and ignorance is eliminated from the nation; crimes are prevented to the best of the police’s ability, then the government’s task ends. It has done all in its power to make sure that basic human needs are satisfied, nobody goes hungry, no one freezes to death on a winter sidewalk, nobody gets abused by crime or exploitation, no one too young, old or sick gets neglected, no human greed and evil is allowed to rule.

The second compartment in the economy which would be completely private, and totally separate from the Public Sector and the government. Other than assuring that no criminal activity (theft, fraud, murder, pollution, inhumanity to animals, etc) is taking place in the second tier, the government is staying completely out of it.

The private sector could be organized in any way participants want to - it can have money and banks and loans and interest rates and what-have-you. It can lease excess natural resources (only in a sustainable way) from the government for its own purposes, by contributing extra benefit to the public, basic-needs production economy (they can not pay in currency because the government does not use any). The value of natural resources in terms of public service provided for its use will have to be calculated by the economic planners of the government, based on scarcity of resources versus public benefit of service provided for it. It has to be dynamic, with strict guidelines protecting it from abuse.

Nobody could be forced to participate in the ‘private sector’ of the economy, it would be strictly voluntary. If the private economy organizes itself to use a recognized common currency, then citizens could get ‘paid’ for their work in the private sector and use this money to purchase luxuries (products and services beyond basic needs) just as they do now. The private sector could do any amount of foreign trade so long as it does not compromise the public economy.

No compromise would be tolerated when it comes to basic needs and rights, the sustainability of the system, the health of the environment and the rights of other living species. Of course there are millions of details to be worked out, I only wanted to describe the basic principles of a ‘workable’ social organization. And, of course, I have no roadmap leading from ‘A’ to ‘B’ and don’t even know if such a roadmap is possible in the immediate future. However, I wanted to describe how a social organization could exist without money.

To summarize:

The essence of my system: People decide that the most important goal is to make sure everybody’s basic needs are met. They create an economy to assure that. There is no money involved, every able citizen contributes a minimum number of hours per day and the produced goods are made available to everyone freely. This economy is completely self contained: it has its power generating stations, mining, industries, agriculture, transportation and communication facilities, schools and hospitals.

Now, whoever wants more can do it in their spare time, as long as 1./ they don’t touch our economy in any way whatsoever (if they can’t do it without us, it is their problem, we will not let anything compromise the ‘prime directive’). 2./ They don’t cause damage to the environment and don’t harm anyone in the process (including other species).

As Will Durant wrote in “The Lessons of History (chapter X. - Government and History) -- “If our economy of freedom fails to distribute wealth as ably as it has created it, the road to dictatorship will be open to any man who can persuasively promise security to all; and a martial government, under whatever charming phrases, will engulf the democratic world”


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24-08-2011, 12:15 PM
RE: Proposal for a new social contract
So the progressive nations that embraced some degree of socialism during the 20th century - Sweden, Canada, Holland, France, UK, etc. - did so through one contentious legislation at a time, without an overall plan, or "mission statement". (To be fair, constitutions do usually contain the basic principles of a citizen's rights and freedoms and the government's duties. But these are open to linguistic change, amendment, breach and legal interpretation.)

The big problem, of course, is that they are vulnerable on the financial front. If a government's ability to act on behalf of the citizenry is constrained by its funding, it becomes as much a slave to financial manipulators as the lowest wage-earner and chronic debtor. In addition, it has to squander a great deal of its limited revenues on the collection, administration, allocation and protection of those funds. If participation in governance depends on funding by private enterprise, corruption in government becomes inevitable. If large quantities of money are transferred from one government branch to another, from public to private sector and back again, there are numerous opportunities for embezzlement, misappropriation and error.
Eliminating money from the public sector would eliminate a huge amount of potential loss, waste and abuse.

Plus, we'd get a much better grade of public servant.

(PS I like the large print - easy on the old eyes.)

It's not the mean god I have trouble with - it's the people who worship a mean god.
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24-08-2011, 01:55 PM
 
RE: Proposal for a new social contract
I don't know how practical such a system would be, but I love proposals like this with the potential to solve so many of our problems. Very interesting indeed, and very thoughtful Smile

I don't think the government should have complete control over the entire food industry or others that fulfill basic needs, but managing it to the extent that every citizen is protected seems very acceptable. Putting the rest into the private sector is great, just as long as criminal activity can be controlled.
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24-08-2011, 02:39 PM
 
RE: Proposal for a new social contract
(24-08-2011 01:55 PM)Zach Wrote:  I don't know how practical such a system would be, but I love proposals like this with the potential to solve so many of our problems. Very interesting indeed, and very thoughtful Smile

If, by some miracle, we woke up tomorrow with this system already in place, I believe it would be practical, for a long time, before ingenious ways of corrupting it could be found. As far as how to get there, I doubt that it is possible in the foreseeable future.

Quote:I don't think the government should have complete control over the entire food industry or others that fulfill basic needs

The reason I wanted the two economies completely isolated was to minimize the possibility of corruption. If the 2 economies were intermixed, with the Public Sector dependent on the Private Sector, then it would very quickly become a hostage of it and we would end up exactly where we are now.

The 3 key elements of my proposal are:

1./ Total isolation between the two sectors
2./ No money in the Public Sector
3./ No control over individual consumption in the Public Sector.

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24-08-2011, 05:34 PM
RE: Proposal for a new social contract
I think you should go see the movie The Man from the First Century.

Planned economy may sound great in theory but in practice, it doesn't work. Believe me, my country was trying for 40 years and many others even longer. Most of the time, the one thing you needed most was sold out.
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24-08-2011, 05:40 PM
RE: Proposal for a new social contract
(24-08-2011 05:34 PM)next_ghost Wrote:  Planned economy may sound great in theory but in practice, it doesn't work. Believe me, my country was trying for 40 years and many others even longer. Most of the time, the one thing you needed most was sold out.

He didn't say badly-planned economy.
Do you think a random economy would work better?

It's not the mean god I have trouble with - it's the people who worship a mean god.
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24-08-2011, 05:45 PM
 
RE: Proposal for a new social contract
(24-08-2011 05:34 PM)next_ghost Wrote:  Planned economy may sound great in theory but in practice, it doesn't work. Believe me, my country was trying for 40 years and many others even longer. Most of the time, the one thing you needed most was sold out.

You can not have an unplanned economy.

Somebody is always planning the economy, the question is: who is doing the planning and in whose interest.

Large corporations (like car manufacturers) perfected the planned "just-in-time-deliveries" to a level of art with computer simulations and trial runs, using target groups and sophisticated modelling.

Anything humans do, if it has a chance of success, needs to be planned.

The historical examples you are thinking of were not planned economies at all but state capitalism, piracy and large-scale embezzlement.

My proposal tries to create a very clearly stated principle that does not leave too many things for interpretation. The lack of money in the public sector will also minimize the opportunity for corruption.

We need to think outside the box and try things that have not failed many times before. My proposal, as I described it in the OP has not been tried before. Why not think about it?

PS. Only the basic survival needs-economy is planned. The rest can be as unplanned as the participants want it to be.

During WWII the entire economy was rigidly planned for one purpose and one purpose only: winning the war. The factories were retooled for weapons and ammunition production, consumption of essential products was rationed, etc., etc. It worked with enthusiastic support from most of the citizenry. Now, if it could be done out of fear, why could it not be done out of a sense of justice and compassion?

Beats me!
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24-08-2011, 08:17 PM
 
RE: Proposal for a new social contract
(24-08-2011 02:39 PM)Zatamon Wrote:  As far as how to get there, I doubt that it is possible in the foreseeable future.

That's my primary concern about impracticality. There may be a few things I would do differently, but I really haven't given it enough thought to dispute your system. I'd love to wake up to such a society.
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25-08-2011, 12:06 AM
 
RE: Proposal for a new social contract
(24-08-2011 08:17 PM)Zach Wrote:  
(24-08-2011 02:39 PM)Zatamon Wrote:  As far as how to get there, I doubt that it is possible in the foreseeable future.

That's my primary concern about impracticality. There may be a few things I would do differently, but I really haven't given it enough thought to dispute your system. I'd love to wake up to such a society.

I know that it is not possible today.

However, we need to know the best system imaginable, in order to know what the next-best possible system is.

It gives us a direction to go.

And, who knows, maybe one day we (or our grandchildren) will wake up in such a system.

It is nice to dream!

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25-08-2011, 08:12 PM
 
RE: Proposal for a new social contract
I guess I have two main concerns.

I think it would require a lot of planning to ensure that the public sector is self-sustaining and functions independently of the private sector. I don't know how you'd go about planning that, and it's probably beyond the scope of this topic. It's just something that would have to be addressed if this idea were ever pursued.

The second concern is the public sector controlling things that many would prefer to remain private. Would this involve the government owning all land, food, and other resources that fulfill basic needs so that it can distribute them to everyone who needs it even if it doesn't require all these resources to meet everybody's needs? Could someone in the private sector open a clothing store, start a restaurant, or build and sell fancy houses?
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