The Real Relationship Economy — Part II

Social unrest in the form of protests over minimum wage is attacking the wrong problem. It isn’t that minimum wage workers aren’t paid appropriately for their jobs, it’s that the jobs they hold are not worth more. Would your McDonald’s experience change significantly if you could order from an automated machine or robot? Now consider Starbucks (whose employees have not been protesting their wages). Would your Starbucks experience be different if a robot or machine served as your barista? If you view the Starbucks experience differently than McDonald’s, it’s likely because Starbucks encourages their employees to interact with customers (such as asking customers questions about social issues). They realize the relationship aspect of the barista role provides value beyond taking and filling an order.

Increasing automation and productivity to the point where humanity can spend less time earning a living and more time pursuing parenthood or other higher goals has long been the anticipated path to Utopia. However, the realization of this peaceful world where all basic human needs are satisfied and we move on to emotional and spiritual fulfillment requires the bounty of goods and services be shared by all of society. In America today, we produce enough food for everyone, but people still go hungry. An economy which produces plenty for all, but in which all do not have plenty is far from utopian.

So, how do we change the system of wealth distribution to recognize the reduced opportunity for traditional work and the value of relationships? As stated in part 1 of this blog, we need to redefine work (what you get paid for) to encompass meaningful, positive and fulfilling interaction among people.

Noted and successful capitalist Warren Buffett has suggested we decrease income inequality through increasing the earned income tax credit. He recognizes we need to reward desirable behavior (in this case having a job) beyond what the behavior is worth through traditional valuations (wages for the job). Expanding that concept to recognizing and financially rewarding positive relationship behaviors is the foundation of a true relationship economy.

While traditional work and capital investment would continue to be rewarded, this needs to be supplemented by a relationship-based wealth distribution system. Wealth could be distributed by tax credits or social program payments based on measurable, positive relationship behaviors.

Examples:

Pay people to obey the law. A National Public Radio news blurb noted, “Officials in Richmond learned in 2009 that 70 per cent of murders and firearms assaults were linked to 17 people. They decided to pay them to behave. For a budget of about $1.2 million a year the program offers coaching, health care coverage and several hundred dollars a month in stipends to former thugs who stick to their “life map” of personal goals and conflict resolution training.” The murder rate fell from 62 to 11.

Pay stay-at-home parents. Healthy societies start with healthy (physically, mentally, emotionally) children and families. The value of time spent parenting has always come at the sacrifice of time spent in a traditional job. Removing this penalty would allow more time for parents to raise their children. This could be accompanied by paying for successfully completing parenting training courses.

Pay for academic achievement. Societies benefit from an educated populace. Paying adults to go school and paying families for the academic achievements of their children would encourage continual learning.

Pay for positive societal relationship behaviors. As social media technology advances it could be used to measure relationship behaviors (e.g. reputation points). Helpful, engaged members of society would be rewarded for their efforts.

Pay for relationship building and engagement. Another technology, social network analysis (SNA), can measure the strength and effectiveness of relationships and identify people who are instrumental in building and facilitating relationships among others. SNA metrics and scores could be used to reward key societal relationship builders.

How will we pay for these relationship incentives? I’ve been an adamant capitalist my entire life so it’s been difficult for me to come to this conclusion, but in order to allow the holders of capital to peacefully enjoy their wealth, there must be a transfer of wealth from the owners of the machines of production to those without. In our current system, this would mean significantly higher taxes on production (perhaps a VAT) and/or on accumulated wealth, plus higher income taxes on the few technocrats who will build and maintain the machineries of production. In the end, it’s a small price to pay for a utopian society where everyone’s basic needs are met and we are all free to pursue higher interests because we no longer have to work to live.

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