How Do You Define A Successful Society?
We Can’t Make Rules About How Our Society Should Work Until We Decide What Kind Of A Society We Want To Have
By David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)
We have lots of arguments about public policy, taxes, welfare, government, etc. but they’re all pointless if there’s no agreement about what kind of a society we want to end up with.
We can’t make the rules until we agree on what kind of society we want to have.
The rules we adopt define the society we get.
The Power Of Groups Over Individuals
Forming groups allows people to achieve things they couldn’t do as individuals.
One advantage to being part of a group is that membership lowers the individual’s risk of loss.
If you’re on your own and your house burns down, you’re on the street.
If you join with millions of other people and buy fire insurance and your house burns down, then you get a new house.
Living in a society provides benefits that are not available to isolated individuals — utility and sewage systems, fire, police, clean restaurants, safe buildings, public transportation, bridges and roads and some sort of a social safety net. But what kind of a social safety net?
To answer that we first need to address the more basic question: Who is your society designed to benefit?
Societies Designed For The Benefit Of Winners
At one extreme are the societies designed to benefit the winners — rich people, members of successful families, highly-trained people, very smart people, very talented people. These societies have rules that allow most of the country’s wealth to be concentrated in and kept by the winners. For those winners that society is great.
For the majority of the population who are ordinary people or below, not so much.
Take the United States today for example.
85% of the country’s private wealth is owned by the top 20% of the population.
96% of America’s private wealth is owned by the top 40% of the population, while the bottom 40% owns zero percent of the wealth and the bottom 20% has a negative share of the wealth, their debts outweighing their assets.
Fifteen percent of American families are on food stamps. Half of American families cannot handle an unexpected $400 expense. Half of American families are essentially broke.
The minority of winners, the top thirty percent or so, are doing great. The bottom half of the country is on the ropes.
Societies Designed For The Benefit Of Losers
At the other extreme are societies designed to benefit the losers — poor people, people without successful families, untrained people, untalented people. It only takes a brief study of any communist country to confirm that such societies don’t so much share the wealth as they equalize the poverty.
So, at one extreme you can have a society where the people at the top keep pretty much all of their money and that ten or twenty percent does great. The next twenty percent gets by OK and the remaining sixty percent are, to one degree or another, just hanging on.
To a greater or lesser extent, that’s America today.
At the other extreme you can have a society where the people at the top keep relatively little of their money. In that society the top 10% does pretty good, the next 10% does OK, and the remaining 80% are more or less equally poor.
Those who consider themselves winners advocate for the “Protect The Winners” society while some others want the “Help The Losers” society where a few people are doing pretty good and everybody else hovers just a little above sucking it.
Somewhere In The Middle
For those of you who want a society that works for pretty much everyone, let me suggest a few rules that could get us there.
Something For Nothing Is A Bad Idea
Just giving people money for doing nothing always ends badly.
The people paying the money resent the hell out of working for something that others get for free.
Most of the people receiving free money don’t like living on hand-outs.
Most people want to feel useful. Most people want to be able to respect themselves and feel that they are doing something with their lives, that they are valuable in some way, that their life has some meaning.
So, forget giving people money for doing nothing. That’s a “No.”
Everyone Contributes Something
Think about how you raise your kids. If you’ve got a brain in your head you don’t just give them money for nothing.
“Dad, I want a new iPhone.”
“Sure, Tommy. I’ll buy you one right away.”
No, you make them do something in exchange for what they get. You teach them that they have to earn what they get.
They have to mow the lawn or do the wash or clean the kitchen or something. They have to do their homework and work hard in school. They learn that they have to expend some reasonable effort or they won’t get money or games or a cell phone or whatever it is they want.
Just like kids need to contribute to their family, people need to contribute to their society.
But, Don’t Expect To Operate At A Profit
On the other hand, you don’t keep track of the number of hours your kids spend doing chores, multiply that times some dollar-per-hour amount, and pay yourself the result to recoup the cost of feeding, housing and clothing your children.
You expect your kids to contribute so that they don’t get the idea that they’re entitled to a free ride and so that they feel that they are doing something useful, but you can’t expect to make a profit on your children’s labor.
It’s about contributing, not a for-profit exchange of goods and services.
People in a society are the same. They need to participate to the extent of their ability and in return for their full-time work they earn a decent, basic standard of living. I stress the word “earn” not “get.”
Everybody who can work does work. If you can work, but you choose not to work there is no free lunch. But, if you do work then no matter what the job, you receive enough in exchange for your labor to fund a decent, basic standard of living.
What does that mean?
It means everyone is paid at least what the economists calculate is a living wage, plus health insurance coverage and at least a week of paid-time-off.
Everything Has A Cost
That level of wages means that some products will cost a little more. That’s part of the cost of paying wages that are high enough to provide workers with a basic, decent standard of living.
It means that people at the top will be taxed to fund non-profit corporations that will hire people for whom there are no jobs available from private employers.
If you’re curious about how that would work see my article:
A Guaranteed Minimum Income Is The Wrong Answer To The Right Question. The Solution To The Shortage Of Living-Wage, Low-Skilled Jobs Is Publicly-Funded, Non-Profit Corporations That Will Pay A Living Wage
So, yes, people and businesses at the top of the wealth pyramid are going to have a little less money so that the people at the bottom will have decent-paying jobs. That’s one of the costs of maintaining a society that works not just for the people at the top or the people at the bottom but for pretty much everyone.
That’s one of the core reasons you have a society in the first place. It’s an institution, a mechanism, whose purpose is to create an environment that works for mostly everyone.
That cost is the insurance premium the people and businesses at the top are going to have to pay so that their society will work for pretty much everyone.
There Is No Free Lunch For Winners Or For Losers
In the United States we’re now starting to see the flaws with the “For Winners Only” society. Just look around. Listen to the ordinary people who voted for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
They were wrong in thinking he would do anything that would actually make their lives better. He will do just the opposite.
When they voted for him they were like turkeys voting for Thanksgiving. But their vote was a response to a society that no longer economically works for at least 40% of its members.
There Is A Cost To Have A Society That Works Well For Everyone
We can have a functioning society, one where the people at the top can have a great life but also where the people at the bottom can also have a decent life, but there is a cost for that.
There is a cost for having a society that works not just for the winners and not just for the losers, but for pretty much everyone.
There is a cost in having a healthy society in the same way that there is a cost in raising kids, a cost for insurance coverage, a cost for roads, fire departments and all the other things that go with living in a prosperous, free, safe and economically and socially mobile society.
There is and can be no free lunch for the people at the top any more than there can be one for those at the bottom.
You ask: How will that cost be paid?
How Do You Assess That Cost?
For what it’s worth, I think that the cost of providing a living-wage job for everyone who is willing to work should be contributed to by every member of society on the same, identical basis.
I would not only abolish the graduated income tax, I would abolish the entire income-based tax system (wage, capital gains, gift and estate taxes) and replace it with completely different tax mechanism.
Are you curious what that would be?
Check it out:
Replacing The Income Tax With A Different Tax System That Is Fairer, Simpler & Less Painful
–David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)