Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Égalité de Droit

Long about 1776 or so, there was a lot kicking around this continent and Europe about such heady concepts as freedom from oppression. The French revolutionaries quested for egality, brotherhood and liberty. We were deemed by the fathers to have been created equal. Égalité was a thing the French desired to achieve, but equality in our society was described as a starting point. This is an important distinction, and one about which more will follow, however both radical factions argued the concept of the equality of men principally as counterpoint to the monarchial system. Beyond the barest bones of political equality there is little egalitarianism in either society.

"Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness", Jefferson's catchy buzzwords, were lifted from Locke's "life, liberty and estates". Locke was more to the point, and likely Jefferson was himself or by committee intentionally vague in that the right of most concern in all of this tossing over of the old order was that of property. It would not do that the riff raff with whom the gentlemen of the American Revolution were disdainfully resigned to consort in order to fight the British might get a whiff of "meet the new boss". It would not do for the unwashed to get a sense of just who was going to be equal or not in the new order.

And so we let loose upon the American scene hordes of capitalists armed with the Creator endowed right to own property. They got really good at it. In fact, they own almost all of it. They amass wealth rightly as due of a portion of the value they contribute to a thing. The more the amassing, the more contribution they can exert on the values of things, and so on until the growth is phenomenal.

They throw us a bone now and then and we are uplifted from ourselves who had one less bone before, and therefore this is progress.

The logical conclusion of this process is that one person will own everything, and one has only to look at the Waltons of Wal Mart to see that this is not as preposterous as it might initially seem. The flow of wealth to the upper and upper middle classes is rapidly increasing. The rich are getting richer, quickly. Is this the outcome of capitalism, the unregulated and terminal accumulation of all wealth into a few hands? Did the designers of this system fail to imagine an end game? Did we miss something?

Enter Ross Zucker, with that dirtiest word to libertarians (and neo-cons/neo-liberals), egalitarianism. This concept is so foreign we continue to use the French root. Zucker's thesis, as put forth in Democratic Distributive Justice, is that some retooling of capitalism is necessary. Central to this theme is that the value of a thing is imparted by a far more complex and democratic process than the old school espouses. In browsing the mutual admiration society that is the libertarian web I am often struck by the audacity of those who view any shift of wealth downward as immoral. "As if they made their money in a vacuum," I think. As if they don't ask us for money every time me go to the mailbox, or turn on the TV. As if we don't contribute, if nothing else, a lion's share of their wealth merely by being willing, cooperative citizens. As if the creation of wealth were not a social process.

Zucker points out that in large part that the demand for a thing contributes mightily to it's value, and so consumers are due a greater portion of the income resulting from it's production. He does not deny that differences in talent, ambition and so forth lead to unequal contributions and that these differences should not be rewarded appropriately, however he thinks it wise that we begin to consider the possibility that the capitalist ethic of income due in consideration of contribution to value should encompass this broader social aspect:

Analysis of the immanent logic of community shows that membership in a community morally entitles individuals to an equal share of the ends of association.
Espousal of "equal share" will, of course, lead to commie baiting, but Zucker numerously and as vehemently as possible points out that he is not advocating the equalization of wealth, but a redistributive process designed to more equitably account for the contributions of citizens to the multiplication of wealth that drives capitalism. He methodically demonstrates that the very definition of capitalism demands (so to speak) such a process.

My parents use to ask, "Do you think the world owes you a living?" I would wonder, "Why not?" Perhaps, according to Zucker, I was right to wonder if, at least in part, this were true. Many capitalists have admitted the inequality of the system as practiced is a barrier to its ultimate success, but the difficulty of institutionalizing a more egalitarian system while maintaining the freedom of the individual to aspire within it―and the daunting task of wresting power from those who have hijacked the system―leave this barrier to refortify itself, as witnessed in a continuing, deepening rift between the upper and upper middle classes and the true middle class.

Is there a way to effectively compensate us collectively for the cooperative effort we exert, while still leaving room for the incentive of reward for individual achievement? Not at least until we see the wisdom in the fairness of it―of the democratic justice in it.


At 10:53 AM, Blogger JD said...

unions unions unions.


Post a Comment

<< Home