my journey to the very strange place in life I now inhabit
I have experienced countless hours the dreariest, most mind-numbing labor. I have experienced the transcendent wonder of ‘boldly going where no human being has gone before’. Both involved work. Only one involved drudgery.
I have done many things for money. Besides three years in the U.S. Army, I have washed dishes, waited tables, worked as a cook, worked as a surveyor, sold stuff (in retail and door-to-door), tended bar, taught school, worked as security guard, picked-up/delivered film/photos, driven eighteen-wheelers, and repaired/renovated/remodeled/built houses. I have never been defined as being any of those things.
All of that has had moments of pleasure. All of it has entailed some pain. Mostly, it’s just been a matter of doing what was required to try to keep enough money coming my way.
I have also completed 23 years of school (from kindergarten to two stints in graduate school). A friend of mine once said that the biggest lesson school teaches is that getting what we want means doing what is required. “Doing what is required” might be as good a way as any to define ‘work’.
I learned in school — eventually — that I love acquiring knowledge. I learned also that learning for the sake of some goal always requires work, but not necessarily drudgery.
I say “eventually:” they literally had to drag me, screaming and kicking, to my first few days of schooling. It took until seventh grade — and Mrs. Miller — for me to start to get over that initial horror and to begin to appreciate the opportunity before me. From there, school gradually moved from being work as tedious, forced effort to becoming that other thing.
One reason for my scattershot employment history is that by the time I was of working age I had already learned to hate capitalism. I don’t mean to suggest that I was some kind of philosophical prodigy. I was anything but a prodigy of any kind, other than the possessor a prodigious appetite for ‘lay. What I had was a child’s understanding that business is ‘not fair’.
I learned that from my daddy. His was a classic example of a position with a dearth of authority but a relative plethora of responsibility. The stress of it gave him an ulcer. Back then, the standard regimen for anyone with an ulcer was to keep taking the weak treatments for ‘heartburn’ that were available at the time until the ulcer got so bad that it made sense to have an operation to cut it out.
Since his job required some heavy lifting, he knew that he would be ‘let go’ if he had that operation. So he held out as long as he possibly could. Many nights I was awakened by the sound of him literally puking his guts out.
At long last, he had to succumb to the inevitable procedure. Sure enough, his company could no longer ‘use’ him. He was terminated.
Given my personality, my response to witnessing what my daddy experienced was a determination to avoid giving any more of myself than was absolutely necessary to any business — though I have always been a perfectly adequate employee (after my first couple of jobs, anyway). That translates into having a job, as opposed to having a career.
I have some talent as a creative writer, but the idea of subjecting creativity to the dictates of ‘business’ has made committing to that route psychologically untenable for me. Besides, solving intellectual problems has been its own, for me more fulfilling, outlet for creative effort.
I might have realized one day that working in government represented an alternative to employment in the private sector, but before that thought could occur to me I did get fully intellectually awakened. That happened when I was in college, majoring in political science. We were assigned to read The Water Lords, a book (with James Fallows as its primary author) that resulted from a Ralph Nader Project to study the paper industry in Georgia, U.S.A. (where I was born, raised, was attending college, and have almost always lived). I learned that business is at least as nefarious as I ever thought it to be.
Intellectually, I felt I had to choose between capitalism and Marxism. I worked for about ten years at convincing myself to become a Marxist.
Alas and alack, I could not. As a matter of economics, in the end I could not see how doing away with private property would solve all of the societal problems associated with the economy. More importantly, I could not bring myself to accept Marx’s rejection of justice as something ’real’.
I have noted that I was no kind of philosophical prodigy, but I always had a keen sense of justice/injustice. Even as a child, I looked at life through that lens. Whenever anybody got harmed or got in trouble and was punished, I would silently ponder the injustice/justice of it. Looking back, it turns out that, mentally, ‘justice’ has truly been my ‘life’s work’.
From the time I was old enough to formulate such a thought, I have been convinced that justice is something humans need as surely as we need love and affection. For that matter, as formed adults I would say justice is more important to our well-being, psychologically as well as materially, than those are. Psychologically, whether an injustice is a singular (unresolved) event or an ongoing travesty — or, for that matter, experienced consciously or not — living with an injustice messes with people. At a minimum, it makes serene contentment impossible. At worst, it makes people insane.
When I was young and the U.S. was totally dominated by people like me (male ‘WASPs’: White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants), we were very sure as a nation that we knew all about justice. I was just beginning to make the turn toward adulthood when the ‘Great Questioning’ got underway. Today, as a nation we are at a loss.
When I finally quit Marxism I asked myself this question: ‘so, what would a really just economy be’? I have made it my business to get to the bottom of this thing called ‘justice’ and its implications for individuals, the political process, and the economy (the last two being, importantly, the ‘societal processes’ that are universally a part of human societies).
Obtaining the necessary knowledge required immense amounts of heavy intellectual lifting, sifting, and refining (along with the fortuitous tutelage of Dr. Fred Boadu at Atlanta University). It also took me on a voyage of discovery in philosophy and economics that, though unacknowledged (to this point) by the world at large, provided me the other-worldly thrills that only the most intrepid explorers get to experience.
At the age of 68, to be where my life’s work has gotten me is surely one of the strangest of all possible existences. Wonder of wonders, I have learned what the ethic of justice must be. I have learned how applying that ethic to the governance of society would maximize liberty and reinforce political democracy. I have learned how that ethic can be applied to the existing economy — any existing economy — to solve, absolutely and positively, all of the societal problems associated with the economy that have plagued civilization from its inception, as well as greatly ameliorating — potentially completely solving — the recently recognized problem of environmental sustainability. Even better, all that could be accomplished without requiring any changes to the structure and sanctioned functioning of any existing economic system, much less requiring people to change. Yet, despite constant, widespread effort on my part for decades (including of late many an article in Medium) to get this sublime new knowledge I that have worked so hard to discern into public discourse, to that end I am at this point an abject failure.
So, on the flip side of those euphoric moments of epiphanic insight, I have learned from bitter experience that people are loath to accept my intellectual output. Even so, I will include herein, in reasonably few reasonable-sized paragraphs, the distillation of the intellectual ore that I have mined. I leave it to the reader to assay it (or not).
I learned, foremost though not first, that ‘conditions of justice’ must take the place of ‘Rights’ as the framework for societal justice. The latter are inherently self-centered; the former are not. As postmodernists also have pointed out, self-centeredness is, to say the least, a problematic starting point for justice.
I found that the ethic of justice is, most broadly, mutual respect — of a basic kind: taking one another into account as we live our separate lives together in this world. Justice is, not surprisingly, ‘other-centered’. Respecting others in that way is the “definitive, sufficient, prescriptive condition of justice.” It becomes the societal ethic by which individuals can govern themselves and the just structure and functioning of the political process and the economy can be determined. Individualism is not rejected, but it is reoriented.
A requirement of mutual respect does follow from a belief in human equality. The philosophy of Liberalism is therefore pregnant with that ethic. Unfortunately, basing justice on any belief means it cannot be justly applied to the governance of society because it must be imposed on anyone who rejects that belief. That puts coercion at the very core of society.
“Real justice” (as I have come to call this approach to justice) involves no belief. The ethic of real justice follows from the observation that in our material existence human beings have no choice but to effect choices (i.e., choose among perceived alternatives and take action to bring that choice to fruition) [which I got from Warren J. Samuels, via Dr. Boadu]. Those choices can range from the trivial to those that affect the whole future course of a person’s life. No one who accepts the validity of that observation can deny the applicability of the ethic that follows from it to all people, including oneself.
To respect others in that context is to take into account, when effecting any choice, the persons and interests of any other people who are involved in any way. To respect other people that way is to acknowledge them as fellow human beings. To act otherwise regarding any other person is to deny in some way, to some degree that person’s humanness.
Thus, the ethic of justice is mutual respect in effecting choices. Technically, mutual respect is the ethic of justice and effecting choices is the domain of justice, the vast but finite aspect of life in which people’s actions must be governed by mutual respect. Outside it, personal morality takes over.
The implications of this ethic for individuals, the political process, and the economy follow from it as certainly as day follows night. It is all strictly rational.
There is no ‘moral relativism’ here: real justice boils down to a “minimum, necessary, proscriptive condition of justice:” no co-opting or (otherwise) preempting other person’s capacity to choose when effecting any choice. It entails a handful of absolute prohibitions: no killing, harming, coercing, stealing, or manipulating (which includes lying, cheating, tricking, etc.) in effecting any choice.
Anyone who is refraining from violating any of those prohibitions in obtaining any end, for oneself or on behalf of any other entity, whether public or private, is being ‘just enough’. In a society governed by real justice, everywhere and always, no matter what, whether acting for themselves or on behalf of any other entity, private or public — or any cause, to include the cause of justice — individuals would be constrained by those prohibitions. Justice is present in the interactions among individuals when all people are governing themselves that way. (Every society must have a system of criminal and civil justice to judge specific claims of injustice that arise.)
So real justice is an advance beyond Liberalism (the meta-ideology that has spawned the political ideologies of libertarianism, conservatism, liberalism, and democratic socialism). In Liberalism, equality and a Right to liberty are the ‘twin pillars of justice’ for a society. Unlike liberty, with real justice there is no need to limit how ‘justly’ a person might choose to act. Unlike equality, there are no practical limits on applying real justice to the governance of society, including the economy. Unlike liberty or equality, mutual respect as the ethic of justice can even apply to relations among nations. Mutual respect in effecting choices is unlimited goodness.
Still and all, a society governed by real justice would look very familiar to anyone living today in a Liberal nation. It would have the maximum liberty that co-existing people can share simultaneously. It would also have a democratic political process. The economic system would be structured and would function as a societal system exactly the same as at present — but the outcomes for society of that system would be transformed. (‘The economy’ is the process of producing/acquiring goods and services; the ‘economic system’ is the set of institutions via which that process proceeds.)
Real justice provides three conditions of justice for the economy: freedom for people to decide how/to what extent to participate in the economy; the existence of a “democratically distributed income” (DDI); and the absence of exploitation. The more of those conditions that are met, the more just the economy will be. Currently, almost every nation’s economy meets the first of those conditions; no nation’s economy meets — or, to include the ‘Communist’ nations, has ever met — that one and either of the other two.
For any nation that would meet at least the first and second of the conditions of justice for the economy, the results would be as irrefutable as they are astonishing: the economy would become fully self-regulating, with no unemployment (at no cost to anyone) and no poverty (without having to redistribute anything). The same process could be used to fund government (all government, from central to local) with no taxes (of any kind) and no public debt (at any level of government). Sustainability would be increased (even without additional regulations or any changes in behavior). There would be built-in protections against inflation (unlike the current economic system of any nation). To be clear, no limit would need to be imposed on income/wealth.
When I first came up with the idea of a DDI I had no assurance it would make any economic sense at all, much less produce those outcomes. The money for it would be created as needed, without involving debt (sort of a permanent ‘quantitative easing’ for people). It would become the supply of money (as currency) for the economy. It would be “democratically distributed” because any (adult) citizen could become eligible for it, if paid to retirees and adults unable to work as well as employees in minimum-pay positions. (Employers would use benefits to compete for such employees in a free labor market.) It would be a bulletproof guaranteed minimum income.
To realize Marxism’s goal of eliminating exploitation, thereby becoming a fully just economy, would require only an expansion of the DDI, such that every employee of any business or government would be paid it. In short, there would be an impermeable barrier between the revenue of all businesses and government and all people (with only these exceptions: where appropriate, businesses could buy the raw food of farmers/ranchers and pay out commissions and royalties). Different positions of employment in the economy could still command different packages of (in-kind) benefits, with no limit imposed on them. Since those accrue to a person only for the time that person is in that position and cannot be used to accumulate wealth, such differences would not represent exploitation. There would still be no limit on the amount of income people could earn otherwise. Besides commissions and royalties, earning such incomes could take three forms. One would be people working together as partners (defined as people with a say in all decisions related to the enterprise). One would be people working as “singularly self-employed individuals” (i.e., alone and neither an employee nor the employer of any other person) — whether exclusively or complementarily, e.g., ‘side-hustles’. The other form such incomes could take would be employment in private not-for-profits, such as foundations and churches. (The issue of legitimacy regarding such entities would be moot, in the absence of outright fraud, because any such entity would be limited to donations from individuals for their money — no money from any business or government — and no one employed in any such entity would be allowed the DDI as compensation for working in it.)
Bringing justice to the economy, with all the benefits to society that promises, really is just that simple. It is important that both of those other conditions of justice involving a DDI can be realized within the existing economic system of any nation. All that is needed is a central bank (to administer the DDI), which institution is currently a part of every nation’s economic system (although, as an alternative, a Monetary Agency could be established.)
Moreover, this economic paradigm can stand alone as an economic proposal, without any reference to justice whatsoever. Not only could any nation adopt it, but groups of nations could adopt it by having a common DDI — without compromising any nation’s sovereignty one whit.
For the matter, every nation on the planet could one day share the same DDI, still without compromising any nation’s sovereignty. Nations could still choose to opt for a fully just economy or not. In any event, all of the material benefits of the DDI associated with the first and second conditions of justice for the economy would be realized equally everywhere on Earth.