|LIMITS TO WEALTH
- Economics As If Gross Disparity Mattered -
Debates over limiting wealth and power arise wherever enclosure, oligarchy and factor imbalance create great disparities in wages, venture shares, land ownerships, and societal power. Wage-laboring majorities exploited by capital are left without natural freedom or the effective democracy necessary to secure greater equity, and a political means to peacefully "reshuffle" the deck. As a result, we are doomed to redistributive fever and revolution.
Given such conditions it is only a matter of time before disparities reach the point where the poor and over-taxed middle classes have nothing lose, and everything to gain, from general strikes, riots, revolutions, and simply killing the rich. At this stage it matters not how sophisticated are the techniques of social control as nothing will save a corrupt system from implosions ignited by falling living standards, fiat money, competitive devaluations, overpopulation, eco-ruin, and unemployment.
If we recognize no limits to wealth and its attendant political powers, then a growthism driven by enclosure and oligarchy will create deadly disparities of riches and political influence. Such social deformities lead to the collapse of natural economy, effective democracy, progressive reform, and livable environments. A just and stable society then slowly evaporates as growing wealth disparities produce class conflict.
Lacking refuge, most today are urbanized, indebted, desperately employed, and subject to their employer's, at-will, termination of their means to live. Naturally, in this condition, most are eager to become rich in order to fill the gap left by "original appropriation" and one's lack of liberating estate or communal enfranchisement.
Exactly this locked-in condition produces an all-consuming drive for money-wealth, and means we develop a "free market" of dependent wage slaves who must exploit one another in order to gain escape velocity from a game designed to liberate the few.
This very desperation - arising from a pervasive lack of individual or communal refuge - neither defines, or produces, any enlightened and progressive society. Rather, this estate of "labor" produces a frantic self-interest which further empowers capital, and allows ruling oligarchies to create massive "trickle-up" disparities of wealth and power. As a result, freedom is corrupted, creativity mis-aligned, and democracy denied as wealth, land, and freedom concentrate into the hands of the few.
The emergence of gross income disparities, and land redistribution movements, is a sure sign the socio-economic scheme is defective. The root question in then whether freedom and responsibility are not also defective since, given the nature of the game, only a few become free and enfranchised while the rest come to depend on subsidies to exist.
After centuries of "growth" why are the vast majority still landless, mortgaged, and dependent upon capital for their employment, and upon the state for an ever-receding "retirement?" Why, after centuries of "free markets," have not wage-laboring majorities become relatively wealthier, more enfranchised, landed, and less subsidized? Why are urban majorities still wage-bound, dependent on the state, and without natural estate or communal alternative amidst our growing wealth disparities and constant, per-capita, decline?
When stock markets are high, apologists point to the petty increases in stock ownership by today's struggling middle-classes as indicating progress has occurred. This is despite the fact both social and natural security are collapsing, and the ability of an evaporating middle-class to fund even a modest retirement has become nearly impossible. Come the time when markets crash, currencies decline, and depressions emerge then the wealth, freedom, and social security of the majority disappears.
At the latest peak of a massive stock market bubble generated by private central banks, the top 5 per cent of U.S. households, for example, still own 75 per cent of all stocks. The bottom 80 per cent own only three to five per cent of equities, shares, defined-contribution pension funds, IRA's, Keoghs, and mutual funds. In the U.S., only 1.7 % reach the $600,000 level of taxable estate at death.
Worldwide, 358 billionaires are now worth the combined income of 45% of the planet's population. and less than two hundred companies control half of the world's wealth and production as mergers continue.
Today's global concentration of wealth, and economic and political power, is almost without precedent. In any case, such ill-distributed wealth and power cannot possibly define success for the vast majority. Combined with a pervasive lack of natural freedom, current conditions define oligarchy with its obscene concentrations of wealth and power, monopoly, oligopoly, and pre-revolutionary social conditions.
Where enclosure and factor imbalance prevail, limits to wealth and periodic reshufflings of assets, competition, and opportunity soon becomes a necessity. If reform is thwarted society cannot peacefully ameliorate great disparity or disenfranchisement. We are then destined to breed greater concentrations of wealth and power until society is completely convulsed and the severity of reckonings is greatly increased.
Given a capital-controlled global marketplace, we have entered a new era of stateless oligopoly, monopoly, and disparity without limit, or offset. At this writing, a new round of depressions, recessions, and repressions around the world today are leading to re-evaluation of capital's trade policies, election of "populist" governments, and a new scrutiny into the institution of private central banks, and the undemocratic international tribunals now controlling our lives.
With little or no effective democracy remaining, and nation-states increasingly impotent, every industry is destined to be controlled by one, two, or at most five or six, global mega-corporations - each with little interest in any real competition or consumer benefit. With the increasing size of global corporations, absence of compensating tariffs and anti-trust levers, few, if any, competitors can mount a challenge or raise enough capital to compete with established giants. Thus, no competition for emerging global oligopolies will emerge and, as a result, they will then turn the screws on hapless consumers without choice.
The enormous power of capital today is seen in the fact that, of the top 100 economies in the world, fully half are multinational corporations - i.e., private economies whose annual revenues exceed the G.D.P. of many nations. With companies grown as large and powerful as nations, democracy, effective competition, and truly free interdependencies must prove difficult if not impossible. The sheer size and power of global corporations today is well beyond anything imagined by economists and social theorists only a few decades ago. As a result, we are fast losing control of "our" markets, communities, and nations. Needed today are new and old mechanisms to prevent global monopoly, oligopoly, oligarchy, and the control of world markets and society by a few immensely wealthy individuals, powerful corporations, and "independent" central bankers.
If, on the other hand, we lived in a world of the enfranchised, and markets existed without great barriers to entry and competition, we might then conclude that such bigness is not a threat - or, at least, not likely to become a danger in a world of the enfranchised. However, this dream world is clearly not the case today. Worse, we are no longer maximizing domestic competition, capacity, creativity, and community control but, instead, minimizing local authority, autonomy, as well as our ability to escape one factor's power and predation.
Rather than a new capitalist millennium, the world is being set up to revisit nineteenth-century social conditions. Indeed, we are manufacturing conflict as growthism spawns decline, depression, currency ruin, crime, violence, envy and a revenge aimed at wealth and capital. Only with pervasive factor balance, enfranchisement, and trade schemes fit for a disparate world, can we alter a dismal dynamic, and avoid a sorry conclusion.
Short of reforms, however, there are currently no limits to wealth, enclosure, or capital's purchase of protection and political power.
In sum, within today's "laissez-faire" societies, our land and wealth distributions, as well as laws and legal systems, reflect the interests of those already in possession of wealth, power and freedom. This causes the privileged to ignore, and make worse, the plight of growing numbers of "late-comers." As oligarchies defeat reform, and manipulate the vote, they feed the forces insuring their demise. Without new limits upon wealth, and corporate size and power, we are condemned to global enclosure, oligarchy, violence, and revolution.
GREAT WEALTH & SOCIO-ECONOMIC DEMOCRACY
To rescue democracy from imperialism, and bring an end to aristocracy and plantation economy, the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and other "levelers" have offered up wealth-limiting schemes. These pioneers were soon followed in this effort by Karl Marx, Henry George, Edward Bellamy, and John Maynard Keynes. In our time, guaranteed-income ideas have been advanced by Milton Freidman, Paul Samuelson, Robert Theobald, and Richard Nixon. In the midst of the Great Depression, Senator Huey Long sought a 10 million lid on wealth.
Regardless of scheme, were it not for a lack of natural freedom and labor's dependency there is hardly reason for any reform or need to provide for others - except after natural disaster or social catastrophe. As a rule, within both free markets built upon effective democracy, and communes of the landed and enfranchised, we have no need of any welfare or wealth redistribution scheme.
As things have evolved, welfare-states arise, owe their existence to labor's enclosure's and urban dependency, and follow factor-imbalanced societies like a shadow. To the extent most remain urban, landless, and dependent then a guaranteed income of some sort becomes necessary - and capital's interest-seeking private central banks will gladly sell all the bonds government needs to pay these bills.
In practice, welfare and subsidy keeps a desperate, disenfranchised, labor on ice. It then protects capital by subsidizing our enclosure with taxpayer money and debt. While many such these ideas sound compassionate, and may be necessary, they nevertheless tend to preserve the status quo, lock labor into dependency, and society into corrupt markets.
Wherever we avoid real solutions to labor's enclosure, then"welfare" proposals portend greater public debt, subsidy, and currency ruin. In time, the mounting costs of dependency and reproductive irresponsibility lead to fiscal ruin and revolution. Nevertheless, the "solution" proposed by capital is to reduce benefits, eliminate the last props, and utterly impoverish the landless and desperate. At the same time, to further increase our misery, our capital-dependent politicians seek evermore population growth and immigration to further lower wages, overwhelm eco-systems, and make less possible our re-enfranchisement and social balance.
Within this dynamic, some form of guaranteed income is likely a better interim strategy than any elimination of welfare and social security which simply invites the end-game. Nevertheless, money for a guaranteed income must come from somewhere - i.e., either by taxation of wage-earning majorities or by fiat currency mischief.
Many years ago, when capital was far less mobile, labor more independent, and economies more self-sustaining, then taxes for a guaranteed income policy might have operated as intended without deleterious effects. Today, in an age of global capital mobility without restraint or compensating tariffs, unless universally applied, the effects would be problematic.
In addition, trade policy now rewards the greater-slave, and serves to decimate progressive states. In this setting, only with a worldwide minimum wage, and/or compensating tariffs (serving to artificially level social contracts and incentivize market openings) can labor and nations alike escape a welfare-state - particularly in an age of increasing automation, redundancy, enclosure, and dependency. Short of reform, the potential for any mass re-enfranchisement and recapture of natural independence disappears as the sway of capital becomes complete.
In considering any tax and re-distribution scheme what should be kept in mind is that no one creates wealth in a vacuum and, short of a non-egoic state of being, without some incentives. Further, whether we make a living by inventing or modifying products, providing a service, or re-ordering the affairs of landless others, it is these dependent others who often make possible our enterprise, and its greater profit. It is labor's desperation which affords the greater profit and defeats more equal shares. Cooperation of labor on enclosure's more profitable terms is then central to creating the greater private surplus, wealth, and estate.
Amidst a lack of natural liberty and factor balance a good portion of wealth and profit is enclosure-generated, and so unearned to the extent employers benefit from labor's disenfranchisement and desperation. No matter how great our entrepreneurial efforts or contributions, it is employers, and capital in general, that reap added benefit and surplus from labor's enclosure and subsidy by the state.
As a rule, employers need only pay a minimum of wages in dealing with a labor whose lives and living they may threaten with job cancellation or export. Without question, employers gain a greater profit, and avoid more equal shares, to the extent others have no alternative and remain dependent on wage-work and welfare.
In short, what we might call legitimate surplus wealth, and true profit, emerge only to the extent it is earned in markets of the enfranchised. Otherwise, some or all of our "profit" represents merely a transfer of wealth from the desperate many to the wealthy few. To the degree we take advantage of a landless and less powerful wage-labor, we gain an unearned, and problematic, component of wealth and advantage - one not attainable except for the condition of those we call "labor."
Aggravating wage-labor's condition are increases in the supply of labor, which limits the ability of labor to gain any ground, and/or become employers and profit in the same fashion. Clearly, we cannot all be employers and get uncommonly rich if a handful of individuals and mega-corporations - given early entrance into markets, and today's high cost of entry - come to possess insurmountable advantages.
So many of the questions surrounding income and wealth taxation, and social security in general, are little more than oblique discussions of enclosure. This is a reality few politicians and economists comprehend, care to admit, or seek to ameliorate. Nevertheless, a sizeable increment of profit and wealth which employers gain is attributable to labor's disenfranchisement and desperation. If this were not the case then profit, wealth, and land distributions would be far different, and both progressive taxation and welfare unnecessary.
As a result of modern urban dependency, some limits to wealth become necessary to recapture that increment of profit flowing from enclosure and factor-imbalance. With invention and market initiative augmented by labor's disadvantage and community subsidies, we are able to employ others on terms unattainable within enfranchised marketplaces. Thus, we unduly profit from the historic condition, and contemporary corruption, of labor's estate.
As with distortions in natural processes, there is no question that recompense and balance will ultimately emerge in some form. The only question is when, and whether it will be peaceful and progressive. Short of labor's re-enfranchisement, "progressive" taxation has largely served to gut reform while subsidizing bureaucracy and labor's keep. As for other tax schemes, a "flat tax" could only make sense within an enfranchised society. Otherwise, it is destined to aggravate concentrations of wealth and power, reward the rich, squeeze the middle class, and exempt the poor from civic contribution.
Regardless of the method, the rationale for limits to wealth is similar to anti-trust legislation - i.e., both seek to increase competition and fairness by preventing oligopoly and monopoly. Anti-trust policies benefit society by increasing opportunity, creativity, and preventing harmful concentrations of wealth and market power. Great wealth also enables a single individual or corporation to control both market and society. Without limits of some kind, billionaires may garner the entire world's stock of a commodity and drive up prices. Unlimited wealth and power destroy the integrity of both marketplace and society.
In sum, we need limits to wealth and marketplace powers, as well as land reforms and cooperative alternatives, to achieve a more natural and just capitalism, free communalism, and factor-balanced society. However, the likelihood of limiting wealth, or enforcing anti-trust and rational trade policies, is dependent upon political and media democracy becoming a reality. Without such limits, taxes and welfare only subsidize capital and its reign. Without reform, deficits and disparities mount until enclosure's end-tax is exacted in the streets.
DISPARITY, INSTABILITY & A MAXIMUM WAGE
Without a change in the estate of labor, and factor parities, growth in Gross National Product does nothing to change the distribution of wealth or eliminate labor's dependency. Labor's re-enfranchisement is largely illusory wherever profit, power, and freedom accrue almost entirely to a small class of employers, stockholders, and landowners.
Real wealth is not about increasing GNP. Instead, it is found in our possession of unmortgaged, untaxed, arable land - whereupon we enjoy natural freedom, refuge, and subsidy-free retirement. From real estates flow genuine freedom, democracy, free markets, and free communes. Without refuge in some form, we might say it hardly matters whether exploitation of wage-earning majorities occurs via a capitalist or communist tyranny. While the rationale for neo-slavery in these opposing systems may differ the underlying dependency, disparity, and desperation of the majority do not.
To the extent a certain quantum of money, land, and/or or communal belonging afford our independence it may be equated with real wealth. However, where only a few enjoy such freedom then, in the nature of things, a relationship of master and slave emerges. Exactly this "efficient" condition proceeds to corrupt nearly every social and economic relation.
As a result, the "externals" then become legion and perverse. For example, a recent study in the American Journal of Public Health revealed the wider the gap between the rich and everyone else - within a metropolitan area - the higher the mortality rates across the income spectrum. Epidemiologists who conducted the research concluded that deaths attributable to income inequality "exceeded the combined loss of life from lung cancer, diabetes, motor vehicle crashes, HIV, infection, and homocide."
In addition to these multiple impacts, great wealth and power disparities breed a dangerous social distance which guarantees class conflict. Without limits, society, markets, and democracy itself are deformed by unlimited concentrations of wealth and power. In general, the problem is not so much with any degree of disparity but, rather, with the lack of freedom for labor perverting the socio-economic process and distorting distribution of reward.
In addition, as economist Ravi Batra revealed, "whenever wealth disparity rises, speculation rises with it... concentration of wealth has two pernicious effects on the economy: it increases the number of banks with shaky loans, and fuels the speculative fever in which eventually the banking industry is caught."7 Thus, as disparity increases, and corporate power corrupts democracy, financial inequity and instability drives dissent and revolution, and ruinous speculation and repression emerge with growing disparities in wages, profit, shares, and land ownership.
In recent years, the gap between the lowest and highest wages in major industrialized countries have risen sharply and range from a ratio of 20:1 in Japan (and lower in Scandinavian countries) to an oligarchic 292:1 in the United States.8 While ratios may be less than in Andrew Carnegie's day (i.e., a 20,000-to-1 ratio of his untaxed income to the average wage) they remain evidence of inequity and the impotence of wage-labor.
In attempts to deal with great disparity and the injustice it breeds, philosophers have long debated the idea of what constitutes a just wage and optimal wealth distributions. In The Laws, Plato figured his ideal ratio - of rich to poor - was no more than four-to-one.9 His disciple, Aristotle, thought five-to-one was more appropriate.
As enclosure, slavery, imperialism and factor imbalance deformed society these ratios, both real and ideal, began to climb. As disenfranchisement increased, so did disparities. In?these troubled settings many have sought to define a "natural" ratio reflecting how society works - without, however, consideration of the impact of original appropriation, enclosure, imperialism, and factor imbalance upon a "free market."
In The Maximum Wage, for example, Sam Pizzigati surveyed the history of this societal, wage-ratio, concept. He noted how Henry Phelps Brown developed a "Ten Times Rule" based on income distribution from the lowest wage to the 85th percentile. Above that percentile, Brown felt income reflected not work but reward from property, rent, dividends, stocks, and speculation. In any case, from the 1st to 85th percentile, wages tended to reflect a ten-to-one climb - i.e., a supposedly constant ratio mirroring the "natural" order of economic life appearing in "societies as diverse as the United States and the Soviet Union, Sweden and Peru."10
Also, Peter Drucker and John Kenneth Galbraith have argued that corporate vitality, equity, and efficiency demand a certain "flattening of the hierarchy" in terms of both compensation and control. Drucker advocated a 15-to-1 ratio - i.e., of highest to lowest wage - for small business and 25-to-1 for large enterprises. He noted a "published corporate policy that fixes the maximum compensation of all corporate executives" is "the most radical, but also the most necessary, innovation."11
Thus, conservative and liberal alike agree that smaller ratios of wage and wealth disparity can have positive effects while still maintaining entrepreneurial incentives.
Regardless of ratio, and while maintaining incentives to contribute to charities, our tax laws should prevent counterproductive concentrations of wealth and power by recycling wealth, freedom, land, and opportunity. Again, depending upon the conditions into which they are applied, tax laws may reform, or deform, society. As things stand, with money increasingly mobile and amoral, any local, wealth-tax, policies may mean capital flight causing dislocation. The problem here is that some espouse "maximum-wage" proposals as though they could be applied in a vacuum, and somehow remain free of outside influences, financial cyberspace, and capital's trade policy.
For these reasons, as well as the odiousness of any form of global taxation (particularly when we do not even elect our representatives to the United Nations), there is no substitute for local independence, landed enfranchisement, factor balance, and rational trade policies to move us gradually toward greater wage and wealth equity. Only a democratic and compensating trade regime fit for a disparate world leaves our freedoms intact to allow for multiple explorations of progressive society in many, competing, formulations around the world. Otherwise, capital is king, tyranny is global, and both freedom and diversity are dead.
Short of labor's enfranchisement, even maximum-wage reforms or wealth redistribution schemes may not change society and economy in the least, or necessarily end the "natural" reign of capital and oligarchy. Indeed, what difference will it make if the rich are five, fifteen, fifty, or ten thousand times richer so long as the majority have no independence, natural security, effective democracy, or freedom from one factor's predation?
Other than a minimum-wage necessitated by enclosure, capital's power, and our urban dependency, any forced equality of market reward is not, nor should it be, a legitimate goal within a free market society. Our disparate talents and efforts should surely gain their fair reward... but within such reasonable limits as deemed prudent by all members of a democratic society.
Just as we should not force an equality of wage (other than minimum and maximum levels) neither should we enforce any inequality of root estate and right upon the earth - i.e., the very condition wherein enclosure and concentrated land ownership mean billions are locked into urban dependency, and out of natural equity and freedom.
While many nations and states have minimum-wage laws few, if any, have any maximum-wage policies - complete with limits on wealth and processes for recycling capital. The lack of any maximum-wealth policy, estate-divestment strategies, and anti-trust enforcement is but further evidence of factor-imbalance, oligarchy, and ruling-class power.
In any case, re-distributions and recycling of wealth can be peaceful or violent. Without limits to wealth and marketplace powers, and land reforms, we march toward conflict. On the other hand, to tax away wealth into the coffers of bureaucrats and politicians - without recycling directives - is no answer and often only the beginning of another evil.
Bypassing bureaucratic controls in recycling of wealth - to fund re-enfranchisements and new market competition and opportunity - would be the best approach. A new "potlatch" mentality - i.e., wherein one's prestige is related to how much we give away - is another element which might emerge and help make competitive voluntary divestments both a reality and new form of social prestige.
To date, an unlimited right to accumulate wealth, land, and socio-economic power - without examination of past, present, or future cost - remains sacrosanct in capitalist dogma. The fact a few get rich while the vast majority are born disenfranchised, and we imprison new generations in oligarchies headed for collapse, is clearly no cause for celebration, nor any reason to claim "free markets" a success.
To reform a world partitioned by enclosures and dismal disparities, we must dismantle factor imbalance and extreme concentrations of individual and corporate wealth and power. If we do not, the naked ability of those with great fortune to corrupt markets, control democracy, own the central bank and media, and finance elections becomes rife. In addition to the counterproductive stagnancy of capital resting in fewer and fewer hands, these are many good reasons to seek limits to wealth and corporate power - before the prerogatives of the few lead to a global oligarchy destined to breed riot, ruin, and revolution.
PROPERTY, WEALTH & FREEDOM
Possession of arable land is the historic basis of lasting liberty. To be without it, and devoid of natural sustenance and retreat, is to have no real freedom or refuge. In societies arising upon enclosure and oligarchy, property (and land ownership) has, to some, become synonymous with theft, as Pierre Proudhon once declared.
Whether capitalist or communist in rationale, land enclosures eliminating an accessible commons and ancient forms of universal enfranchisement upon the earth, have proved to be the greatest of crimes and most problematic of social institutions - particularly in a world of ever-expanding population. Regardless of why such conditions arose, or any material benefits gained from subsequent privatizations, unless land reforms and communal enfranchisements emerge to end the oligarchic condition then violence and revolution are certain.
Having arisen upon enclosure, "our" economies are ever-embroiled in struggles over land distribution, and societal powers. In addition to communisms once absorbing the freedom and private property of nearly half the world's peoples, corrupt capitalisms have also proceeded to the point where the few control not only our monetary and media powers but the most productive farm lands. As a result, many once free, democratic, and independent nations no longer control their economies, banking, lands, or food supplies.
Exactly this "morganization" of markets into huge monopoly trusts once meant, and means today, that unbridled self-interest amidst enclosure reduces everyone - even the presidents of great nations - to mere vassals attending to capital's needs. Manipulation of nations for profit, and ruthless exploitation of working men and women, was the rule in J.P. Morgan's day - and today nothing much has changed.
As Lewis Corey noted in The House of Morgan, "the argument of larger efficiency was most frequently used to justify industrial combinations but it was also the least important consideration of promoters and financiers - usually an after consideration. `The only serious objection to trusts,' said James J. Hill in 1902, `has been the method of creating them - not for the purpose of manufacturing any particular commodity in the first place, but for the purpose of selling sheaves of printed securities which represent nothing more than good will and profits to promoters.' These profits, supplemented by consideration of competition and control, determined whether or not to organize any particular combination. The economic justification of combination was simply exploited or ignored."15
Means employed by J.P. Morgan are now emulated by new generations of manipulators and financial sociopaths. Morgan's methods remain instructive in understanding how enclosure leads to ruinous wealth concentrations: As Corey noted, "Morgan's sustained interest in American Developments was curiously illustrated by his connection with the importation of indentured labor into the United States. Labor and frontiersmen had waged an unrelenting struggle against the seizure of the public lands by capitalist speculators and slavocrats, insisting on their free use by the people. Congress recognized the importance of this issue in 1862 by passage of the Homestead Act opening the Western lands to free settlement. Manufacturers had always opposed free land, fearful it would draw workers to the West, create labor scarcity, make the workers independent and increase wages. They combined with speculators to circumvent the Homestead Act. One means was the grant of millions of acres of public lands to speculators through fraudulent entry and millions to railroad corporations. Another was the Immigration Act of 1864 authorizing the importation of foreign labor under conditions amounting to indentured servitude and the grant of lands to corporations engaged in the business of importing labor... Among its sponsors were J.S. Morgan & Co."16
In short, after struggling for centuries to achieve even a mortgaged re-enfranchisement, middle classes were again forced to pay the costs of labor's exploitation and nature's ruin. Increasingly impoverished, impotent, and seeking revenge today's wage-earning classes will either be successful in reforming a global capitalist tyranny, and instituting limits to wealth and corporate power, or society will be forced to accept solutions imposed upon society by a growing, urban, underclass.
Main street once reflected the fact we were a "nation of shopkeepers" with economies largely local and people landed, independent, and self-employed as well as freely communal. Today, in contrast, nations of independent shopkeepers are now nearly extinct as we have now become landless legions of minimum-wage, franchise, employees.
In franchising a business, a single outlet is duplicated endlessly until the market is saturated. Whatever else may emerge, this works to decrease novelty, eliminate independent business, and greatly increase the wealth of one or a few individuals. Further, what began as a way for small proprietors to acquire a piece of a successful, formula, business is now about company-owned stores replacing, if not squeezing out, any independently-owned units.
In any event, millions of formerly independent and middle-class shopkeepers have been reduced to low-wage franchise employees. No longer working for themselves, many have no choice today but to become labor in franchise operations - wherein profits are often exported from the community of origin.
Regardless of any consumer acceptance of such products, franchising crushes small business, stifles independence, creativity, and diversity. It spreads a deadening sameness around the world as it aggravates wealth disparities and produces a dismal uniformity destroying variety, novelty, and huge numbers of small businesses.
A "mill-town" condition is fast becoming a mill-world problem as fewer and fewer corporations come to own economies everywhere and, in the process, mold once independent peoples and eco-systems to their needs. As a Mill-World of franchise-dominated economies is tied together by stateless corporations our diversity and cultural freedom disintegrate, our wealth and business opportunities are absorbed by global giants, and a minimum-wage serfdom emerges on a "global plantation."
To the extent franchising means more company-owned units, and there is no limit on their number, then franchising becomes anti-capitalistic as entrepreneurial opportunity is diminished and usurped by a few large concerns. The "independent" franchise owner today is little more than a pawn in a system not of their making, and today's waves of franchisee lawsuits are a clear indication reality rarely meets the promise.
The concentration of wealth, market opportunity, and social power resulting from franchising leads to ever-greater societal costs for labor's dependency, and requires repressive controls over a growing underclass. As usual, the public, labor, and small business absorb and pay the costs. Unfortunately, few economists or politicians consider the cost to society when one individual or corporation owns 100, 1000, or 10,000 franchise outlets and we are deprived of the greater freedom, diversity, and 9999 variations on a theme. In short, we rob 9999 others of the pleasure and freedom of their own business and greatly concentrate wealth and power. The real cost of franchising's dismal "efficiency" involves a tragic loss of freedom, independence, variety, and cultural diversity around the world.
With no limits to either personal wealth or corporate expansion, and little or no anti-trust enforcement, you can now get off an airplane nearly anywhere in the world and not see anything fresh, unique, or independent. Increasingly, the very pleasure of life and excitement of travel is lost. The curse of franchising means we are treated to nothing new, foreign, or locally relevant. We are franchising the extinction of novelty, opportunity, cultural diversity, and manufacturing greater dependency in order to grow profits for the few.
Like a deadly virus, corporate monoculture is spreading around the world and crushing the values and environments making life exciting, diverse, and enjoyable. As in nature, however, a monoculture bred from identical genes has no natural strength or staying power due to a lack of diversity. Monoculture defines weakness and long-term inefficiency.
This same weakness in our socio-economic "gene" structure is now killing diversity and independence within the body-economy. Rebellion against the cancer of monoculture is now necessary to limit the franchise virus. Without limits to wealth and corporate franchise expansion we simply expand the rights and wealth of the few rather than maximizing competition, diversity, variety, cultural freedom, and the greater welfare.
One reason for the success of fast food is our loss of adequate leisure and time out from the job - a condition worsening to the extent of labor's stress, subjugation, and decline in real wages. In short, the "convenience" of fast food is often more commandment than option.
Not so long ago, in more natural and free economies, a leisurely midday meal and "siesta" were part of our way of life. An unhurried meal could be enjoyed at countless cafes run by their proud owners. Today, we eat on the run and grab "food" from minimum-wage serfs in order to rush back to work lest we lose our job.
In practice, franchising is nothing less than a variety-killing, middle-class destroying, form of "efficiency" stealing the variety and spice of life. As a result we have already lost immeasurable quantums of real wealth, freedom, and social satisfaction.
With the elimination of local food independence and small business we are also fast destroying viable and free communities. As wages fall and profits flow out of communities to centralized, corporate, locations, we further diminish diversity and independence elsewhere. Without limits, franchising will continue until five or six mega-empires control and adulterate the entire world's food supply, and growing armies of underpaid wage-labourers have far less choice, autonomy, fresh food, or time to enjoy the freedom they have left.
With franchising not only comes a corporate, counterproductive, giantism but a greater anonymity and less community control. Ethical and moral declines, social conflicts, and environmental degradation arise and become part of these scale-of-enterprise effects. As small towns grow to cities the relation of one to the other, and one to the whole, changes for the worse as behavior is less subject to community censure.
With corporate bigness and urban anonymity comes amorality and irresponsibility as we work against one another to achieve self-interested goals. As a result, the normal restraints of small-town, small-enterprise, life break down and we come to treat the other as stranger and "mark." We then more easily exploit one another, and our own communities and ecosystems, in ways we would not were we living in smaller towns and working for independent businesses.
The effects of this anonymous self-interest - increasingly pursued against the interests of all others and the commons - represents but another cost left out of capital's corrupt calculations of profit and growth. Despite producing the greater harm, these scale-of-business, and scale-of-society, costs remain unmeasured and undeterred. By ignoring decline, not valuing the truly valuable, and mis-measuring results we destroy diversity to produce greater disparity, oligarchy, and eco-ruin.
As Adam Smith observed, to be free, people need property, enfranchisement, and control over their lives. Whether our freedom estate is individual or communal in nature, or both, a root independence enables us to act in a free, moral, conscious, and cooperative manner. Only from such estates of freedom do we engender both a locally responsible, and globally conscious, self-interest leading to our right-relation, and right connection, to the whole.
In sum, Adam Smith realized the small businessman has proved the best protector of freedom, property, and moral community. In Smith's world and ours, landed proprietors, enfranchised villagers, small businesspersons, and free communalists have proved to be the indispensable backbone of democratic society. Implicit here is Smith's realization of the danger of big business and concentration of wealth. More than ever, limits to wealth and corporate franchise are necessary to generate greater economic freedom, competition, product, variety, and social justice.
WEALTH, BEING, & ENOUGH
When people live freely, responsibly, and democratically then, in their individual and collective self-interests, they might well conclude that enough is enough, and too much is too much.
In setting reasonable limits to personal wealth and corporate power, a state of Enough may be voluntary or the result of tax and estate reforms. Without reform, it will eventually be the cause and consequence of revolution.
Democratically-determined limits may also transcend the purely monetary or market measure. For example, they may also mean enough false growth, enough factor imbalance, enough human exploitation, enough wealth and socio-economic power in the hands of one individual, family, or corporate dynasty, enough exploitation at public expense, enough land under one ownership depriving others of similar privilege, enough public debt subsidizing enclosure, enough reproduction-beyond-replacement producing endless per-capita takings, and enough of mining the greater-slavery in the name of a sorry efficiency profiting the few.
Rather than a mindless More, an ethic of Enough can produce the greater freedom, diversity, independence, and societal balance by limiting that which, without intervention, means counterproductive accumulations of wealth and power.
While acquiring wealth is surely desirable, it is so only to the extent it does not diminish the rights of others and produce a less democratic, free, and responsible society. In today's world, however, unlimited wealth leads to economic exploitation, political corruption, oligopoly, and monopolies crushing greater opportunity, human rights, enfranchisement, and alternative freedoms.
Further, in a world deformed by enclosure, imperialism, and factor imbalance, guilt and anxiety are bound to grip the makers of, and heirs to, great fortunes. Earned or inherited, a certain diminished enjoyment and danger accompanies great wealth - to the degree of disparity, depravity, disenfranchisement, and corruption in the acquisition.
Nevertheless, the industrial-age cult of the "businessman" finds many devoted exclusively to money and profit. Many lives are then marked by a distinct lack of participation in the arts and community activities. Ever attuned to the future, today's tight-collared and stressed-out executives find it difficult to relax, let go, and function as common man or woman. Trapped in our power games, we lose the spirit of dance and cooperative song, of openness and abandon, of ecstasy and bliss - all of which prove beyond the ken of a wizened, mono-maniacal, Homo Economicus.
As well, most perform quite narrow tasks and specialized roles to make their living today, and work to multiply material things as dictated by corporate agendas within markets filled with landless, rent and mortgage-ridden, consumers. Amidst a plethora of goods, we not only lose natural freedom and a just society but impoverish our existence and abilities in other realms. We lose a generalist lifestyle, natural freedom, and a panoply of smaller pleasures once available in more leisurely eras.
Despite technology, and because of it, in our information-age busyness today a certain breadth and depth of being is fast disappearing in societies filled with media-driven spectators. Indeed, a renaissance-man freedom and potential is difficult to realize in today's world.
Far worse, our knowledge of the interior sciences, spiritual evolution, and enlightenment is being lost in a new dark age of materialism. Every era of enclosure and factor imbalance is but a dark age wherein most are forced to focus on transforming the material while exploration of being and consciousness remains unknown and devalued, if not vilified and verboten.
When natural enfranchisement and debt-free living were once commonplace, so then was the time and freedom applied to the art of living. Our being needs, creativity, and village-to-city relations could then expand or contract according to our own designs rather than those of corporate, other-determined, markets from which we have neither respite or escape.
This lament is not meant to denigrate urban society, or the great and necessary accomplishments of entrepreneurs, but to underscore the changed nature of society, what we have lost, and shine a light upon the environment in which human activity and accomplishment now occurs.
To sense something truly valuable is missing we need only survey the glorious art and ethereal beauty and tranquility of a sixteenth-century Japan, India, and China, and the more natural and human-scale lives lived in smaller, vibrant, city-states like Amsterdam, Venice, Kyoto, Kathmandu, and a Bangkok once known as the "Venice of the East." Comparing existence in these smaller city-states of the past to modern, urban, life informs us of the degradation, decline, social trauma, and per-capita costs we have paid for increasing enclosure, specialization, and population. Little, if anything, of modern manufacture compensates us for the loss of these fairer societies and the less-crowded condition.
Perhaps new technology, communications, and free energy will one day liberate a majority from their current anxious and stressful estates to enable a truly liberated social condition. However, despite great technological progress, we are headed in the opposite direction today - toward greater entrapment, dependency, repression, and declining natural wealth.
Due to a loss of liberating estate and communal relation, the work, product, and lifestyle of many are no longer theirs to determine. The urban "free market" condition is the reason we can never get enough money as it remains symbolic wealth, and often unsatisfying substitute for our lack of creativity, communal relation, and leisure time. Money ultimately proves unsatisfying for the simple reason that personal satisfaction is not possible with substitute gratifications, and no amount of money reproduces yesterday's less-crowded world.
Amidst a surfeit of material goods, we have succeeded in removing ourselves from lives well-lived in free and conscious communities retaining balance and a human scale. As a result, most enterprises are no longer run by their original owners today, or any factor-balanced board of directors. Instead, they are managed by executives drawn by stock options and tied to amoral goals and a greater-slave imperative. As a result, many firms, both profit and non-profit, are now robbed not with a gun but with outrageous salaries and stock options.
Regardless of industry, given uncompensated trade in a disparate world, managers are caught in marketplace games complete with dismal incentives driven by self-interest, stock market pressures, and the trade prerogatives of the unelected.
In this setting, we compete to get rich in order to one day escape the "free market." But most need immediate money wages for the simple reason they are born poor and landless, lack communal enfranchisement and the rent is due. This mad pursuit of money, security, and success is then a priority largely because we have lost our natural freedom. The problem we face is that, for most, their marketplace motivation proceeds not from any estate of well-being but from unending desperation.
Clearly, work is necessary in one form or another, and in one or another relation to others. For millenniums, mankind lived in relative natural freedom and enjoyed both individual and communal freedom and enfranchisement of the kind increasingly reserved for the few today
Despite this reality, capital's apologists must assume that much is gained, and nothing lost, via these less than free divisions of tasks. With no attention paid to the costs of enclosure-driven divisions of labor, then no measure of the value of our natural rights, earthly freedom, commons or cooperative options emerge.
Neither any greater quality of life, or even natural freedom itself, is then an "opportunity cost" to be balanced against the "benefits" of enclosure and imperial privaitizations. Thus, the price of our historic natural freedom, and value of our spiritual right upon the earth, becomes zero. Disenfranchisement means that freedom is costly for the enclosed and comes virtually free for those able to exploit this condition.
In what have come to be divided, conquered, and enclosed market societies, we are taught therein to seek only our individual salvation. In doing so, we gradually lose our cooperative rights, abilities, alternatives, and communal institutions necessary to counter capital's power and predation. For this reason we generate perpetual instability and conflict.
Even for the rich, a state of enough leading to one's dropping desire and ego may not be possible where our existential fears and memories of deprivation remain primary motivations. Rich or poor, enclosure-bred fear and insecurity drives us crazy and propels a self-defeating greed and growthism. We can never get, or have, enough because perpetual diminishment due to population growth means the price of replicating yesterday's greater estate and earthly space is fast escalating. We find we cannot replace, with any amount of money, the better world we keep losing.
In so many respects the mental and physical disturbances generated by great poverty and great wealth are similar. With little or no land or social security we find we cannot escape dreams of obtaining money, real estate, and material comfort. If already rich, we cannot escape a fear of losing our wealth. Rich or poor, precious little peace, tranquility, or enlightenment emerges as long as we remain fear-driven into economic activity and relation, and society is disturbed by gross disparities, desperation, and disenfranchisement.
In one-factor dominated societies, most have a lack of experience with any alternative way of living, working, and being. We then find it difficult to access, enjoy, or master any other lifestyle and dimension of life. Only accumulation seems to matter and little, if anything, is done for its intrinsic pleasure. Everything is then future-driven and investment related. No frivolous and momentary pleasure, idle occupation, artistic flourish, or non-egoic concern is allowed to stand in the way of our non-stop profit-seeking activity.
With success defined by money alone, the rich may believe they have reason not to live, or be, art as they can simply buy art and pretend to be wealthy and nourished. Yet many work their entire lives only to find money a poor substitute for their own lack of ability, talent, insight, communal relation, and freedom of being in the moment. Unfortunately, it is natural economy and a full-spectrum being and relation which is sacrificed in societies wherein most live in fear and insecurity, and daily dress and dance to another's tune.
Ironically, the value of our loss of freedom and being is often only realized by those who do acquire wealth and find it wanting. Indeed, a wealth "crisis" often leads to a being crisis - with the most mythic example being a sated Siddartha who left his palace environment to find enlightenment. Both Buddha's experience, and Abraham Maslow's psychology, reflect a very natural process arising from the poverty of wealth - i.e., a state of affairs likely to occur once our survival needs are secure.
In a post-edenic world dis-ordered by enclosure, to re-create this fair condition is the aim of many an enlightened master, and the reason many have employed communal, compensatory, devices thru the ages. Given the half-lives lived by an enclosure-driven mankind in market societies, it is communal freedoms and devices that are now not only necessary for refuge and societal balance, but also liberating and medicinal in any world arising upon disenfranchisement and exploitation.
Invariably, the medicine is antipodal to the disease. Thus, in order to make possible real freedom and equity, and secure both our material well-being and personal enlightenment, then a society rooted in free markets and free communes is necessary. This Cap-Com estate of society serves to liberate the other factor and form, and provide the very balance and dual enfranchisements capable of producing a world of spiritual-materialists and material-spiritualists. Exactly this arrangement may be the only way our industrial-technological societies re-create natural freedom, effective democracy, and produce both an artful present and prosperous future.
GREAT FORTUNE, CORRUPTION & TRADITION
Assuming peaceful reform is still possible within a corporate-state, strategies for reducing counterproductive concentrations of wealth, land, and factor power may take many forms. Regardless of scheme, it is a balance of power between labor and capital, corporations and communities, believers and non-believers, that is part of the ultimate goal. If it is not, then democracy and free markets will remain an illusion in a world of corporate leviathans.
As for examples of voluntary divestment and wealth recycling we might consider the case of Andrew Carnegie, the steel baron who sold his interests for 450 million dollars in the days before income taxes. Despite having brutally suppressed labor to gain his fortune, Carnegie's later philanthropy provided many cities and small towns with libraries.
In his later years, Carnegie came to believe all who amassed great wealth were obligated to use it for the public good. However, he never broached the question of the estate of labor, democracy, or who exactly defines this "public" good in his aristocratic "Gospel of Wealth." Today, another example of creative largess is found in media mogul Ted Turner's billion dollar pledge to the United Nations.
Regardless of the facts surrounding its accumulation, the real problem with great wealth is the potential it affords to distort economy, diminish competition, gain control of banking systems, purchase political protection, and corrupt democracy. A money-driven politics, amidst labor's dependency and relative impotence, is the poison of capitalist culture, and prime cause of the convulsion and fall of otherwise democratic societies.
While a great fortune makes possible great philanthropy, and great mischief, the same wealth earned and accumulated by more people in greater numbers of smaller, less monopolistic, enterprises can achieve the same results - and with far less disturbing concentrations of money and power. Every rationale for the unlimited right to accumulate the outsized fortune fails when we realize the same, if not far more, community benefit, balance, economic diversity, and competition will occur by raising the wage floor and lowering the wealth ceiling.
While many wealthy individuals give to charities, as a society we fail to use wealth to restore natural freedom, self-providence, and secure livable environments - the greatest gift of all in a shrinking world. Donations of land, farms, forests, and establishment of liberating communes are preferable to taxation feeding bureaucracies and corporate states seeking the greater slave and producing the need for welfare.
As future majorities may decide, taxation and re-direction of some measure of enclosure-generated increments of great fortune may be calculated, taxed, and used to fund more small enterprise, re-enfranchisement, and environmental repair. In general, at some level of individual wealth and corporate market-share then special taxes, divestments, and wealth re-cycling obligations should emerge - for the good of market, commune, society and environment. In this way we may create more wealthy and truly independent individuals, preserve a middle class, increase competition, redistribute entrepreneurial freedom, and keep democracy safe from plutocracy. In this way a corrupt, capitalist, society may be reformed.
For good reason we might set, and reset, a maximum of money, stocks, income, and land ownership for individuals and corporations. Greater market competition and a wider distribution of wealth, land, assets, and entrepreneurial possibility would appear as problematic accumulations are diminished. In practice, if wealth or market share exceed some democratically-determined maximum, then a surtax and/or divestment obligation would follow.
With this ethic in place, we might see a new form of wealth and prestige emerge in our, first, achieving such levels and, second, in reaping non-monetary rewards by funding re-enfranchisements, eco-remediation, medical research, or simply more competition.
Just as the "velocity" of money is important in stimulating an economy, likewise, the speed with which such wealth-recyclings occur may also produce stimulus or drag. Again, however, in a still disparate world without compensating tariff arrangements, any purely domestic tax scheme may end up penalizing a progressive economy and aggravating shifts of wealth and power to stateless havens and greater-slave states.
Exactly this dilemma and dismal process is why re-enfranchisement and factor balance are so important. With nearly ninety million beings added yearly to world population, we suffer an evermore over-crowded planet whereupon the majority are already landless, wage-dependent, and desperate. With automation emerging, and independence disappearing, global unemployment and the ruin of local eco-systems and social contracts are reaching unprecedented levels. Without a reversal of these trends, new legions of the dispossessed will soon terrorize the rich.
In general, the goal of wealth and land reform should be to allow the greatest number to regain an enfranchisement affording self-providence, responsibility, and factor parities. Only then are we likely to cure corrupt capitalisms, revitalize democracy, and re-empower wage-labor and small business. Otherwise, accumulation of power and land in a few individuals, corporations, and imperial states means billions living in urban hells without ability to grow their food, relate to nature, retire free of the dole, or secure any existence free of wage-slavery.
Society in general will be more fairly compensated with wealth and market limits, and land reforms. However, without sufficient exemption from punitive taxation, a bureaucratic class busy managing our enclosure for ruling oligarchies may also tax away the freedom and estate of mortgaged middle classes while the rich continue to escape borders and limitations. As Octavio Paz once observed, "it is not communism or capitalism that will destroy modern man, but the bureaucratic state."22
Exactly how new technology and free energy sources may affect a world of landless wage-slaves remains to be seen. Regardless of technology, however, there is little reason to believe that real freedom and democracy can exist, or be preserved, without the vast majority having some refuge from onerous rent, mortgage, debt, factor tyranny, and enclosures of body and mind. Given such dependency, technology is now mostly destroying the freedom and privacy of the many while it amplifies the power of a ruling class and its bureaucratic state.
For good reasons, limits on both personal and corporate wealth and power should emerge, and the surtax revenues be recycled to fund re-enfranchisements leading to natural freedom and social responsibility for the many. Otherwise, in a world of no limits to wealth or marketplace powers, there are also no limits to enclosure, factor tyranny, or the inevitable revenge of the poor against the rich.
From Chapter 13, Limits To Wealth - CAP-COM, The Economics Of Balance, 1995, Kent Welton
** Figures cited herein are out of date, even worse disparity exists today, but the principles remain the same.
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