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Changing the System

Avoiding Past Mistakes.

Unintended Consequences. Capitalism has an advantage over any attempts to replace or reform it. It is the current manifestation of the evolution of power and privilege. It exists, and its power is founded on existing facts. The attempts to change it are founded on ideas. The principle idea is that power and privilege are wrong; it is wrong for certain select persons to ride on the backs of others. The problem is that civilization has always been based on power and privilege. A society of equals is something entirely new, and creating something new runs the danger of unintended consequences.

Socialism was thought to be the answer to the inequality that results from wealth. If you nationalize wealth, then the means of economic production would belong to everybody—to the people. That made sense as an idea, but it turned out that governments were not very good at getting resources where they would do the most good. It is difficult to provide a socialist economy with the needed flexibility.

Put Workers First. Capitalists need workers; do workers need capitalists? For now that remains an unanswered question. What is certain is that we can move from a society that favors owners to one that puts workers first. Right now workers are allowed to have jobs only when is suits the capitalists, and they are paid as little as the capitalists can get away with paying them.

The problem is that those who do the work do not control the resources necessary for their labor. The institution of private property allows labor and those who perform it to be separated from the control of the resources. Control of resources means control of those whose labor produces the goods and services. It means you get others to do your work for you. Those who lack control of the resources are at the mercy of those who do.

But, wait a minute, isn't private property necessary? What about what is called the “tragedy of the commons”? Yes, as the conservatives insist, private property does provide social benefits in the form of husbandry. People take care of what belongs to them; they tend to abuse what does not belong to them personally — what is held in common. So the problem is not private property as such; it is the separation of those who do the work from those who control the assets needed for that work. If we could somehow limit ownership of the resources to those whose labor utilizes them, we could eliminate that problem; we could exterminate the trolls while maintaining the social benefits that private property provides.

Stopping Speculators. There is another problem as well: how to stop the speculators who manipulate the markets for those resources in order to divert money into their useless, parasitical pockets. Speculators are extremely destructive not only because they are essentially thieves, but because their manipulations cause havoc in the real economy. They are tolerated because successful speculators become very rich, and in our society the rich make the rules.

So we have two fundamental objectives: put workers first, and make sure that capital is used productively and not speculatively.

[Next: Putting Workers First]