Saturday, March 02, 2013

Democracy in a Free Society

In my last post, I tried to describe the basic monetary and fiscal structure of a "free" a society. The title of this post is intended to be a bit disorienting: we have grown used to thinking of "democracy" as a kind of synonym for a "free society". But it seems to me that Western democracies today draw this assumption into question. We elect our leaders, but our state is highly controlling.

So I want to raise the question of whether democracy has a place in a state that (a) taxes only the productive capacity of its land (over which it is sovereign) and (b) pays a minimum living wage indexed to the price of basic food and shelter to all citizens.

First of all, the state will still have military and police forces. It will therefore have foreign and domestic policies that will be enforced. It will also run a range of services and utilities. In my view, in fact, it would be best for the state to provide free education at all levels (access to which would solely be based on merit, i.e., demonstrated ability at the previous level). I'm also in favor of state-supported research, and the integration of research and teaching at the university level. I tend to think that the state should build and fund hospitals (but I must admit that the health care debate in the U.S. has produced persuasive "libertarian" arguments against the "market distortions" that this implies).

I believe that the state should run all power, water, sewage, and waste utilities for the simple reason that major utilities are best run as monopolies and therefore will not benefit from exposure to market forces. Here the state's "industrial" aspect would become apparent. After all, it will be taxing the "productive capacity" of a particular plot of land. If that land has access to large amount of publicly supplied water and power, then surely it will have higher capacity for production. A suitable site for a factory, therefore, will pay much higher taxes than a comparably sized area in a desert.

Those are just my suggestions for how to use the sovereign power of the state to tax land owners and distribute purchasing power. Obviously, it would be possible to make all the relevant policies by a democratic process.

Here's how I think that could be organized. Every 1000 citizens living a particular area, elect one representative. "Cities" (boroughs) of 300,000 now have a representative body of 300, who select a council of 30. They select a representative to a state congress, which also selects a smaller group of councils. There would be no national elections for "national office". Officials at all levels would be selected from the population of representatives of 1000 citizens.

In my utopia, then, taxes are paid solely by those who own the land. And the laws are made solely by representatives elected by the people who live on the land, who then elect representatives at higher levels. Taxes would be paid proportional to wealth, not income, and laws would be made proportional to the will of the people, not money. The nation's leaders would constantly be talking to and negotiating with the "tax payers" (a limited and surveyable bunch of tycoons, one might imagine) on behalf of the citizens. And the nature of that conversation would be largely about the distribution of purchasing power in the society.

I understand the somewhat unhinged, utopian feel of this proposal. But it really is merely an ideal. I intend to approach reality with it "in mind" in the weeks to come.

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