Social Wealth Fund for America
August 30, 2018 5:38 AM   Subscribe

The big idea that could make democratic socialism a reality - "An ambitious proposal to create an Alaska-style social wealth fund that could transform the global economy." (previously)
"OK let's do this again. Sovereign wealth fund debate. It's important stuff for the future."

"Despite the criticisms, I really like the idea of a Social Wealth Fund. Unlike corporate taxes, co-determination, etc., it aligns the interests of the rich and the poor. It also provides insurance against the 'rise of the robots' scenario. I'm fine with mechanisms to rebalance corporate power toward labor and away from capital, but they do tend to lead to eternal, bruising, complex battles. A SWF, in contrast, seems like it would be politically durable."

"A great proposal by @MattBruenig for chartering a social wealth fund to finance a universal basic dividend. Perhaps the most politically gentle path towards meaningful reductions of inequality and an increase of social insurance. Neoliberal socialism."

"Roger Farmer and Miles Kimball on the Value of Sovereign Wealth Funds for Economic Stabilization"
also btw!
"'We commend @SenSchumer & @MartinHeinrich for introducing this legislation. This is an important first step toward understanding how today's economy is or is not working for most U.S. families'. My full statement on the new bill to measure inequality."

"discussion of BEA publishing income distribution along with GDP ... reminds me of upcoming ASSA 2019 session on 'Distributional Diversity in the National Accounts'"
oh and :P

Inadequate Equilibria vs. Governance of the Commons - "A review of Elinor Ostrom's book Governing the Commons, about how societies solve coordination problems in real life."

The Cost of not Redistributing Money Part 1 - "no_bear_so_low on how to quantify the economic costs of not redistributing money."
Abba Lerner’s concept of distributive efficiency seems like a reasonable continuation. Personally I’m more of a believer in re-engineering the whole system than redistribution within the existing system — nonetheless it’s an interesting exercise to map how much the United States loses -from a utilitarian point of view- from not redistributing.
The cost of not redistributing money- an interlude on interpersonal welfare comparisons - "I'm eventually going to release a second part to my essay on the costs of not redistributing money, considering the extra costs caused by relative income effects. However I wanted to take some space here to respond to a family of objections to any project of measuring the welfare costs of inequality- objections to the comparison of utility between persons."

Link Round Up: Matt Bruenig on why Scandinavian countries aren’t secretly super-capitalist - "I adore Matt Bruenig's work, but he tends to scatter little nuggets of insight in different places, so I thought I'd do a link roundup of his work on why, contra many contrarians, Scandinavia isn't actually a super-secret capitalist paradise."
posted by kliuless (24 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
Interesting, but what we really need is some way to provide every person the dignity of a job that pays a living wage.
posted by caddis at 6:27 AM on August 30, 2018 [4 favorites]


fwiw, this confuses stocks and flows, but provides a helpful comparison of 'relative wealth' globally: $Trillions
posted by kliuless at 6:30 AM on August 30, 2018




addressed here (and in the 'let's do this' link)
posted by kliuless at 6:33 AM on August 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


what we really need is some way to provide every person the dignity of a job that pays a living wage.

while I empathize with this wish, and am 100% about "every job should pay a living wage" I also think we need to detach a definition of personal dignity from having a profession.

We should recognize the way many other people do "jobs" like elder care, community service, or child raising, that are valuable to society and should be supported for that.
posted by bl1nk at 7:09 AM on August 30, 2018 [34 favorites]


dignity of a job
What we need to do is examine the premise that dignity is contingent on utility. Or that dignity is contingent at all.

(On preview: like bl1nk said.)
posted by Horkus at 7:12 AM on August 30, 2018 [26 favorites]


Interesting, but what we really need is some way to provide every person the dignity of a job that pays a living wage.

In something of a response to that idea: Universal Basic Income and the Future of Pointless Work, or Money for Nothing* -- Many jobs are pointless. Others are being automated away. In the future, who will still work for a paycheck? (Atossa Araxia Abrahamian for New Republic, August 29, 2018)
Some years ago, I had a colleague who would frequently complain that he didn’t have enough to do. He’d mention how much free time he had to our team, ask for more tasks from our boss, and bring it up at after-work drinks. He was right, of course, about the situation: Although we were hardly idle, even the most productive among us couldn’t claim to be toiling for eight (or even five, sometimes three) full hours a day. My colleague, who’d come out of a difficult bout of unemployment, simply could not believe that this justified his salary. It took him a long time to start playing along: checking Twitter, posting on Facebook, reading the paper, and texting friends while fulfilling his professional obligations to the fullest of his abilities.

The idea of being paid to do nothing is difficult to adjust to in a society that places a high value on work. Yet this idea has lately gained serious attention amid projections that the progress of globalization and technology will lead to a “jobless” future. The underlying worry goes something like this: If machines do the work for us, wage labor will disappear, so workers won’t have money to buy things. If people can’t or don’t buy things, no one will be able to sell things, either, which means less commerce, a withering private sector, and even fewer jobs. Our value system based on the sanctity of toil will be exposed as hollow; we won’t be able to speak about workers as a class at all, let alone discuss “the labor market” as we now know it. This will require not just economic adjustments but moral and political ones, too.

One obvious solution would be to separate income from labor altogether, a possibility that two recent books tackle from radically different angles. Give People Money, by journalist Annie Lowrey, offers a measured, centrist endorsement of Universal Basic Income—the idea that governments should give everyone a certain amount of cash each month, no questions asked. The anthropologist David Graeber posits that the link between salaried positions and real work has long been tenuous in any case, since many highly paid jobs serve little purpose at all. In Bullshit Jobs, he tries to make sense of the peculiar yet all-too-common situations in which people are hired, after much fanfare, to do a job, then find themselves not doing much—or worse, performing a task so utterly pointless that they might as well not be doing it.

In the absence of a truly useful job, most people, Graeber considers, would be better off living on “free” money. Lowrey views UBI less as a way to eliminate useless work than a way to compensate invisible forms of labor, such as caring for a relative or doing housework, or to bolster underpaid workers. Cash transfers, she proposes, could also stimulate entrepreneurship and creativity. Either way, the idea of paying people just for being alive is now one that both a radical scholar and a reasonable Beltway journalist can take seriously—though neither author fully reckons with the social reordering that would arise from a world organized around love and leisure, not labor.
Emphasis mine, to highlight the response to your comment. Underlined by me, also, because this is a beautiful idea.*

Some jobs are meaningful and can keep you busy all of the time. Some are meaningful and can fill some of your typical 40-hour work week. And some are straight-up bullshit, busy work to keep people busy, which somehow factors into a corporate hierarchy, or public agency structure. (And then some people make busywork for themselves to look busy and appear and/or feel important, making a quick job take much longer to justify their position, but we won't delve into this one).

* Worse, some of the really hard, critical jobs are done by people who are paid miserable wages, from construction workers and laborers who literally build and maintain much of the physical world around us, to teachers, nurses and other social/healthcare providers, who generally get into those fields because they love the work, not because it's an easy life with reliable hours and good pay.

Then drastically on the other end of the spectrum are bankers and investment folks, who can make obscene amounts of money, yet can add no real value to the world. You're not going to say "where are the bankers?" when a natural disaster hits, or communities need to come back from a catastrophe, unless you're looking to get a loan (which will be paid back, with interest, naturally.)
posted by filthy light thief at 7:13 AM on August 30, 2018 [14 favorites]


If I compare the "dignity" of:

-- staying at home and writing music

vs

-- commuting to an office I don't like, at times not of my own choosing, making clothing and personal appearance choices based on whether someone else will approve of them, to work on someone else's idea, which is usually not that interesting to me, and has applications counter to my personal ethics, so that someone else can reap the profits

I think I know which I'd prefer.
posted by Foosnark at 7:19 AM on August 30, 2018 [20 favorites]


I would never tell you that I probably work less than 1 of the 9 hours a day I'm paid for, that I'm somewhat OK with this, that I work weekends to keep the bosses from finding out just how little they actually have me doing (which is even less now, than it used to be). I realize I am not respected in my work place, am seen as a relic and that it's just easier to ignore me than go through the difficulties of firing me.
I would never tell you that I probably respect my bosses even less than they respect me, that the only raises I can expect to see are the all to infrequent cost of living increases which never seem to keep up with the cost of living.
I would never tell you anything that would jeopardize my retirement which is quickly approaching and may be here soon.
I would never tell you that I'm living the future of work for folks who maybe don't quite fit the "Team".
I would never tell you this, but it may be true, as far as you know.
posted by evilDoug at 7:26 AM on August 30, 2018 [6 favorites]


We need to build all approaches to redistribution, and not seek a grand replacement for anything existing, because a single method makes an easier target and it can be strangled slowly. For example, always keep food stamps and earned income credit, no matter what, because some programs represent fights and compromises that lasted generations and required extreme conditions to persuade some to support. Others are allowed to exist because nobody gave a convincing reason to cancel them.
posted by Brian B. at 7:41 AM on August 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


The train has long been coming, and will likely arrive sooner than most people think, probably in our lifetimes:

The entirety of services, food, shelter, utilities and entertainment will be capable of being created and maintained by a tiny fraction of the populace working full time. Or a larger section of the populace working way less than 20 hours per week. This will be an economic disruption greater than any in hundreds of years. It will also be a social disruption, perhaps on the same scale.

Unless everyone, rich and poor, educated and ignorant, can let go of the pathological Calvinistic concept that work makes worth, we're headed for socioeconomic turmoil that will compete with that made by climate change.
posted by tclark at 7:44 AM on August 30, 2018 [6 favorites]


If I compare the "dignity" of:

-- staying at home and writing music


what if the government paid you to write music?

let's not pretend there's not a lot of work out there that needs to be done. there's all kinds of work if we want to make this a more habitable, pleasant, sustainable, equitable, and just world
posted by entropicamericana at 7:55 AM on August 30, 2018 [4 favorites]


I think it's been shown via a bunch of intentional communities and other experiments, that it's pretty hard to get people to do the jobs that need to be done but which nobody really enjoys doing, absent some sort of formal or informal reward scheme (or punishment / social sanction for not participating in the unpleasant work).

You can take money out of the equation—stuff like, "I'll trade you two hours of basketweaving for one hour of cleaning toilets" or whatever—but they almost always seem to eventually just lead to reinventing money by another name. (I was once part of a "time bank" co-op where you could trade hours of your time for hours of other people's time, and it was a really interesting exercise in the relative demand for various skills; there were certain skills that ended up trading at like a 6:1 ratio for other stuff. When the organizers tried to stop this by forcing parity on all members, the people with the highly-valued skills mostly just stopped participating until it was reversed.)

I don't really believe the "rise of the machines" stuff, which is really just techno-utopianism in grimdark clothing, will suddenly relieve us of all unpleasant tasks so that we can all sit around like the Eloi and live self-directed lives of art and contemplation, or whatever. Anytime you see a group of people doing that, look harder—there are always Morlocks somewhere. The places where we've gotten closest to that on a large scale are mainly just the places where people have found clever ways to outsource the shit work on others, either via economics, slavery, caste systems, whatever.

Unpleasantness is relative, so there's always going to be some sort of shitty job to keep the lights on. Even if in absolute terms it's not as bad as shitty jobs in another era. E.g., I don't really like scrubbing toilets, but I'd scrub the worst bus-station bathroom today, with modern tools and cleaners, before I'd sign up to clean the garderobes in a medieval castle, and I suspect the poor sods who got stuck doing that would be only too pleased to trade for the bus station. Our idea of what constitutes unpleasant work is always changing and, like wealth, is more relative than absolute.

Mechanization and automation may lead to incredible disruption in the labor markets, by making certain people effectively obsolete faster than they can retrain. This is a very negative outcome and we should avoid it however we can. But the idea that labor will just be obsolete doesn't seem likely. It's the labor inputs that set the price of goods (in a functioning, competitive market), and the price is (indirectly) expressed in labor as well. Until you get to actual Star Trek replicators, anyway, at which point things break down, but that doesn't seem to really be on the horizon.

That's not to say it's not worth trying things like basic income, but I think we need to moderate our expectations; the idea that it's going to suddenly eliminate "jobs" seems... a bit much. It could certainly improve things by creating a safety net that allows people, if they choose, to have some sort of minimal-basic existence even if they opt out of the job market and decide to do something for which there is no economically-expressed demand, but that existence is always going to be minimal and basic, because the relativity of what we think of as "basic existence" will ensure that. In absolute terms it would get better and better over time as the real cost of goods decreases due to automation (meaning that automation is actually a good thing, managed properly!), but relative to what people doing more in-demand activities will have, it might not seem like much.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:13 AM on August 30, 2018 [7 favorites]


I honestly don’t want to have a job at all. I want to be able to do enjoyable things that, for whatever reason in America don’t count as work, or are required to be needlessly miserable before they count as work. I hate “the struggle”. I want to write a book or record an album or learn about interesting subjects at a university with other people also interested in those subjects and NOT have to worry about also working 40+ hours a week for shit money in a job that doesn’t give a fuck about me while debt piles up. Our fucking society is so miserable and the fact that we’re “the richest nation in the world” and yet can’t do anything actually enjoyable is completely moronic and lunatic. So no, I’m sorry, I don’t care about the dignity of having a job. I care about the dignity of being a human fucking being, and I personally happen to have a brain that craves learning and experience. Sorry if that’s “entitled” of me!!!!!!!
posted by gucci mane at 10:25 AM on August 30, 2018 [10 favorites]


To quote René Magritte:

"To translate political ideas into pictures is useful to illustrate party posters, but it does not follow that the only valid role for the artist is to paint pictures exclusively confined to the class struggle, nor that the workers should be denied the pleasure of seeing pictures which would enrich their consciousness in quite a different way from the way this is done through class consciousness.

Class consciousness is a basic necessity, but this does not mean that the workers have to be condemned to bread and water and that it is wrong to wish for chicken and champagne. They are Communists precisely because they aspire to a higher life, worthy of man."


I believe in an a "yes, and" model of the future. we need to try everything because this is a race to save the planet. I want to eliminate the concept of debt on a personal level but I also want people to experience money like how the rich experience money, a fun thing, a way of keeping score, a useful tool tool of barter, but ultimately not a tyrant with the power of life and death. Just a tool, like any other, like all the marvelous little economic tools we've created to make a handful of people richer then they could ever possibly spend, on interest alone!

Admit these tools have value and can be pressed into the service of everyone, for everyone, controlled by everyone through democratic process and oversight, or admit it was just a Monty Carlo game after all.
posted by The Whelk at 1:13 PM on August 30, 2018 [6 favorites]


I honestly don’t want to have a job at all. I want to be able to do enjoyable things that, for whatever reason in America don’t count as work, or are required to be needlessly miserable before they count as work. I hate “the struggle”. I want to write a book or record an album or learn about interesting subjects at a university with other people also interested in those subjects and NOT have to worry about also working 40+ hours a week for shit money in a job that doesn’t give a fuck about me while debt piles up. Our fucking society is so miserable and the fact that we’re “the richest nation in the world” and yet can’t do anything actually enjoyable is completely moronic and lunatic. So no, I’m sorry, I don’t care about the dignity of having a job. I care about the dignity of being a human fucking being, and I personally happen to have a brain that craves learning and experience. Sorry if that’s “entitled” of me!!!!!!!

You're saying you don't want to hold up your end of the social contract, a concept that seems to hold sway over many. So, how does this make you any different from every John Galt out there?

Of course, you CAN do those enjoyable things that don't count as work in America. Some people do it already. All you need to do is be good enough at those enjoyable things that people want to give you money for your brilliance. Easy peasy, right?
posted by 2N2222 at 2:59 PM on August 30, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yes, it is for real, because working sucks. If somebody is lucky enough to enjoy their job then that’s great, and nobody should stop them from doing that. But some people want to “work” on other things, things that Americans typically don’t think of as work, despite the fact that they are labor.

The fact that there’s this constant feeling of “what I am doing is worthless” or “how do I survive doing something I love or am interested in” is suffocating. There are plenty of places that fund the arts so that people can use their labor to produce works. entropicamericana posted a link to a US program up above that was for music, so I’ll chime in with a link to more examples: from Pitchfork, about countries that fund musicians.

Sweden, which allocated nearly $220 million in funding to the arts last year—including at least $7.8 million for music—passed a law in 2009 that states: “Culture is to be a dynamic, challenging and independent force based on the freedom of expression. Everyone is to have the opportunity to participate in cultural life. Creativity, diversity and artistic quality are to be integral parts of society’s development.” The dozens of artists who received Swedish Arts Council funding for recordings the past few years include melancholic art-pop project El Perro Del Mar, cosmic groove explorer Atelje, and free jazz saxophonist Mats Gustafsson. And in Sweden, federal money accounts for only 45 percent of all public spending on culture; the rest comes from regional, local, and municipal governments. When they say everyone should be able to participate, they follow through with cash.

...

“If I didn’t get it I’d be making synth-pop,” jokes Owen Pallett, the violin-looping singer-songwriter, recurring Arcade Fire collaborator, and Oscar-nominated film composer. More seriously, Pallett contends that trickle-down economics, at least in artistic communities, actually works. Even when he has been playing to smaller crowds in out-of-the-way towns, he says, he has been able to pay his band what he considers a living wage: What they’d make if they were working in a bar at home. “Government funding for the arts is a mark of a successful civilization and should be maximized,” Pallett emphasizes. He’s less interested in nitpicking FACTOR’s funding choices than expanding them.

In some other places it isn’t so bizarre to think that people should have the ability to do “work”, it’s just a different type of work than what we consider to be work over here. It’s the 21st century and our supposed “richest nation in the world” can barely take care of its citizens and allow anybody to vie for life, liberty, and the persuit of happiness. I know that sounds ridiculous and idealistic and immature but it’s true!
posted by gucci mane at 3:02 PM on August 30, 2018 [3 favorites]


You're saying you don't want to hold up your end of the social contract, a concept that seems to hold sway over many

The "we should give everyone jobs" here and elsewhere is often a response to things like UBI, and linked to the idea that not everyone _needs_ jobs.

If we truly can automate away most jobs (for sake of argument), then why should people _have_ to work? Thats irrelevant to social contract --- work would be unnecessary.

The counter that some people give is that people _want_ jobs, and would be depressed to not have "meaning". But thats simply not true for everyone. If I could give up work (because robots powered by solar energy and/or fairy dust were doing it instead) I would be much much happier.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:19 PM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


It’s true the best teacher in any field is given the most amount of money, that’s why football couches are paid so much and public school elementary teachers have vacations in the bahamas . . .
posted by The Whelk at 3:30 PM on August 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


But the couches are so comfy!
posted by rockindata at 4:15 PM on August 30, 2018


All I've got to say that if you're ever lucky enough to find a job that pays enough, a job where you feel like you're making a meaningful contribution to a worthwhile civilizational project, a job where the people around you are motivated and empowered and like what they do, where you find it easy and natural to get along with your coworkers… fucking give it all you've got because you may never find it again. They're out there.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:39 PM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


There is so much work to do, cleaning up and taking care of each other, that is simply not getting done at all.

If people were freed from the commands of the rich, we could finally just take care of our household and stop everything from burning down all around us.

We re not even allowed the time to have the discussions necessary in order to plan to take care of each other.
posted by eustatic at 5:14 AM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


I know that sounds ridiculous and idealistic and immature but it’s true!

You forgot entitled.

You want the collective to pay you to be your brilliant self. Suppose for a moment that you are not as brilliant as you think. Should you still be compensated for your lack of brilliance? In a UBI world, you'll still get that. But you will still have to give back. Why? because everybody has to give back. If you go and expand you intellect, broaden your artistic horizons, on the public dime, you need to pay back for what you've gotten. Because there are others who want the same thing you got. Maybe even deserve it. And in the end it will mean... you will have to work. Even if you don't like it. Others will be depending on your contribution. Of actual money.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:32 PM on September 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Socialists of the World, Be Careful - "The cautionary tales for modern democratic socialism aren't Venezuela, North Korea, or the USSR. They're India's License Raj, Britain's postwar nationalizations, etc. Well-meaning interventions by democratic governments that didn't work out."

What the Nordic mixed economy can teach the new left - "Coherent organisation encourages employers to recognise how what may seem like a burden on an individual company benefits business as a whole."
posted by kliuless at 3:45 PM on September 2, 2018


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