Monday, December 14, 2015

Nearly strict equality

Strict equality can be achieved only in a world of abundance, a world where everyone can have all the ordinary material things they want, and we allocate extraordinary things (trips to Alpha Centauri) by democratic means. But, lacking a world of abundance, I advocate nearly strict equality.

Nearly strict equality starts with strict equality: everyone receives exactly the same hourly wage, and contributes exactly the same absolute amount of labor to the common good (i.e. pays a flat tax*). That people can choose to work a different number of hours is not considered a deviation from strict equality: it is merely a particular trade-off between consuming leisure and consuming the physical social output.

*Wait, what? A flat tax? A flat tax coupled with absolute wage equality is not regressive.

Nearly strict equality permits deviations from strict equality that (1) are completely voluntary, (2) cannot accumulate, and (3) self-correct in the long run.

If all jobs pay the same hourly wage, then it is possible that given free choices, people will resist doing some jobs that they find less desirable than others. There are structural ways to allocate people to jobs, but by far the easiest way to convince people to do undesirable jobs without complaint is to simply pay them more. Note that under nearly strict equality, pay differentials are not proportional to social status; indeed, "low-status" jobs would probably pay more.

Structurally, we can separate jobs into three categories:

  1. Highly desirable jobs: the supply of candidates exceeds the social demand for the work
  2. Ordinary jobs: the supply of candidates is just about equal to the social demand
  3. Undesirable jobs: demand exceeds supply

For highly desirable jobs, we create an effective quota: limit entry to those jobs, so that the actual supply at the equality wage matches demand. We must, of course, have a democratic way of limiting entry, but I take a truly democratic form of government for granted. Since the point is to restrict excess supply, limiting entry will not produce monopolistic pricing.

For undesirable jobs, we could just say, "Well, you have to have some job, and all the desirable and ordinary jobs are taken, so here's your shovel, go clean out the sewer." But such a system would, I think, create resentment; more importantly, it would, I think, enable a strong structural "force" creating a permanent underclass of people (e.g. "untouchables"/dalits) who are forced to take these undesirable jobs. Such a force would be absolutely incompatible with communism.

Instead, we create a fourth category: "default" jobs. These default jobs are low-skilled, low-intensity, low-status, and relatively unproductive: jobs such as sweeping streets or delivering newspapers. Basically, these are jobs where a person can show up, pretend to work, and make a living. These jobs would probably have limited hours, enough so that people can live decently and pay their taxes, but not so much that they could ever have a lot of stuff. These jobs really exist first to just support the hard-core stoners and slackers (it's cheaper to just buy them off than to try to oppress them into working hard: prisons are expensive). Second, these jobs provide those who have ambitions to highly desirable jobs that are not amenable to pre-qualification, such as musician or actor; people can work these default jobs, and do whatever it takes to become recognized in their chosen field. Many will fail — by design — but they will not starve or freeze.

Most importantly, however, default jobs make accepting undesirable jobs completely voluntary. Given this pool of "default" workers, we then (democratically) increase the hourly pay of undesirable jobs until enough people from the default category voluntarily accept those jobs. Thus, this differential in pay becomes completely voluntary: no one will starve or die because they refuse to clean sewers or mine coal.

To prevent accumulation, first, we deprecate savings in favor of credit. You can put money in the bank, but there's no interest on saved money (except under special circumstances), so differential income does not accumulate into privileged wealth.

Second, we implement progressive taxation for those making above the equality hourly wage: the more you earn per hour, the greater the proportion of your pay that is collected in taxes. This essentially raises the price to consumers for undesirable work. (Because undesirable jobs are completely voluntary, it is the after-tax wage that encourages people to accept these jobs.) We then have a structural incentive to make those jobs less undesirable, probably by automation, which fulfills the third criterion: long-term self-correction.

I will address the "Wilt Chamberlain" argument in my next post.

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