A Modest Manifesto

to Thomas Paine, author of Agrarian Justice (1795-97)
First, the solution. Then, the problems.
A) The Solution
Make Work Optional!

The most important social reform is the separation of Work from Livelihood. I mean that the old maxim Who Does Not Work Shall Not Eat does much more harm than good. Everyone deserves, and should get, a Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI), not means-tested, that will replace all other welfare benefits and will enable its recipient to live without working. In such circumstances some people will not work at all; at the other extreme, some people will work all the hours God sends and get very rich ; most people will probably find some sort of Work-Life Balance that suits them ; Non-Pecuniary Incentives (such as medals and titles) may be made available to show the community’s gratitude for effort or achievement.

There are several ways to pay for such a scheme:

1) By taxing Income and Profit. That is arguably the worst method, since it penalises industry, creativity, and success, and is felt deeply though not always consciously to be unfair. Moreover, it encourages dishonesty by spawning a vast industry of tax-avoidance and tax-evasion experts.
2) By taxing the Value of Land. That is the best method in principle, since it discourages the land speculation that sucks resources away from the production of goods and services that people want.
Moreover, a Land Value Tax (LVT) is hard if not impossible to avoid or evade. However, LVT is hard if not impossible to compute for land that has not actually been put on the market.
3) By taxing Sales. That in its crudest form is profoundly regressive in that it bears more heavily on the poor than on the rich. However, with suitable safeguards (e.g. exempting second-hand goods from Sales Tax) it can work fairly: see The Fair Tax Book by Neal Boortz (2005, ISBN 0-06-087541-0).
4)  By taxing the Energy required to produce goods and services. That is the  so-called UNITAX, which according to its proponents is easier to compute   than LVT. Fortunately, each of these four methods can be used not only alone but in combination with any or all of the others.
B) The Problem(s)
Illness can be signalled by a low temperature or by a high one. Figuratively speaking, poor countries need their temperature raised so as to grow more rapidly; rich countries need their temperature lowered so as not to need growth in order to survive. The GAI will lower the febrile aimless growth of rich societies and discourage hoarding and “consumerism”, and in poorer societies will create a reliable group of consumers whose needs and wants can be supplied without the hindrance of bureaucracy or the burden of inappropriate taxation. Note the effect on what Marx called “the decreasing organic composition of capital”; i.e., the tendency of industrialists to replace people by machines. In extremis, this policy will produce a plethora of cheaper and cheaper products with no one left to buy them. But everyone with a GAI will be able to buy such of those products as they need, so production can continue.
In particular, the boom-bust cycle can be prevented by using as the basis of public revenue what John Stuart Mill called the “Unearned Increment” of Land Value; whereas at present that “Unearned Increment” is the reward of private indulgence in land-speculation instead of investment in what is now sometimes called the “Real Economy”.
In such circumstances all sorts of Small and Medium Enterprises will become profitable; jobs will abound (for those who want them); housing will become abundant and relatively cheap.
C) From Utopia to Eutopia (as Polytopia)
I have in the foregoing Manifesto deliberately refrained from describing the Ideal Society that would ensue from the combination of GAI and a better system of paying for it (such as LVT). That is because many forms of social organisation would be possible and could co-exist in what might be called a Polytopia: private enterprises, worker co-operatives, consumer co-operatives, self-sufficient communities, even publicly owned enterprises if desired. More important still, all individuals would be free to opt into whichever form of social organisation they preferred – or, indeed, to opt out!
D) L’Envoi: The Farther Shores of Love
However, a society founded on GAI (ideally, on GAI + LVT) would come to have at least the following characteristics:
1) Its members would understand that Growth meant primarily not an increase in the Gross National Product but an increase of Leisure. Leisure the Basis of Culture was written by Josef Pieper, but it’s a sentiment that Marx and Engels would have endorsed wholeheartedly: for them, socialism and communism entailed the growth of Leisure for “the free development of each to be the condition for the free development of all”.
2) As the frenetic accumulation and hoarding of goods diminished with the understanding that the economy would now develop sustainably, the need for state provision of welfare would lessen as would the need for armies and police. Eventually the function of the state would be reduced to collecting money (as from LVT) and disbursing it for everyone’s GAI: a Single Benefit funded by a Single Tax. At that point, to resort to Marxist jargon, “the government of men would have been replaced by the administration of things”, and the state would be “withering away”.
3) The progress of technology would decrease the price of most manufactured goods to the point where in more and more cases the cost of selling them would become greater than the cost of making them. Such products could become free and be added to the constantly growing Free List of goods available to all as Citizens rather than as Consumers.
NB: In Agrarian Justice (1795-97), Thomas Paine was perhaps the first to propose combining LVT with GAI.
Polytopia for Beginners  RF Ilson
Dive through the stormy surface of the flood
To the great current flowing underneath –Wordsworth
1) Deep and Surface Structure
The contrast between Deep and Surface Structure seems to have been introduced by Noam Chomsky into the study of languages. The world’s languages differ in their Surface Structure, which is why we can’t automatically understand any but our own. But they are strikingly similar – perhaps even identical – in their Deep Structure, which is why we can learn and translate other languages.
The distinction between Deep and Surface Structure seems relevant to the study of social organisation too. For example, a programme on BBC Radio 4 (Thursday 12 August 2021) was about whether Society Needs Elites. The topic spawned a discussion about whether our actual elites were really the best possible, whether they were sufficiently open to suitable entrants from other parts of society, etc. Interesting though it was, that discussion was limited to the Surface Structure of elites: its Deep Structural counterpart would have been: How do elites affect the rest of us?
2) Deep and Surface Structure of Social Reform
Most proposals for social reform confine themselves to adjusting the Surface Structure of Society. For instance, a more diverse Elite Establishment would in principle have much the same powers as the Establishment we have now : it would be different in its Surface Structure but similar – or identical – in its Deep Structure: its role in society would be similar or the same. Even such massive differences as those between Public and Private ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange; ie, between Socialism and Capitalism, leave untouched the underlying structure of Society; i.e., the basic relation of those who live in such societies with each other and with the planet we inhabit.
3) Polytopia as Deep-Structural Reform
By contrast, a Polytopia is an attempt to create a Deep-Structural balance that allows multiple forms of social organisation to coexist. It is in contrast with not only Dystopia but Utopia (or Eutopia), in that Utopian proposals tend towards Uniformity, with one type of Surface-Structural social organisation (Socialism, say) the preponderant or unique norm. By contrast, in a Polytopia all sorts of surface-structural organisation would be available for those that wanted them – as long as they were wanted!
4) HOW ?
The Deep-Structural foundations of a Polytopia (as in Thomas Paine’s Agrarian Justice of 1797) are twofold: a Single Benefit funded, if possible, from a Single Source. A name for the Single Benefit is a Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI); its ideal source is a Land-Value Tax (LVT). GAI is not means-tested and belongs to everyone in a Polytopia by right (as Stevie Smith says, “All human beings should have a medal”); LVT is levied on land itself rather than improvements (such as buildings) and may be extended to other Gifts of Nature (such as the frequencies used for transmitting messages). LVT can be supplemented by other forms of taxation if necessary.
5) WHY ?
GAI augments Demand and thus provides a strong stimulus for economic activity of all kinds; LVT augments Supply indirectly, by removing the taxation of Labour (e.g. the Income Tax) and Capital (e.g. Corporation Tax). With Supply and Demand in better balance, the vertiginous alternation of Booms and Busts characteristic especially of Capitalism can be mitigated or even eliminated in an economy that can grow rapidly (as in a country initially poor) but need not require growth (as in a country already rich). Polytopians will experience a mixture of security and freedom that will encourage experiment and even risk-taking, knowing that they have their GAI to fall back on. As automation replaces workers with machines, the GAI will increase so that displaced workers will not be destitute: work will eventually become optional. Thus a fundamentally Deep-Structural economic reform far from encouraging or enforcing uniformity will actually encourage multiplicity and individual freedom : ascetics can coexist with entrepreneurs. Not only will a hundred flowers bloom but many forms of Surface Structural social organisation will coexist –perhaps including Capitalism, Socialism, and even ultimately Anarchism.
6) Elites Again
It is now possible to provide a Deep-Structural analysis of the problem of Elites with which this essay began. In a self-regulating Polytopia such Elites as may still exist, however chosen, will have less and less to do as more and more decisions are taken by the individuals directly affected by them. Indeed, the principal function of government will increasingly be limited to the collection of LVT and its disbursement as GAI.
And even that function, in the fullness of time, may become obsolete!
NB. Other words relevant to Deep Structure include radical (related to root) and core. A Polytopia results from a Deep-Structural radical reform of society that rights the present core imbalance between Supply and Demand. Here radical refers not to the extreme Right or Left in politics but to the root cause of the animosity between them.
In Praise of Polytopia RF Ilson 
In my Modest Manifesto I recommend a society based on a Single Benefit (Guaranteed Annual Income, GAI) funded by a Single Tax (Land Value Tax, LVT): other sources of funding are also possible. I call such a society a Polytopia because in it a great variety of forms of social organisation would be able to coexist and flourish. In this present essay I try to situate such a Polytopia with respect to some of the most important questions discussed by philosophers and social scientists.
1) The Enlightenment: Sapere Aude ‘Dare to Know’ is the Enlightenment’s motto. Having made many discoveries about physics, people turned their attention to society: The new science of Political Economy produced positive results based on the axiom that economic life was the product of the interaction of the Three Factors of Production: Land, Labour, and Capital. But at some point that axiom was altered: Land ceased to be considered an independent factor of production; the result was a model of production based on the two factors Labour and Capital. The conflation may well have been due to pressure from landowners who did not want to pay anything for the use of the land they had acquired. In any case the result of this change was catastrophic: it became impossible to understand, let alone predict, such phenomena as the Business Cycle of alternating Booms and Busts. The reason is that in the case of Labour and Capital, Demand Evokes Supply (if people want more televisions, more televisions will be produced and their prices will fall) whereas an increased demand for Land, which is essentially fixed in supply, will simply drive up its price to the detriment of investment in Labour and Capital. And that failure has led to the present-day belief that Reflexive Understanding/Consciousness is all but impossible: we can explain the movements of the planets but not the movements of our societies or our psyches. However, since the notion of Polytopia is based on a three-factor model rather than a two-factor model, economic behaviour may once again be understood rationally rather than as the mysterious effect of what Keynes called “animal spirits”. The much-maligned Enlightenment, applied to our social and our inner worlds, represents hubris no longer, but can be investigated and known!
2) Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Though these three goals have if only by default become the objectives of liberals everywhere, many have observed   their combination is hard. In particular, Liberty is not easy to reconcile with Equality – and few there are who nowadays even bother to mention Fraternity. I claim, however, that they are mutually compatible if undergirded by a Polytopia, wherein Liberty is achieved by the attenuation or elimination of taxes on Labour and Capital, and Equality through equal access to the value of Land (and certain other things) via GAI. As for Fraternity, it is achieved through the recognition that Land Is Created By Nobody But its Value Is Created By Everybody: GAI is based on the belief that all human beings contribute to the Value of Land merely by virtue of their existence. As Stevie Smith said so wisely, All Human Beings Should Have A Medal: in a Polytopia that medal would be their GAI.
3) Fairness: Perhaps the greatest obstacle to radical social reform is the feeling that it is unfair. If inequality is scandalous and funds for social welfare are lacking, surely it’s reasonable to tax the rich heavily. Yes, it’s reasonable. But is it fair? The saying attributed to Emerson, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”, exemplifies the problem. If you get rich by satisfying a real need which people are willing to pay you highly for doing, is there not a case that you have earned, and deserve, your reward? The argument that the public good takes precedence over private satisfaction cannot, it seems, totally banish the suspicion that someone rich from Making rather than Taking is no more guilty of his wealth than a pauper is guilty of his poverty.
Add to that the possibility, however unlikely, that paupers sometimes become millionaires, and you have a recipe for the ultimate failure of such radical redistribution – unless it be accomplished and sustained by force. By contrast, Polytopia does not deprive anyone of the product of their endeavours but only of the value of the Land on which their palace and their factory stand. Polytopia combines Fairness with true Radicalism (ie by dealing with the Roots of social problems).
4) Creative Destruction: Joseph Schumpeter said that Capitalism is characterised by Creative Destruction, a kind of speeded up social evolution in which every existing social institution is at constant risk of being replaced. (The principle may have been derived from what Marx and Engels said in their Communist Manifesto.) The result is typically (though not always) Progress – but the human cost is great. Can one have the Creation without the Destruction? I fear not. But the Polytopian response to this dilemma is two-fold : by eliminating (or at least greatly reducing) taxes on Labour and Capital, Creation is speeded up. But through the provision of GAI, its destructive consequences are limited. Indeed, Polytopia allows each individual to decide whether to profit from economic success in the form of greater wealth, in the form of greater leisure, or as some combination thereof.
5) Supply-Side and Demand-Side Economics: Present-day economic theory seems divided into two camps. Butskellism/Keynesianism proposes      economic growth by increasing demand (as by redistribution of wealth through increased taxation) : that is the Trickle-Up Theory. Its alternative is Blatcherism (= Blairism + Thatcherism), which proposes economic growth through reducing taxes in the hope that the resulting economic expansion will lead to more jobs and higher wages for everyone: that is the Trickle-Down Theory. Butskellism favours increasing demand; Blatcherism, increasing supply. By contrast, In a Polytopia demand-side economics is represented by GAI; supply-side economics by the abatement or elimination of taxes on Labour and Capital.
6) Risk-taking v Risk-Aversion: The destructive creativity of capitalism means that thoughthere are rich rewards for risk-taking innovators and entrepreneurs many people feel they cannot afford to fail if they attempt something new and in consequence become risk-averse. The universal GAI available in a Polytopia allows people to survive failure and enables them to try again. The result should be a much freer and more creative society.
7) The End of History – Or Its Beginning?: After the dissolution of the Soviet Union Francis Fukuyama wrote of The End Of History, by which he meant the universal triumph of Capitalism. (He has since. I believe, modified his views.) By contrast, Marx and Engels looked forward to The Beginning of (a truly Human) History, when technology would free us from toil and people would to a significant degree be able to shape their history as they chose. Polytopia would be a means to the latter end.
8) Anarchism Utopian and Scientific: Marx and Engels distinguished Utopian Socialism (More, Fourier, etc) from Scientific Socialism (as proclaimed by Marx and Engels). In fact, however, it turns out that M & E were not very interested in Socialism (though very interested in Communism).  I believe one can make an analogous distinction between Utopian and Scientific Anarchism. Unlike those theories (including Marxism) that seem to require the State to get bigger and stronger before it disappears, from the moment a society is based on GAI + LVT, by its very nature the need for centralised control (i.e. government) will diminish until virtually the sole function of government is the collection of LVT and its distribution as GAI. The progress of technology (unhindered by burdensome taxation) will be such that more and more goods will become free, money will no longer be needed, and the State will have Withered Away. It is neither necessary nor desirable to speculate on what such a society will look like: It will be as diverse as people are.
RF Ilson

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One Response to A Modest Manifesto

    1. The basic vital necessities of life, which I think Marcuse defined as housing, food and clothing and to which I would add basic health care, should not be taxed. So LVT should be more like Italian IMU that is not charged on primary residences rather than the British system where everyone has to pay a hut tax. That means a greater tax burden on second home owners which people in places like Cornwall would probably welcome but it also means that someone like Silvio Berlusconi can have a palace in Venice without paying tax on it so can’t really complain.

      Comment by Tim on 3 July, 2022 at 6:04 am

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