Beyond Left and Right: The Grand Bargain

How a Socialist Came to Earth Sharing

by Alexander Goodman

 

I have always been left-leaning.  I believe there should be economic justice and equality of opportunity for all. My biggest early influences were FDR, Olaf Palme, and Nelson Mandela. My first serious political involvement  started when I attended  a 2008 Democratic presidential rally for Hillary Clinton.  I attended with my mother and her friends in my hometown of Springfield, Missouri.  My family is dedicated to the tenets of modern liberalism: equality, universal prosperity, and a moderate amount of government regulation of the economy.  Since 2008, I went even further to the left, identifying myself as a social democrat, and promoting a large expansion of social programs.

 

Scandinavian Socialism, Only Better

 

I first became interested in the idea of Earth Sharing, particularly Land Value Taxation, about a year ago.  I believed that the only, or at least the best, way of achieving such ends was more regulation, higher income taxes, new wealth taxes, and expansion of government programs in general. I still believe that doing these things would be far better than what we have now, but Land Value Taxation seems to be the most important bottleneck to reducing inequality.

 

Land Value Taxation fell in my lap when I was browsing Wikipedia (yes, I am one of those people).  I looked at it and thought that this was a good tax; it collects quite a bit of revenue and it could fund social programs.  But I was skeptical of its benefits.  Would it be enough to fund a welfare state?


The Best of Both Worlds

 

Earth Sharing made me aware of the possibility that equality need not be at odds with economic efficiency.  I started appreciating more of the benefits of the market economy. The following ideas aren’t necessarily Earth Sharing stances, but they’re still relevant to understanding my intellectual evolution. I started to grow less wary of some forms of deregulation.  I was worried about getting rid of certain occupational-licensing laws, but then eventually accepted that doing so can reduce the cost of hiring.

 

Soon after, I committed an anathema for a social democrat, questioning the minimum wage. While minimum wage is a beneficial reform, I found something even better, something that lifts people out of poverty, is less expensive to administer, allows a large degree of freedom, and doesn’t hurt the economy—the basic income.

 

A Basic Income for All

 

A basic income is just that, a minimum income that all citizens get -regardless of lifestyle choices. A basic income for all provides people with a social safety net, without discouraging them from working, unlike unemployment compensation.  If you are currently getting unemployment benefits, and you start working, you stop getting those benefits. This makes getting a job less enticing. This wouldn’t happen under a basic income because everyone would get money, regardless of whether they worked. This would be an immediate safety net for everybody, enough for food, shelter, and medical care.

 

A basic income is less costly to administer than unemployment benefits. This is because it’s expensive to monitor and hassle the unemployed about whether they are looking for employment, or if they are being paid for unreported work.  Why not just give that money, currently being wasted on bureaucracy, directly to all citizens?

 

Sharing the Earth to Save the Earth

 

What’s the best way to fund such a basic income? While it’s not the only way, Land Value Taxation would do the most good. Land Value Taxation has many other benefits as well. It increases the housing supply and curbs gentrification.  It opens up vacant lots in urban areas for housing, jobs, parks, and other public places. Land Value Taxation also reduces sprawl, and thus the tremendous environmental damage it inflicts.

 

In general, Earth Sharing offers the highest impact way of reducing inequality, but also does so without harming individual freedom, the will to work, or the market as a whole.  I still support social liberal policies, but they do not have to be so bureaucratic and wasteful.  There are better ways to achieve a world of freedom, equality, sustainability, and justice.

How a Libertarian Came to Earth Sharing

by Daryl Sawyer

 

I have been asked to share the story of how I became a supporter of Earth Sharing. This story may be of interest to readers on this site due to the personal transformation it describes: how a right wing libertarian came to be  someone who, in the eyes of many of his former compatriots, is a communist. I began as someone who believed that, while poverty was unfortunate, it was necessary to ensure that every person does their part.

 

In the middle of my transition, from right to left,  I was prepared to support a “grand bargain” between libertarians and what are commonly called “liberals” or “socialists” to replace the existing welfare system with some sort of direct income subsidy (whether by the name “Guaranteed Minimum”, “Reverse Income Tax”, “Citizens Dividend” (my preference), or what have you.

 

Progress and Poverty

 

It started with Carl Milstead’s holisticpolitics.org. It was kind of a revolutionary approach to someone who had spent most of his life as an embittered and cynical libertarian. There I found “quiz2d” which steered me toward Henry George.

 

I read Progress and Poverty and was enthralled by it. I was particularly impressed by how land theory creates a space for the State and a certain amount of (p)redistribution in a mind then immersed in anarcho-capitalist theory. It was a revelation: a political philosophy that was pragmatic without abandoning principle by so much as a single jot.

 

Want Liberty? You’ll Need Equality.

 

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that a lot of the libertarian sacred cows just aren’t really that important. Economic injustice is the cause of our lack of freedom, not the other way around. So while others talk about a “grand deal” in which the existing welfare system is replaced by a basic  income, I’m perfectly comfortable just cutting the checks, and then relying on a financially liberated populace to pare back the State wherever it seems to make sense, and leave it in place where it doesn’t.  In the paragraphs below, I will describe precisely how I managed to get to here from there.

 

Growing up Conservative

 

You might say I was “born libertarian”. My father was a non-religious conservative, a supporter of men like Ronald Regan and Barry Goldwater. It is from him I absorbed that most basic of libertarian ideals: that it is better to leave people alone, let them handle their own problems their own way, than to meddle in other people’s affairs.

 

But, like I said, I also spent a lot of time on the Internet taking personality quizzes, political quizzes, and so on, and in the process discovered holisticpolitics.org. This was the first place I encountered serious thinking about ways for traditionally opposed political factions to compromise in ways that advance the interests of both sides. Having spent most of my life as a cynic, it was a revelation. But even more interesting was one particular thinker, and one particular book: Henry George’s Progress and Poverty.

 

Progress and Poverty

 

I devoured that book like a starving man. I found the hopefulness of his prose every bit as appealing as the novelty of his theory. Up to this point, I knew nothing about land other than it was one of three “factors of production” in classical economic theory, and I think the last time I’d heard anything about that was high school economics. Henry George explored the nature of land and the role that land  ownership plays in the distribution of wealth. The conclusion, that our institutions of land tenure are the cause of the gap between rich and poor, and that addressing this would go far to remedy that gap.

 

Getting in Touch With My Left Side

 

Up to that point, I considered the ideal political arrangement to be an unattainable one: one in which every person’s liberty and property are respected. Under such a system, I believed, there was no room for government; government is necessarily the compromising of some liberty and property to achieve certain ends.

 

Rather than making the “left wing” parts of my philosophy conditional on acceptance of the “right wing” parts, I now do precisely the opposite. This might be due merely to the extraordinarily bad behavior displayed by the American right wing in recent years, but I think it goes deeper than that.

 

Most Libertarians Have it Backward

 

Libertarians believe that excessive regulation leads to a stunted economy, which leads to a perversion of the distribution of property, which leads to suffering. I now believe it is the unjust distribution of property that leads to a stunted economy, which leads to suffering, which makes the population vulnerable to every kind of demagoguery (both right wing and left wing). This leads to regulation, which is a mixed bag in terms of what makes things better and what makes things worse.

 

Same Values, Enlightened Application

 

But understand this: underlying this entire process, that most basic ideal, the one I acquired as a child, has not changed. I bring this up because I see, in the Geoist community (and more so in the larger egalitarian economics community), a profound distrust of libertarian types. It’s understandable. The libertarian “program”, fully implemented, would indeed result in a plutocratic dystopia. But among sincere supporters, this is not the goal. It is, rather, the result of an incomplete understanding of economics.

 

My impulses are still “libertarian” in nature. I still prefer less government to more. This is why I favor a larger dividend instead of a larger government, for example. The goal, the vision I would like to see implemented, is the same now as before: one in which every individual is free to live their life as they prefer, provided their choices do not prevent others from doing the same. Only my understanding of how to achieve this has changed.

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