So, back to Egalitaria.
When last we saw it, it was gleaming in the sun, surrounded by clear, blue-green waters, and covered in forests and farmland, with a few small cities and towns, and no big box stores and no chains of any kind. Chains. That word carries multiple meanings, especially in the age of shareholder corporatism . . .
One of the key distortions in the world today is the way we allocate wages, and the way we value certain kinds of work above others. This creates enormous inequalities and imbalances across the planet, and is the root of social, economic and environmental injustice. Egalitaria would diverge radically from the system currently in place. It would not value work or time the way it is valued in the larger world, beyond the Blessed Isle. It would value all work, and respect personal time, and would not privilege any walk of life. The highest value would be one’s contribution to the health, beauty and sustainability of the island and the health and welfare of its citizens, and that highest value would lead to everyone having more time for themselves.
We would be employer and employee, and the Island would be our union.
Beyond the island is a world where a tiny fraction of the population sets wages, prices and value for everyone else. Business ownership, which makes up less than 10% of the population, decides what goes on our shelves and what that costs and how much a carpenter should be paid versus a hedge fund manager. That small percentage tells us that a teacher is less valued than the owner of a fast food chain that cranks out fatty, artery-clogging meals with toxic ingredients and bad payoffs all around.
Actually, it’s far less than 10%. The percentage of people who make those choices is less than 1%, and that’s ludicrous and anti-democratic by any definition. There is no invisible hand. Only very rich people, sitting in their comfy chairs, deciding for the rest of us how much we make, how much our goods cost, and the quality of it all.
Outside Egalitaria, the arbitrary nature of wage and wealth allocation forces some citizens to work endless hours because their wages are kept so low. Those employed by the Scrooges of our day don’t have the time to lift themselves up. They have to work too many hours to take classes, improve their skills, gain contacts, expand networks and so on. The privileged among us, on the other hand, can work fewer hours, because their pay is arbitrarily set much higher, and they often are born into powerful networks with powerful contacts. They don’t need to spend time outside of work to improve their skills if they choose not to. They have leisure time to spare, and nothing is more valuable than time to mortals.
A brilliant Argentinian movie makes this vivid, visual, plain:
An obvious absurdity: Most of us don’t want to play in the sandbox of business ownership or finance. Most of us want to do something else with our lives. But because capitalism follows us wherever we go, and there is virtually no escape from it, we can not break free of the command and control of capitalists or the capitalist system. That, of course, was not the case even a few hundred years ago. A few hundred years ago, “the markets” weren’t all consuming and all encompassing. There were, of course, other forms of discipline and control. But if a person had even a small piece of land, he or she had a chance to escape from the clutches of wage slavery. And people a few hundred years ago had skills we no longer possess, crafts we have forgotten, because we can go to a big box store and get what we need — if we’re lucky enough to be employed. In days gone by, they made their own clothes, built their own houses, smelted their own tools, and so on.
Ironically, with the advent of democracy, we should now be free of the yoke of kings, queens and other tyrants of yore. We should be free of economic tyrants as well. But just as we’ve evolved into a higher ground of democratic choice, we’ve unleashed the power of business interests who subvert the idea of democracy itself, by blocking it off from their own fiefdoms. They have extended their hold across all spheres of life and make sure we don’t include them in our ongoing democratic experiment. Business interests are not to be subject to democracy, because business interests tell us so.
Egalitaria doesn’t work that way. Egalitaria puts democracy and Demos above any one sphere. All spheres are subject to democratic rule, except, ironically, for those things we all vote to leave outside even that realm, like personal privacy and personal expression. Our Constitution will set certain things above even democratic say. We all decide what those things are and then we honor and cherish them.
More about the Blessed Isle in the days and weeks to come . . .