The free market of capitalism is unfree for labour, since fair exchange depends on equality, and will require an international movement to fully dismantle.
It has been suggested that the call for a basic income and land value tax, something which I consider to be a ‘starter kit’ for securing our rights and freedoms, constitutes little more than a few tweaks to the essentially functional capitalist system. Although they may not require a bloody revolution, I believe they have the power to fundamentally change the basis upon which we relate to each other as employer and employee. Therefore I consider an economy based on basic income and land value tax to be an essentially post-capitalist system. I will therefore be referring to the present system as the capitalist system. However, if you believe your personal interpretation of capitalism is compatible with what I propose in this article, simply bear in mind that I am using a specific definition here.
All human interaction can be understood as a kind of exchange. Let’s call an individual or a group of individuals a ‘party’. Free exchange happens when two or more things are traded in such a way that each goes to the party which values it more.
In order for something to be traded, it must be owned. What does ownership mean? We can talk about law or morality. But law and morality are only given meaning when expressed as human behaviour. The fundamental element of property ownership is the ability to control access, whether by force or convention. When one party alone controls the supply of something, it is called a monopoly.
If a party cannot prevent access to something, it cannot be traded, because other parties will simply use it as they wish. Therefore, as soon as a party no longer experiences monopolistic control over something, it can no longer said to possess that thing. If at any point they can restore that control, they can be considered to possess it once again.
The ‘things’ which can be exchanged can be divided into several types.
Labour: Otherwise known as a ‘service’. This is physical or mental effort performed in pursuit of a goal. It may require some physical property, otherwise known as ‘goods’. Labour is finite in that we can only do so much at a time.
Physical Goods: These are products constructed from natural resources with labour. They derive their finite nature from the labour, land, and resources needed to produce them.
Land: It is theoretically possible to produce more land, and it can be improved, but it is largely finite and static in nature.
Resources: These are the elements found upon or within the land, extracted via labour.
Digital Goods: These are products which may have required land, labour, and resources to originally produce, but can be reproduced and distributed for next to no cost whatsoever.
Money: This is not so much as a thing in itself as it is a mechanism of exchange, because its only real value is that it can be traded for things that have value in themselves.
As discussed in previous articles, all humans should exercise full control over their own bodies and lives. We can call this ‘monopolistic control over one’s own labour’. Once we have this control, we can exchange our labour for other people’s labour, each working on what we are best at, for mutual benefit. And, as discussed before, in order to exercise this monopolistic control over our bodies, we require access to the resources to fulfill our physical needs.
Under the current system, in which natural resources are owned by private parties, an individual who possesses nothing other than their body cannot, inherently, participate in free exchange – the very ‘market system’ which is claimed to be the heart of capitalism. It may seem like trade, even here, is mutually beneficial, since we value our labour, or parts of our body, less than we value our lives, and are therefore willing to trade the former for the latter.
But if I own nothing but my body, and someone else owns the means to sustain my body, we are not trading labour for labour. We are trading monopolistic control over my body for monopolistic control over resources. Labour that could be spent productively, producing goods and services, is spent maintaining physical control over natural resources to prevent me from accessing them freely.
Therefore, this is not a free trade. Rather, the owner of land and resources uses the physical force of control in order to coerce me into surrendering my labour to them.
If we were to survive off of the land as hunter gatherers, it’s true that we would expend our labour in order to derive sustenance. In fact, somebody always has to expend that labour otherwise nobody eats. But this is a natural consequence of life. In such a scenario, although it is perhaps not ideal, all of the labour we expend goes towards sustaining our own lives and interests. When private parties control the land, not only do we still have to expend the labour to derive sustenance, we also have to expend labour for the benefit of the owners of that land. Rather than deriving value from the benefits of mutual cooperation, they extract value from the basic human will to survive.
The current system . . . is an institutional form of supremacy in which your body or labour does not exist purely to further your own interests through individual action or mutual cooperation, but rather is held to ransom by the owners of land and natural resources via physical force, who then use your labour for their benefit and not yours.
If a democratic state controlled access to land and resources, it could extract the value inherent in those natural resources much like a private owner would, either through direct ownership or a land value tax. Then it could redistribute that value back to the population, either through direct supply of goods or a basic income. In such a situation, we would each exercise monopolistic control over our own labour, and, in freely exchanging it, derive mutual benefit.
Abuse and exploitation are found where individuals cannot escape each other. Much of this abuse in the modern world can be found within the workplace when individuals fear to lose their jobs because they have nothing to fall back on.
The current system, therefore, is an institutional form of supremacy in which your body or labour does not exist purely to further your own interests through individual action or mutual cooperation, but rather is held to ransom by the owners of land and natural resources via physical force, who then use your labour for their benefit and not yours.
It is distinct from other forms of supremacy in that each individual is nominally free, it is simply the elements of survival which are controlled.
As discussed in my previous article, we can break down the elements of supremacy into four parts – ignorance, fear, ideology, and institution.
The ignorance which develops under a capitalist system is the idea that those who are successful have done so through individual hard work, and those who are unsuccessful are lazy. This is otherwise known as the ‘just world’ fallacy, otherwise known as ‘karma’. People believe that the world naturally rewards virtue and punishes vice. This is cognitive dissonance, a psychological response to allow mental acceptance of a world full of inequality.
In reality, your success or failure in life depends upon the sum total of the value of all your property including your domain, that is, including your body and mind, and luck. ‘Hard work’ is but one component of that. We must seek to expose this. People consistently underestimate social inequality and overestimate the levels of ‘scrounging’ in society. Furthermore, we must demonstrate to a wide audience the degree to which the circumstances of one’s birth matters to success.
[C]ross-community cooperation and building friendships between people across the economic spectrum will help to rebuild a sense of shared humanity, and convincing the rich to support programs of economic redistribution will help reduce crime and social disturbances.
The fear comes into it when people start to fear the poor and dispossessed as a threat. Through crime or political action, the poor may seem poised to haul the rich down from their pedestals. Along the same lines as with other kinds of xenophobia, cross-community cooperation and building friendships between people across the economic spectrum will help to rebuild a sense of shared humanity, and convincing the rich to support programs of economic redistribution will help reduce crime and social disturbances. Furthermore, mutual cooperatives and supporting peaceful methods of directly returning the land to public ownership will help to diminish the control exercised over people’s lives.
Capitalist ideology is difficult to fully discern since it permeates much of the world’s present mindset. It can be summed up in with the attitude that “the world doesn’t owe you a living”. Your only value is that which you can provide to other people. People believe that humanity is naturally greedy and selfish, therefore any system which appeals to a sense of common purpose is doomed. “It’s human nature”. This ignores the fact that trade is merely a form of cooperation, and any kind of exchange must be based on trust and respect for life. A working economic relationship depends upon the knowledge that each party is not attempting to scam or defraud the other.
Observing the inherent value of human life is, therefore, a necessary component of a market system. The threat of revolution has brought us closer to such a recognition, but that threat has been diminishing and our value is being stripped away. To counter this ideology we need only a coherent set of counter-arguments. People’s preconceptions about human nature are easy enough to address. We simply need to present a credible alternative when people are looking for answers to their economic woes.
The institution of capitalism will ultimately require an international movement to fully dismantle. Any country which tries to rebel against the global system we have now will be swiftly met with sanctions and market instability as those with the means pull their investments and businesses out. Such a situation has been occurring in countries across the world under political parties across the spectrum.
Editor-in-Chief of Uncommon Ground Media