Even victors are by victory undone.— John Dryden
“Mission Accomplished,” said President George “W” Bush, with reference to the effortless United States military subjugation of Iraq. Of course, it was a pyrrhic victory. Conflict, bloodshed and instability continue in the region and within our relationship to this day. In 1532, the Conquistadors quickly defeated the Incas, but the human tragedy is still painful in our minds 500 years later.
The historical list of the hollow victories over the weak is too long to enumerate, yet the inhumanity continues. We continue to contribute the growing stockpile of examples of cruelty, deprivation, exclusion and dislocation. And we are still shocked daily by the depth of racism that pervades our institutions.
But a deeper examination reveals that racism, religious intolerance, sexism and nationalism are merely manifestations of widespread misunderstandings of basic economics, which, if elucidated, would diffuse many of the seemingly intractable conflicts that plague humanity.
Here is a quick list of some of these misunderstandings:
- The more people that are engaged in the formal economy, the better it is for everyone. By discouraging or excluding genders, races or nations from freely engaging in employment, businesses or trade, we are strangling the amount of value-added production, innovation and division of labour that would contribute to wealth production, cutting off our nose to spite our face.
- Taxes are not neutral, they are a powerful policy tool. Collecting economic rent to finance government programs, in lieu of taxing jobs and businesses, would do a far better job of reducing economic equality, rewarding innovation, inspiring industriousness, discouraging waste, improving efficiency, and fairly distributing unearned income.
- Civil servants are integral to the economy. An impartial bureaucracy, judiciary and police force ensure businesses and communities can operate smoothly so that goods and services are fairly exchanged. Social services, healthcare and education do not drain the public purse. Instead, they reduce poverty, improve personal health, bolster civic pride, build social cohesion and expand the capacity for empathy.
- People are not lazy. Everyone has a need and a right to contribute to their community. Any economic system that offers less than full employment is deficient. The international movement toward a Basic Income is based on the idea that people often need a leg-up, a stop-gap, and an acknowledgement of their inherent worth, in order for them to become and stay productive members of society.
- We all deserve our fair share. To bring economic equity to fruition requires a cost-effective modification to the current tax structure, to deliver an equal share of the unearned increment to each citizen. Such a “citizen’s dividend” is our birthright. In exchange, the wealth earned by brawn and brain should remain with those who earn it — untaxed.
- Taxing incomes, businesses and sales damages the economy. Taxing jobs causes unemployment; taxing businesses drives the business closer to bankruptcy; taxing sales raises the costs of products we need. Alternatively, collecting the rental value of resources, land and pollution removes the incentive for speculation and leaves capital no option but to invest in the productive economy.
Billions of people live in poverty. The working poor are denied advancement. Wildlife populations are crashing. Climate chaos threatens to destabilize the biosphere. A handful of people have been wildly successful in commandeering wealth and power to the point of undermining their own success, of undermining the credibility and morality of the economic system, of killing the golden goose.
Ultimately, wealth holds no joy while others live without hope. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” The Earth’s bountiful resources will, if we employ an enlightened economic system, provide for all. And this, will indeed, usher in Blake’s “green and pleasant land”.