Friday, February 26, 2010

Land Justice: Yet Another Model

Lately, I've been thinking about the models I've promoted in the past: a periodic disbursement of rents to the public on a per capita basis, whether by the government via taxes on rents (land values, electromagnetic spectrum, etc.) and a partial or complete citizen's dividend, or via a regular stock dividend from a separate corporation that acquires rental opportunities on behalf of the public over time. It occurs to me that one advantage to the way things are now is that, for the most part, people have to work. It is theoretically possible that, under public distribution of rents, you might end up with more people who choose not to work than are unemployed under the current model, and while that looks neat if you'd rather not work, it may have a significantly negative impact on overall productivity. If you consider society standing by itself, this isn't necessarily a bad thing... but one society never stands alone. More productive societies sometimes overcome less productive societies, wiping out such models.

I find myself returning to the model presented in Leviticus 25: 8-17, wherein the distribution of the land is reset every fifty years. It occurs to me that, even in the absence of "ancestral lands", there is a way to implement a similar model in our own society. In this case, I'm not considering how one would get from here to there... though the slow accumulation of land by a foundation established for this purpose could perhaps implement this as well as my earlier model. Simply put, rather than collecting and disbursing land rents yearly, it would be done every fifty years.

The advantage of this is that it while still freeing people from the mistakes of earlier generations, it would do less to protect people from the consequences of their own actions... which is a desirable outcome, in my opinion. This corporation, jointly owned by every inhabitant of a country, would lease the land (and other rent collecting opportunities) to individuals on a fourty-nine year contract. In the fiftieth year, the lease would expire, and everyone would have to renew their leases, from the owner of a small city plot to the owners of large tracts of agricultural land to the owners of rights of way for privately owned infrastructure. The proceeds would then be disbursed to the shareholders (the People) on a per family or per capita basis.

I believe that fifty years is a short enough period for every generation to get access to these proceeds at least once (and in many cases twice) during their lifetimes. It's also long enough that I suspect that, if someone is in danger of losing their lease to a higher bidder, replacement of capital improvements on a different site could be built into a business plan (everything needs to be tore down and rebuilt every now and then, after all). In the case where this isn't feasible, if the activity is productive, I suspect the current occupant would value that location higher than any other... and thus not be outbid.

These funds, once received, would do much to alleviate the disadvantages of those whose opportunities are restricted by the mistakes of the previous generation. Such funds could be used to educate oneself or one's children, take advantage of investment opportunities (including starting businesses of their own), move to more advantageous locations, and, yes, it could be blown in a few years on a licentious binge. The advantage of doing this semicentenially is that those who chose to spend the money foolishly would rather quickly end up having to work for a living again... returning to the ranks of the productive. Doing it annually runs the risk of creating a class of men who are chronically unemployed by choice.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Beyond Money?

Lately I've been playing a good amount of Star Trek Online; this has me thinking about Star Trek stuff. I've also started reading The Bible fairly regularly again (okay, just for two nights now, but still). I've also had a good amount of time alone with my thoughts on crawlspace jobs, wood treatment with Timbor, hanging insulation, etc. I'm also listening to J-Pop right now; actually, that has nothing do do with this. At any rate, I ended up thinking about precisely what various individuals in the Star Trek universe (particularly Jean Luc Picard, but I think there may have been others, as well) meant when they said that the humans of the Federation had advanced “beyond money.”

One scripture that has been foremost in my thoughts as I've worked on this job is something from one of the letters—Paul's, I think (this is one reason I've gone back to reading... I kind of want to rediscover where I first read many of rhe pasages that float about in my head, and whether I recall them correctly)—in which the writer exhorts his readers to do anything they do as if they were doing it for God himself. I try to worry only about my own performance, and not about whether I might be being taken advantage of, whether I'm being paid enough for the effort I'm putting out, whether I am working reasonably or above and beyond, whether or not my current employer can be expected to recognize my efforts, etc. I've also been thinking about some of the spiritual effects—in this lifetime—of keeping up a regular tithe and such (whether officially, to a Church or some such organization, or just personally, setting aside a percentage of one's gross earnings for donation to various worthy causes).

One conclusion I've come to is that, despite the potential financial costs of both “working for God” (in the sense of potentially reducing leisure and “giving too much” for too little) and some form of tithe (direct financial cost, of course), one thing it does do is keep one working harder than one otherwise would. “Working for God” has its obvious effect, but a regular tithe is of particular interest to me. I know savings make me lazy; if I've got a sizable amount saved up and accessible, I have a tendency to be very lazy about looking for another job. A tithe, on the other hand, particularly if it cuts deeply enough into my cash flow to force me to economize and keeps me on my toes in terms of labor, it provides me with a cash flow that's normally not accessed by me, but can still be tapped in the event of a financial emergency. If it's acceptable for not-yet-King David to eat the bread normally reserved for priests when he and his men are on the march and hungry, and its acceptable to rescue an animal on the Sabbath (Jesus said both were okay), then it is acceptable to tap one's tithe one pay period if absolutely necessary.

The effect of all this is that in the process of working harder than one would naturally, one develops endurance, skill, confidence, and other intangible personal qualities faster, and to a greater degree, than one ordinarily would. When one has these things, one doesn't need to worry so much about money; one's personal qualities ensure that opportunities will be found and utilized easier, with jobs more easily landed, and so on Indeed, I ran across Jesus' direct statement in a similar direction last night (Matthew 6:25-34). Which leads me back to Star Trek: I believe it was Jake Sisko who informed the Ferrengi Nog that the humans of that era were more interested in personal improvement than in money—in accumulating intangible personal qualities rather than physical goods.

For certainly, the world of Star Trek is not a post-scarcity economy. One of the missions of the first Enterprise was the discovery and securing of sources of various minerals, particularly dilithium crystals. I believe it was Ben Sisko who spoke of spending all his transporter credits visiting his father's restaurant (or something like that) when he was in the Academy. The idea of using credits for rationing things like holodeck privileges was not a foreign concept to the Voyager crew when they found themselves far beyond their supply lines. But a central (particularly a centrally managed) currency seems to be largely absent from the Federation's economy. So how do they coordinate production and set priorities of we're prepared to reject the “communist paradise” paradigm? Perhaps they use some kind of high tech barter system instead of a single central currency? ;)

But I digress. The point I am trying to make is that personal improvement is more important than the accumulation of things. Things can be taken; things can be lost. I just heard a story on NPR about some woman who lost her life savings to Bernie Madoff's scheme and suffered a renewing of old fears of becoming a bag lady as a result. But personal qualities, barring a major head injury (and even then, relationships serve better than wealth to keep one secure), cannot be lost or taken. “Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moth and woodworm destroy them and thieves can break in and steal. But store up treasures for yourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor woodworm destroys them and thieves cannot break in and steal. For wherever your treasure is, there your heart there will your heart be too” (Matthew 6:19-21, New Jerusalem Bible).