Common confusions and clarifications
CC & C
The purpose of this page is to present not unreasonable, not uncommon and not infrequent questions, articulated by thoughtful people, regarding Socioeconomic Democracy, and to provide respectful clarification (as can be mustered) to dispel any confusion.
It is the intent of this interactive page to encourage specific questions or requests for clarification about specific aspects of SeD. It is not the intent of this page to encourage or engage in ongoing or endless dialogue, roaming and ruminating from one pleasant political pasture to another. Among other things, neither the thoughtful reader nor the harried responder has the time. And there are, of course, numerous other venues for that sort of necessary and exhilarating experience.
In most cases, a single question or closely related small cluster of questions may be submitted by e-mail. Those questions chosen for their serious educational value and general interest will be published and responded to here. Conciseness of expression will significantly determine which questions will be acknowledged and answered; the name and e-mail address of the author of the submitted question must accompany and will be published with the question. Before composing your questions, however, it is strongly urged that, at a minimum, you first read and think about SeD, if not from the book, at least the article "Socioeconomic Democracy: A Brief Introduction" appearing elsewhere at this site. Many answers to many questions have already been provided there. The competition for good questions should be fierce.
On those rare occasions when a single question-and-answer sequence does not do justice to the subject, a "follow-up" question may be submitted. This follow-up question will also definitely be published along with either a follow-up response or not (depending upon yet undetermined matters). If no follow-up response is deemed necessary, the printed follow-up question will be the last words on the subject and the questioner will get to have the last say. What could be more fair -- or more generous?
Of course, as people become increasingly familiar with the functioning and multitudinous benefits of Socioeconomic Democracy, it is anticipated that reader comments will, over time, display an intellectual evolutionary metamorphosis from questions and confusions to clarity and further development of the theory and practice of democratic socioeconomic systems. Such intellectual breakthroughs on the part of interested and thoughtful readers will be as welcome as requests for clarification and will be given as much exposure and credit.
It is planned that a new CC&C will be added every few months to provide a growing body of further insights into the nature of Socioeconomic Democracy, the Politico-socio-economy of the New Millennium. So visit here frequently for increasing understanding of the how, why, when, where and who of democratic socioeconomic systems.
May we now begin this internet interrogation and explanation, in a spirit mutually committed to universally increased understanding of reality and democratic potentiality. We note that here, as in our forever forthcoming book, the attempt is to describe the properties of Socioeconomic Democracy, not advocate it.
The first two CC&Cs (aka Q&As) of this series result from recent internet conversations. It was from these brief discussions that the idea to produce the present page emerged. We wish now to express gratitude to both individuals for their interest, comments, willingness to engage and desire for clarification, as well as permission to adapt portions of our conversations to the present purposes.
So let us, respectfully, thoughtfully and productively, have at it.
Nothing like "violating the rules" from the Starting Gate! But then, there's nothing like Socioeconomic Democracy at the Starting Gate of the New Millennium, so this initial divergence from the Established Plan is perhaps not inappropriate. Actually, the author of the comments in CC&C1, it can be reported, is an advocate of Basic Income (not unlike more than half the Nobelists in Economics, for whatever that's worth). As is evidently common practice, however, this otherwise thoughtful chap (again, not unlike all our Nobelists in Economics friends), has not yet seriously considered the possibilities of democracy or figured out what to do about the agreed-upon harm caused by the growing gap in the wealth distribution within and among societies populating our pathetically polluted but potentially pleasant planet. This first CC&Cer was speaking casually and does not now have the time to more carefully shape his comments -- a fully appreciated situation, considering the desperate need for some form of Universal Guaranteed Income -- worldwide. Yet his comments go to the heart of SeD and should be considered. Hence, anonymity for this inaugural CC&C.
"I know that people have advocated an outright cap on income, but I don't know if I've ever heard anybody call for a cap on wealth....
"So, the wealthy will reorient their behavior toward trying to influence votes in Congress rather than trying toward producing goods. That doesn't sound desirable to me. In any case once the limit is raised then we're back to normal. Unless each person has an individual limit, there won't be much individual incentive to do anything desirable in exchange for a higher limit. If one individual agrees to do something in exchange for a higher limit, everyone else gets the higher limit without making any special promises. As a group, the wealthy will simply press for the highest limit possible.
"The more obvious incentive problem is that those at or near the limit won't have any incentive to invest their wealth. Instead they will spend it on consumption goods or try to move it to forms that appear to be smaller in wealth, such as property that is assessed at low value. They also would have an extremely powerful incentive to move their wealth to other countries. Even if they are far from the limit, if they expect to reach the limit they would want to take a big chunk of their fortune and move it overseas. Because the wealthy do most of the investing, a cap on wealth could do very much damage to the level of investment. Thus, it seems to me, a cap on wealth would reorient activity away from productive activities and into unproductive activities such as these."
Response to Reader1:
This inaugural subject is at the heart of Socioeconomic Democracy, the definition of which, it will be recalled, is as follows:
Socioeconomic Democracy (SeD) is a theoretical model socioeconomic subsystem in which there is some form of Universal Guaranteed Personal Income (UGI) as well as some form of Maximum Allowable Personal Wealth (MAW), with both the lower bound on personal material poverty and the upper bound on personal material wealth set and adjusted democratically by all society.
The crucial subject is the economic incentive experienced by the participants in the theoretical model democratic socioeconomic system who are at or near the democratically set upper limit on allowable personal wealth. Understand the implications and ramifications of this economic incentive and all else falls into place with such felicity that one wonders if humanity has simply been asleep for lo these many millennia. The reader and, unfortunately for them, a good many others have not yet heard of or significantly thought about a cap on allowable personal wealth, set democratically or otherwise. It is emphasized that the concern here is only about such a cap set democratically -- as opposed, say, to bureaucratically, dictatorially, or by edict, fiat, decree or default. Only societally cybernetic self-control (Krugman calculated or otherwise) is of interest to this particular Earthling. It is further the case that while many have not heard about such a cap, the idea does enjoy a thoughtful heritage, including versions by Thales, Plato, Aristotle, Paine, Jefferson, the late Vance Packard, and a growing number of contemporary observers. To my (admittedly very limited) knowledge, Marx never had a clue (though Keynes did), which is perhaps understandable considering that Marx paid little attention to Paine -- who, incidentally, gave the good ol' US of A its name and the encouragement to create the country.
Of necessity, we are shackled to the amusing assumptions of that vague and ambiguous creature known as Economic Man, everybody's favorite rational, self-interested, law-abiding and insatiable retard. The transcendence beyond nonsensical neoclassical economics requires the logical use of its assumptions to demonstrate its inconsistencies. Thus we will, for the moment and for the sake of argument, assume the (worst) Economic Credo and carefully follow the consequences. In other words, we assume people are insatiable and are rational to the extent that they (think they) can figure out what is "materially" best for them as isolated individuals with no regard for the welfare of anyone else -- except when they can make a profit by it. (I know; it's sickening, not to mention insulting, but bear with it for a moment. Charitably, the question "How can a self-interested person be rationally insatiable?" won't even be asked.)
The reader's comments, in general, reflect the typical thoughts of a thoughtful person encountering for the first time something totally new and unfamiliar and, quite properly and understandably, grasping for straws of familiarity. What about this; what about that; and what about these other things? -- which really have little to do with what is being suggested humanity seriously consider. More or less sentence for sentence, and with (believe it or not) considerable restraint on the response and respect for the comments, let us plow through this first reactive tangle of tortured reactions.
Excuse me; what does SeD have to do with "votes in Congress"? Let us expand our horizons and take seriously, for a brief moment, the meaning and potentials of democracy.
Politicians are fools, we all know.
We don't like it yet still it seems so.
But an Economics PhD
Gives one license to be
Dumber by far than politicians would go.
An exaggeration, to be sure, of both "professions".
A rational, self-interested, law-abiding and insatiable retard (relax the assumptions and it only gets easier), pegged at or near the upper bound on the societally set (and applicable to all) maximum allowable personal wealth (net worth) limit, would be seriously interested in increasing the well-being (dare we say welfare?) of the various numerous individuals of society not yet at or near the maximum limit on personal wealth so that at least a majority of them would soon become "well enough off" (as determined individually) that they (also rational, self-interested, law-abiding and insatiable retards = R,S-I,L-A&IRs) would vote to raise the MAW limit in an attempt to not limit their own precious personal anticipated wealth. Thus we meet, yet again, the concept of equilibrium.
There is, in fact, considerable economic incentive for the presently ultra-rich and, after SeD, still wealthiest individuals of society (see, for example, Dan Usher's discussion of reassignment and redistribution, whereby under the latter ordering is maintained but under the former it is not, in his inviting Economic Prerequisite to Democracy) who are, after all, the dudes who know how to and can get things done (according to momentarily dominating Economic Theory), to see to it that effective measures are taken to increase the welfare of the presently some-would-say "slow" poor people (for example, those in the good ol' US of A who "earn" less than $100 thousand per year or whose net worth is less than $1 million, or those in many other societies whose annual income amounts to a few hundred bucks) so that a majority of folks do indeed increase their material well-being (as well as their intelligence to use it productively) sufficiently to want to vote to raise the MAW limit. For if the formerly ultra-rich and, after SeD, still super-rich, do not, the MAW limit could be (and, in a democratic society composed of R,S-I,L-A&IRs, the assumed hypothesis in this analysis, will be) democratically reduced even further. Thus the "production of goods and services" would not be reduced but rather the nature of the goods and services would be transformed from that which benefits primarily the already wealthy (and generates expensive externalities dumped on humanity) to that which far more directly benefits the other 90-95 % of society. As for the "wealthy [who] will simply press for the highest possible limit," let them; indeed, it is their democratic right to do so -- and only a nondemocrat (for example, an airhead communist) would attempt to not let them do so.
Regarding "[t]he more obvious incentive problem...", the above response applies here as well. There will indeed be strong (economic, not to mention moral) incentive to invest their wealth in areas which truly benefit all society at a maximum rate (as opposed to how things are done these days). On the other hand, if some of the still extremely wealthy (relatively speaking), pegged at the democratically set and therefore still very high MAW limit (humanity is, after all, a dreamer), decide to spend their "excess" wealth on "consumption goods," that does, among many other things, provide jobs. The "assessment of value" problem, which exists now, would be much simplified under SeD because, among many other things, extreme wealth is hard to hide.
Concerning moving wealth to other countries (capital flight, etc.) to avoid the "Max Tax", one wonders what country (at least on this planet) doesn't have a maldistribution of wealth problem. Certainly the over-, mal- and under- "developed" societies all do. It's up to each society and humanity to decide what such limits should be -- at least in a democracy, the working assumption of this analysis. But if it happens anywhere, and especially if it happens in the good ol' US of A, "in all likelihood" the rest of the world would eventually hear about the possibilities and want to further the "Americanization" of the planet. There might even be a democratic "domino effect" engulfing the globe, with each society democratically deciding the appropriate MAW level for that society, based on its current particular circumstances and former favorite ideology.
Of course, the good ol' US of A could democratically decide it wanted no MAW limit, in which case at least this particular observer wouldn't have anything further to say. But what about Mexico, where a dozen or so families "own" 80% or so of the land? And what about Zimbabwe, where a bungling President Mugabe urges on "squatters" to illegally ransack, murder and/or take over large and rich (wealthy and fertile) ranches and farms because he can't (or perhaps doesn't really want to) figure out how to democratically, peacefully, justly and legally redistribute land long ago promised to the long-suffering masses who succeeded in tossing out one exploitative system only to be subjected to another? And if one doesn't give a damn about those two societies, what about every other society on the planet which shares, more or less and mostly more, the same situation? Among other things, all those problems do, of course, detrimentally affect the welfare and well-being of the folks in the good ol' US of A -- in a multitude of ways.
Again, "the wealthy do most of the investing" (how could it be otherwise?), so that to maintain their wealth and not have it be democratically reduced even more, the wealthy (R,S-I,bla,bla,bla) will invest in the development of societally beneficial products and processes (rather than, as now, with advertising costing in some cases as much as the production of the product itself, attempting to promote the purchase of frivolous, pollution-producing and resource-reducing STUFF). Summing up, "a cap on wealth would reorient activity [toward] productive activities and [away from] unproductive [or worse] activities." But then, in a democracy, each person would have the opportunity to decide this matter for herself, which is all that is being suggested here.
One final thought (and if you believe that, you're not thinking). The dilemmas momentarily impeding the realization of a meaningful BI (which Reader1 and all those Nobelists in Economics advocate), include:
(1) What should the BI level be?
(2) Who should decide what the BI level should be?
(3) How do ya pay for it?
Regarding (3), the present subject, it would appear the global BI movement has, roughly speaking, three alternatives: get at least part of it from (a) those "successful" super-rich people who can afford it (the Jeffersonian approach), (b) the shrinking middle class (which would mean taking it from one hand -- no doubt the right -- and putting it back into the other -- no doubt the left) and (c) trying to further squeeze it out of the populous poor people (which isn't going to work -- perhaps the covert plan in the first place).
Whew! I see this ain't goin' to be easy -- which is why I already wrote a whole book (actually, two) on the subject.
I believe you told me that you have been in touch with a number of well-known economists and other people and you have found that they tend to ignore you. Now, I think I know why. Your response to my questions was disrespectful, ad homonym, and tangential. There was very little substance in your very lengthy essay. About half way through I found myself wondering when you were actually going to start. You use many flower phrases when simple ones will do. I suppose you think that makes your reading funny or interesting but it serves to turn off any reader who's genuinely interested in your ideas, because it makes them so hard to find. Using "The good old U.S. of A" where simply "U.S." would do is an obvious example, but there are many others. I wonder if you were to edit the fluff out of this essay and just present your ideas about the topic at hand, how long it would be; one or two paragraphs perhaps.
But, many of your ideas are themselves fallacies. For example you lay out the assumptions of rational behavior but you neither use them to make a point or make an argument why they should not be used. You sort of make fun of them and then you use them incorrectly when you simply assert, "There will indeed be a strong (economic, not to mention moral) incentive to invest their wealth in areas which truly benefit all." Having assumed that people follow the norms of rational, selfish behavior, then there can be no moral incentive, and having assumed that people are at the wealth limit there can be no economic incentive (in the rational behavior sense) either. Thus, your assertion contradicts your own assumptions.
Another fallacious argument begins with "What about Mexico..." The phrase "what about" is very often a telltale sign that what comes after will not be logically connected with the argument at hand, and this essay is no exception. What about the inequitable distribution in Mexico and Zimbabwe and other countries? I'm against it. Just the mere statement that such societies exist in no way supports an argument that your particular method of addressing those problems is best. If you look closely at what you wrote there, you will see that you make no connection between the existence of those problems and your particular method of redistribution. The reader comes off with the impression that you can't think of any connection or you would have mentioned it.
There may be some genuine substance in this essay somewhere, but it's not worth my time to try to find it. Whenever you use ad homonym arguments you disrespect your reader and are likely to cause your reader to disrespect you. I hope you take these comments in the constructive way in which they are intended; good luck with your website.
Response to Reader1 Rejoinder:
Briefly, though enthusiastically, responding to the rejoinder, may it first be said that this inaugural CC&C, in its entirety, nicely initiates the whole process -- with controlled passion! My anonymous friend: it must be confessed that after we agreed I would proceed with our unpolished casual comments for the inaugural and only anonymous CC&C, I thought I'd try to "spice it up" a bit by responding admittedly somewhat arrogantly (I've been watching "Crossfire," "Hardball" and lawyers on TV too much). By no means take any of that personally. In fact, I reread my response to you and am now almost embarrassed by it. But, what is to be done, now? You are absolutely correct in suspecting that if "the fluff" were removed from my response, only a scant one or two paragraphs would remain. I know; for other venues, I have composed those efficiently compact one- and two-paragraph descriptions.
Regarding that "Caught in the Act" of attempting to slip in a quick mention of the idea of "moral incentive" into an otherwise necessarily amoral discussion of amoral neoclassical economic theory, I confess guilt. I did it and you quite properly caught me at it. I don't know what came over me but do see that I'll have to control my impulses more carefully in the future. In my defense, it is the case that considerable moral incentive is developed by SeD, and I do, sometimes, carelessly lump them together in curious and inconsistent ways. Besides; all I said was "not to mention moral" which, except for those four words right there, I never did. I certainly never "used" moral considerations in any way to accomplish anything. It is emphasized that SeD can be (and most of the time, prefers to be) judged solely on the basis of careful economic reasoning, without any claim to any moral suasion.
Far more importantly, your assertion of my not "using" the assumption of "rational behavior" and your conclusion that with "people at the wealth limit there can be no economic incentive (in the rational behavior sense)" need to meet each other head-on. In a real sense they are synonymous, or at least intimately related. Without seeing the connection, it is most understandable that it might appear to some that two crucially important threads of the fine fabric of Socioeconomic Democracy are loosely flapping in the breeze. I'll try once more, approaching on a different tack. Theory has it that the ultra rich of almost every society do all the wonderful things they do (like providing, among other things, "jobs" for "employees" and "products" for "consumers") because they know how to get money for themselves when doing all the wonderful things they do. There is economic incentive (we're still dealing with Economic Man, our friendly R,S-I,L-A&IR) for them to do as they do. It is respectfully submitted that the most rational thing an insatiable, law-abiding economic person pegged at or rapidly approaching the democratically set MAW level can do to increase the legal net worth limit so that she can personally "have more," is devote at least a fair portion of her brains and bucks to getting all her friends with brains and bucks to all work hard to see to it that the general welfare of society is significantly and rapidly improved (as determined by that democratic society democratically) so that the rest of (or at least a majority of) society's other R,S-I,L-A&IRs start to anticipate personal net worths higher than the presently prevailing limit and therefore in self-interest vote to raise the MAW limit somewhat -- by arguments previously provided. Areas of argumentation might include whether there are other "rational" behaviors predictable from those particular participants of the democratic society who are pinned at the democratically set MAW level.
Concerning the second of our two "fallacious arguments," we respectfully suggest that perhaps more was inferred from than was implied by our earlier response. Reference to the two particular countries has no essential significance; the problem is ubiquitous, as I'm sure you agree. Most certainly it was never asserted nor implied that SeD was "best" in addressing the many serious societal problems we agree exist. It is asserted that SeD is one way, a democratic, peaceful way, to address all those seemingly insoluble problems. And since there seems to be so few alternative proposed solutions (at least that are democratic) to the global cornucopia of conflict, perhaps SeD's serious consideration is not inappropriate. And you are again absolutely correct in stating that "no connection [was established] between the existence of those problems and your particular method of redistribution." I had thought and continue to think the connections sufficiently obvious, and am satisfied they will reveal themselves with sufficient thought, but the matter is not important at the moment.
I do take your comments in the constructive way I am satisfied they were intended, and am confident they will improve this CC&C endeavor. Finally, my friend, while I much appreciate your busyness in attempting to help realize some form of Basic Income, surely something we all agree is much needed, don't forget to take time to smell the flowers and sea breeze and enjoy the word play -- for a variety of reasons.
Name: Gerry James
And now, consider what a "Freedom Fighter" and "Liberty Lover" from the other side of the political spectrum has to ask about Socioeconomic Democracy. Here, we do not mean to make light of freedom and liberty, precious values which we suspect are shared by practically the whole of humanity, regardless of their present governments and political economies. It is just that some of the dramatis personae on the "right" appear to claim a corner on these concepts. Naturally, as with most everything else, it's a matter of definition and logical development. (See, for example, Philippe Van Parijs' pioneering Real Freedom for All: What (if anything) can justify capitalism?, in which he argues for a maximum possible BI level.) Gerry has been on the internet for a long time now and has produced a number of interesting, informative and recommended web sites describing, among other things, many of the political economies and philosophies of the past. He further has a large number of links and is a member of many webrings which connect to other sites which get curiouser and curiouser. Suffice to say, the internet does certainly provide the opportunity for very strange people to attempt to promote very stranger things -- not all of which is simply profit-motivated pornography. It was my reference to SeD as the Political Economy of the New Millennium that caught his interest sufficiently to share some of his thoughts, which are partially repeated here from a few of our increasingly pleasant exchanges.
"Thank you for sending your web address to me.... It is an interesting proposition, but I am not convinced of the status you ascribe to it as the 'system of the new millennium'. To propose a system where there is "Universal Guaranteed Income as well as some form of Maximum Allowable Personal Wealth is not something new. It's the same 'government as mugger' taking from one to handout to another (with equal contempt for both) as we currently have. It seems inherently authoritarian. The democratic nature need not alleviate this. Democratically decided? More mob rule? Or 100% consensual democracy, in which case no such laws will be introduced.
"I enjoyed reading [your e-mail] and thought I might respond to several points.... Whilst Jefferson may have alluded to the concepts of UGI and MAW, I do not believe he ever made such explicit, nor would have stood for any enforceable laws regarding it. I think it is new (ish) to have such parameters set democratically (ie, non representative democracy). I would agree that both I and others have the right to express our opinions on the matter, and even to march angrily on the matter. However, the opinions of the many cannot become the law of the land on the basis of either the strength of conviction or the number of the majority without also becoming a despotism. I would like to offer a JS Mill quotation to describe this: "If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind." (On Liberty, 1859).
"Put bluntly, just because 99 people want to burn the remaining 1, it does not become right to do so. In agreeing to have a majority decide what UGI and MAW should be, you open the door to having the majority decide what any variable in a person's life is to be; you have made it possible for one thing and can no longer argue against it in any other thing -- and that way lies tyranny....
"The answer therefore is not majority rule OR status quo; to present it as such is to present a false dilemma. The answer would be a limitation of the role of democracy to the matter of protecting freedom..., and specifically not to impose an unchosen obligation or restriction on one person based upon the whims of others.
"On the MAW, there are also practical questions of how a people would go about taking by force a wealth they had not earned in order to fulfil [he's evidently British, which, now that the Revolution has been sufficiently "consolidated," is no big problem] the letter of the law, and where those people (and most US millionaires are still productive producers of wealth) would immediately take themselves and their capacity to produce wealth. Also there would be the question about those who use the UGI to simply mooch off others.
"On the question of inherited wealth (such as with those Mexican families), it is tempting to part them with their unearned wealth, however to do so is to send a message to people that they are to be restricted in how they may dispose of their property, that they don't really own it, but must simply do that which is within the restrictions placed upon it -- that is a hallmark of fascism. If a person may not leave wealth to their child then why may they invest in a company or a Mercedes? Take one freedom away and the rest are hard to defend in argument."
Response to Reader2:
First, regarding SeD being the "New Politico-Socio-Economy of the New Millennium," the conjecture (which, humbly, is only that) does have, it must be admitted, not only a hundred, but a thousand years to come to pass. Wow! Can you imagine what else may come to pass in the next thousand years? And we're only talking about the planet Earth. God only knows (really, it should perhaps be: Only God knows, for surely God knows more that just that) what will happen on all those other planets presently being discovered by limited Earthlings but long existing in spite of our stupidity (excuse me; ignorance) and the speed of light. Sorry for the seeming, though not really, distraction. Just trying to stretch the imagination, which probably is the only thing that needs to be done by stupid (whoops, again; ignorant, ie, they've ignored things) Earthlings.
The claim that SeD "is not something new" I'll go to the mat over. After all, that's my claim to the Nobel Prize in Economics (which, after I get it, is going to be expanded to include Economic Engineering, or better yet, Socioeconomic Engineering -- with acronym SEE), as well as the far more important prize in World Peace and the still more important prize in Literature -- all three of which I frighteningly realized I deserved and might even accept back in '69 when the ideas of Socioeconomic Democracy were first revealed to me and I self-published them in 1972. (When you're writing to oblivion, and publishing it on Al Gore's internet, you can say almost anything -- as most people evidently do.)
Regarding Jefferson's "allusions" to the concepts of UGI and MAW, I respectfully and happily offer for consideration his remarks in his letter from France (while he was "succeeding, not replacing" Ben Franklin) to James Madison, a copy of which, in utter disregard for "intellectual property rights," as TJ would surely agree, appears elsewhere on this modest site.
I do note your second paragraph acknowledging the "new (ish)"-ness of setting those two fundamental societal parameters democratically -- which is one of the reasons I like, respect and am comfortable with you. (But then I love Rush Limbaugh, the Jack Benny of the 90s, and now in the 00s where he's starting his "back nine" "having more fun than a human being should be allowed to have" "realizing liberal nightmares daily" "with half my brain tied behind my back, just to make it fair" and have been a "ditto-head" for over a decade, beginning long before that "damned liberal media" started to give him his due respect. Can't wait to get a question from the "Doctor of Democracy".) But just in case any of you six billion (literally) odd Earthlings out there in virtual reality can point out that someone else has already proposed that a groping and groveling humanity seriously consider something like democratically setting bounds on humanity's (or society's) lower limit on personal material poverty and upper bound on personal material wealth, I'll close up shop, take down my web site, and go, not to Disneyland, but sailing.
Which brings us to democracy -- yet again. Back to business; yuk. Quoting from that soon-to-be best seller Socioeconomic Democracy: An Advanced Socioeconomic System, and referring to one of our favorite friends (even more than Rush), that aristocratic slaveholder, TJ, when writing letters "in that heady year of 1776 attempting to quash reports circulating back in Virginia that he held 'dangerously radical ideas' about the inherent intelligence of the people in general, wrote that 'I have ever observed that a choice by the people themselves is not generally distinguished for its wisdom' and, in his inimitable fashion, the 'first secretion from them is usually crude and heterogeneous'." This, from the alleged founder of the Democratic Party, even though he and his fellow revolutionaries called themselves Republicans (those political terms are so confusing!). Yes, democracy is scary. The only thing scarier (even Winnie realized it), is leaving society to the whims of lunatic libertarianism -- Ayn (rhymes with divine, swine, whatever, depending upon your particular political persuasion) very much included. And by the way; just to confuse matters more, check out the meaning of "slave-making ant." Maybe it's in our genes; maybe there's a biological basis for it; maybe, maybe, maybe. On the other hand, maybe not.
A few words about your comment to me that "In agreeing to have a majority decide what UGI and MAW should be, you open the door to having the majority decide what any variable in a person's life is to be...." First and foremost, I haven't "agreed" to having a majority decide anything; I do not, necessarily, advocate democracy or even SeD. I am describing its properties, possibilities and potentialities. (I wonder how many times I'll have to say that.) Indeed, when I personally consider the ignorance and plain stupidity of our species, I sometimes get so discouraged that I fervently hope society and humanity would democratically vote to place the UGI level at zero and the MAW bound at infinity so that they continue to suffer as they perhaps deserve to do.
Only slightly more seriously, while majority rule is essential for the utilization of the central social choice theory result about the median value of a distribution of individual numerical preferences being the democratically desired value (what I have called quantitative democracy), on the one hand I certainly don't advocate or even suggest society utilize democracy or majority rule to decide everything and on the other hand "the door to having the majority decide" things is already wide open. It appears to me that one of the basic shortcomings of you otherwise lovable libertarians is that you seem inclined to view and interpret everything as a "slippery slope" and fear to go any distance at all along most any dimension for fear of being an extremist and going all the way. Children shouldn't drink milk because that opens the possibility of teaching them to drink liquids and that in turn inevitably leads them to drinking alcohol and that leads inevitably to them becoming stumbling alcoholics. If Nature teaches us anything, it is that balance, not too little and not too much, is the key to success and stability. With your (libertarians') curious claim to rationality, not unlike the similar claim implied by many economists' worship of Economic Man (thus giving rationality a bad name), it would seem you would be willing to and indeed desirous of deciding each and everything on its own individual merits and not refuse to consider anything because if taken to extreme it leads to something bad. You are, surely, aware that anything, taken to extreme, turns into its opposite -- including the extreme position of not going anywhere "because that will lead to extremism."
One frustrating read years ago was Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia. At least to me, it wasn't that he was saying many things that were wrong but that he would stop short and not pursue the logical consequences of what he had already adequately established. That particular darling and much-quoted resource of the right has, of course, now acknowledged earlier shortcomings and grown intellectually. Would that his followers would follow his admirable example by acknowledging their sophomoric conceptions and grow intellectually. But I'm not arguing; to each her own. On the other hand, if one is apprehensive about "extremism," it's hard to come up with something more "middle of the road" than the median value of the individual preferences of a democratic society, which is, after all, not what we're necessarily advocating but what we're talking about. This last ramble is, admittedly, "off the top of my head" and merits considerable further refinement -- far more than I now have interest in, since this site is about Socioeconomic Democracy -- the new Political Economy of the New Millennium.
Regarding the "Tyranny of the Majority" problem, discussed by Madison, Mill, Guinier and anybody else with common sense, the "prehistory" of which is briefly presented elsewhere again on this site as an extract from that soon-to-be best seller book, I agree with you wholeheartedly that 99 people should not vote to burn the remaining 1 -- or vice versa. But let's try to stay theoretical, since SeD is (at least for the moment) a theoretical model. The Golden Rule, a version of which is central to every at all worthwhile religion (including any worthwhile political religion) eliminates that gruesome possibility. Ya gotta read my book, which cannot be reproduced here. Nevertheless, with the GR, a majority cannot vote to exterminate a minority -- at least not unless that same majority votes (and carries out the mandate) to commit painful suicide. Surely, enough said.
And now, to the "practical questions of how a people would go about taking by force a wealth they had not earned in order to fulfil the letter of the law." Boy, do you load your questions! But let's have a quick try at it. First, at least one possibility is to have the government of, by and for all the people do it -- just as many of them now do it with income tax, sales tax, inheritance tax, excise tax, property tax, VAT and on and on and on. It is a well-established, if unfortunate, tradition, primarily promoted by phony or at least definitely not representative politicians. Without going into it now, there are other possibilities; read and enjoy the book. But this "force" thing raises a flag. Presumably, living in a "democracy" and benefiting from all its attributes is a voluntary matter; "voting with one's feet" is one of many ways out. Far more importantly, this matter of "earned and unearned wealth" and who gets which must be looked at a little more critically. Indeed, that is a good portion of the whole problem, with many divergent opinions about who earned what and many different definitions of the word "earned". There is the matter of illegally acquired wealth (some say almost all enormous personal wealth has been acquired illegally). There is the matter of legally acquired wealth, where (at least some of) the super-wealthy have "invested" in politicians so as to make legal their preferred methods of acquiring immense wealth. There is the matter of good ol' Tom Paine (presumably one of your heroes and certainly one of mine) who claims a portion of this planet belongs to each person to do with as that person desires. There are far too many matters here that cannot be adequately discussed now (people have, after all, been quibbling about it for millennia).
As for "most US millionaires are still productive producers of wealth," absolutely true -- probably. Take my word for it, Gerry, you can trust me on this; no democratically set maximum allowable personal wealth limit established in the good ol' US of A will ever come near a million bucks, which, as was indicated in CC&C1, really defines the boundary between the populous poor people and the muddled middle class. Take a poll; read my book; just think about it yourself. That MAW limit, democratically set in the good ol' US of A, will never be below a billion bucks, and might well be set above the present wealth level of the richest person alive -- who used to be Bill Gates, but with the bursting bubble, who knows now. Thus it is possible that no confiscation (except for the present confiscation implicit in all the taxes imposed on the 90-95 percent of society that can't afford it) would result from a democratically set maximum allowable personal wealth limit. On the other hand, if, most surprisingly, the "Max Tax" level were democratically set at $900 million (9 "Texas Units", as they say in George W. country), well, that's how it goes in a democracy.
As a momentary aside (since you didn't ask) and with mixed emotions (since there's merit in keeping people in some anxiety, if only to encourage further thought and questions to this CC&C page), I will admit that at least in the good ol' US of A (and no doubt elsewhere) a Constitutional Amendment would not only be required but highly desirable (since that would force not only a majority but an overwhelming majority to start seriously thinking about serious things, for a change). Also, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the apparent miscreant nature of much of the contemporary American legal system, we certainly do want to do everything legally. Regarding why an overwhelming majority might want to realize some form of Socioeconomic Democracy and therefore be willing to go to the trouble of improving their Social Compact, there's all those already-acknowledged, presently intractable but nevertheless unnecessary (not to mention all the yet-unacknowledged but also unnecessary) societal, ie, individual problems that are either significantly reduced or totally eliminated (see, yet again, elsewhere on this site or better yet read the book), including, as just one of literally hundreds of problems, war, which some folks find very profitable but other folks find very obnoxious.
As for the "moochers," there are big moochers and little moochers. (I must be running out of steam.) Come on Gerry; you can think more productively and less desperately than that; I know it! But if you can't or don't want to, the growing literature on Basic Income (produced in part by that growing number of Nobelists in Economics who advocate BI but can't figure out how to finance it -- or make it unnecessary, if the preferred UGI turns out to be a meaningful NIT) will inform you of the many societally and individually beneficial ramifications of minor (as opposed to major) mooching.
As for those now famous few Mexican families who own most of Mexico (and, therefore, are, among many other things, causing all those "illegal immigration problems" for all the Gringos north of their border), this has got to be the concluding comment. First of all, they are merely a metaphor for the same situation that exists everywhere. And let me tell ya; I got nothin' against all those poor rich folks. In fact, I have argued that they are as much (well, almost as much) victims of the morally (not to mention intellectually) near bankrupt economic systems that many Economists attempt to guarantee their (by no means minimum) personal incomes by defending and advocating as anyone else. Read my book, even the one published in 1972. ;-)
Double whew! Do I really want to do this? Yes, I do. Or at least whether I want to or not, it must be done. How else will all the common confusions of past political economies ever be clarified? And how else would I "be awarded" three Nobel prizes simultaneously? So, come on folks; give me (and humanity) your best shot. Make my day.
I think it's fine as is; I wouldn't wish you to change your writing style nor insist you alter your interpretation of me as one of 'them thar crazy libertarians' even though I think it's a little misleading. I don't really fit the Rush Limbaugh mold; I don't really like the man much either! But I am always interested in exploring how human systems work and what their consequences will be, hence I don't share your optimism about the slippery slope remaining balanced; medians can shift a lot! (milk to alcoholism wasn't really a good analogy though, was it). I could envisage another website 10 years from now advocating the equivalent UGI and MAW restrictions on some other personal variable and based on the same confident but open to criticism rationale.
My greatest vote of confidence though is that provided the UGI and MAW were decided by median (I guess mean was out of the question in case I said $50 trillion, huh?) and provided that the government undertook no other actions than this forceful (it is force; try not paying taxes) redistribution of money in addition to provision of only Police, Law and Defence, then you would possibly have a country in slightly better health than it is currently, for a while anyway -- until political demands get higher, medians shift and we tumble down that slippery slope.
On the whole though I think it's a nice way to introduce the page and look forward to seeing it developed over time. I shall add a link from my site soon.