My vision of a better future
by William McGaughey
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The basic idea is that we can have lives of greatly expanded free time without loss of real living standards in material terms and with an increase in human happiness. Much of what is being “produced” in our present growth-oriented economy is of little benefit to people. We would all be better off in failing to produce this and, instead, use our time as we individually would wish.
In expressing this vision, I am echoing Benjamin Franklin who wrote a friend in 1784: “What occasions then so much want and misery? It is the employment of men and women in works that produce neither the necessaries nor conveniences of life, who, with those who do nothing, consumer the necessaries raised by the industrious ... Look around the world and see the millions employed in doing nothing or in something that amounts to nothing ... Could all these people, now employed in raising, making, or carrying superfluities, be assisted in raising necessaries? I think they might ... It has been computed by some political arithmetician that if every man and woman would work for four hours each day on something useful, that labor would secure all the necessaries and comforts of life, want and misery would be banished out of the world, and the rest of the 24 hours might be leisure and pleasure.”
If Ben Franklin is too radical for you conservatives, then listen to Adam Smith. He wrote in Wealth of Nations: “Whatever be the actual state of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which labor is applied in any nation, the abundance or scantiness of its annual supply must depend, during the continuance of that state, upon the proportion between the number of those who are annually employed in useful labor, and that of those who are not so employed ... The labor of some of the most respectable orders in the society is, like that of menial servants, unproductive of any value, and does not fix or realize itself in any permanent subject, or vendible commodity, which endures after that labour is past, and for which an equal quantity could afterwards be procured. The sovereign, for example, with all the officers both of justice and war who serve under him, the whole army and navy, are unproductive laborers ... In the same class must be ranked, some both of the gravest and most important, and some of the most frivolous professions: churchmen lawyers, physicians, men of letters of all kinds, players, buffoons, musicians, opera-singers, opera-dancers, et. Both productive and unproductive laborers, and those who do not labour at all, are all equally maintained by the annual produce of the land and labour of the country. This produce, how great soever, can never be infinite, but must have certain limits. Accordingly, therefore, as a smaller or greater proportion of it is in any one year employed in maintaining unproductive hands, the more in the one case and the less in the other will remain for the productive, and the next year’s produce will be greater or smaller accordingly.”
This generation’s economists and political leaders, by contrast, are like the walking dead. We are zombie-like herds, unable to think independently, who must be led by reputable persons in a way that serves today’s institutional interests. What about Keynes? Do his ideas appeal to you, Paul Krugman? Would it surprise you then to learn that John Maynard Keynes once called shorter work hours “the ultimate solution” to the problem of unemployment?
You economists ignorantly say that solution is based on a “fallacy” which you call “the lump-of-labor fallacy” which supposedly maintains that there is only a certain amount of work to be done in an economy. It’s a phrase invented by a journalist in the early 19th century, not a concept arising from serious study. Away with you, dogmatic economists. Open your eyes to the realities of our time - the realities of the oncoming robot revolution - and try to think in new ways. Stop being such zombies.
Well, polemics out of the way, I would propose that the situation that Benjamin Franklin and Adam Smith both observed continues in even greater measure in our own day. With respect to producing “necessaries”, only 2 percent of the U.S. work force is employed in agriculture. Only 10 percent is employed in manufacturing. And their lost employment is not coming back. It is not coming back because of machines. Machines are taking jobs from human beings. This can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing. It can be a good thing if it frees human beings from the treadmill of excessive work. It can be a bad thing if work schedules are maintained at unnecessarily long hours to serve agendas benefitting narrow groups of people rather than people in general.
Let’s put this in personal terms: Is your time important to you? Is your life important to you? (They are really the same thing.) Then reserve time in your short life for interests and activities that you yourself have chosen instead of letting the blow hards of politics, business, finance, and education take it away from you. Support a political agenda of shorter work hours.
The alternative to shorter work hours is continued “growth” in such areas as law enforcement, corrections, law, insurance, the military, education, social work, gambling, financial planning, medicine, and, yes, politics. More and more, we are devoting resources to fighting “necessary evils” at the expense of living our own lives. We are making it so that working people cannot afford to have children; or, if they do, they cannot care for those children properly because they lack the time.
The concept is simple: Wages are stagnant because of a chronic imbalance in the supply and demand for labor. Increased labor productivity, in effect, adds to an oversupply of labor which keeps wages down. Trade imbalances, creating a surplus of imports over exports, have a similar effect. But shorter work hours reduce the supply of labor. This restores the balance needed for a healthy economy.
This is an unbalanced, bloated, constipated economy where everyone is competing to achieve what is euphemistically called “the American dream”. We are all slaving away to keep “America great”. I don’t care about American greatness if it means that Americans are becoming enslaved to excessive work thinking they are on their way to "success". Stop being a zombie. Act like you live in the land of the free and home of the brave. Wake up and smell your life slipping away. Do something about this while there is time.
OK, that’s enough negativity for now. I promised to describe our “better future” as I saw it. It starts with the four-day, 32-hour workweek, initiated by the federal government. (See shorterworkweek.com.) This could happen within a year if there were the political will. Bernie Sanders is calling for a “revolution”. I support that concept. It would take something of the nature of a revolution to turn our Titanic-like economy around and reorient it toward leisure. This need not be a violent revolution, however. Guns are not required. It would not be a better future to have Americans killing each other or peasants romantically storming the citadels of power with pitchforks as law enforcement and the military respond with machine guns. No, electoral politics can achieve this revolution peacefully. Bernie Sanders is on his way to doing that, but, in my opinion, he needs a little help from me in the ideas department.
Sanders, the avowed socialist, could actually be elected President in 2016. Admittedly, he has some disadvantages. He is not photogenic. His age (the same as mine) may limit his personal energy. His administrative experience is limited to being mayor of Burlington, Vermont. His campaign funds are limited to what can be raised from small contributions. He bears the odorous burden of socialism. On other hand, Sanders stands for something that resonates with people in the Democratic party and also, I believe, the nation as a whole. Being stuck with the socialist label may actually be an advantage because, if Bernie Sanders wins, he will have an undeniable mandate for change in our politics. Unlike others, he will be unable to renege. Sanders wants to give working people, ordinary people, a fair share of the nation’s wealth and prosperity. He is also a man of peace. And that’s enough for me. His heart is in the right place.
Then why do I run? It’s because Sanders’ vision is stuck too much with conventional ideas rooted in democratic socialism and the New Deal. Sanders is not supporting substantially reduced working hours, at least not to my knowledge. He has no plan to restructure international trade agreements. Like most or all Democrats, he is not ready to embrace white people explicitly because he could not get the party’s nomination if he did that. He needs credibility to win the nomination. I do not. That goal is out of my reach.
I can afford to try to open those closed doors because I am not a "serious" contender for the nomination. All I need to do is articulate my message effectively and win a sufficient number of votes in the New Hampshire primary - 5,000 votes would do it - for politically attuned persons to take notice. Then my efforts will be as effective as Sanders or any other candidate in setting the national political agenda. People can laugh at me but, if all goes well, it will make a difference.
The important thing is to get someone elected President in 2016 whose heart is in the right place. Bernie Sanders, not me, is that man. He is the electable candidate behind the needed change. Hillary Clinton, with her outlook and base of support, cannot be expected to assume that role. (But she's a fighter. You have to admire her grit.) Sanders does not need to be a skilled administrator. As President, he could hire as many highly skilled people as he needs to help him run the country. Maybe Martin O’Malley could be his vice president and take on the tough administrative assignments. Maybe Donald Trump, if he can take direction from others, could renegotiate trade agreements. The possibilities are endless. But we need someone like Sanders to make the ultimate decisions that will end the plutocracy and restore democratic government. We know that BernieSanders will steer the nation in the right direction if, as President, he is the ultimate decision maker. He will not say one thing during the campaign and do another as President. No, Sanders is the man.
With respect to race, it may be up to me alone to see what can be done. This disparagement of white people as a group is a sickness in our body politic. Of course, black people have suffered. All people have. Of course, some white people think they are superior to others. All people in some sense think they are superior. White people are no worse than any other group. God does not hate them or love them more than anyone else. However, the white race is being socially and politically hen-pecked; and this has to stop. White people can make it stop if they have the courage to defy herd opinion. So my little walks with white people in the campaign are intended to restore a measure of courage to persons of this race. Am I a white racist, then? Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. Whatever label you throw at me eventually comes back to you.
We need white Americans to get their mo jo back for a non-violent political revolution to succeed in America. Whites are racially demoralized by all this talk of white privilege and injustices perpetrated against blacks under the slavery and segregation systems. They dread being called racists. Instead of being passive aggressive, whites need to respond in an active but non-violent way. Instead of moaning about black slavery in the 19th century, they need to rail against the contemporary slave masters who force them to work excessively long hours to get ahead in their careers. We can do something about this neo-slavery if we have the courage and the will, where we cannot erase the race-based system of slavery that existed in the past.
Weep for yourselves, dear white people, not for someone else. You are not privileged. You are not “getting ahead” by being a smiling slave.
Bob Dylan’s song,”Only a pawn in their game”, sums up what is happening with respect to race. One verse says:
“A South politician preaches to the poor white man
‘You got more than the blacks, don’t complain.
You’re better than them, you been born with white skin,’ they explain.
And the Negro’s name
Is used it is plain
For the politician’s gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.”
But this is only one aspect of the problem. The other is that the white person, his opinions and aspirations, are dismissed by the cultural elite. Whites are considered to be racial abusers or persons who have not really lived. Who cares what they are thinking. None of the foundations will contribute money to improving white people’s lives. Whites, then, need to turn their rage against the big media editors and reporters and commentators, the television networks and cable shows, the academics, the foundation managers, the politicians, judges, Hollywood producers, entertainment personalities, and government officials who talk and act against their interest. Blacks are not the problem so much as certain other white people. Rise up against them and take your country back. You can do that if you set your mind to it.
This is why the Sanders campaign, while not sympathetic to whites per se, is on the right track. The center of abuse is Wall Street and the politicians bribed by them. It serves economic and political interests that white people be kept demoralized so they can not challenge the present system. There is indeed such a thing as anti-white hate.
The Republican party, which ought to be grateful to white voters for supporting its candidates, is taking these people for granted and instead making a special appeal to groups that did not support Republican candidates but are demographically ascendant. (That’s the corporate approach to politics - always looking ahead, no loyalty or reward for past service.) Whites, on the other hand, are also not favored by Democrats who need to keep their lop-sided support from racial minorities intact by ragging on whites as a group.
All this can change. Whites need not be a group of gracious losers. The Democrats had better welcome whites if they want to win. The Republicans had better wise up and keep white voters in their column by doing something for persons in that group besides its representatives on Wall Street. There’s active suppression of white dignity by the nation’s elite. There’s active exploitation of white workers and consumers because that’s where most of the money is. I will bring this unrecognized racial wound to people’s attention. The election of 2016 is about change. When the spiritual sickness is healed, we can begin at last to address the substantive issues in the economy and in people’s lives whose solution will benefit everyone.
Let’s talk now about immigration. The best solution is something that neither Republican nor Democrat will mention. People come to the United States from Latin America and elsewhere because of relatively poor economic conditions in their country of birth. But suppose conditions were better? Then we wouldn’t need walls because far fewer people would try to enter the United States illegally. (In fact, there's a net outflow recently of persons back to Mexico.) So part of our immigration policy ought to be to encourage more economic opportunity in other countries. Under business-driven trade policies, that will never happen. We need trade policies that are friendly to labor and helpful in preserving the environment. I have proposed such a scheme.
I was an early opponent of NAFTA. I helped found the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition. I also self-published the first anti-NAFTA book (A U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free-Trade Agreement: Do We Just Say No?) and personally handed a copy to Bill Clinton when he campaigned for President in Minneapolis in 1992. A thank-you note from Clinton promised that he would read my book in the White House. * If he did, he may not have liked what he read. Ultimately, it was President Clinton who rammed NAFTA through Congress.
The point is, however, is that NAFTA was a major driver of illegal immigration into the United States. Specifically, it allowed cheap grain to pour into Mexico from the United States. This policy increased profits for agribusinesses (many of them in Minnesota), but it also undercut the price of grain in Mexico so that small farmers in that country could no longer make a living from corn. Driven off the land, those indigent Mexicans went first to the large cities and then they headed north to the border with the United States and, from there, into the United States illegally. Had NAFTA not been enacted, they might have stayed in Mexico. The United States would not have had such an immigration problem.
U.S. policy therefore ought to be to encourage rising living standards around the world. Industrialization is proceeding at a fast pace in all parts of the world. While this is a welcome development, it also poses a challenge both with respect to the environment and equitable income distribution. There is an oversupply of labor in nearly every country, including China and India. This includes both manual and educated labor. By the law of supply and demand, wage levels are depressed.
The continuing mechanization of production processes means that less human labor will be needed in the future. The only reasonable solution is to cut working hours. Hours need to be cut not only in the United States but in other industrialized countries such as China. How do we force China to cut its working hours? (China actually did this on its own in 1995. It is instead the U.S. government that needs to be “forced”.) We do it by slapping a tariff upon goods produced in Chinese factories that underpay its workers and schedule excessively long hours of work when those goods are shipped to the United States to tap the U.S. consumer market. The tariff should at least be sufficient to offset the cost advantage gained from substandard working conditions. But to do this and avoid trade wars, we need an international consensus as to the level of wages and hours appropriate for each country, depending upon its level of industrial development.
China is not our enemy except, perhaps, in terms of military and geopolitical rivalry. We need a trading order that includes China as a member in good standing. Therefore, the Trans-Pacific Partnership needs to be flatly rejected by Congress. Once that happens, the U.S. Government would be in a position to engage in discussions with other nations about a new trading order that addresses the need, not for pharmaceutical and entertainment companies to make even greater profits so that their CEOs can become even more highly paid, but for the twin problems of poverty and environmental degradation to be effectively addressed around the world.
All nations are in the same boat in regard to those problems so it is not a stretch to expect the U.S. government to be cooperative in working with other governments to solve them. We also need to adopt a more cooperative attitude toward the United Nations (which, after all, is headquartered in the United States) and with related agencies such as the International Labor Organization. We need to change our trade policies to authorize tariffs to be used as a mechanism to adjust costs in a way that would encourage businesses to be socially and environmentally more responsible.
Specifically, working hours need to come down in all nations - not to the same level but to a level appropriate to conditions in each country. The natural environment needs to be protected in all countries. Wages need to be fair. I have devised a scheme termed “employer-specific tariffs” to accomplish those goals. The idea is to preserve tariffs both as a revenue-raising device for government and an incentive to encourage multinationals to upgrade the labor standards of foreign contractors and have better environmental practices. While there is no way that the political decision makers in our country will allow this at the present time, that could change if Bernie Sanders is elected President of the United States. My role in this process is to make recommendations that would not otherwise be brought to the attention of policy makers. International-trade policy is part of my vision of a better future. (See "sketch of a new trading order".)
I have said that I am a radical - more radical than Bernie Sanders. That is because my vision of historical events takes the long view. I am a world historian whose book, Five Epochs of Civilization, was favorably reviewed in major publications in China, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, and the United States. I have created a multi-lingual website at http://www.worldhistorysite.com that gets more than 4,000 hits a day. One of its pages, http://www.worldhistorysite.com/prediction.html was at time rated #1 on Google for the search words “predict the future”. While this site is no longer is so highly rated, the study of history does provide a basis for historical predictions; and I have mine.
First let me explain the importance of the 2016 election in terms of the dialectics of history. It has to do with the changing relationship between government and business. In the mid 20th century, the pendulum swung to a position that government would control business. The extreme position was socialism, especially where government nationalized industries or exerted a totalitarian influence over them. We saw the triumph of that politics immediately before and after World War II. But then came Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and others who championed business over government in the 1980s. Their political position reached a climax in the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. After that, there was only one national superpower and only one respectable political ideology, “free-market capitalism” which was actually crony capitalism in some cases.
Bernie Sanders’ election as President of the United States in 2016 would represent a swing in the other direction. His “democratic socialism” would not be as extreme as socialist systems that were established in the first half of the 20th century. However, it would also represent a point of departure from the conservative politics that was inspired by Reagan. The respective powers of government and business would be more evenly balanced. I think that power in society does need to be more evenly distributed to avoid the totalitarianism and resulting corruption that is associated with either extreme. The tax burden needs needs to be more equitably shared. Government activities need to be financed with adequate tax revenues.
At the same time, I depart from Sanders’ approach in suggesting that warmed-over New Deal policies cannot lead us to a better future. They depend on government too much for the solution to economic problems. More government spending puts a greater burden on tax payers which must take resources from other economic sectors. The political top should not outgrow the nonpolitical base. The New Deal was meant to address problems arising from a dip in the business cycle. It ultimately led to a war economy. Our problem not is not due to cyclical fluctuations but to the cumulative effect of year-to-year increases in labor productivity than have not been addressed in a sensible way. It is not sensible to have wasteful activities such as the war on drugs. It is not sensible to go to war to gain economic stimulus. We cannot “prime the pump” forever. Just scale back on unproductive enterprises and let people have more free time.
In the long view of world history, civilizations rise and fall. Societal institutions do the same; their relative power waxes and wanes. Since the Renaissance began six hundred years ago, two institutions have been dominant: business and secular education. But now their life cycles are on the downswing and, if history is any guide, they are destined to crash. This will not be a bad thing for humanity though it may be for the current holders of power. When individuals are free of tyrannical businesses that promote an ethic of long-hours work and are unchained to expensive and useless educational requirements, an advance will predictably take place in human happiness and well being. (See “using world history to predict the future of the third civilization.) That is why I am optimistic about the future. I want to be alive when this comes. I want to help hasten its arrival.
We are talking then about a society of leisure made possible by the work of machines. The first step is a four-day, thirty-two hour workweek. But that is not the end. Predictably, this experiment will succeed and people will want more. Maybe they will want to shorten the work day to seven or six hours. Maybe they will want to lop another day from the workweek and make it a three-day week. Maybe they will want longer vacations. Productivity gains achieved in the last 75 years have made this entirely possible.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the United States may then not be able to afford so many wars. It may have to cut back on lawsuits. Maybe more inmates will have to be released from prison because we cannot afford their upkeep. Maybe Americans can think of health in terms of things other than purchasing the prescribed drugs that they see on television. Maybe we all will see through the nation’s alleged exceptionalism. I, for one, would not shed a tear if this happens.
To the contrary, I would welcome a society where people spend more time with their children, and where more people grow their own food in ecologically sound ways, where water is conserved, and where people mend torn clothing instead of replacing it, and where people spend more time together in person instead of texting each other, and where people can become interested in philosophy instead of feeling pressure to train to become a welder as Marco Rubio suggests. (Scott Romney and I took a welding class at Cass Technical High School in Detroit in 1956 but neither us became welders. After welding together a single iron gate, I went into philosophy. He became a lawyer.) Or maybe we will have time to train for a variety of occupations if the fancy strikes us. But we will also have to stop ruining the earth. We need to consume fewer material goods for the sake of conspicuous consumption or prestige and use what we need more economically. This is what a society of leisure might make possible. The revolutionary election of 2016 could be a start.
The media will treat the New Hampshire primary as a two-tiered spectacle. One will feature a horse race between the three leading candidates: Clinton, Sanders, and O'Malley. The other will be a freak show involving the other twenty-five candidates. But I stubbornly cling to the idea that election campaigns can be about proposals to change government policy. The "minor" candidates actually have the advantage here because they have nothing to lose in advocating policies outside the political mainstream. That is my motive, anyhow. I am not afraid to stand for needed changes in attitude and policy that no one else will touch. If I do well in New Hampshire, some of these ideas could enter the political mainstream.
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See my report on the 2016 campaign for President in the New Hampshire primary