Tired of Capitalism? There Could Be a Better Way.
Tired of Capitalism? There Could Be a Better Way.
By Matt Bruenig / washingtonpost.com
Oct 3, 2015

Capitalism is a coercive economic system that creates persistent patterns of economic deprivation.

Governments have typically dealt with capitalism’s more misery-inducing tendencies by creating institutions of labor protection — such as the right to organize unions — and by building out modern welfare states. Although these policy programs have been fairly successful, especially in the countries that have pushed them the furthest, they have not fully eliminated coercion and deprivation. To secure freedom and prosperity for all, it may ultimately be necessary to supplement the welfare state with a universal basic income — a program that would provide all citizens with a basic level of financial support, regardless of whether they’re employed.

By now, it is well established that capitalism is fundamentally built upon threats of force. As libertarian philosophers Robert Nozick and Matt Zwolinski have explained, the only way to turn unowned natural resources (such as land, minerals and other goods) into privately owned property is by violently preventing all others from using them. This one-sided exclusion destroys freedom of movement and cuts many people off from the things that they need to survive.

When the physical resources necessary for production are privately held in the hands of very few, as in the United States, the majority of the population is forced to submit itself to well-financed employers in order to live. The precarious position of most workers in this position — desperate for employment but aware that they could lose their jobs at any time — is coercive on its face and susceptible to exploitation and abuse.

Labor protection in the form of safety laws, collective bargaining and prohibitions against harassment and discrimination have helped cut down on many of the worst employer abuses. But no amount of labor regulation can ever undo the fact that workers are confronted daily with the choice between obeying a supervisor or losing all their income. The only way to break the coercion at the core of the employment relationship is to give people the genuine ability to say no to their employers. And the only way to make that feasible is to guarantee that working-age adults, at least, have some way to support themselves whether they work or not.

Even as capitalism makes some workers’ lives miserable, those who can’t work are in even worse shape. Even after counting some or all public welfare benefits, the U.S. poverty rate in 2013 was anywhere from 15 percent to 18 percent. Most of this poverty is endured by vulnerable populations that markets discard as useless. According to my own calculations of the 2014 Annual Social and Economic Supplement, more than 80 percent of the officially poor are either children, elderly, disabled, students, caretakers or the involuntarily unemployed. Because they cannot work or they have a diminished ability to work, these groups often receive little to no direct income from the market and suffer a high risk of poverty as a result.

The United States’ relatively small welfare state kept 39 million people out of poverty in 2013, cut the overall poverty rate by 38 percent since 1967 and radically reduced the poverty rate of the elderly by as much as 72 percent since 1960. Globally, the countries with the highest levels of welfare spending —  Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden — are also those that have the lowest levels of economic hardship. But even in these countries, poverty is not zero percent and small numbers of people still register an occasional inability to acquire basic needs such as food and housing. Supplementing the existing welfare state with a basic income would, if successful, ensure that nobody falls completely through the cracks of the social welfare system and thereby finds himself or herself destitute.

True freedom requires freedom from destitution and freedom from the demands of the employer. Capitalism ensures neither, but a universal basic income, if successful, could provide both.

Matt Bruenig is researcher of poverty and welfare systems at the think tank Demos.

4.2 ·
2
Trending Today
Obama's Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Stansfield Smith · 11,764 views today · It should be a scandal that leftists-liberals paint Trump as a special threat, a war mongerer – not Obama who is the first president to be at war everyday of his eight years...
Make The Serengeti Great Again | Resource Scarcity, Demagogues and How Creativity Can Trump Hate (2017)
5 min · 4,216 views today · A Familiar Tale of Resource Scarcity, Demagogues, and How Creativity Can Trump Hate A quick, original, illustrated allegory that pokes at the demagogues we’ve got with an...
Baraka (1992)
97 min · 3,495 views today · Featuring no conventional narrative, this film presents footage of people, places and things from around the world. From chaotic cities to barren wilderness, the movie takes...
Deconstructing Hierarchies: On Contrived Leadership and Arbitrary Positions of Power
Colin Jenkins · 2,205 views today · Bosses don't grow on trees. They don't magically appear at your job. They aren't born into their roles. They are created. They are manufactured to fulfill arbitrary positions...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 2,116 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Why I Think This World Should End
4 min · 1,741 views today · Sorry if this offends you. - Prince Ea
What Is a Gift Economy? - Alex Gendler
4 min · 1,730 views today · What if, this holiday season, instead of saying "thank you" to your aunt for her gift of a knitted sweater, the polite response expected from you was to show up at her house in...
Union Co-Operatives: What They Are and Why We Need Them
Simon Taylor · 1,371 views today · Neoliberal policies contribute to alienation, disempowerment and non-unionised jobs, but a new model for unions could break the vicious circle, argues Simon Taylor.
Prophecy Delivered! Martin Luther King Jr. and the Death of Democracy
Reverend Osagyefo Sekou · 1,091 views today · “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Democracy is dead. It...
The Myth of Romantic Love May Be Ruining Your Health
Susanne Vosmer · 1,045 views today · Romantic love in Western societies is often portrayed in a stereotypical way: two yearning halves, who search for each other to find their complete, original state. Few find...
Trump: The Illusion of Change
Helena Norberg-Hodge · 846 views today · “Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed.” — Wendell Berry
How Mindfulness Empowers Us
2 min · 836 views today · Many traditions speak of the opposing forces within us, vying for our attention. Native American stories speak of two wolves, the angry wolf and the loving wolf, who both live...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 832 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss: Bracing for Trump's Anti-Worker, Corporate Agenda
Colin Jenkins · 522 views today · Rich people don’t have to have a life-and-death relationship with the truth and its questions; they can ignore the truth and still thrive materially. I am not surprised many...
Something Better to Offer Trump Voters Tired of Waiting for Their Turn
David Korten · 412 views today · A world free of extremes of wealth and poverty in which no one needs to stand in line for a chance at a secure and fulfilling life.
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 378 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
Trump Is a Symptom of a Sickness That Is Raging All Across The World
1 min · 366 views today · This is why we are here. And this is what we need to remember. 
Forget Shorter Showers: Why Personal Change Does Not Equal Political Change (2015)
11 min · 362 views today · Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday; or that chopping...
Why It's Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound
Bethany Webster · 350 views today · The issue at the core of women’s empowerment is the mother wound
Bertrand Russell & Buckminster Fuller on Why We Should Work Less, and Live & Learn More
Josh Jones · 339 views today · Why must we all work long hours to earn the right to live? Why must only the wealthy have a access to leisure, aesthetic pleasure, self-actualization…? Everyone seems to have...
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
Tired of Capitalism? There Could Be a Better Way.