Thursday, November 15, 2012

Economic Democracy

A classmate in my course gave us the tip about a lecture from David Schweickart in Uppsala on Monday evening on an alternative to capitalism called Economic Democracy, so some of us went to listen to him. I had lectures the whole day on Monday so I have to admit that by 19:15 when this lecture started I was not so focused any longer. The discussion afterwards was interesting though but I should probably read David Schweickart's books to get a better idea of how such a system would work, the main idea however, is that the decisions in companies would be taken democratically by many stakeholders and not only by the shareholders, as today. As he said during the lecture; "why does our democratic rights finish when we go to work?".

To learn more you can read his books or see videos on YouTube from a previous lecture he held in Uppsala.

David Schweickart referred to an interesting article by John Keyens, when he was talking about working less to produce the same amount and not consume more (which is not making us happier and destorying the environment). The article is called "Economic possibilities for our Grandchildren", written 1936, where Keynes argues that maybe our needs are not insatible after all and perhaps this could give us possibilities to prosper and have more freetime than ever before.

Here's some quotes from the paper by Keynes (may be read in full here);

Now it is true that the needs of human beings may seem to be insatiable. But they fall into two classes – those needs which are absolute in the sense that we feel them whatever the situation of our fellow human beings may be, and those which are relative in the sense that we feel them only if their satisfaction lifts us above, makes us feel superior to, our fellows. Needs of the second class, those which satisfy the desire for superiority, may indeed be insatiable; for the higher the general level, the higher still are they. But this is not so true of the absolute needs – a point may soon be reached, much sooner perhaps than we are all of us aware of, when these needs are satisfied in the sense that we prefer to devote our further energies to non-economic purposes. 

 I draw the conclusion that, assuming no important wars and no important increase in population, the economic problem may be solved, or be at least within sight of solution, within a hundred years. This means that the economic problem is not – if we look into the future – the permanent problem of the human race. 

Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem – how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.

For many ages to come the old Adam will be so strong in us that everybody will need to do some work if he is to be contented. We shall do more things for ourselves than is usual with the rich to-day, only too glad to have small duties and tasks and routines. But beyond this, we shall endeavour to spread the bread thin on the butter – to make what work there is still to be done to be as widely shared as possible. Three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week may put off the problem for a great while. For three hours a day is quite enough to satisfy the old Adam in most of us!  

When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. .... The love of money as a possession – as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life – will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease. All kinds of social customs and economic practices, affecting the distribution of wealth and of economic rewards and penalties, which we now maintain at all costs, however distasteful and unjust they may be in themselves, because they are tremendously useful in promoting the accumulation of capital, we shall then be free, at last, to discard. 

The pace at which we can reach our destination of economic bliss will be governed by four things – our power to control population, our determination to avoid wars and civil dissensions, our willingness to entrust to science the direction of those matters which are properly the concern of science, and the rate of accumulation as fixed by the margin between our production and our consumption; of which the last will easily look after itself, given the first three.

Since 1936, I guess our population has grown tremendously though, so I guess Keynes idea already fall on that but it is quite interesting that there is some sort of simple living movement going on at the moment though.What's your toughts on this? Do we have it is us to share our wealth and if so could working less be a solution? Furthermore, could economic democracy be an alternative to capitalism?


  1. Så intressant det verkar! Jag är lite för trött för att just nu orka förstå alla citat, men en sak är säker: vi måste förändra vårt ekonomiska system, för vårt nuvarande är inte hållbart. Hmm, att dela rikedom, inte sannolikt, men kanske, kanske...

    1. Det är intressant! att dela på resurser kommer att bli nödvändigt, de stora folkmassorna som just nu tar sig upp ur fattigdom i Kina och Indien bl.a. kommer att vilja leva som vi om inte vi trappar ner på vår konsumption och föregår med gott exempel...

    2. möjligen kommer de att vilja göra det ändå, men vi skulle i alla fall vara lite mera trovärdiga i våra argument om att de måste trappa ner om vi också gjorde det