Transition and Flight Capital

One of the multitude of means by which novel economic systems are throttled to death before they can be wholly tested is the flight of capital from the region where the new system is being tried.

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Any novel socio-economic that proposes to redistribute the rewards of production, either or both present and past rewards, is going to cause a reaction by those from whom something will be taken. Supposing that the novel system has a new definition of what is fair and just is allocating benefits, and purports to do this once it is inaugurated, the first reaction is going to be by those who will lose something, and if they have amassed political power, this will be used to block the novel system from ever being tried. Political power often encompasses blackmail, espionage, assassination, media control, information control, legal delays, moles inside opposition organization, distraction of the public, bribery, public relations efforts, and multiple other mechanisms by which those who have accumulated power act to keep it and enlarge it. It makes little or no difference what the previous socio-economic system was, it will have, after some settling in period, resulted in political power being accumulated in a few hands, and these mechanisms will be available, regardless of the name applied to the political system.

This conflict is one of the most elementary and ubiquitous ones. Wealth and power gets concentrated in a few hands and is used to preserve this arrangement. The only possible opposition is a large movement of those not having wealth or power, and since it takes some very unusual circumstances to motivate a large mass of people to make grand changes to an economic system, such changes are very infrequent. Often in the history of the world, they have been violent.

One conceivable alternative is a soft revolution, where changes in taxes or anti-corruption activity are put in place by some other means, such as direct voting or mass replacement of corrupt politicians followed by a choice of new laws by the new team. This might happen gradually or suddenly, but even if happens suddenly, there will be warning signs that some of those with wealth and power can recognize. The traditional means by which the wealthy and powerful stop such things can be tried, and perhaps they succeed and perhaps they don’t. However, some of the wealthy and powerful may estimate that the blocking measures will not succeed, and proceed to take alternative measures to maintain some portion of their wealth and power. One example of this is emigration from the region where they were formerly in control but in the future may not be to a different location where they can still have some or all of their wealth and use it to re-establish political control in the new region, or even remotely in the old one. This is loosely referred to as the flight of capital.

Given the despairingly low probability that any novel system of economics will be put in place, it might seem frivolous to think about this manner of avoidance of it by those with wealth and power. More important is thinking through how a transition might be effected, or how political power might be devolved to the powerless sufficiently that they can break the feedback loop that keeps them powerless and a small minority wholly in control of the economy. While that certainly is more important, there might be some details about the new socio-economic system that can reduce any bad effects of flight capital or similar means of evading the new system.

Once again, there is a bottom-up approach and a top-down approach. The bottom-up approach involves figuring out in advance what financial mechanisms could be used to move vast amounts of capital out of a region that was beginning to warm up to some novel socio-economic system that involved some redistribution of wealth and income. Once the list of mechanisms is decided upon, there can be some plan for an instantaneous application of counter-mechanisms which will stop the flight of capital. This is a fool’s errand. First, there are more methods on the hidden list of mechanisms than on the list of mechanisms compiled by the officials of the new system. The ones not found will be the ones used. Most likely, the number of unknown ones exceeds the number of ones that are known. Wealth and power can spin off a tiny percentage of itself to ensure that many mechanisms exist that are not known, perhaps never having been used before. If it costs 1% of some huge amount of wealth to ensure it travels to a new region, this is simply a cost to be born by the wealthy and powerful. So, the idea of figuring out methods that will be used and blocking them is simply too difficult.

The top-down method focuses on the people who have all this wealth, and involves requesting them to turn over their holdings, hidden and visible, to whatever agency of the new economic regime is supposed to get it. There are difficulties here as well. Mobility is so easy in our era, that finding these people and making them available to some new agency would be virtually impossible. Long before the new system was in place, the people with wealth and power would have disappeared.

This is not to say that there would be zero results from either the top-down or the bottom-up approach, but instead, they would only have some percentage effect. More than enough wealth would have been transferred beyond the jurisdiction of the new regime so that those who possess it would hardly notice the difference in their capabilities. Thus, some means of mitigating the effects of capital flight upon a new socio-economic system need to be developed, rather than putting any hopes in the concept of preventing it.

The point to concentrate on is the prevention of the destruction of the new economy, the one where a novel socio-economic system is going to be tried out. It is through the mechanism of foreign ownership that the new system would be most damaged, so that is the feature which must be examined. If those with wealth and power in the region simply move outside it, and continue to possess the same wealth while abroad, they can continue to dabble in corrupting the new regime, possibly with a mind toward returning after it fails with the new economic system. This means that some methods of insulating a new economic system from external influence must be installed as part of the new system.

If ownership by non-employees was allowed, or some equivalent in debt burden, then this external control might be possible. Thus, it is clearly an important component of the new system that ownership of companies, corporations, and any other form of business be connected with those who work there. There are obvious means of corrupting the importance of this regulation, such as by having only one employee listed on the books, the former owner possibly, while everyone else working there is an independent contractor. This needs to be corrected, by making the ownership of the corporation fall into the hands of anyone who works for it, in the guise of an independent worker or otherwise. Are there other scams possible which concentrate ownership but maintain the label of employee-owned enterprise? Certainly, if the distribution of ownership was disproportionate to the justly-measured contribution of the employee to the corporation or company.

Debt is a lukewarm version of ownership, so it too must be separated and put into the hands of those who contribute to the society, rather than those who do not. Some public agency would need to hold debt. There are a great many problems involved with conceiving such an agency, but assume for this discussion that it has been done successfully. Thus the transition problem boils down to figuring out how to transfer ownership of both enterprises, and debt associated with them, when a new economic system is put in place. Wealth in the previous economic system would have been manifested in ownership being concentrated, by the wealth feedback process, in the hands of a few. How could a transition be done legitimately?

The third member of the triad of means for distributing benefits in a society is taxes. It is what is left. Thus, there would need to be wealth taxes that would accomplish the redeployment of ownership of enterprises and of debt. Another aspect of unjust income and accumulation of wealth is the concentration of ownership of real estate. A third prong of the taxation for transition would be a tax on real estate, but a progressive one, designed to revert ownership of much of the real estate to those who contribute to producing the benefits of the society.

Evasion of income taxes is a game that is played world-wide, and so any transition taxation rules would have to be thought out carefully to have the desired effect. One tool is the unique-to-America plan of making any citizen liable for taxes, despite his location or employment situation. If this was a common, world-wide situation, then anyone possessing citizenship in a country and simultaneously possessing unearned wealth would find themselves liable for a wealth tax. There would need to be a corresponding tax levied on the relinquishment of citizenship in the nation or group of nations that was introducing the new economic system.

Having taxes in the laws of a nation does not mean collecting them. Someone who owns property within the nation can find liens placed upon it, whether it is a corporate asset or a piece of real estate. Thus, for someone to successfully evade taxes of the transition variety, they would have to sell or otherwise transfer ownership of property out of their name. This means that the transition taxation legislation would have to be able to look through the possible maze of ownership arrangements down to individuals who actually own the property. One means of evasion would be to have sham owners with citizenship outside the nation with the new system. They would be beyond the reach of any laws, so therefore the transition taxation would also have to affect foreign ownership. This would only be necessary if other nations around the world did not have similar economic systems and were not cooperating on taxation.

Exactly how this is done might make a substantial difference in whether there are large negative effects of the transition. There are some alternatives, and they deserve a separate treatment.

What Should Be Measured in an Economy?

It is hard to define an economic system if no one can agree on what the proper measures of its goodness are. And there is even a deeper issue – culture and its transmission.

If two economies are to be compared, there has to be some measuring. But what is to be measured? As technology progresses, more and more data is collected about the economic affairs of individuals, companies, corporations and government organizations. But how should this be distilled down to a few simple, easy-to-explain numbers that tell us which economic system is better?

The word better, when defined in some very specific and quantitative terms, can have literally hundreds of precise, actionable meanings. There is little need to cite examples, but for the record, one can compute the total economic transactions made, the amount of energy consumed, the amount of food produced, the number of vehicles on the roads, the average square footage of the dwellings of the individuals, the ratio of the top quintile’s average earnings to the lowest quintile’s, the amount of taxes collected by the highest echelon of government, and on and on and on. One could also write justifications for many of these measures, going around and around without settling on anything. Perhaps this could become a parlor game, in which everyone has a chance to define their preferred economic measure and then there is a secret vote on the best.

Why not have ten different measures? Then different systems could be compared, and one might be better at measure one and another at measures two and six, while yet another is great at measure nine. If we want to make a recommendation of a system, or define some details of a chosen system, there has to be a decision as to which measure, or weighted sum of measures, is to be used to make the call. Having ten measures get us no nearer to recommending an economic system than having none.

If we ask for preferences for different measures of an economy, every intelligent person might come up with a different one. A person who grew up hungry might have strong feelings that food production per capita or food consumption per capita might be the best measure, although that is a measure, which if used for an economy, would push the population towards obesity. Mean square footage of dwellings is a measure for someone who grew up in a cramped and crowded dwelling, but not for someone who grew up in a large and lonely mansion. Someone with military experience and an appreciation for its need might think that the level of spending on armies and navies that can be afforded is the best and safest measure, while someone who grew up with a parent who was excessively sympathetic to the poor would thing some income parity measure is the best. One can go on and on about this as well, as there are so many possible experiences that can be the subconscious or conscious background for a preference for a measure. Maybe the idea of having some vote on what is best would be good, except that would not please those who believe in monarchy or oligarchy, unless the vote were restricted to the royal family or those who were in the top 0.1% of the economic food chain.

Is there any measure possible that does not depend on the feelings and even the whims of the particular economist who is being consulted on the issue? Many could certainly proclaim that some simple or complex measure had this measure, but when dredging up the basis for it, it comes down to emotion or self-interest, or perhaps the self-interest of some group. What therefore is the point of trying to figure out an improved economic system, if there cannot be any agreement on what constitutes ‘best’ or ‘better’ or even ‘good enough’?

What alternative exists for defining an economic system and recommending it for adoption? One could simply ask an individual to design it, without bothering about any qualitative measures to validate that it is somehow, in some way, the best one. Who could be asked? Those who already control the economy? The current system, with some modifications to solidify this control and sweep even more wealth, income and power into their hands, and make their acquisitions permanent and irrevocable, and also inheritable, might be the obvious answer. Another possibility is to discover the god of economics, and find a bit later on those who can get messages from this god inside their minds. They could write down the messages and the information could be fitted together to make up an economic system. Or some other group might be asked, like the top generals. What might their response be?

Defining ‘bad’ isn’t nearly so difficult. If people are dying from starvation, something is wrong, and the system failed. If population is being drained by migration to other lands, again, something is wrong, if the motivations for the population decline are based in economics. Then things get fuzzy. If people are chafing about having to spend time in commuter congestion everyday because of the price of housing near work, perhaps the economic system is bad in how it zones land. If there are long lines for obtaining the necessities of life, even though they are available, possibly the part of the economic system relating to distribution is faulty. Universal complaints are an indication of an error in economic system design, unless the constraints are so tight that one complaint cannot be satisfied without creating another, potentially worse, one.

There could be very many economic arrangements that do not give rise to universal complaints, meaning that the set of ‘good enough’ economic system might be quite large. This means that if we use popular outcry as a measure of the goodness of an economic system, the bin of acceptable systems could be quite full. And the willingness of a population to object to some aspect of their economic system might vary quite a lot, with some more stoical populations willing to put up with situations that a more clamorous one would take to the streets with. Here, media has its effects as well. Where media plays a large role in people’s lives, in other words, occupies a great deal of their time, the advice of those who control the media, filtered through the various message-giving instruments a media system has, might make a difference in what is acceptable and what is not. Again, somewhat murky.

This brings us back to the same point made elsewhere. Culture plays a large role in defining what is desirable and what is acceptable in economic systems. Take corruption as an example. There are many different kinds of corruption, and it can be overt and obvious to everyone or concealed behind all manner of legal constructions and privacy rules. One population, of a homogeneous culture, might regard petty corruption as just a part of life, something everyone knows about and everyone participates in, while a second population, also homogeneous, might find it horrendous and seek to expunge every single instance of it. The second population might regard legal corruption, where laws are written to allow many kinds of payoffs to politicians without any law being violated, as ignorable, while a third population might see legal corruption as no different than illegal corruption as it was based on the same thing: politicians selling their vote for some sort of benefit to them or their relatives or some affinity group or former colleagues, or whatever. Thus, culture plays a large role in public outcry and in defining the bin of acceptable economic systems.

Popular culture does not simply appear in a puff of smoke and be learned and wholly accepted by a population. It is something accumulated over time, but more importantly, passed on from generation to generation through the means of training and education of the younger generation by the older. This means there might be populations without any culture at all, where they might be homogeneous or heterogeneous, but they simply do not pass on values, opinions, motivations, heritage, and other bases to the next generation, but allow the young to pick up what they can from wherever they can. If this is the state of a population, almost anything can fit into the bin of acceptable economic systems. It also means that any individuals who want to be able to structure the economic system to fit their definition of good, better, best, can do so most easily if they can convince a population to stop transmitting their culture from generation to generation, and leave it in the hands of some specialists. And as a last step, the specialists have to be willing to climb aboard the support train for the economic system preferred by those who have the means to disrupt intergenerational transmission of culture.

It is certainly possible to devise an economic system that has some laudable attributes, and perhaps one which can be shown to meet a variety of measures of goodness, but as long as the culture is determined by those who prefer another system, good to them and perhaps not so good for the large majority of the population, there is little need to work too hard to define its details. Unless, of course, there is some means by which such a better economic system can gain the attention of the population – an unlikely event.

Debt: The Good and the Evil

Debt causes many problems in an economic system, but some benefits as well. How can a new system be designed to only incorporate the benefits?

Let’s start with the simplest case to consider, a wholly self-contained, up-and-running Just Deserts socio-economic system. The good side of debt is that it can be used to speed up growth of production in an already-growing system. The basic idea is that funding is obtained to finance capital acquisition and operations, which produce enough benefits to cover all costs and repay the debt.

The bad side of debt is that it can be used for permanent consumption costs, growing continually, as the consumer chooses to consume more than his allocation of benefits can sustain. This means that the debtor must continually and exponentially go deeper into debt, meaning that much of his income and all of his holdings will eventually be confiscated by the debt holder. This works for individuals, for organizations, and for government organizations and entities. The organization situation is much like that for an individual, meaning the debt holder eventually collects the title to all the organization’s property. For a government organization like a nation, it does the same thing, allowing current consumption at the price of confiscation of nationally-owned property and also future income, such as taxes. Greece is the preeminent example. The time displacement of the repayment allows bad effects to be unfelt for as long as the term of the debt, and if it is rolled over, successive terms. Since people typically only have the ability to think in the short term, debt is a successful means of further enriching those already wealthy.

In some situations, personnel rotation in a government organization means those who will face the problems of repayment are not those who enjoyed the benefits of consumption. There are many ways to implement such a situation, such as a politician staying in power because voters are happy with the benefits distributed from the debt funds, being short-sighted at best, followed by the politician’s retirement before the debt comes due. Many other means of benefiting by the time difference between incurring and discharging a debt exist, and because of the flexibility such a situation provides, it is likely that no solution can be found other than outlawing or prohibiting this type of debt.

Thus, there is growth acceleration on the good side, and countless scams on the other side, along with all the pitfalls of a myopic view of life. In a Just Deserts economic system, taxes or income restrictions prevent any individual from personally amassing enough funds to make large-scale loans, meaning that there could be small debts, which do not debase someone’s life, but no large ones.

Growth acceleration can be accomplished by other means that loans from individuals; debt from other organizations which can legitimately amass large amounts of delayed benefits could happen. So can other means of obtaining funding, typically meaning some ownership rights in the organization needing or wanting the money are traded for up-front funds. This is the stock market, plus all types of individualized arrangements made between a producing organization and a funding organization. In a Just Deserts economic system, there would be funds in possession of insurance organizations and pension organizations, as well as possibly specialized organizations, the equivalent of today’s mutual and hedge funds, except with necessarily more diverse ownership. Thus, debts for growth acceleration would not be interfered with.

Debts for temporary consumption needs, such as necessitated by temporary disability, or for replacement of productive capacity, such as necessitated by permanent disability, would be handled by insurance funds. Once started, these insurance funds would exist to replace lost benefits for someone suffering from a disability, either temporary or permanent. They would be paid into as part of a mandatory deduction from working wages and salary. The usual objection to such insurance funds is that they drive workers and employers to use a black market, where possible. Whether this is palatable depends on the regulations against it, and the results on the workers who have to choose whether to use it or not. Having high fines and fees prohibiting it, and a very low level of benefits for those who use it might reduce this objection.

Once again, this can be described as a myopic viewpoint. Someone who avoids taxes and insurance withholdings gains possibly in current consumption levels, but risks later problems. Since people do not see later problems as clearly as they do current ones, the black market can burgeon. But with education and experience, it might be reduced substantially in a Just Deserts socio-economic system.

Debt for the purpose of raising current consumption levels would not be possible in a Just Deserts socio-economic system. No organization would have the right to grant such debt. Thus debt in a Just Deserts system is somewhat simplified, compared to contemporary systems.

Now enlarge the domain being considered. Suppose there are external actors, individuals, organizations or governments, outside the Just Deserts system boundaries. They are not constrained by the rules and regulations of the Just Deserts system and can provide debt to those individuals, organizations and government bodies within the system.

There are always two polar extremes in dealing with any behavior that is considered undesirable by some authority. One is to involve a chain of actions, such as detection, confirmation, punishment. The other is to arrange the situation so that the natural consequences of the behavior are so negative that it is discouraged. The latter arrangement does not work well when the natural consequences are not immediate, or not definite. Then the typically myopic individual can not rationally weigh these consequences, and therefore can make decisions based mostly on immediate effects. With organizations, one can expect they are run under rational considerations, but decisions within organizations can be made by individuals seeking personal benefits in the short term, as opposed to organizational advantages in the long term. The same holds whether the organization is a private one or a governmental one. Thus, in the absence of a magic wand that transforms everyone into a rational person able and willing to weigh long-term consequences, and to put the organization’s benefit in front of personal benefits, only regulation will work.

Regulation can have just as many horrible consequences as depending on individual rationality and organizational altruism. If governmental organizations involved in regulations were all full of rational, well-educated individuals with the best interests of the nation at heart, they would work well. The real trick in designing a socio-economic system is to make one that works with venal and stupid people in it. Clearly one major avenue for improvement is to properly train and educate children, but even that can be subverted in the interests of personal benefits and even to further some misunderstandings of how both education and government work. So, no magic wand.

Regulation is made easier by transparency. So is the detection of misdeeds by regulators, if the transparency is so thorough that private individuals, or organizations constituted to serve as checks on mis-regulation, can obtain the same data as the regulators. Rather than make transparency something that is only in effect in special instances, it could be the default situation unless there were compelling reasons to deny it. In the financial arena, this would mean that any individual, organization, or government body that went outside the nation where Just Deserts was the system employed, and violated the principles of it, would be obvious and visible to any organization that chose to inspect the pertinent records. If transparency is the standard, the next level of deception involves maintaining false records that are visible, and a set of other records that are hidden. This would allow debt money to come into an organization, but it would not allow it to be used, as the transparency of most records would show off the entry point of the illegally sourced funding. In other words, it could be put into a hidden external account, but could not be brought into the nation and mingled with internal funds without leaving a trace.

The other difficult situation, besides relations with external non-Just Deserts nations, is the transition from any other system into a Just Deserts one. Specifically, this means that if there were a nation with a large international debt, what would happen to this debt when the nation worked through the transformation of itself into a different system, a Just Deserts one. For example, consumption levels might have been higher in that nation for previous times than could have been justified by the level of production there. This means that some external actors have loaned money to the nation so that it could have an average consumption level higher than otherwise possible. Does the nation repudiate this particular amount of debt, or does it decide to lower consumption levels and pay back the debt? Usually debt is not repudiated unless the debtor is willing to assume there will be no more debt in the future. This is the situation with a Just Deserts nation, so repudiation would not have the same theoretical effect as it would in a nation that was bound and determined to have inflated consumption levels until the dam burst and economic collapse occurred. There are good arguments to be made for both honoring the debt and dishonoring it, and such decisions would have to be made in the framework of the whole transition, by whichever rational, non-myopic, and altruistic people can be found within the nation to make such weighty decisions.

Productive and Non-productive Uses of Capital

Capital formation by the accumulation of huge wealth by a few has great benefits and great faults. Is there any alternative that might provide the benefits and avoid the faults?

Of the many uses of capital, this post comments on three. Perhaps they are the most important, and perhaps there are others lying under the surface which are more relevant to the operations of a socio-economic system. But for the time being, here are the three that appear to be most relevant to a Just Deserts economic system and the transition to one from some other form of arrangements.

The first one is the one that is most beneficial. It involves the extraction of produced benefits before they are allocated into consumption uses in order to produce infrastructure and facilities, both of which are essential for building up an economy. Without capital for production, the economy cannot flourish, and might not even be able to survive. There are timing effects. Capital might have to be collected for a period of time before something can be built, providing the building time is short. It might be quite inefficient to try and build something on a pay-as-you-go plan, so in order to cut down inefficiencies, possibly large enough to tilt the project to a negative overall benefit, capital must be collected and stored, and then used over a short time. Some projects might be possible with shorter collection periods and others need longer ones. The variety indicates that there needs to be, in any effective socio-economic system, a means of collecting capital that is protected from the demands of consumers.

The method that has been predominant for the last couple of centuries has been the concept of private ownership. There is no restrictions inherent in this method of protecting capital from consumption that limits the usage of the capital, so there is necessarily a great danger involved in this method. If something is to be done, it appears necessary to come up with alternative means of collecting and more importantly, protecting capital from the demand of consumption, as well as restricting its use to socially beneficial means.

The second use is the one which is most detrimental to a Just Deserts economic system. That is corruption, of its many varieties and types. There is simply no solution to the corruption problem other than outlawing private ownership of huge amounts of wealth. Normally corruption produces advantages with a huge multiplier, meaning the amount of wealth spent on corruption is returned ten or a hundred or even a thousand times as the benefits of the corrupt politician’s actions. Wealth caps stop that by making personal contributions to funding corruption impossible and by making the collection of the benefits of being corrupted also impossible. The first barrier to corruption can be overcome by having a body of capital that is not individually owned used to provide the funding benefits, but this has two objections. One, transparency is easier with large collections of capital with widely diverse ownership, so the diversion of money for corruption is easier to trace. Second, once the corruption is finished, how do benefits flow back to those few individuals who seek to benefit from it? If secrecy is in vogue, there is some possibility here, so transparency is necessary. Since there is a tax on wealth, wealth can no longer legally be hidden. So, multiple barriers to corruption exist.

A third use of capital is one which is closely related to corruption. That is debt for consumption. Capital formation for productive use may involve debt, in that the productive use of capital should produce benefits, and some slice of them can be used to replenish the productive capital fund that was used to generate the facility involved. Debt for consumption can be a variant of charity, in which some individuals who temporarily lose the ability to be productive need to have funds for consumption until they can regain their ability to be productive. This debt can be paid back, probabilistically. But debt for consumption that does not go to preserve productive human capital, or other infrastructure for that matter, but instead goes to uses which are not going to lead to production with the possibility of repayment in the future, is a misguided use of capital, and in fact, a means of enriching those with capital. Debt is really a lien on the possessions or future income of the debtor. This only serves as part of the general feedback loop which allows those in possession of large amounts of wealth to gain possession of an even larger fraction of available wealth.

Consumption should only be funded with current production, averaged out over fluctuations, and taken only after the necessary slice for the generation of useful capital is done. Otherwise it is simply an invisible transfer of benefits from the future to present day use. If private capital is allowed to grow excessive, in other words, large enough to substantially fund consumption, then the feedback effects will occur, based on the inevitability of the demand for current consumption. Debt is a means for transferring consumption from the future to the present, or a means for selling possessions for future ownership in return for current consumption.

Thus, of the three uses of capital that were called out here, two are very detrimental to an economy, and one is very useful. Those who promote private ownership of large amounts of capital emphasize the beneficial one, and those who promote the opposite emphasize the other two. Like most things, there are good and bad uses of it. If the tenor of the times is such that the first use is lionized, and great praise heaped upon those who do it, perhaps the bad two uses would only occupy a small fraction of the total use of the total capital accumulated. If the tenor of the times emphasizes the other, indirectly, then they might become the principal uses. A novel socio-economic system has to be able to function well in either condition, so private accumulation of huge amounts of wealth cannot happen in such a system.

Without private ownership of large wealth accumulations, how is capital to be accumulated for the main beneficial use? Wealth is generated by production, and is allocated into capital formation and consumption. But what social organization, what arrangement, what agency or mechanism will there be to best use accumulated capital, and how much of it should be taken from annual production? What are the pitfalls that some simple ideas on this might fall into?

One is the barrier against the demands for current consumption. Current consumption gives immediate satisfaction, and this is reinforced in the human brain very strongly. Whatever allows more current consumption seems to be desirable by those whose consumption will be affected. The concept of private ownership has become so embedded in modern industrial societies that it provides a very strong barrier, and that barrier is enforced by the existence of overwhelming corruption to preserve it. There are other mechanisms used to preserve this arrangement, such as the ownership of almost all mass media by those whose private ownership of huge wealth might be at risk. The same goes for the control of educational institutions via donations and other forms of legal and illegal corruption. These mechanisms are only natural, as the collections of large wealth can spin off portions for use in protection of the barriers against reduction or confiscation.

Can some agency utilize the same barriers to preserve a public holding of capital? The use of the mass media as propaganda organs for the preservation of exorbitant wealth is not something that is done publicly, but in secret. It would not be possible for some public agency to be given the role of mass media owner so that it could preserve the capital it collected against being diverted, more and more, into current consumption. This would be open and obvious to everyone, and the propaganda effect, if it could ever be orchestrated, would simply not work.

Could politicians be bribed to not divert capital needed for infrastructure and productive facilities into current consumption? If financial details become transparent so that wealth taxes can be implemented, it will be difficult to keep such bribery secret. If it is not secret, but written into laws that the salaries of politicians will be reduced if they divert funds from capital formation, then who writes these laws? They would simply be rewritten, unless there was some public mechanism necessary to prevent it. This typically means a constitution. Who is going to approve a constitution that requires sacrifices in current consumption? Perhaps during very good times it could be approved, and harsh requirements put in so that in lean times it could not be changed. Then what would prevent it from being ignored in some expedient way, such as a novel financial instrument which effectively diverts capital formation money into current consumption, perhaps for military expenses at first, then for war recovery, and so on, making it permanent, and then, after the necessary number of decades of reduced capital formation, the inevitable collapse happens.

Perhaps a different approach is needed. Instead of a public agency holding capital formation funds, there might be private funds, individually small, put into different agencies, much like stock agencies and hedge funds in modern America. These private funds would be constitutionally free from taxation, as the taxation occurs before benefits are diverted, by individuals, into them. Managers would not be exempt from the wealth cap, but might be replaced if they do not properly utilize the funds entrusted to their care. So, a stock market plus a wealth cap might be one idea worth considering.

Law-Evaders Beat Law-Writers

A just deserts economic system, in which everyone is limited to their earned income, has inherent abilities to reduce corruption, largely because of the necessary economic transparency that is implicit in the system.

Everybody is somewhere on the spectrum between totally opposed to corruption, cronyism, nepotism and the like, and totally committed to tolerating a situation where certain people are using these political means to advance their own goals. You might say the extremes represent the optimists and the pessimists, with most people in between. At certain periods the center rises up to join the optimists, and some new laws get written for whatever system exists that will outlaw or make more difficult some form of corruption that was exposed. Then comes the long period during which the corrupt people figure out ways to evade the laws, come up with new ways for corruption to flourish, and after some time, things are right back where they were before the orgy of anti-corruption activity took place.

Law-writers work with an irremovable disadvantage, and perhaps more than one. Everything they do is open and clear to everyone, so that anyone seeking a loophole in the law can take advantage of them. The law is static and slow to change, but law-evaders can sometimes move quickly. They work in unseen ways, and can try anything they think of to evade the law.

Corruption is sometimes a ‘quid pro quo’ and sometimes direct nepotism. Direct nepotism is where a corrupt person with influence or decision-making authority decides that some individual will gain a benefit, such as a lucrative, do-nothing position, or a high-profit contract, or some other benefit where the personal slice is large. The individual chosen would not have received the benefit except for the actions taken by the corrupt person. In many cases, there would be no such benefit except for the actions taken by this corrupt person; in other words, the lucrative position was created solely for the purpose of satisfying the corrupt person’s wishes. This differs from a ‘quid pro quo’ example in that the person receiving the benefit receives it because of who he or she is, not because of what he or she will provide back to the corrupt person.

The other type of corruption is easily understood as a hidden trade of benefits. In the simplest instances, the corrupt person provides something to a donor, such as a tax break, a waiver of requirements for an activity that increases the profit on it, a pardon of some wrong-doing, a minimization of fines paid or time served, access to someone else corrupt, a re-writing of laws relating to monopolies or cartels or an order to not prosecute these, or any of a myriad of other things; in return the donor provides something to the corrupt person, such as a immense lecture fee, or a book contract with little requirements but a large advance, the ability to participate in a mock investment designed to be lucrative, the elimination of someone either physically or contractually, high-profit contracts for a company owned by a spouse, sibling or child, and many, many other options.

The last of these might be labeled indirect nepotism, especially if the beneficiary is not financially connected with the corrupt person, but it is better to draw the primary line between types of corruption between direct nepotism and ‘quid pro quo’ corruption as the distinction is more clear and more useful.

These are only the simplest options. There can be delayed benefits, such as a lucrative, do-nothing position for the corrupt person himself following his tenure in the decision-making role which affords him the opportunity for corruption. There can be three-way arrangements with a donor providing benefits for corrupt politician 1, who is the donor providing benefits to corrupt politican 2, who closes the loop by writing laws or making regulations or restricting law enforcement relating to the original donor. There is no limit on the variations in these schemes, and therefore, a group of law-writers who are interested in limiting corruption can outlaw some schemes, but more will immediately spring up. Where there are corrupt politicians, there will be corruption. Morality might prevent some individuals from corruption, but corrupt people will use corruption to replace these moral ones with others more amenable to the corrupt schemes.

Fortunately, the economic system of just deserts provides a substantial remedy for this situation. If total income is limited for every individual or household to some small multiple of the average income in the governed region, then there will not be enough in any single person’s pocket to make any substantial corrupt payoff. To see the extent and inherent limitations in this bulwark against corruption, it is necessary to consider how it might be evaded.

First, could there be small instances of corruption, where the amount involved was an almost negligible portion of the average income in the jurisdiction? This is certainly true, and indicates that what is done by a just deserts income limitation does not change morality, only the practical, over-all effects of it. Large corrupt contributions make the disparity between those only receiving their earned income and those who arrange systems within the economy to provide them with ten, a hundred, or a thousand times as much as any human being could rightfully earn. Morality is something effected by teaching people, often the young, about what is considered right and wrong within the society. Efficiency in the society is effected by establishing laws limiting income to earned income.

Second, could there be cabals which get together to amass enough resources for a large bribe, or its equivalent, which would allow them to receive some benefits beyond, perhaps far beyond, their earned income? The amassing of resources could certainly occur, but with a limitation of income to earned income, there are no avenues for moving large amounts of benefits to the members of the cabal. There are no avenues because to enforce a limitation of income, income must be known, as well as other data. This means economic transparency has to be universal.

Economic transparency has been the bane of corrupt people ever since there was central data systems which allowed it to be possible. There have been litanies of protest against economic transparency, by invoking trigger words such as ‘privacy’, but they do not amount to anything other than pleas to allow unearned income to be received without anyone being aware of it. Transparency does no good unless there is some means of using it for detection of prohibited income, and then taking some sort of action, judicial or otherwise, which overturns the forbidden process and reverses its effects. This means that there must be some agency which has the power to access this data, meaning that transparency is available at least to this agency if not to everyone, and which is motivated to find and reverse the results of prohibited activities.

It must be very obvious that if there is only one such agency, and only this agency has the authority to inspect economic data, they would be immediate targets for corrupt offerings. Once the agency concerned with ensuring has been ‘fixed’, then there is no further barriers to non-earned income enriching those who cause this corruption, as well as others. The situation would seem to be dependent on the degree of transparency, but it may not work that way. If the ability to examine income and other economic data is more widespread than just the agency charged with enforcing the economic rules of the society, and that agency does not take action, the population will very quickly come to realize that these rules are simple paper only, and have no meaning in the actual activity that underlies the society. The number of pessimists, as defined at the beginning of this post, will soon rise as more people become tolerant of what has become the unwritten rules of the economic life of the society.

So, if this agency is the keystone of any barrier against, not only corruption, but against any usurpation against the economic rules of a just deserts socio-economic system, how might it be shielded against corruption offers, as well as threats of a more diverse type? How might it also be protected against apathy, born of years of success in imposing these rules, both on the part of the enforcers, and on the part of the population? When a population passes through a revolution or a large change in the economic system, it might be largely enthusiastic about the new system, for a period of time, but then, as difficulties arise, or simply as years pass by, the enthusiasm dies away, and corruption begins to find a way to slowly infiltrating the system. Those who are in charge of enforcing the new rules grow tired of their tasks, and begin to think of the pleasures that a little unearned income might provide them. Thus, the aspects of disparity that were so striking and unappealing, which led to the imposition of a just deserts economic system, would fade away, and the very local considerations of a small amount of corruption seep in and begin the process of undermining the rules.

Thus, the problem of maintaining a just deserts, non-corrupt economic system may be just as difficult as the process of setting one up in the first place. Any effective socio-economic system must have some processes, like rotation of personnel, that militate against the boredom that would inevitably set in.

Corruption and its Cures

There are three main categories of corruption: political coruption, accepted small corruption, and individual corruption. Each can be mitigated.

It seems like a nice courtesy to define clearly and explicitly what it is you are writing about, as words are so slippery and full of alternate meanings. When a reader comes upon something that appears interesting, he/she may be carrying some baggage in experience, so that the meanings of the words, especially the topic words, may have different nuances or even serious differences in meaning from what the author intended. This means there is wasted time on both the author’s and the reader’s part, and we all despise wasting time.

By corruption I mean an individual with a hierarchical job to do, a job in a hierarchy, where he/she has a specific task to accomplish, altering his behavior so that some personal benefit will accrue to him/her or some one or some group that he/she favors. Consider some examples:

Example 1: A politician has input into tax laws and can insert a special clause favoring some tiny subset of people if he chooses, and it will most likely pass due to the methods by which laws are checked before being passed. The politician, in return for a contribution to his favorite charitable foundation, will insert a tax clause as requested.

Example 2: A judge in criminal cases has to choose amounts for fines for guilty parties involved with financial crimes. The amount could be equal to the amount gained or more, or with the right inducement, somewhat less, leaving a surplus for the benefit of the convicted criminal or his family, partners, friends, or whoever else was the recipient of the largess of the criminal before he was caught.

Example 3: A bureaucrat is responsible for completing forms for the public, relating to some function, like driver’s licenses, or registering a deed, or any of the hundreds of things a citizen might have to do. The bureaucrat ordinarily finishes his task within a month, or within a day if there is a gift included, such as a box of candy or a bottle of vodka.

Example 4: A building inspector has a long list of technical points that can be used to hold up construction projects, some for a long time and some expensive to change. For a bit of work on the inspector’s friends’ property, or some materials for such work, these technical points might be waived as insignificant or not safety-related or discretionary.

Example 5: A mid-level manager in a supply department of a large corporation has a selection of which supplier to use for some large purchases, but they are comparable. With the provision of an arrangement for a free dinner for the manager’s family in a top-level restaurant, the choice becomes straightforward.

Example 6: A professor is on the board set up to review new students’ applications, and for many students, a favorable choice by him/her will make all the difference needed between acceptance and rejection. Instead of sticking to academic or other university-related issues, the professor tilts his/her rating based on personal biases.

Example 7: A professional athlete manages to miss some key shots in a championship game, losing the match, which is much to the delight of a gambling syndicate. The syndicate is very generous in their expressions of gratitude.

Example 8: A fireman, finding a shoebox-sized metal container filled with currency, manages to get it away from the scene of the fire while the building burns down. The contents are not returned to the building owner.

These examples are only a few of the hundreds of possibilities for what might be included under the label of corruption. In the process of trying to find a viable new socio-economic theory which has more elements of fairness while not losing the positive aspects of older theories, what should be done about corruption? Which types of corruption should the system be designed to minimize? How should this be done, and what might be the cost to the system of having anti-corruption measures installed within it?

The first level, in the first example, might be referred to as political corruption. The quid pro quo by which a politician might be influenced can range over a tremendous domain, involving third parties in a variety of ways. All would be legal in the absence of a specific agreement to take some political action in return for some other action. Specific laws might be written to control some particular one type of action, but since there are literally hundreds of options, these laws can easily be outflanked. Only by going to the common core can they be controlled as a body. There must be laws of just deserts which control the common core, which is excess inequity of wealth and income, which makes possible political corruption. If wealth of any household is no greater than, say, five or ten times the average, there is no surplus available for corruption. If the income of any household is no greater than a similar ratio from the average, there is no opportunity for the products of corruption to be realized by a household that is a beneficiary of some potential corrupt political act. If these two measures do not exist, then corruption will find a way around any existing structures to make the inequality greater, and the feedback effect will take over and lead to great inequality.

The solution, in fact the only solution, to political corruption is the same as the regulations or laws or what-have-you that relate to income outside of corruption. With investment following a Churchillian directive, and unearned profits being taxed and used for the good of those whose work earned the benefits, and human labor being recognized as impossible to vary in value by more than a factor of five or ten, then corruption would be intrinsically controlled.

Judicial corruption, as illustrated in the second example, is almost eliminated by the same cure as political corruption. When no party to any lawsuit has excess wealth or income to use for corruption, and no defendant in a criminal case has excess wealth or income for use like this, there is little opportunity for corruption to exist. A related question concerns corruption involving corporations. Would the legal counsels for a corporation have motivation to do judicial corruption? Perhaps if their income might be diminished by a factor of two if they did not, they would. A corruption corporation might arrange to have a judge get a delayed promotion in return for a favorable or slanted verdict, so the possibility does not disappear, but only diminishes in range.

Transparency is often described as a mitigation for corporate corruption, including that which occurs around a court case, but just as individual corruption in a world where extreme inequality exists can find clever ways to occur, so might clever ways to disguise payoffs be found. Having independent watchdog agencies to monitor corporate finances and behavior is often touted as another means of curing corporate corruption, but the response to this is to corrupt first the process of monitoring as well as influence the regulations for transparency, thus enabling further corruption to go forward. Perhaps layers upon layers of watchdog organizations, which monitor transparency as well as behavior, might be necessary.

The remaining six examples are simply illustrations of individuals doing small-scale corruption of differing varieties. No high-level formulation of a socio-economic system is going to eliminate the possibilities that exist here, but there is one essential and very important difference. Examples 3 through 6 can exist in small numbers, as exceptions to the general way that people in these positions behave, or they can be the more-or-less accepted way of behavior, that no one quibbles with but just lives with and works around. To have a society that operates efficiently, and in which people are supposed to receive benefits according to the effort they expend and the talent they accumulate, then the routine acceptance of corrupt behavior on a small scale cannot be accepted. This means that not only will there have to be laws regulating it, there needs to be public awareness that such behavior is not accepted. There has to be methods by which it can be reported, and there must be organizations that are held to high standards that investigate it and work to diminish the amount of it until it only exists by exception, not by routine. Once this is done, the socio-economic system will be largely free from corruption.

It is much more important that political corruption be ended, by instituting just deserts taxation of excess capital gains and income, including all devices used to hide it. This type of corruption, once it becomes well-known, is like a poison in society, and would be used to justify all other types of corruption. The role of high-level examples in society can be great, and if there was transparency in this area, so that all political figures were known to be operating with no corrupt payoffs, neither to themselves or to those they favor, then low-level corruption would be easier to have reported and ended. So, from a top-down fashion, corruption is at least viewable as a curable disease, as long as the just deserts medicine can be made to be tolerable.