Thursday, January 28, 2016

That lifting thing we do (even when screwed up)

Regular readers (all two or three of ‘em) may have noticed I’m writing about training less frequently as of late. A bit more than a month ago I partially tore the distal tendon of my left biceps deadlifting, and there are almost no upper body movements I can do without pain (literally, just putting on my gloves to ride the bikes is a friggin’ ordeal, and I have to do it at least twice a day!). As this is the first major injury I have suffered while training with weights (the other serious events I’ve experienced were all either running or playing rugby, which I know for certain are much more dangerous and unpredictable activities, specially the second one), it has forced me to review my belief system around the risks and benefits of using barbells. Some preliminary conclusions:

·         Barbell training is still the most efficient use of your time if you want general health, a modicum of fitness and even a basic level of what, for want of a better word, I’ll call “look-good-nakedness” (which is made of fairly voluminous muscles, a self-assured posture and a manageable amount of body fat). Be it cardiovascular capacity, stability of the joints, prevention of bone matter loss or simple  ability to withstand blows or unexpected impacts (like a sudden crash of your bike against  one of those lumbering four-wheeled monstrosities that populate our roads… believe me, I´ve been there), systematically moving heavy weights is hands down the best way to improve in any of those.

·         Age may be more of a factor than what I believed regarding the optimal way to train. How I trained with 40 may not be the optimal way to train with 46 (even after allowing for the fact that I am much stronger at 46 that what I was at 40). I’m still not sure if I need to spend more time at lower intensities and higher volumes, or if I need to allow for slightly longer recovery periods, but it seems advisable to slightly raise the foot from the gas pedal and be more generous with the reps I leave in the tank in every session.

·         You literally can NEVER relax or allow for sloppy form. I tended to really focus on technique only in the heaviest sets (above 90% of 1RM), and maybe also in the warm-up ones, as I understood being cold as a more dangerous, more fragile status. Well, I tore the tendon in the 5th rep of the 5th set of a session in which I was working with about 70% of my 1RM. And after thinking hard and seriously about it, I think it was because I was so tired that I was slightly jerking the bar off the floor to get it moving, and bending the arms a bit at the elbows when doing it. Just enough to let mean ol’ mr. gravity straighten the arms, thus giving an extra little acceleration to the weight that proved to be just enough to snap a good deal of the muscle fibers attached to the tendon AND tear a good deal of the tendon off its insertion to the bone (I know, exactly the fifth thing I pontificated should never be done in this post: Deadlift things to consider). Do as I say, not as I’ve done. And for the record, as soon as I’m back using my hands for anything more challenging than picking my nose (more on that one later on) I intend to keep a laser-like focus on the right technique in every single friggin’ rep of every single friggin’ set, no matter how light, or how tired, or how inconsequential said rep and set seem to be at the moment. Disaster lurks in any overconfident, nonchalant moment.

·         I can not entirely discard the possibility that being in a caloric deficit may also contribute to being more fragile. I was by no means dieting, or anything like that (I think even ballparking the exact amount of calories you consume is a kind of mental disease, and I once made very firmly the decision to never in my life follow a diet or a food regime, a decision I intend to maintain), but as I was not pushing myself so hard in the gym (being mostly busy with writing articles in philosophical reviews so I was allowed to defend my dissertation once and for all) and in summer I had suffered a frequent swelling of  my reconstructed knee by shot putting while weighing well over 200 pounds, I was just not so obsessed with stuffing myself at every conceivable opportunity, and was not consistently drinking gallons of milk to supplement my regular meals and ensure I kept gaining muscle, so I had shaken off about 20 pounds in the last four to five months, just by not pushing myself to overeat. It may be a silly coincidence that I just happened to tear the tendon weighing  190 instead of 210, as I didn’t feel much weaker (and was training with a tad lower weights, not being able to go to the gym as frequently, and as consistently, as at other more leisurely moments in my life), but it’s difficult not to think that probably eating less somehow makes us more fragile, more prone to injury than safely carrying a bit of extra bulk around.

Be it as it may, the fact of the matter is that the 11th of December I tore the distal biceps tendon of my left arm for good, and I’m still going through the tests to decide if it requires a surgical intervention to reattach it (or a bigger portion of it) to the bone, or if I can count with it healing and strengthening through repose and a bit of PT (but that sounds just silly to me… imposing a measured stress on them is what forces the muscles and tendons to adapt by becoming stronger… how is a tendon then supposed to become more resistant if we do not signal to it that it has to overcome ever greater demands?).
In the meantime, I’m taking it easy, doing a bit more of running (for the first time in three or four years I ran for over an hour during a recent trip to Reading, which allowed me to cover a good portion of the city that I would have otherwise left unknown) and slowly seeing how much squatting I can safely perform. I intend to spend quite some time creating a bigger base from which to get back to intensity in a few months, so I’ll be doing many more repetitions with much less weight. Both back and front. Something like this:

Which seems safe and sensible enough. Of course, the safe and sensible life may not be so much worth living as enduring, so the next time I found myself in the gym (nominally to query some books to find the precise page numbers of some quotations I wanted to use in the defense of my dissertation) I could not avoid to do this:

Well, it felt good, it didn’t hurt (notice I used double overhand grip, I don’t think I’ll be supinating the left hand –or the right one, as a weaker left may overload it and I certainly don’t want to take any risks- any time soon) and it made me think if bad comes to worst and I have to undergo surgery I may still get back to being a semi decent deadlifter (that’s my best lift, after all!) by doing a Steve Goggins and learning to use the hook grip also to DL (I already use it to Oly lift, but even with that training it still hurts like hell when I go above 180 kg -400 pounds- for multiple reps). You know, if life gives you lemons, learn to make lemonade… 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Who belongs in Paradise? (Anarcho Traditionalism and emigration)

I thought with my last post on Anarcho Traditionalist economics I was done with the subject, and had produced a description of the only political platform worth voting for (which meant I would keep emitting blank votes, as no actual political party would ever come close to it). However, thinking more in depth about it, and reading the opposition to the tiny parts of it that can be found proposed by some (typically fringe) parties I realized there is still one aspect that needs to be clarified. I can still consider that what we may call the “static” description of how an anarcho traditionalist polity would function is complete enough (of course there are a myriad details that have to be fully fleshed, but I don’t think any of them pose an insurmountable obstacle, and the given indications should be enough to flesh out the minutiae required for a real world implementation), but to assess the feasibility (and desirability) of such static situation we have to take in consideration the dynamic of a) how it comes to be, in a world of nation states with existing laws regarding what economic activities are permitted and what citizens have to pay (or not) and b) how it sustains itself not in an ideal world where everybody has embraced the same set of general principles, but in one where some groups may linger forever in something close to the current status quo, or some variation of it that somehow limits the movement of their own citizens, or even worse, try to impose their will in the anarcho traditionalist polities that have long rejected it.

Those “dynamic” aspects have to be sorted out because one of the main arguments I have read (and heard) against my proposed social construct is that it would quickly become socioeconomically unfeasible, as the poorest, less skilled citizens of every wretched place would be attracted to immigrate there, attracted by the UBI and the economic freedom and the open borders. Once there they would cause social disintegration and put a stop to all entrepreneurship and economic activity, because, in a trope much loved by practically everyone in the right, “you can only have two of the following three: immigration, multiculturalism and democracy”. Needless to say, the sad events of New Year’s eve in Cologne are exhibit A of this line of thinking, presented as the unavoidable consequence of letting too many foreigners “of the wrong sort” in your nice, orderly little country (mouthpiece of this line of thinking is the NYT columnist Ross Douthat, asking for the resignation of none other hat the very admirable Angela Merkel for her “foolishness” advocating basic human decency: Ross spouts ugly nonsense). I’m not entirely convinced, and in the articles expounding such point of view the second feature (multiculturalism) sounds much like a straw man that nobody in his right mind would really consider desirable (the way it is construed by its critics, it has more to do with rejection of things like equality and religious freedom, so of course by definition it’s barely compatible with democracy… on the other hand its proponents tend to see it more in the vein of recognizing that the literary canon should not only include white heterosexual males and that there may be alternatives to the traditional whiggish narrative of history –consisting in the unstoppable progress of Western reason and Western values– that also have some merit) so we can confidently leave it aside. Such a multiculturalism we can do without, and we call our brand of anarchism “traditionalist” precisely because it defiantly rejects multiculturalism (and whig history), reclaiming the right to live within its own idiosyncratic tradition (and thus firmly embedded in a particular culture, with its own particular interpretation of history and its own claim to superiority regarding other alternative cultures).

Now, we can focus on the question of the plausibility of an open border policies compatible with the maintenance of democracy, once we have gotten rid of the multiculturalism thing. So people may come, but the receiving group would be free to accept them or not as I explored in my post about the potential difficulty for my system of not just ensuring a “right to exit” to any member –which would serve as a check against autocratic tendencies of each phratry rulers– but also assuming a “right to join” would be sufficiently extended as to ensure everybody could find a group where he would feel reasonably accepted and secure to follow the “plan of life” he felt more congenial to his particular tastes and sensibility (of bigots and would-be victims). However, that lack of acceptance would also be tempered by the necessary respect of any phratry of the rights we listed as non-negotiable. So for example they could not prevent any newcomer from enjoying their Universal Basic Income if they chose to stay there for some time. Or from running for office (if there was such a thing, remember the phratria didn’t need to be democratic in the first place, and could have their rulers and guardians appointed for life if they chose to, so not letting newcomers vote wouldn’t be a discrimination in that case). Wow, wow, wow, I can hear potential critics already saying. So everybody can come to your group and demand he is paid the same UBI as everybody else, no string attached. How is that not a call for total disaster right away, attracting every lazy bum on Earth to live off the public purse in exchange for nothing, until such purse is exhausted and every last worker and industrious person is driven off the land? Not so fast, critic. Remember that each right in our playbook was accompanied by an equivalent duty, and to enjoy the former you had to discharge the later (AT economics). So if you wanted your UBI you had to either pay your taxes in money or devote a certain amount of time doing communal work, to ensure even people not able to find a job were rightfully employed towards the communal good and the maintenance and development of the commons. If more people came, the phratry would have more able bodies to do more work, and produce more collective wealth. It is conceivable that an extremely successful phratry, a shining exemplar of well managed economy and social harmony, may receive more people than what it can profitably employ, or that it can absorb without jeopardizing the cultural homogeneity that underlies such success and such harmony (not just because too many newcomers are ignorant of the language to be usefully directed, although much socially profitable labor doesn’t require an extensive training or complex instructions to be suitably done, but because they lack the core of common values required for efficiently coordinating a complex group).

To avoid such problem, it can be expedient (and thus admissible) to limit the amount of people that each phratry is obliged to extend their welcome to, so no group has ever to grant citizenship rights to more than 5% of their population per year (a percentage that anti-immigration zealots probably consider already unacceptably high, but remember that 5% is to be gainfully employed by the community, and that I would expect the moment they enjoyed the same rights and permission to work as the rest of the citizens they would surely generate additional wealth and contribute to their new home over and above what was initially requested). It could also be acceptable to establish a “probation” period in which newcomers would need to contribute to the community more than the settled citizens, by bearing an additional tax (so instead of working 576 hours per year, or paying the equivalent of 28,656 $, during the first five years they had to either work 1,000 hours or pay 50,000 $, after which time they would be full fledged citizens, with the same advantages and the same burdens as everybody else). That additional tax would discourage moving to other phratria (so the tradition of each is not wantonly weakened by the caprice or the wanderlust of their younger generations) but not prohibitively so (thus keeping the “right to exit” open not just in theory, but also in practice). That sounds to me much saner and more humane than the current system, where most countries let a tiny quota of immigrants in, regardless of how desperate their plight is, but then make it almost impossible for them to get legal status that allow them to work and contribute to their new homeland, ensuring they are kept in a cycle of dependency, degradation and may times criminal behavior. If you let them came (as you should, as it is not their fault to have been born in most of the hellholes they are trying to escape from) you should let them work, and prosper, and contribute to the society that has adopted them.

What about the permanently disabled and destitute, you may ask. Those that can not work at all and have no assets, so have no way to discharge their obligations to the rest of the group, and thus can not aspire to ever become citizens. Well, politics can only take you so far, and there comes a point where social justice, it doesn’t matter how comprehensive, has to cede its place to pure and simple charity. Every phratry will set the amount (and the potential condition)  of the cases they are willing to support entirely for free, and will have the right to deny entrance to those in such condition above such number. Charity, being a virtue, can’t be mandated or imposed, and it is up to each group to decide how much of it they think it fair to exercise, according to their own wealth and the position of the rest of the world.

What has been said for the case of a future world where anarcho traditionalist phratria (grouped in phylae and eventually in even greater confederations to build great projects that bring them everlasting glory) may coexist with traditional societies is equally applied for our current world, where there is not a single anarcho traditionalist phratry, so the first one will be entirely surrounded by powerful nation-states that impose, by the sheer force of their irrationally grown armies and police apparatuses, their monopoly of power, and use that monopoly of power not just to extract such crazy amounts of the citizens’ incomes that they leave no space for sharing it in any alternative way, but also to indoctrinate them in the triad of commandments that we saw guarantee both maximum collective growth in the production of material things and maximum individual angst at the waste and senselessness of lives wrongly lived. How is such lonely phratry to survive and prosper, so it can lead by example and inspire others to join in their better way of organizing society? We will deal with such question in our next post in the subject. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Good stewards of the Earth (Anarcho Traditionalist Manifesto V)

In my last post on the subject (it’s the friggin’ previous one , just down the page, so I’m not gonna paste a link for that one!) I proposed the shocking concept of instituting a “fixed amount”, “flat rate” tax to be paid by everybody, regardless of income or economic situation, and advanced that I would defend its morality in a later installment. The moment has come, and before continuing with the Manifesto itself I would like to justify such proposal and reconcile it with my contention that it would lead to a fairer society, more conductive to human flourishing. How can you call “fairer” a society where a millionaire discharges his duty with the product of fifty hours of his work  or less (somebody who earns 1 million bucks per year, assuming he works 1,800 hours, receives 555,56 $ per hour worked, so would obtain the 28,656 $ I set as yearly amount of taxes by working the aforementioned 50 hours… 51 hours and forty minutes, to be more precise; somebody making ten million bucks a year would get the amount required to be done with his taxes in a tenth of the time, so a bit more than five hours would do the trick for him) while a housemaid has to work for three months and a half to obtain the same effect!!!!

Well, let’s call it the “everybody pays the same, everybody gets the same” rule, which doesn’t sound so unfair to begin with. Of course, that “paying the same” may require very different amounts of exertion, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Before entering in the murky waters of how bad it may be that to achieve the same outcomes people, being different, require different levels of sacrifice (and if fairness requires us to reward the outcome OR the effort put to produce it), let’s first grapple with some additional accusations that can be thrown to such scheme:

·         As it is most markedly NOT redistributive, it perpetuates inequality. Guilty as charged, it surely does. So does not cutting the legs of taller people (height correlates strongly with higher incomes), not forcing those with deeper voices to wear vocoders to distort it (they are perceived as more authoritative without them) or not perpetually administering mind altering drugs to dumb down people with higher IQ (which is the –mostly genetically acquired, so basically unearned, and persistent through life- factor that most strongly correlates with higher incomes), and as far as I know nobody ardently advocates such measures to alleviate the glaring difference in outcome they produce… life is unfair, deal with it

·         The same goal of allowing everybody to receive a UBI could be reached without making those that make less than 50 $/hour work in demeaning public jobs (they would be demeaning because everybody who earned more than 50 $/hour would find it more convenient to pay the money, so putting in the time would be associated with “not having made it”), by just charging a bit more to the top earners (say, a fixed percentage instead of a fixed amount, of the order of the very same 25% that needed to be collected, only in that version only the “real” earners would be paying it). I happen to think that work ennobles those doing it, and that a life in which you get something in exchange for something else has more dignity than one in which you end up depending on something in exchange for nothing at all. Even if it is more inefficient and the state has to exert some ingenuity to find jobs accessible to any level of skill or education than if it bought all its needs in the open market, I think it builds a healthier society if everybody (again, except the children, the elderly, the infirm and the temporarily sick) has to contribute something, has some skin in the game, and can legitimately feel they have “earned” what they get back (the famous UBI). Also, it would rob the selfish taxpayers of the argument you hear so much from the right (it used to be only from the far right, but it’s becoming more and more common) that every cent the state spends it “steals” it from somebody, and that such stealing is more grievous as it is used to subsidize the lives of the “undeserving”

With that last point I think I’ve already cleared the objection towards the different effort demanded from differently capable citizens. That’s unfortunate indeed, but it’s better than the alternative, which would imply recognizing that the time of those unable to pay is so little worthy that it is not even requested. So although I feel (and to a certain extent sympathize) with the accusation of unfairness I think in this case it is better to push for a certain unfairness (regarding effort, not outcomes, as the same outcomes are demanded from everybody, which also means that everybody is guaranteed the opportunity to contribute to the same extent and provided to everybody) than show the ultimate patronizing contempt, which is considering the less skilled workers so useless that it is preferred to just pay them for nothing.

Having then (hopefully!) cleared that objection, let’s proceed with the Manifesto.

The zero footprint rule

So far we have expounded how a society that ensures the maximum freedom while guaranteeing a minimum of dignity to each of its inhabitants, freeing them from both the unnecessary constraints and the paralyzing uncertainties that have shackled humanity in previous eras. But there is still one element to be considered regarding how to regulate production to avoid unjust accumulations of riches, which has always and everywhere been much enabled by the existence of externalities. Externalities are those costs that the use of economic resources (finite, scarce materials with alternative uses, in the immortal definition of Lionel Robbins) entails, but which are not borne by those using those resources, so in the end have to be paid by somebody else (who usually has not benefitted from its use). In the old times, use of common pastures or forests (being common, it’s understood that no payment was required) was the only potential externality, and a most tenuous one, as the bountiful nature would replace the consumed goods without much effort (as long as there was no overgrazing or over logging). But with the increased dominion of man over Nature, many activities are performed that are rife with externalities, from the coal plant that pours greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere without paying a penny for it to the cellulose plant that poisons the river where it emits its waste (well, in most of the world that poisoning is prohibited, and the plats have to treat their waste to make it relatively innocuous, so that particular externality has been mostly internalized). Energy production is specially blamable, as even the supposedly renewable energies (solar, wind, hydro) have a deleterious effect at some point in their production (from the use of arsenic, tellurium or indium to manufacture photovoltaic panels to the iron and copper used in stupendous amounts in wind turbines for a meager handful of kilowatts) which is rarely fully priced, assuming somebody someday will be left with the tab (after the current producers have cashed in). Many times, the rich and powerful that can influence the legislative process can dump the costs on the poor and uninformed (sometimes quite literally, as exemplified by a lot of electronic waste from the first world that is sent to third world countries with laxer environmental legislation), or if that fails, on future generations. 

That state of affairs is morally unacceptable, thus the only overarching regulation in any AT polity is the zero footprint effect: any economic activity is permitted free of charge (with one exception we will deal with in a moment) and without limitations, given it leaves no trace of it ever happening once it is terminated. As such activities may last well beyond their initiators lives, they should adequately provide for a “decommissioning fund” estimated as sufficient to devolve the site where they operated to green level, and during operations they should both ensure that no environmental impact is caused or, when unavoidable, pay a proper price (to be determined by an independent authority) for its mitigation. Would that make some activities we now perform gingerly uneconomical? Very probably, and that is enough reason in my playbook to stop doing them. Now with the exception: private property of land, or of any of its resources, is morally unacceptable. “Land” is a fiction for a parceled fraction of the Earth, which was here before we evolved, and which will still be around (hopefully) after we are gone (in what sorry state, if we keep on despoiling it as we have been doing for the last generations, is another matter). Understood that way, land can only be collectively owned. Each phratry would be assigned a certain amount, which would then dispose of as they see fit, given that they can never, ever, fully alienate it. My particular suggestion would be to lease it at market prices (which could be construed as an additional tax, a poll tax in the rich Anglo Saxon tradition, much as I said there should be no more taxes than the previously described), in order to have an additional source of revenue and also to have an objective criterion for its distribution (the more coveted spot would go to those more able to pay, but that is better than either distributing it to friends –thus casting doubts about the legitimacy of the process- or just letting people fight for it).

We will deal in more detail with how we propose to transition from our unjust, predatory, demeaning societies of today to the Anarcho Traditionalist paradise in another moment, but let it be known at this point that we are not (necessarily) advocating outright expropriation. A gradual transition can take place, where all current land titles are deemed valid for a hundred years (so all of today’s owners can still bequeath them to their heirs), and subsequent sales are adjusted for a decreasing duration (so twenty years from now sales are valid for a period of just eighty years, and so on, until finally all the land has reverted to the phratria, to be administered publicly).

So there you are, in a nutshell our recipe for a more perfect, more humane society:

·         Small groupings (phratria) with maximum freedom to give themselves whatever rules they deem fit, as long as they comply with a basic list of rights and their accompanying duties (the latter ensure that the former can be rightfully enjoyed), and that freely join other similar groups (Philae) to be able to jointly tackle greater projects for the collective good

·         “Right of exit” so anybody unhappy with the rules of the group can join other ones

·         Minimal state structure (roughly estimated to be around 3-5% of the population, between administrators, guardians and arbiters), the choice of who serves in what position to be hammered out by each phratry

·         “Everybody pays the same, everybody receives the same”: Universal Basic Income and provision of basic services by the phratry, with no exceptions, and universal payment of a fixed amount by every able citizen (in money or in time), equally with no exceptions

·         Maximal freedom of enterprise, given that a) the land can be leased but not bought and b) the zero footprint rule has to be respected. Any degradation to the common goods that can not be avoided has to be priced and paid for

Damn, if it were not for the law of unintended consequences (which asserts that if such a society were actually ever attempted, only God knows what may happen and how it would eventually really look like) I would start campaigning for it right away!

Wouldn’t you? If not, feel free to let me know why (in the comments section, that great unknown). 

Monday, January 4, 2016

An economy for freedom, not slavery (Anarcho Traditionalist manifesto IV)

Happy 2016 to everybody! The Vintage Rocker had amazing holidays just reading a ton, thinking a good deal and (surprise, surprise!) polishing his dissertation (yep, it takes forever to really close and finish the damn thing, but it is what it is). Not much training, unfortunately, as I injured my left elbow deadlifting at the beginning of September and it doesn’t seem to have healed much. The bright side of it is that I could devote the extra time to consider the multiple implications of the economic system that was taking shape in my head (inspired in my series of posts about how the Earth would look like 500 years from now) and have finally settled on what I now consider a valid alternative to current capitalism (talk of humility and setting realistically low goals!), which I wouldn’t feel embarrassed promoting or even (gasp!) voting for. For those interested in the intellectual underpinnings of such economic ideas, that will round off my AT Manifesto, (for any newcomer reading this, the previous entries are here: AT Manifesto I, II and III). In this final section of the Manifesto, I will explore the basic rules constraining economic activity in an AT society: how what to produce and how to distribute such production is decided (resource allocation), how to ensure basic fairness (taxes) and finally the basis of all regulation to correct the inefficiencies of the price mechanism (zero footprint rule)

Who does what for whom (resource allocation)

During the vast majority of human history, each person’s occupation was decided well before he was born: most would toil in the fields without any expectation of ever improving their lot, or their descendant’s lot, while a few would rule over them thanks to their superior martial prowess (or their possession of superior weaponry) or their belonging to a transcendentally justified minority (priestly class, which always needed to be allied with the former). With the advent of the Industrial Revolution for the first time in History productivity gains outpaced demographic increase, permitting the vast majority to escape that fate. People could choose what they wanted to do with their lives (although it was implicitly assumed that most would submit to joyless activities, their only choice being what type of joyless activity would they devote most of their waking time to), as long as most of it was exchanged for money in the job market (which in turn required markets for most of life necessities that could in turn be obtained in exchange for that money). There was some moral justification for such state of things (exemplified in St. Paul’s not very charitable dictum “he who does not work, neither shall he eat”, in 2 Thessalonians 3:10) while the majority of the time of the majority of the able bodied population was required to keep everybody alive. But today, thanks to technological advances and automation it appears as a woefully inadequate system, that condemns most to lives of meaningless effort just to scrape by existences almost devoid of dignity, with the constant threat of loosing any social respectability (that depends for almost all in having a salaried job and maintaining it for life) if they do not conform to such travesty as pursuing an occupation that is mostly unneeded and whose reward is most arbitrary.

That said, it must also be recognized that such system has enabled the societies that espoused it to extract unheard of quantities of work from their members, and through the “invisible hand” of the market and its incentives led them to historically high levels of material comfort (not necessarily well distributed, but some spillover assured that even the poorest members could end better off than most of the inhabitants of differently organized polities). Any attempt that has been made to achieve similar levels of wealth with centrally planned economies has been an abject failure, from which we should learn. And the lesson those attempts teach is that people work most efficiently and contentedly when a) they can keep the fruit of their labor and b) they feel they have “agency”, they have the capability to take their own decisions (boneheaded as they may appear to an external observer) and steer their own course. However, that agency and freedom can pose an insurmountable obstacle to the coordination of activities that require the collaboration of great numbers of individuals, that left to their own devices end up producing vastly suboptimal collective arrangements (typically known as “tragedy of the commons”, “free rider problem”, “prisoners’ dilemma” and such).

During the last century, efforts have been made to alleviate the problems of unbridled markets by subtracting certain sectors of economic activity from their rules, thus creating “mixed economies” where some goods and services are provided free of charge to every citizen (and some legal residents, or even to illegal ones) and other are provided for a price, which is calculated by the more or less regulated encounter of supply and demand. The theory says that the “freer” the market (multiple buyers and sellers with similar small power to influence prices, no asymmetries of information or ability to influence each other) the more apt to be left to private players with minimal regulation, and the farther from such freedom (inordinately big influence of a single provider or purchaser, impossibility to make an educated decision for lack of transparency, etc.) the more demanding of state intervention (or direct state provision). There is nothing inherently wrong with such theory, except that it is the farthest thing from how things really work that you can imagine, as some most regulated markets would gravitate towards almost ideal freedom if left to their own devices, while some apparently free ones are absurdly lopsided. Regulatory capture, and the need to pander differentially to each party’s special interest groups in representative democracies (or to the autocrat cronies in a dictatorship) explain most of those deviations. Thus, an AT society would use the same principle (mixed economy) but guided by more rational principles, striving always to balance the guarantee to all the citizens of a decent (but not luxurious) standard of living with the maximum freedom to spend their time (both as producers and as consumers) as they damn please. A tentative list of what the AT state would produce and provide their citizens free of charge (or subject to minimal, “administrative” charges to avoid unnecessary, capricious use) is:

·         Basic foodstuff (2,500 kcal/day per person of a reasonably healthy mix of dairy products, cereals, vegetables and fruits, meat and fish)

·         Basic energy (for residential use: whatever is needed given the climatic conditions to keep a medium home heated/ air conditioned and well lit) and reliable transport lines

·         Basic communications (passable roads and streets, wireless and wireline networks w accessible Wi-Fi hotspots, working postal service, reasonable access to railways, ports and in some cases airports)

·         Basic education (enough to ensure every prospective citizen has the ability to read, write, calculate and use statistics, plus knowledge of history and legal institutions, which would be required to effectively exercise their political rights)

·         Healthcare (it is almost impossible to differentiate here between “basic” and “luxurious”… advanced oncological treatment is a luxury until one happens to suffer from a rare cancer, at which point it becomes as basic as it comes… let´s for the moment leave it at “as much healthcare as the state can pay with taxes the citizenry is willing to bear”)

·         Security (sadly, given human nature, state intervention is required to prevent malfeasance and crime, and to defend the commonweal… this is another area where it is difficult to set the line of what is strictly needed and what is just satisfying the public tendency towards excessive paranoia, and I believe that a less materialistic society, where material and easily fungible goods are not so idolized would have a much lower crime rate, but even then there will always be a need for a police force and depending on the international scenario the full shebang of army, air force and navy)

We do not claim that the state should be the sole provider of those services, or even that it should manage them from beginning to end through publicly owned companies, run by political appointees (which is a polite term for saying “unprofessional, incompetent and totally deaf to market signals”). Depending on the circumstances pertaining how it can pay for them (more about that when we talk about taxes) it may choose to produce and provide them directly, or it may find more efficient to buy them in the open market to people privately producing them (for a profit). All we say is that the state should ensure that those products and services are freely available to all. At the same time, people will have the maximum freedom to pursue whatever occupation they like and believe can give them a reward worthy of the effort. We do accept that some “crowding out” may occur, but do not think that should frustrate anybody from pursuing their desired vocation: if everybody receives a fixed ration of wheat or of milk, there may be not much of a market for “normal” wheat or milk production, but if agriculture is what ticks you there will always be unattended demand for truffles, goji berries, tiger nuts, barley specialty hops for craft beer and whatnot. Similarly, the state will ensure that everybody can read and count, but if people want to privately teach them how to do differential calculus or research the law system of the Visigoths, as long as they find other people willing to partake of such education they are more than free (I wish to think they would be actively welcome, but good luck with the latter!) to pursue such lines of work.

The question, then, is how will the state pay for such generous supplies. To that end we must turn to our next chapter

What we owe to each other (taxes)  

It is a sobering reminder of how much we have strayed from a sensible rationality to read Keynes’ “Economic possibilities for our Grandchildren”, written in 1930, where he famously prophesized that in a hundred years time (that would be in 2030, so a mere 14 years from now) we would be working 15 hours per week, and the great problem of the times would be what the masses would do with so much leisure time. To put it mildly, the great economist what slightly off the mark with this prediction, as we have managed to keep on working more and more (individually, not socially, as less and less people participate in the workforce) to satisfy what he termed “artificial needs”, more than compensating for the declining effort required to satisfy the “natural” ones (why? Because our whole social organization is geared towards extracting the maximum possible effort from every able individual, tossing aside unceremoniously those that it deems not able enough, as It has been selected for its ability to do so and to use that extraction to fund better armies that allowed it to displace and subjugate any potential competitor… but I’m repeating myself here once again). Although the calculation of those 15 hours was reached by some questionable methods (assuming a rate of global economic growth that has held remarkably well along these impressively turbulent years), it happens to be not so far from my own calculations of how much it would take to provide for the basic needs of an advanced society with our current level of technical development. Think about it for a moment: the US produced about 17,000 billion $ in 2013 (that was the total value of its GNP, which considers both goods produced and services rendered for a price), which amounts to roughly 55,000 $ per capita (given a population of 300 million, give or take a few). If we remember the exercise I did when considering what it would take to provide everybody in the USA with a Universal Basic Income, while the state maintained its essential functions of healthcare, defense, infrastructure, education and R&D (which you can find detailed here: UBI in USA) I settled on a figure of roughly 14,000 $/year to be paid per person. That figure could be interpreted as meaning that people should pay in taxes about 25% of their income (as 14K is about a 25% of 55K), and thus  should work about 25% of their time to cover their basic needs (remember that we reached the figure of 14K precisely as the amount required to cover such needs), which translates into 10 hours a week (if we assume a standard work week of 40 hours). At this point let’s remember that while we have to cover for everybody’s needs (all the 300 millions), the 17,000 billion $ were produced by just a fraction of the population, to be precise by the 67% that is counted as “active” (which is, let us remember, very low by historical standards, although the unmistakable trend is for it to go even lower). That means that the real “average” wealth production of each working individual is 82,000 $/year, and if we could decouple occupation from taxation (and thus have everybody, regardless of employment status, contributing to the satisfaction of common needs, which seems just fair given that everybody, equally regardless of employment status, would be receiving the UBI and the other services provided by the state) the average contribution required to provided the basics we identified previously “only” rises to 20,000 $/year (taking into account the whole population between 18 and 65 years old), which requires about 8 hours/ week to discharge, slightly below 10% of the standard working time. However, I’ll be a bit more conservative, assume the system is riddled with inefficiencies and so to provide the aforementioned services the state has to collect as much as 30% of the average worker’s time (that would be 12 hours/ week, not that far from Keynes 15 hours) to have enough to ensure that everybody receives a UBI (of 8,000 $/year) plus can enjoy the full list of the basic goods and services described.

So our AT society would expect everybody (in the right age bracket and physically able, it goes without saying) to work 12 hours per week to discharge their duties towards their fellow citizens. That would be the counterpart to a bunch of rights we mentioned in our initial list, and thus not optional. But that would be ALL that the state demanded. There would be two ways of discharging such obligation. One would be by communal work under the direction of the phratry administrators doing either non skilled work (from picking the garbage to milking cows to repairing roads) or skilled work (according to needs that could range from teaching children to providing primary care to designing power plants). Such skilled work would be counted applying a “correcting factor” to take into account the extra time invested by the worker in acquiring the required skill (although the maximum factor allowed would be 1:2, so for example an hour of a skilled pediatrician attending kids would count as 2 hours of a tractor driver plowing the fields). The other would be paying the equivalent price in money, at average market rates (those rates would be calculated dividing the total hours worked by the total wealth produced by the phratry; in the case of the US, that produced those 17 billion $ with a 67% of its 300 million inhabitants that rate would be 17,000B /(300M * 1,700 h/year * 0,67) = 49.75 $/h. That means that people could choose to work roughly 12 hours/week, or 576 hour/year (about three months and a half) in non skilled work, a fraction of that depending on how much skill and training was required (but of course they would need to acquire those skills/ training first) OR pay 28,656 $/year and be done with their fiscal obligations. I can hear the shrieks of disgust from 99.9% of the political spectrum (if that 99.9 read my blog, which is emphatically not the case), as what I am proposing is not just a flat tax rate (anathema to liberals the world over, although an old beloved idea of the far libertarian right) but a flat tax fixed amount. The most monstrously regressive idea ever! Billionaires paying the same as their humble secretaries or as the honest manual laborer who toils from dusk til dawn! I will leave the defense of such proposal for a later post, although I’ll only point out here that both the secretary and the laborer would toil more than one and a half hours a day strictly if they want to (and the compensation they get from that extra work justifies it in their own eyes), as their lives would be sufficiently secured with that minimal amount of exertion.    

A more reasoned objection would be that such a scheme may perpetuate social stratification, as the rich would not just get richer (that occurrence may be initially credited to their extra effort, ingenuity and drive –or just as well to their enhanced psychopathy, relentlessness and lack of knowledge of how to live a properly fulfilling life), but be able to bestow their extra wealth to their undeserving heirs. As this post is already too long I’ll leave its answer to my next one, in which I will defend that, given the right regulatory framework that prevents the rich from exploiting common goods for their advantage, as it happens much too frequently today, such difference in outcomes is not necessarily a moral failing of the system. That regulatory framework, in the form of the zero footprint rule, will be the subject then of my next post on this series.