- Rutger Bregman writes that the most extreme wealth in our economy is based on rents rather than productivity:
In reality, it is the waste collectors, the nurses, and the cleaners whose shoulders are supporting the apex of the pyramid. They are the true mechanism of social solidarity. Meanwhile, a growing share of those we hail as “successful” and “innovative” are earning their wealth at the expense of others. The people getting the biggest handouts are not down around the bottom, but at the very top. Yet their perilous dependence on others goes unseen. Almost no one talks about it. Even for politicians on the left, it’s a non-issue.- Nora Loreto reminds us of the potential for public-sector competition such as a postal bank to rein in the abuses of the private sector. And Joe Allen discusses the potential for the logistics sector to be a new organizing opportunity for workers.
To understand why, we need to recognise that there are two ways of making money. The first is what most of us do: work. That means tapping into our knowledge and know-how (our “human capital” in economic terms) to create something new, whether that’s a takeout app, a wedding cake, a stylish updo, or a perfectly poured pint. To work is to create. Ergo, to work is to create new wealth.
But there is also a second way to make money. That’s the rentier way: by leveraging control over something that already exists, such as land, knowledge, or money, to increase your wealth. You produce nothing, yet profit nonetheless. By definition, the rentier makes his living at others’ expense, using his power to claim economic benefit.
What innovation remains in a rentier economy is mostly just concerned with further bolstering that very same economy. This may explain why the big dreams of the 1970s, like flying cars, curing cancer, and colonising Mars, have yet to be realised, while bankers and ad-makers have at their fingertips technologies a thousand times more powerful.
Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. Tollgates can be torn down, financial products can be banned, tax havens dismantled, lobbies tamed, and patents rejected. Higher taxes on the ultra-rich can make rentierism less attractive, precisely because society’s biggest freeloaders are at the very top of the pyramid. And we can more fairly distribute our earnings on land, oil, and innovation through a system of, say, employee shares, or a universal basic income.
But such a revolution will require a wholly different narrative about the origins of our wealth. It will require ditching the old-fashioned faith in “solidarity” with a miserable underclass that deserves to be borne aloft on the market-level salaried shoulders of society’s strongest. All we need to do is to give real hard-working people what they deserve.
- Ilona Dougherty is rightly concerned with the prospect that an entire generation of workers is being told that it can't expect anything more than precarious work, while Murray Dobbin comments on the increasing stress and despair within the working class. Alexandra Sienkiewicz reports on the abuse of "part-time" classifications to suppress wages and benefits. And Frank Graves and Graham Lowe discuss what we'd see in workplaces which were actually intended to be smarter - rather than merely being more exploitative.
- Meanwhile, Jonathan Malesic argues that the U.S. shouldn't tie personal dignity solely to paid employment.
- Finally, Michael Harris writes about the slow-motion train wreck that is the Cons' leadership campaign.