DEMOCRACY & NATURE: The International Journal of INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY
vol.4, nos. 2/3, (issue 11/12) (1998)
Dialogue on Editorials
A comment by James Robertson
on Takis Fotopoulos’ editorial in No. 9
I would ask Takis Fotopoulos to think again, more systemically, about my contribution to Vol. 3, No. 3, Issue 9 on Economic Democracy and Green Economics. His editorial comments were too hastily dismissive. Let me try to explain.
First, the changes I discussed would create a society:
(1) which does not tax people for what they earn by their enterprise and useful work, by the value they add, and by what they contribute to the common good;
(2) in which the amounts that people and organisations pay to the public revenue by taxation reflect the value they subtract and themselves enjoy by their use or monopolisation of common resources; and
(3) in which all citizens have an equal right to share in the annual revenue so raised, partly by way of services provided at public expense and partly by way of a Citizen's Income. Because all citizens of such a society would share in the value of resources created by nature and society as a whole, people would be more equal with one another in esteem, capability and material conditions of life than they are today. It would be a more people-centred society, in which citizens and local communities would be economically less dependent.
Second, we need to think in terms of transition. I am sure Takis is not suggesting that “the replacement of the capitalist market economy with a moneyless, marketless and stateless economy, which constitutes the essence of an inclusive democracy and a libertarian confederation of local communities” can be achieved overnight in a big-bang revolution. If we want to be practical and effective, we need to take opportunities to extend the frontiers of economic democracy, equality and freedom (but not, of course, the freedom to diminish the freedom of others), as the opportunities arise.
Third, we need to understand that “enclosure” ― allowing a privileged minority of people and businesses and nations to monopolise the profits and incomes generated out of the natural values of land, energy, and other common resources (including, increasingly importantly, the environment's capacity to absorb pollution and waste) ― is what has shaped economic development locally, nationally and globally for the last few centuries, and that it is the underlying cause of economic inequality and exploitation. It has put a minority of people and nations in a position to dominate the rest. It has led today to the majority becoming economically dependent on centralised business, finance and state bureaucracies, all of which have exploited them. In 18th century Britain it was explicitly argued in support of the Enclosure Acts that enclosure would deprive the “common people” of economic independence, it would force them to work for their 'betters' every day of the year, it would compel them to put their children out to labour early, and it would secure the subordination of 'the lower ranks of society'.
Fourth, mainstream interest in resource taxation and welfare reform is now growing in many countries. We need to see this as an opportunity to reduce and eventually even annul the effects of enclosure, and so to open the way to a new direction of economic progress, positively enabling people and localities and nations now economically dependent to become more equal and more self-reliant.
As I said in my contribution to Economic Democracy and Green Economics, Tom Paine was one of the fore-runners of the approach I was discussing. Two hundred years ago, in his pamphlet Agrarian Justice, he proposed that landowners should pay a ground-rent to the community and that out of the fund so raised every person should receive "compensation, in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance". Few people have serious reservations about Tom Paine's credentials with respect to economic equality, or his relevance to radical political change. What he said about land then, we should seriously consider applying now to land and other common natural resources.
Takis Fotopoulos’ reply
I would not agree with James Robertson’s point that my editorial comments were too hastily dismissive. As his comments above make it abundantly clear our analyses emanate from radically different approaches about how we see the causes of the present multi-dimensional crisis and presumably how we envisage a future society and the transition to it.
First, I would agree that “enclosure” has shaped local, national and global economic development. However, “enclosure” has to be defined in broader terms than the monopolisation of profits by a privileged minority of people / businesses / nations of “the profits and incomes generated out of the natural values of land, energy, and other common resources”. For “enclosure” to have a comprehensive meaning it has to be defined as the separation of producers from the means of production and as such has indeed been the necessary condition for domination, inequality and exploitation or, in Marxian terms, the precondition for primitive accumulation.
Second, I do not think that enclosure alone can explain the present huge concentration of income and wealth. In other words, if enclosure was the necessary condition for inequality and exploitation, the sufficient condition was surely the establishment of the market system, as was described by Polanyi. It was the emergence of the system of the market economy, two centuries ago, which allowed enclosure to lead to a self-feeding process of continuous expansion and concentration of economic power, the outcome of which has been the present economic and ecological crisis.
Out of these two fundamental differences arise all other differences between James’ approach and mine, particularly as regards the transitional strategy. For James, the transition to a future society involves freeing all markets (i.e. enhancing the system of the market economy which, for me, is the ultimate cause of the present multi-dimensional crisis) and a system of resource taxation and welfare reform which, as I argued in my editorial comments, may lead to a “greener” society, but, at the expense of more rather than less inequality. On the other hand, for me, the transition (and I do talk very much about the transitional strategy in my article in no 9!) involves the creation of alternative institutions which, far from enhancing the system of the market economy, aim at replacing it altogether through the shifting of economic resources away from the control of the economic elites and towards direct citizens’ control.
A comment by Hugh Lacey
on Takis Fotopoulos’ editorial in No. 10
My article explores some alternative conceptions of science and technology and the values embodied in their practices. I agree with Takis that such alternatives will not be embodied in any widespread way unless there is a change in the broader institutional framework and, therefore, unless the movement to develop them is linked with a new liberatory project. I did not discuss what the links might be. At the same time I think it very important to explore anticipatory forms of the alternatives now, and to make them an integral part of any liberatory project ― in order to test their viability, to assess their potential for further development, and to shake the grip that mainstream science and technology have on our consciousness. I am particularly concerned with anticipatory explorations that fit into projects of “authentic development” and that currently play a role in some popular movements in impoverished countries. I think that alternative conceptions of science and technology will develop best through critical reflection on anticipatory explorations that are already in place. These explorations, as their viability is tested, may help to shape the character of the desired alternative institutional framework.
Takis Fotopoulos’ reply
I take the point about the aim of Hugh Lacey’s article and I agree that it is important to explore anticipatory forms of alternative conceptions of science & technology now and to make them an integral part of any liberatory project. However, I think the last sentence in his comment above summarises our different approaches. For me, the character of a future society should be determined first and the exploration of compatible with it forms of S&T should follow, not the other way round. Although, as I attempted to show in my article “Towards a democratic conception of science and technology”, we should avoid the traps of both social and technological determinism, I cannot see how we can critically assess alternative forms of S&T without having drawn some conclusions first on the type of society we wish to live in.