On December 27, 2013, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and Eli Broad write an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times:
Is it a sin to be rich?
Not if your resources are used to help others and create jobs.
If you listen to most of the discussions of income inequality, it certainly seems like affluence itself is a crime. We hear increasing calls for higher taxes on the wealthy and other policies designed to redistribute income. President Obama summed up that position when he said, “Our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.”
The assumption behind these proposals is that a minority of Americans has become rich by making a majority of our people poorer. In other words, it is seen as cause and effect. That’s simply not the case.
We agree that the facts on income inequality are stark and disturbing. Since 1973, the gap between incomes earned by the rich and middle-class Americans has grown every year, increasing now at a higher rate. Meanwhile, the number of middle-class jobs has been reduced by global competition and automation.
But many of the factors driving this process aren’t getting enough attention.
One is education. As Obama’s nominee to chair the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, recently pointed out, “from 1973 to 2005, real hourly wages of those in the [top 10%] — where most people have college or advanced degrees — rose by 30% or more…. In contrast, at the 50th percentile and below — where many people have at most a high school diploma — real, inflation-adjusted wages rose by only 5% to 10%.” And those without college degrees are much more likely to be unemployed.
In the new globalized economy, in which manufacturing is largely done offshore, many of the middle-class American jobs that don’t require higher education have left the country. The good jobs that remain will increasingly require far more technological know-how. We need to be educating American workers to fill them.
We also need wealthy Americans to create those jobs. Start-ups in ventures that produce middle-class jobs require investments by those willing and able to take risks. Over the last five years, according to the Economist magazine, those start-ups have accounted for almost all of the net increase in new American jobs paying at least middle-class salaries.
And before demonizing the rich, it’s important to consider the foundations and charities they have built and supported. Many of those with money take pride in using it to help others and to create jobs.
What we all need to continue to believe, and to act on, is the conviction that it’s wrong and socially destructive for the rich to forget those who still can use a hand up.
Rather than investing in hedge funds and other forms of financial speculation divorced from the real economy, more of the wealthy need to accept the responsibility of investing in job-creating enterprises. At the same time, they need to make educating the workers to fill those jobs a principle focus of their philanthropy.
But the reality is the system, which is rigged to further concentrate ownership of wealth-creating, income-producing capital assets, is why those that are empowered to acquire ownership benefit while the majority are denied equal opportunity to acquire ownership and are dependent on deteriorating wage opportunities and welfare.
While there will be a growing call for more educated workers with the necessary education and training to meet future demand, given the current invisible structure of the economy, except for a relative few, the majority of the population, no matter how well educated, will not be able to find a job that pays sufficient wages or salaries to support a family or prevent a lifestyle, which is gradually being crippled by near poverty or poverty earnings. Thus, education is not the panacea, though it is critical for our future societal development. And younger, as well as older people, will increasingly find it harder and harder to secure a well-paying job––for most, their ONLY source of income––and will find themselves dependent on taxpayer-supported government welfare, open and disguised or concealed.
For decades employment opportunity in the United States was such that the majority of people could obtain a job that could support their livelihood, though, in most cases related to a family, it eventually required the father and mother to both work, if they aspired to live a “middle-class” lifestyle. With “Free Trade” those opportunities began to disintegrate as corporations sought to seek lower-cost production taking advantage of global cheap labor rates and non-regulation, as well as lower tax rates abroad. This resulted in a chain reaction forcing more and more companies to outsource in order to stay competitive (thus the rise of China, India, Mexico, and other third-world nation economies).
At the same time, tectonic shifts in the technologies of production were exponentially occurring (and continue to do so), which resulted (and continues to result) in less job opportunities as production was shifted from people making things to “machines” (the non-human factor) of technology making things. The combination of cheap global labor costs and lower, long-term-invested “machine” costs has forced the worth of labor downward, and this will continue to be the reality. Our only way to far greater prosperity, opportunity, and economic justice is to embrace technological innovation and invention and the resulting human-intelligent machines, super-automation, robotics, digital computerized operations, etc. as the primary economic engine of growth.
But significantly, unless we reform our system to empower EVERY American to acquire, via pure, interest-free insured capital credit loans, viable full-ownership holdings (and thus entitlement to full-dividend earnings) in the companies growing the economy, with the future earnings of the investments paying for the initial loan debt to acquire ownership, the concentration of ownership of ALL future productive capital will continue to be amassed by a wealthy minority ownership class. Companies will continue to globalize in search of “customers with money” or simply fail, as exponentially there will be fewer and fewer customers to support their businesses worldwide. Why, because the majority will be disconnected from the dividend income derived from the non-human means of production that is replacing the need for labor workers who earn wages and salaries, which are then used to purchase products and services.
Soon, industrial monopoly capitalism will reach its twin goals: concentration of productive capital ownership among the elite ownership class and work performed with as few labor workers and the lowest possible wages and salaries. The question to be answered is “What then?”
The transition to the non-human factor of production has been occurring for decades but is now experiencing exponential development––the result of tectonic shifts in the technologies of production. As costs for computer-controlled machines become less than the cost of human workers, and the skills and productivity of the machines exceed those of human workers, then robot worker numbers will rapidly increase and enable our society to build architectural wonders, revitalize and redevelop our cities and build new cities of wonder and amazement, along with support energy, transport, and communications systems. Super-automation and robotics is transforming the world of manufacturing as robots become lighter, more mobile, and more flexible with better sensing, perception, decision-making, and planning and control capabilities due to advanced digital computerization. Super-automation and robotics operated by human-intelligent computerization will dramatically improve productivity and provide skills and abilities previously unique to human workers. This will effectively increase the size of the labor work force globally beyond that provided by human workers, no matter what the level of education attained. With advanced human-level artificial intelligence, computer-controlled machines will be able to learn new knowledge and skills by simply downloading software programs and apps. This means that the years of training that apply to personal human development will no longer apply to the further sophistication and operation of the machines. The result will be that productivity will soar while the need and demand for human labor will further decline.
Unfortunately, in the long term, unless the vast majority of people have a substantial and viable source of income other than wages and salaries, the impact of technological innovation and invention as embodied in human-level artificial intelligence, machines, super-automation, robotics, digital computerized operations, etc. will be devastating.
There are ONLY two options: either “Own or Be Owned.” The “Owned” model is what our society practices today and is expressed as monopoly capitalism (concentrated ownership) or socialism (taxpayer-supported redistributed social benefits). The “Own” model, or what my colleagues and I term the Just Third Way (see http://www.cesj.org/thirdway/thirdway-intro.htm), has yet to be implemented on the scale necessary to empower every man, woman, and child to acquire private, individual ownership stakes in the future income-producing productive capital assets of the “intelligent automated machine age”––facilitated by the future earnings of their investments in the companies developing and employing this unprecedented economic power.
Unfortunately, the disruptive nature of exponential growth in technology and its impact on productivity––tectonically shifting production of products and services from human workers to non-human means––is not understood and ignored by the economic establishment, academia, and our political leaders.
While the rate of technological progress is directly proportional to the number and quality of the people engaged in the fields of science and engineering, economic policy is the mechanism that fuels investment and development of technological innovation and invention. This is where education is critical to our future societal development.
Education should be encouraged and expanded. Everyone should have the opportunity to personally develop their own exceptional innate abilities and unlock their creativity.
But except for the personal development benefit to advancing one’s education, the reality is that far less “educated” people will be necessary in the long term to produce the products and services necessary and valued by society. This is due to the exponential development of human-level artificial intelligence, which is embodied in advanced automation and robotics.
Those college graduates who do succeed within the fields of science and engineering are hired workers to do what? Our scientists, engineers, and executive managers, who are not owners themselves of the companies they work for, except for those in the highest employed positions, are encouraged to work to destroy employment by making the capital owners’ assets more productive. How much employment can be destroyed by substituting machines for people is a measure of their success––always focused on producing at the lowest cost.
We need to realize that full employment is not a function of businesses. Companies strive to keep labor input and other costs at a minimum. Private sector job creation in numbers that match the pool of people willing and able to work is constantly being eroded by physical productive capital’s ever-increasing role.
We need to reform and restructure our economy and set as the GOAL broadened private, individual ownership of future wealth-creating, income-generating productive capital assets among ALL Americans, with capital estates ever building as the economy grows. Without a policy shift to broaden productive capital ownership simultaneously with economic growth, further development of technology and globalization will undermine the American middle class and make it impossible for more than a minority of citizens to achieve middle-class status. By changing course, over time and within a few decades, our “machined-powered” growth economy would produce greater wealth, and widespread private, individual ownership would assure prosperity, opportunity, and general affluence for every citizen. Broadened productive capital ownership would strengthen our democracy and individuals and families would be less or non-dependent on government welfare, whether disguised or not.
This prosperous society is achievable because, fortunately, in the near term, we can begin to grow our way out of the swelling unemployment and underemployment by increasing our investment significantly as a ratio of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) resulting in double-digit growth, while simultaneously broadening private, individual ownership of future income-producing productive capital investments, thus initiating the process of empowering every man, woman, and child to build over time a viable capital estate and reap the income generated. The key operative is BROADEN OWNERSHIP. Such investment would, in the short term, generate millions of new “real” productive jobs. The result would not only be that the GDP would dramatically grow but tax revenues from the high rate of economic growth would enable us to balance the federal budget, fully fund Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, provide Universal Health Care, Universal University Education, lower tax rates, and maintain a strong military, all simultaneously.
We have the opportunity to free economic growth from the “enslavement” of human labor and from the financial mechanisms that are based on the slavery of past savings. Technological progress, though, is no longer dependent on the number and quality of human workers. This fact will become obvious eventually to anyone who can think and analyze as they realize the reality that human labor will cease to be the primary source of wealth production in the future. As a result we can expect over the long term that unemployment and underemployment will remain high indefinitely. But the difference will be that people will drop out of the labor force voluntarily because they will be able to live off their dividend earnings via their ownership portfolios. This will create swelling demand for human workers who want to continue working. And with both dividend and wage and salary incomes for everyone there will be more customers to purchase the products and services produced, which in turn will create further dividends and earnings, which will create more customers, etc.
While the future holds less promise for universal job employment due to the ever-progressing contribution of technological-driven production using human-intelligent machines, super-automation, robotics and digital computerized operations, the jobs that will be in demand will require some mastery of technology, math, and science. As long as working people are limited by earning income solely through their labor worker wages, they will be left behind by the continued gravitation of economic bounty toward the top 1 percent of the people that the system is rigged to benefit. If we don’t re-chart our economic policies to broaden private, individual ownership of new productive capital formation, then more troubling is that the continued stagnation of the American economy will further dim the economic hopes of America’s youth, no matter what their education level. The result will have profound long-term consequences for the nation’s economic health and further limit equal earning opportunity and spread income inequality. As the need for labor decreases and the power and leverage of productive capital increases, the gap between labor workers and productive capital asset owners will increase, and the conditions will become very frightening and very chaotic.
Sadly, our leaders are not prepared and are not preparing the American people for the coming economic collapse and the next Great Depression, due to their lack of wisdom and foresight to understand that full employment is not an objective of businesses and private sector job creation opportunities are constantly being eroded by physical productive capital’s ever increasing role––as the use of human-intelligent machines, super-automation, robotics, digital computerized operations, etc. replaces labor workers to produce products and services.
The question that requires an answer is now timely before us. It was first posed by binary economist Louis Kelso in the 1950s but has never been thoroughly discussed on the national stage. Nor has there been the proper education of our citizenry that addresses what economic justice is and what ownership is. Therefore, by ignoring such issues of economic justice and ownership, our leaders are ignoring the concentration of power through ownership of productive capital, with the result of denying the 99 percenters equal opportunity to become productive capital owners. The question, as posed by Kelso is: “how are all individuals to be adequately productive when a tiny minority (capital owners) produce a major share and the vast majority (labor workers), a minor share of total goods and service,” and thus, “how do we get from a world in which the most productive factor—–physical capital—–is owned by a handful of people, to a world where the same factor is owned by a majority—–and ultimately 100 percent—–of the consumers, while respecting all the constitutional rights of present capital owners?”
The path to prosperity, opportunity, and economic justice can be found in the writings about the Capital Homestead Act at http://www.cesj.org/homestead/index.htm. For more overviews related to this topic see my article “The Absent Conversation: Who Should Own America?” published by The Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-reber/who-should-own-america_b_2040592.html and by OpEd News at http://www.opednews.com/articles/THE-Absent-Conversation–by-Gary-Reber-130429-498.html.
Also see “The Path To Eradicating Poverty In America” at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-reber/the-path-to-eradicating-p_b_3017072.html and “The Path To Sustainable Economic Growth” at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-reber/sustainable-economic-growth_b_3141721.html, and the article entitled “The Solution To America’s Economic Decline” at http://www.nationofchange.org/solution-america-s-economic-decline-1367588690.
See ”Education Is Critical To Our Future Societal Development” at http://www.nationofchange.org/education-critical-our-future-societal-development-1373556479.