Economics with Justice Part 5: Whose Wealth?

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These international classes are organised around London (UK) time. Please note the time difference between your locality and the class. There are several clock changes during the term; the classes stay with London local time.

After completing Economics with Justice Part 4: The Commons recently

Term Dates: 17 January - 3 April 2022 (half-term 14 - 20 February)

This ten-week course explores the relationship between ownership and obligation in a world overrun by what has been called ‘rentier capitalism’. Classical economists considered the rent associated with land value; today we face rents in many guises. The term ‘rent-seeking’ is never far from critical observations of financial and business malpractice.

Having completed the course ‘The Commons’ you will be well placed to consider how aspects of ‘rent’ run right at the heart of many tendencies towards inequity that we see around us. How can we recompense all others when removing something from the commons? This has implications in finance, banking and money creation, in today’s network-savvy mega-businesses, and of course in the very location where we wish to live and work.

Wherever possible, examples from around the world will be used to illustrate the principles being explored and some ways in which economic justice can prevail. Join us in good company and lively conversation.

 

1 – Ownership and obligation

What do we own? One starting point for each of us is our unique nature as an individual, alongside our common nature of being human; we at least own this. What else do we own? For some it appears as a question of what is owed rather than own, whilst others see rather differently. What do we do with this ownership? This question holds the key to equity, to justice, to wellbeing, and to freedom.

2 Financial wealth

Polonius advised ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be’; could the financial world work in this way? Financial assets are claims on wealth rather than wealth and are balanced by financial liabilities; each such credit sits alongside debt. What is behind the power and might of the financial world? Should we, and can we, tame it?

3 Public and Private Money

Money as a medium of exchange is not wealth, but a claim on wealth. A healthy money supply serves the nation well and in that it has value to the nation. How can private exploitation of this national asset be minimised? Can cryptocurrencies meet the need? Is modern monetary theory a licence to print money or the means to extend wealth to all?

4 Owning Nature

Nature, being essential to all aspects of life, yields large dividends if it could be claimed or owned. The high valuation of some corporations is dependent on the strength of such claims of exclusivity. Who really owns nature? How can a nation exercise responsibility for natural resources within and beyond its domain? What about our future generations?

5 Intellectual Property

The advanced economies of today are sometimes characterised as being ‘knowledge economies’, and intellectual property rights given prominence. Claims on ideas and creativity run close to the very heart of what can and cannot be possessed. How can innovation and creativity be encouraged and supported in a way that benefits all?

6 Platform Wealth

Having built a giant platform that spans the world, what should be expected in return? Whether a social media platform capturing your attention, a job-seeking platform that channels your employment prospects, or others, the attraction and convenience ensure near-monopoly status. We can consider what factors contribute to such platforms to gain a better sense of where justice lies.

7 Owning contracts

Institutions, even governments, can evolve their form as they either bring in services or outsource them; this is significantly influenced by taxation. When outsourcing prevails, companies can specialise in picking up contracts and outsourcing the work, establishing apparently powerful market positions; any failures can be highly disruptive. Governments can engage with forms of public-private-partnership such as PFI (UK – private finance initiative). What institutional and legal arrangements within the economy would better avoid exploitation and disruption?

8 Infrastructure

Within the community of a nation, some provisions are best left to the market and others, sometimes called ‘natural monopolies’, are more appropriately managed outside the market. Provision of rail transport, water, energy and communications are examples where private enterprise and public interest have to meet. How are such large investments best managed for everyone’s benefit?

9 Land as Wealth

Sometimes called ‘the mother of all monopolies’, land is as much space to exist, live and work as it is the material contribution of nature. Of the many failures of modern societies, providing homes fit for the human spirit is a most pressing failure. Everyone needs space to grow and prosper, and the challenge for us is how this can be provided, either socially or privately, without exploitation of this essential need. A prosperous and free society needs healthy families who need decent homes and places of work. What steps need to be taken?

10 Whose Wealth?

At the heart of this question are some questions that have to be asked in every age and are always relevant: What is it to be a human being? What is our relationship to everything and everyone around us? What are the natural laws whereby we can live together in freedom and prosperity?