For the last couple of weeks, the world has been entertained (if that is the word) by shuffling flash crowds of unemployed protestors parading around Wall Street in appropriate (or inappropriate, according to your view) costume, chanting "Uh . . . uh . . . uh." No, it's not "Talk Like a Zombie Day," or even "Like an Inarticulate Pirate Day." Rather, the "Uh . . . uh . . . uh" is (movie) Zombie lingo for "Jobs . . . jobs . . . jobs."
Regular readers of this blog probably already know where this is headed. For the rest of you, we'll take a walk back in history, all the way to the Halcyon Days of Yore (Your what, we don't know) of 1964 and the hallowed pages of Life magazine.
First, however, a little background. This past Sunday a Slate magazine columnist on science and technology, Farhad Manjoo, published an article in the Washington Post, "Meet Mr. Bot. He's the Competition." (The Washington Post, 10/02/11, G5.) To be gistful, the point of this first article in a series on technology, the future, and what to do about it, was that as technology advances, human labor diminishes and, finally, disappears altogether from the production process.
Obviously we couldn't let that go by, so we zipped off a letter to Mr. Manjoo:
Dear Mr. Manjoo:
Kudos on your article in this past Sunday's Washington Post. You raise an issue that people should be thinking about, but, with the focus on jobs, jobs, jobs as the sole source of income and of participating in the production of marketable goods and services, have avoided dealing with.
You might be interested in knowing that Louis Kelso and Mortimer Adler were addressing the problems you raise more than fifty years ago in their two collaborations, The Capitalist Manifesto (1958) and The New Capitalists (1961). Their conclusion — and solution — was that, as direct human labor becomes relatively less important as a factor of production and is finally removed altogether, people must become owners of the "Mr. Bots" that are replacing them. Kelso and Adler's second book presents a plan whereby people without savings or traditional collateral could purchase capital on credit, and repay the acquisition cost out of future profits generated by the capital itself. As the subtitle of The New Capitalists puts it, "A Proposal to Free Economic Growth from the Slavery of [Past] Savings."
Kelso and Adler's ideas were considered significant enough that both books became best sellers — and Life magazine ran an editorial highlighting Kelso and Adler in its August 14, 1964 issue, "If the Machine Wants Our Jobs, Let's Buy It." As the editorial concludes,
"A hundred years ago, when land was the chief form of capital, the Homestead Acts distributed it to all comers and cured the unemployment problem of that day. Today, as Arthur Larson and others have suggested, an analogous solution would be to place ownership of U.S. industry in the hands of workers and let them live off their dividends as their job incomes fall. Profit-sharing programs are already growing at the rate of 5,000 a year; by tax and other policies, the government could turn this into a massive redistribution of equity property. One proposal, by Mortimer Adler and Louis Kelso in The New Capitalists, would guarantee bank loans for new stock acquisition through a Capital Diffusion Insurance Corporation, modeled on FHA.
"An answer to cybernation that relies on private property and the profit system would be more acceptable to Americans than turning the whole income problem over to the government."
We call the refinements that we at the Arlington, Virginia-based Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ) have put on Kelso and Adler's ideas "The Just Third Way," and its application "Capital Homesteading." If you'd like to discuss these ideas, Dr. Norman Kurland, president of CESJ, would be happy to talk with you. He can be reached at [NUMBERS DELETED TO AVOID OFFICE SUPPLY ZOMBIE SALESMEN].
Thank you. We look forward to hearing from you.
Blah, blah, blah.
Oh, yeah. The Zombie Bot Slaves from Mars. The protestors on Wall Street are demanding something that, as far as Farhad Manjoo and Kelso and Adler are concerned, just plain isn't going to be there. (That, and they're targeting the wrong institutions.) They should be demanding ownership . . . ownership . . . ownership — and access to capital credit and capital credit insurance and reinsurance to be able to pay for the capital and secure the loan in the event of a default, and all without redistribution, increased taxation, more government debt, or redefining any part of the natural law to fit the distortions of Keynesian economics.
Simple, isn't it? And all from adopting a Capital Homestead Act by 2012.
Uh . . . uh . . . uh.