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The Equitist #16 | "It's the economic system, stupid!"

Have you ever felt like things are finally coming together, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle you started a long time ago? This is how I feel when I think about Equitism. For many years Colombe, myself, and our colleagues have pushed different projects to improve our societies, but only now do I finally see what was uniting all our work from the beginning: the perennial quest for equityWhile the global economy is rattled once more by the surge of a new COVID-19 variant, we ought to ask ourselves: are we on the right track?

As shared in a previous newsletter, the modern economic, capitalistic system has brought significant success to humankind in prosperity, technology, and openness. However, it'd be blind to state that those great successes have not come with profound flaws: inequalities, forced economic migration, natural depletions. It's no news that even health suffers from an unchecked "corporation-first" approach. The unwillingness of wealthy countries ( that are the HQ of big pharma) to temporarily waive the IP rights & tech of COVID-19 vaccines is blocking developing countries from accessing the technology and causing deaths and surge of new variants, coming back to impact us all.

So, are we on the right track? I think not - below, I jot some notes to imagine how things could get better. Let's jump into this.

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"IT'S THE ECONOMIC SYSTEM, STUPID!"

In ancient Greece, the term economy referred to the "management of the household". It then came to encapsulate business & trade within and between kingdoms, then continents, and now it's even a space thing.

Since the beginning of history, the economy has had a wild ride. From being despised by the nobles to becoming the subject of all power struggles, the economy molded societies through the perennial tension between the individual's instinct to accumulate wealth and the communal quest to ensure prosperity.

Out of this continued tension, most of today's societies settled around various shades of the same concept: private ownership and the market drive economic growth; the state ensures that part of that prosperity trickles down to large shares of the population by setting boundaries within which businesses operate. From Communist China to free-market champion America, the "boundaries "- norms and regulations - that the state imposes differ, but the substance is surprisingly similar. State-driven economies - see Cuba - are disappearing, canceled by history.

Progressives from around the planet tend to agree on the need to correct the most apparent distortions that the modern economic system brings upon society. This typically includes requests for stronger social safety nets (i.e., benefits, pensions, allowances, debt relief, etc.), financed by more progressive taxation or a more substantial contribution from corporations. In addition, progressives normally tackle the question of inclusiveness in an economy: ensuring that people from all groups and communities get a seat at the table and a few cronies do not monopolize wealth. Equitists would demand no less. 

However, an equitist could not be satisfied by these measures only. If one truly believes in the quest for global equity and that humans must be granted the same access to rights and opportunities, regardless of any traits, a deep redesign of how the economy works must take place. In particular, across the concepts of wealth accumulation (Wealth Equity), fiscal responsibility (Fiscal Equity), and the way to do business (Business Equity).

'Wealth Equity' is a straightforward concept: poverty is unacceptable in a situation of abundance like the one on the planet we live in. Each day since the global economy started to enable the production of enough goods to ensure that no person goes to bed hungry (or worse) on this planet, but this keeps on happening, it's a dark day for humanity. There can be no moral justification for any person to have their basic needs unmet at this point of history, domestically or internationally. The UN World Food Program recently declared that global hunger would be quelled with just a fraction of a billionaire's wealth (e.g., $6 billion out of Elon Musk's $300 billion wealth). If only a tiny portion of an individual's wealth could save 42 million lives, then the first public priority must be to ensure that people's basic needs are met within nations and across the planet. In practice, this means that through existing networks (such as national institutions and UN agencies, and in the future a global governance), resources must be channeled to erase hunger and then provide education and health services. As simple as it is, this should come before any discussion on how to regulate the stock market better or streamline companies' creation: this is the first pillar of an equitist economy.

However, even fixing a massive issue is not enough: a system change is needed.

Equity in wealth and prosperity is reflected in more than just people's basic needs, especially in advanced economies. The great majority of inequities derive from systemic disparity of wealth originated by assets and capital ownership; in the U.S. only, the wealthiest 10% owns 70% of the country's wealth. Governments are often resistant to tax wealth: they would instead tax income from labor or other transactions. And per se, the logic is there: why would one pay a recurring tax on something they own? Similarly, why would the state ask for a share of an inheritance, given that the wealth was already taxed when produced in the first place? Well, the answer lies in the numbers above: if you do not tax wealth, the rich grow increasingly wealthy just out of their accumulated wealth. This truth is as old as human history. Inequalities keep on widening, and if this goes on for generations and generations, society risks collapse.

Supposedly, one would rather accept a tax than see such an outcome. Hence, an equitist government would shift the focus from taxing labor and productive activities to the inter-generational and uninterrupted accumulation of wealth, the source of an enormous societal disruption on this planet. If a global authority coordinated this, it would curb inequities within nations and even close the gaps between rich and emerging countries. This would genuinely change the world. 

[continues tomorrow with more ideas on this, and then Fiscal and Business Equity!]


THE READERS' CORNER

While the team and I continue to produce content for the upcoming Equitist Manifesto (here is a short draft), you can send some comments over, but also much more. Check below some interesting ways you can help in making the world a more equitable place.

  • Interesting sources: read here about the exchange between the World Food Program and Elon Musk, and how would a wealth tax looks like in the U.K.
  • Join the team: become a member or a volunteer at Atlas to support the creation of our vision. For example, our Policy, Campaign, or Communication Teams would be glad to have your support to tackle societal discrimination: join us, and our Community Team will guide you to the right people ;)
  • Spread the word: In our quest to create an equitable society, we produce this daily newsletter, (soon) a weekly podcast, and every month together with our 20,000+ members, we launch campaigns to turn words into action. Please support our work and share the link to this newsletter.

Thank you for going through this with me! I am not an economist, but I sometimes think that simple concepts (and answers) can be compelling. The struggle for a more equitable society cannot avoid looking at the source of economic inequities and trying to tackle them.

So let me know what you think, and let's improve this together!

We'll change the world!

Andrea

PS English is not my first language. I want to reassure you that before assembling the Equitist Manifesto, some editors will review all this material and ensure it's correct and flows well together ;)

 

Andrea Venzon (he/him)
Co-Founder 
Atlas
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✒️ Send feedback and ideas at [email protected]

👉 The content of this email is part of the work to create the Equitist Manifesto. Here you can find the structure we want to follow, and previous issues are available here!

 

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