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Why not cradle-to-grave security for everyone?

September 17, 2010

Let’s talk about Paul Ryan’s vision again since he’s perhaps the most vocal political front man for the zombie-like resurrection of 19th century laissez-faire.  In the same article I referred to a couple days ago, Ryan asks us to choose between a “free enterprise society” versus a “cradle-to-grave, redistributive welfare state”.  Well, here’s my choice, Paul: I think it’s far past time we have cradle-to-grave security for everyone, the same security the elites and their families have always had.

I think most would agree our technology has reached the stage in which everyone could have cradle-to-grave security.  Our public debates are always centered on finding jobs and never on how to produce more commodities.  We have enough, even too many, commodities; the “problem” is there’s simply not enough work that needs to be done.  There will be even less work in the future as technology and robotics continuously march forward.

The only reason the vast majority don’t have cradle-to-grave security in a world in which there’s a declining need to work is that our socio-economic system doesn’t permit it.  Ryan’s ‘free enterprise society’ is one in which most are forced to work as ‘flexible’ employees with little or no rights or protection.  True, they could try to start a business but the reality is that most fail.  Only so many businesses can possibly survive when economies of scale are the primary driver.  That being the case, our system is better characterized as ‘mass employment’ rather than ‘free enterprise’.  And it’s a system in which very few of the benefits flow to employees.  This is well illustrated over the past 40 years – productivity has dramatically increased yet median wages have declined, pensions have been eliminated, health coverage is less common, and leisure time is even lower than in the past.  And employees are now forced to compete against low wage workers around the world.  Ever lower living standards are the only logical development in a world in which the need to work is declining but the benefits of improving productivity are concentrated in just a few hands.  This is a stark reality that Ryan eerily chooses to equate with “freedom”.

Conservatives argue that universal security would foster laziness and softness in the population.  What condescension from the lords who’ve always had or are lucky enough to now have cradle-to-grave security!  This is elitism at its most extreme; a world view worthy of a slave owner.  A future of less work and greater security should be one of the highest goals of mankind.  And contrary to Ryan, it wouldn’t require a massive state – income could be distributed through the tax code.

Ryan claims we must choose our aspiration.  His aspiration is for a society in which the majority work as insecure employees and he calls this ‘freedom’.  We need to aspire for true freedom and that begins with cradle-to-grave security.  We have it within our means to achieve it and it’s criminal that society continues to be so structured that we can’t.

From → Wealth & Poverty

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