Chapter Five Sovereignty-Based Societies
THINGS COULD HAVE HAPPENED differently in Pastland.
What if one tiny thing was different, yet this led to another difference that led to another that totally altered the way our societies worked?
While the moratorium is in effect, we can think about how things might have worked out if certain things had happened differently. This will help us understand how our societies might work in the future if we should intentionally make changes that make our societies work differently.
For example, imagine that people had simply accepted that land could be owned from the beginning. Various groups argued about who owned the land and which nation’s laws applied to this land. Some may have argued that we are starting fresh so we can form a new nation, one that can start fresh. We may presume that the nation we are forming is the natural owner of this land and through this we have the right to treat the land any way that we want.
Some may argue that the real problem with the societies in the future was the fact that different people owned different amounts of land. They may believe that we can avoid this by making sure everyone owns an equal amount of land. They may have advocated we divide the productive land around us into 1,000 separate farms, one for each person on Earth, and give every person here one of these farms.
How would our society have worked if we had done this? What kind of incentives would it have had and how would its members have behaved if they reacted to these incentives, and tried to get as much wealth for themselves and their loved ones as they could?
Dividing the Land
We decide that we want to make the distribution of land as fair as we can. We have 1,000 people so we will divide the 1,500 acres of productive land into 1,000 equal parcels. We will number each parcel, create 1,000 slips of paper with the numbers of the parcels on them, and put the papers into a hat.
Each person will pick a number.
Whatever number you pick is your land.
Many people came on this cruise as families. These people want adjacent land so they can work it together. Once you get your land, other people will probably approach you to see if they can trade their land for yours so they can be next to their loved ones. In the first few months, people trade parcels with others to get the parcels they want. We end up with some large farms that belong to large families, and some very small farms that belong to individuals.
At first, we just put stakes on the corners of our lot lines with strings that mark the lines. If you move the markers of your 1.5 acre parcel out by one inch, and get away with it, you will own 50 square feet more land that you didn’t own before.
Owning more land itself doesn’t benefit you. Land is dirt. You can’t eat dirt. But you don’t just own dirt; you own the right to everything that land produces for the rest of time. Nature is generous. It produces a flow of wealth that lasts forever. Even a tiny increase in the amount of land you own, multiplied by the number of years in ‘the rest of time,’ leads to an enormous amount of wealth.
We all have incentives to move the stakes if we can get away with it.
Incentives are not behaviors themselves; they are behavioral motivations. We may not all respond to the incentives and may try to be honest and reasonable with others. But we all know that others may not be as honest. We know that the flows of value of this system push everyone in it to be dishonest. (Remember in the natural law society, the flows of value encouraged honesty; sovereignty-based societies clearly have other incentives.)
Most of us aren’t going to feel safe having the borders of our properties marked by strings tied to wooden stakes that our neighbors can easily move. We will realize that we need real physical barriers between our land and other people’s land. These barriers will have to be put together in such a way that they can’t be moved without a great deal of effort. We will need to build walls.
To build walls, people will have to collect materials, bring them in, and assemble them. This will require a lot of work which will take time away from doing things that might make life better for ourselves and others we care about. But it is necessary. If people can’t build walls between themselves and other people, they will lose the land that they need to grow food to keep them and their loved ones alive.
If you look at aerial images of any part of the planet that accepts ownability, you will not be able to miss the barriers that mark the edge of one property from the beginning of the others. All societies built on absolute ownability (sovereignty-based societies) are inherently divisive: their foundational incentives divide people from each other in many different ways. These incentives push people to build walls and, right away, people will start to build walls.
Disputes over Ownership of Land
When building the walls, a matter of a few inches will make a very big difference. Neighbors won’t always agree on the exact location of the property lines. In fact, in any property line dispute, both parties have powerful incentives to make sure that any decision favors them.
Some people will be civil about these disputes. They will look for non-violent ways to resolve them. Unfortunately, civil and diplomatic discussions won’t always work. I have been involved in disputes over property lines and I know that people can get very emotional in these disputes. The interests of the parties are as opposite as they can be. Anything one party gains will be matched by an equivalent loss from the other party.
People involved in these disputes know that they can gain great advantages by taking very tough negotiating positions. They know that the other party will not give them everything they want just to be nice. They have to be aggressive. If they can intimidate the other party, they have a chance at getting their way.
They come into discussions expecting a fight and ready for it. If both parties come into the discussions ready for a fight, the fight is very likely to take place; if enough of these fights take place, some will get violent.
Which side will win? We can’t tell for sure. If there is violence, and no structure in place to decide the matter in a non-violent way that will satisfy both parties, people will start to look for allies who can help them; they will organize for violence.
If you are having a dispute over property and you stand alone but the other party has allies, you will probably end up backing down and letting the other party have her way.
You will need your own allies.
People will get together with their neighbors to help them defend their rights against aggressive outsiders. If you come from one country, say the United States, and the people on the other side come from some other country, say Iraq, you might talk to other people who you considered to be ‘your people’ (because they are from the same country as you) to see if you can deal with the ‘Iraqi threat’ together. When the Iraqis see the Americans banding together, they will band together themselves; it is the only way they can hope to defend themselves. They might appeal to people from the traditional allies of Iraq, like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, for alliances.
We might expect these people to take advantage of the hatred and fear that we all were raised with in the future, before we went back in time. People in America were told that Iraqis are monsters; they are soulless killing machines who would destroy an entire town with poison gas just because someone in that town said something critical of their leaders.
We would expect different groups to split off fairly quickly. These groups will start to develop the characteristics of the entities we call ‘countries’ right away.
Consolidation of Power
Some countries will be large. They will have large amounts of resources and wealth. They will see that there are still some individual owners who aren’t a part of any country. They will realize they can simply take this land, make it a part of their country, and drive the former owner away. The owners will realize, of course, that they are helpless against the country that wants their land. They are not very likely to wait until the attack comes: they will go to the leaders of the countries and ask to join. Perhaps the leaders will be generous and allow this. Perhaps not. Either way, the individual farms that are not aligned with countries will disappear very rapidly. In time, every bit of land in our area will be a part of one or another country.
Although the country may claim to accept and even protect what it calls private ownership, in reality the country itself will be the true owner of the land. The leaders of the country control the armies. If the leaders want certain land that is ‘private’ for a military purpose, they can simply pass a law that requires the owners to ‘sell’ (accept pieces of paper with numbers on them in exchange for the land) or simply take the land.
The rulers or governments of the countries may also take only partial ownership of the land, not the entire ownership. The government of a country may say that certain flows of value from the land actually belong to the government. The owners collect these flows of value from the land, but they have to turn them over to their true owners, the government. They can call the flows of value that belong to the government ‘taxes.’ They can create institutions that monitor the people of the country to make sure the taxes are paid.
Countries have incentives to take more land for several reasons. As noted earlier, they need land for strategic reasons related to war: if they leave certain land unowned and unprotected, their enemies may come in and build bases there, then attack the more productive land from these bases. The countries want productive land because it generates the tax revenues that the countries use to make war, to support the industries the governments want to support, and to provide streams of value that the leaders in the government can divert for their own personal gain. The land produces wealth. The governments own a part of this wealth. (We can measure the amount of wealth that goes to the government by measuring the percentage of the GDP, or total value of everything produced in the country, that is under the control of government entities. In most countries of the 21st century, the governments get between 40% and 60% of all production.) The more land they can add to their country, the more wealth they get.
An important point: people don’t produce food. The land does. Without land, you will not be able to grow anything, no matter how hard you work. Bountiful land produces so much that, after enough has been set aside to pay everyone involved in production, there is a great deal left over. In systems that use money, this ‘leftover production’ will be represented by the free cash flow of the land.
Bountiful land produces a free cash flow in any society that uses money for transactions. The Pastland Farm is a bountiful farm; it produces a free cash flow. This happens in any kind of society we create.
Where does this free cash go?
That is different in different societies. If we have a natural law society, the free cash flows wherever the people of society want it to go. The land is not owned so this free cash is not owned. It doesn’t belong to anyone, so no one has a right to any of it unless the people as a whole approve. (If anyone could interfere in the elections or get a natural right to take it without the consent of the people, this person would have ownership rights and this system would no longer be a natural law society. This means that in any true natural law society, the community will always decide what happens to the free cash flow. This is true by the definition of a ‘natural law society.’)
In sovereignty-based societies, the free money goes wherever the leaders of the country want it to go. Some leaders will allow private ownership and will it all go to the private owners. Others will allow a limited form of private ownership and allow a limited amount to go to the owners, with the rest flowing to the government as taxes. Some governments will take the land entirely and collect the free cash flows themselves, using it for any purposes the leaders of the governments want. (This was quite common in feudal times: the sovereigns—generally kings and queens—owned everything.)
Taxes and A need for a goveernment
The natural law society we looked at the last chapter didn’t need taxes because it didn’t accept the land could be owned. The land was bountiful. If no one owned the land, no one owned the bounty. The group as a whole had to administer this unowned wealth. In that case, more than 2/3rd of the wealth that flowed from the land was its bounty, or free cash flow. The people had enormous amounts of wealth they could use for anything they wanted. They clearly didn’t need taxes.
Sovereignty-based societies work entirely differently. All rights to the land are ownable and owned. The owners of the land are the owners of all rights to the land and all rights to everything the land produces. There is no such thing as unowned wealth that is left over for the human race to use as its members see fit. Everything the land produces belongs to someone.
The people of each country will need at least one common service: they will need a military to defend them against other countries that will want their land. They will need to something to use to pay people for the weapons they will need and to pay the soldiers.
They can’t depend on voluntary contributions for this: they need a consistent income so they can keep their military operating all the time. They will need to require people to turn over some of their wealth to central authorities, to be used for common services, including defense of their country.
Not everyone will pay willingly. Some will not pay unless they are convinced that force will be used against them if they refuse to pay, collecting not only the tax itself but penalties and fines for not paying.
The body that needs taxes will need to be able to use force against ‘its own people,’ if they refuse to pay taxes.
Once an administrative body has the ability to use force against ‘its own people,’ if its people don’t behave as the administrators want them to behave, the administrative body becomes the type of an organization that we call a ‘government.’ It has the power to control the people and govern them.
What is a government?
Black’s Law Dictionary (the acknowledged authority on legal definitions) defines a government this way:
The regulation, restraint, supervision, or control which is exercised upon the individual members of an organized jural society by those invested with the supreme political authority or the act of exercising supreme political power or control.
A government is a body that controls the people.
Not all societies need governments. Natural law societies don’t need them because natural law societies have common income and don’t need taxes. The people can have a government if they decide they want a body with the ability to control them, but a government is optional in such a society.
Sovereignty-based societies absolutely must have governments. They can’t function without them. Once the people decide they want this kind of society, they have to form governments. Once a government exists, it becomes like Frankenstein’s monster, with the ability to do things that its creators never wanted to happen.
We have all seen the horrible things that the governments of the world have done. If we believe that governments are a necessary evil, we are likely to believe there is nothing we can do about the horrible things that governments do. But I think it is important to believe that governments are not a necessary evil in all societies; they are only necessary in societies that are built on certain foundational principles.
We were born into societies built on these principles and we were raised to accept these principles are parts of all societies. For this reason, we have a very hard time even letting our minds accept that a society might exist that doesn’t have bodies that can take wealth away from their people and use this wealth for anything the people in these bodies want, including to build death camps and nuclear arsenals.
Can Societies Really Exist Without Governments?
I know this is a hard concept to get your head around as it is so different from everything we have been told about the way the world works: we have been told that nothing is certain but death and taxes. Taxes won’t always be paid in full when due by people who have the right and ability to not pay them. Taxes have to be mandatory to support a society that needs militaries to survive. Some will not pay unless forced to do so, so any societies that need taxes also need bodies with the ability and authority to bring force to bear against ‘their own people.’ They must be able to control or govern the people.
In his introduction to ‘Historia de las Indies,’ Bartolomé de Las Casas dealt with this issue. The societies in the Americas operated differently than societies in Europe. The societies in the Americas didn’t have governments or organized countries. Many people from the invading cultures thought that people without governments could never organize themselves or live in any logical way, and therefore couldn’t be true human beings.
The ultimate cause for writing this work was to gain knowledge of all the many peoples of this vast new world. They had been defamed by persons who feared neither God nor the charge, so grievous before divine judgment, of defaming men and causing them to lose esteem and honor.
It has been written that these peoples of the Indies, lacking ordered countries and structured governments, did not have the power of reason to govern themselves. In order to demonstrate the truth, which is the opposite, this book brings together and compiles natural, special and accidental causes which are specified below. Not only have the people of these lands shown themselves to be very wise peoples and possessed of lively and marked understanding, prudently administering and providing for their people and making them prosper in justice; but they have equaled many diverse nations of the world, past and present, that have been praised for their governance, politics and customs; and exceed by no small measure the wisest of all these, such as the Greeks and Romans.
This advantage and superiority, along with everything said above, will appear quite clearly when the people of the Indies are compared with Europeans. This history has been written with the aforesaid aim in mind by Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, a monk of the Dominican Order and bishop of Chiapa, who promises before the divine word that everything said and referred to is the truth, and that nothing of an untruthful nature appears to the best of his knowledge.
The Development of the Working Class
Our group in Pastland started with everyone getting an exactly equal plot. Even if the people get together to form a single country, and this country is devoted to protecting private property rights, it won’t be long before a lot of people will not own any land at all, and a small number of people will own all the land. As a practical reality, sovereignty-based societies have forces that cause land ownership to be concentrated over time. The more time passes, the greater the concentration. In enough time, all of the bountiful land—the land that produces free cash flows—will be owned by a tiny percentage of the population. These people will collect free incomes (the free cash flow is free to whoever gets it) that may be truly enormous. Others, those who don’t own any land that produces free cash flows, will not have any free income at all. They will not get any money unless they do something to earn it. They will have to work ‘for a living.’
This means that, in time, this society will divide its people into two classifications: the class of people who get free incomes from the land (owners of cash-flow generating properties) and the class of people who must work for a living, or the ‘working class.’
Let’s consider why this must happen by going back to our group in Pastland, shortly after we divide the land:
You have 1.5 acres. This is a square of land 208 feet by 208 feet. This is not a lot of land. If you are a very good farmer, you will have a chance of getting enough to keep yourself alive for the next year. But some people are just not good at farming. Only a few of the people in Pastland have any farming skills at all.
Our group had a very diverse population. Some people are young, some are old. Some are healthy, others have various ailments. Some know how to tell if rice is ripe and ready to come off of the stalks; others wouldn’t be able to boil rice if they had a video to follow. At the end of the year, different people will end up with different amounts of rice.
Some will not have enough to keep them alive for the rest of the year, until the next harvest. They will have to trade whatever they have to offer with the few who have some excess or they won’t eat.
At first, they will trade their personal possessions. They can get by without their jewelry; most of us brought more than one pair of shoes; we have a few personal items we can trade for food. (Laptops and phones aren’t going to be worth much because we don’t have any electricity; we don’t have any common income we can use to pay people to provide any services at all.)
Eventually, some people who need food will have nothing to trade for food other than their land. They will begin to sell parts of their farm. They will start to trade their land for food.
We would expect them to sell mostly to their neighbors.
They could sell one square foot at a time or they could agree to move the boundaries between their farms and their neighbors in ways that increase the neighbor’s land and decrease theirs, in exchange for certain amounts of rice or money.
Of course, if you can’t get enough to keep you alive on 1.5 acres of land, you certainly aren’t going to be able to get enough on less than 1.5 acres. Once you start selling, you will have to keep selling and selling. If you have ever been hungry—I mean really hungry—you will know how painful the decision to sell land can be. If you have ever heard your children crying with hunger, you will know how hard it is to leave anything unsold if you can sell it to get food to ease their pain.
Other people will be good farmers. Even the best farmers aren’t going to have enormous amounts of rice however, because they only have 1.5 acres per person in their household. They will have small surpluses and will able to buy small amounts of land. But each time they increase the size of their farms, their surpluses grow. They have more to trade for land and can buy more land.
As time passes, the land ownership will become concentrated. This happens in all societies built on this kind of ownability of land. We may try very, very hard to start out in with an equal distribution of land. But it won’t matter how good of a job we do to start; the distribution won’t stay equal for long.
In time, some people will have no land at all. They will now have nothing to trade for food but their time. They will go from farm to farm begging for any work they can do to get enough to keep them and their families alive a little longer.
Others will have large farms. Some will own so much land they will have enough to support themselves and workers. They will hire people to do the work on their farms.
Remember, this land is bountiful. This was very easy to see when we had the natural law society: we could hire the best farm manager in the human race, in this case Kathy, to take in the rice. Kathy could then hire the best people available for each job. They would all do their work quickly, efficiently and, most importantly for us, cheaply.
No person is responsible for rice production. Nature produced rice. We only collected it and replanted it, so nature could do the same thing next year as it did this year. Since we did everything with great efficiency, only a small amount of labor and other inputs were needed to collect the rice. After we fully paid for these inputs, we had enormous amounts of rice left over.
People won’t be as efficient in sovereignty-based societies for several reasons.
The first involves skills.
Recall that the best farmer in our group, Kathy, was seriously injured and will probably not be able to do the hard labor needed to actually collect the rice, even on her own plot. In the natural law society, she only managed and didn’t have to do any hard work. In the hundred percent ownability society (sovereignty-based society), she will have to do everything herself. Even the very best farmer on Earth is probably not going to produce enough to keep herself from starving to death (Kathy is very likely to soon lose her land and, since she can’t do hard work, she will have no income and probably starve to death).
A lot of other people had specific skills that Kathy found useful in collecting the rice, but these people didn’t have the general skills needed to be good farmers. Almost certainly, the land won’t provide as much grain for the benefit of the members of the human race (the human population of the Earth, which means all of us, taken together) as it produced in the natural law society.
But a few people will be very good and be able to generate surpluses. They will soon have free cash flows. These flows of free cash will start out small because they only have a small amount of land generating them. But as their holdings grow, their surpluses will grow. In a few years, some people will have rather large parcels, perhaps as much as 10 acres. These people will have surpluses of about 20,000 pounds per year. If they create a type of money where rice sells for $1 per pound, a farmer with 10 acres will be getting a free cash flow of about $20,000 per year.
What will people do with this money?
By the time several years have passed, some of our people will not own any land. They won’t get anything unless they work. There just aren’t a lot of jobs available in production: the farm produces without a lot of labor and most farmers can do everything they want on their farms. The unemployed will have to scramble to stay alive. Some of them will realize that they can supply services to the people with free cash flows. They will offer to help build houses for them, to help them get wells dug and latrines built. They will offer to do anything that can get them income.
In hundred percent ownability societies, people own all rights to the land. If you want to alter the land, you can: it is your land and you definitely own the right to alter it.
If you own all future cash flows the land generates, and you can make the land produce more rice or reduce the amount of labor needed to collect it, you will have a higher income. People are greedy. They want higher incomes. The owners of land will look for ways to improve the land. Eventually, they will find some. The production will go up.
Often, the improvements will involve doing things that people haven’t tried before. The owners will figure something out or invent something. They will innovate and try modifications on things that have been tried before but haven’t worked. Once people have an idea for a new process or invention, they will generally create a prototype to test it. If it works, they will put it into place on a large scale.
People can do these things in hundred percent ownability societies and can make money doing them. They can make a lot of money doing them.
Natural law societies are built on the premise that people can’t own any rights to the world. They don’t own the right to alter the land and, generally speaking, natural law societies didn’t allow people to make modifications. Nature did things a certain way. They had to follow the rules of nature. Most natural law societies that existed in the past didn’t allow any modifications to the land at all, not even those that might improve it. (You can find many examples of the way such societies work in the menu section marked ‘Books About Natural Law Societies’ on the Possible Societies website.)
In hundred percent ownability societies, people can do more than improve land they already own. If you know of a way to improve land so it produces more value, you can buy a piece of unimproved land, improve it, and sell the land for far more than the cost of the land plus the cost of the improvements. People do this all the time: they are called ‘land developers.’ Many of the richest people on Earth are in this category.
Hundred percent ownability societies have incentives that encourage people to find ways to modify land and make it more productive. They have incentives that encourage improvements. As we have seen, these incentives don’t exist in natural law societies.
Because hundred percent ownablity societies have incentives that push toward improvement, and natural law societies don’t, we would expect to see almost constant and often massive change in hundred percent ownability societies. Natural law societies will generally remain stagnant, with no significant improvements taking place for very long periods of time.
The Population Explosion
In 1798, Thomas Malthus wrote a book that is now considered to be the seminal work on the relationship between labor, wages, and population levels. The book is called ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population.’ (You can find the full text of this book on the PossibleSocieties.com website.)
This book shows that wages can never remain higher than the minimum needed to support a family in what Malthus calls for very long. The reason is that, if the wages ever get higher than this, the population of the working class must grow faster than the wages can ever possibly rise. Populations of all animals, including humans, grow by a mathematical progress that Malthus called a ‘geometric progression.’
Malthus is one of many who have looked at this issue. Another person who provided great insight into the nature of population growth is Charles Darwin. Both of these researchers noted that population levels tended to explode (grow at an exponential rate) if resources are available. But both noted two exceptions in this rule:
The first involved humans who were in the upper class. These people had access to opportunities to control birth that lower class people didn’t have and appeared to take advantage of these opportunities. Upper class women had a lot of options about ways to spend their time. They didn’t appear to want to spend their lives taking care of enormous broods and they didn’t have to. The population of upper classes therefore tended to remain constant. This basically means that the women had, on average, the 2 children per woman needed to replace themselves and their spouses.
The second exception involved natural law societies. Both researchers noted that the standard rules that applied in the societies of Europe, Asia, and Africa, didn’t appear to apply to the societies of the Americas. For some reason, the societies of the Americas tended to have far lower population growth levels than those in Europe. In fact, during the lives of both researchers, populations among native people in the Americas were declining. Part of this decline is due to the attempts by the better-equipped sovereignty-based societies to remove the inhabitants from the land. But even when the native people had sufficient food, there appeared to be something about their culture that caused their population to grow at far lower rates—and even often remain stable—while the population of people with other societies grew.
Why does this happen?
We don’t have a lot of research in this area. People who have speculated on the reason have speculated that it involves security. The members of the upper classes in sovereignty-based societies, and all people in natural law societies have security: they know that they will still be able to eat when they get sick and old, even if they can’t work full-time anymore. They don’t need children to support them in their old age or fill in to get an income when they are sick. They can base their reproduction on other factors. If they want fewer babies, they can have them.
Many national leaders in the world today seem to accept that members of the working class are far more likely to have large families if they have no security in their old age or when they are sick and can’t work. They create ‘social security’ programs to reduce the strength of the forces that push toward large families, in an attempt to reduce population growth enough that job growth can keep up.
We can tell that they are probably right by looking at the difference in the number of children per woman in societies with social security systems that provide basic incomes for the sick, injured, or elderly compared with societies that don’t have these systems in place. Countries with social security systems tend to have far lower population growth rates than countries without them.
At first, in our hundred percent ownablity society in Pastland, we clearly can’t have a social security system: we have no common income we can use to pay for anything. The owners of small farms will realize that if they get sick or injured and can’t do all the work on their farms, they will not have any income and will starve to death.
People with no farms will be in even worse shape: often they will live from paycheck to paycheck, meaning from month to month or even from week to week. Even a week without work can mean death if they don’t have family to help them out. Malthus points out an obvious fact: jobs can disappear. If jobs disappear but the number of workers remains the same, the workers will compete for the available work by offering to work for less money. Wages will fall. They will keep falling until the workers are not able to afford food, fuel, medical care, or other essentials needed to keep their babies alive. When wages get this low, the worker class population will begin to fall. It will keep falling until supply and demand match again.
Then wages can rise back to subsistence level (the level where two children per working class couple can be raised to maturity, but no more). Malthus argues that wage levels will eventually tend to stabilize at consistent with continued survival. Workers will survive, but the entire working class will exist in misery that puts its members always at the edge of death.
War and Population
Certain things can cause a reduction in the supply of workers and an increase in the demand for workers, leading to an increase in wages. With more wages, the workers can have better lives. But all of the things that cause this to happen are temporary. The most important force that can push wages up is war. If the system is in a state of war, the worker supply can be kept down to the level demanded as long as the war continues. If the population gets too high, the government can easily reduce the supply of labor to any level desired with massive and futile offensives. They can reduce the oversupply of labor by killing off members of the working class. Malthus showed that the tool of war could be used to keep wages higher than they would otherwise be and even potentially get the working class to a level of prosperity.
But this method couldn’t be used forever. Eventually, one side won’t have the resources to continue the war and will surrender. Then the war will end and the benefits that come from the war will disappear. In fact, the end of war can lead to a catastrophic collapse in the demand for workers, as the soldiers who survive come home and the workers in the arms industry lose their jobs.
Everyone can see the relationship between the amount of war taking place on the Earth and the jobs figure that governments in our world today care more about than any other: the ‘unemployment rate.’ (This is the percentage of people who need jobs that don’t have jobs.) Many government officials realize this relationship exists. They feel great pressure to reduce the unemployment rate. This pressure is particularly strong in nations with elected leaders just before elections. Some politicians don’t even try to hide the fact that they are creating a war that would not otherwise exist to create jobs. (Hitler was very clear that he would bring the prosperity of the20th century to Germany by restarting the war that had ended in 1918.) They intentionally create military tensions that wouldn’t otherwise exist to create work.
Thomas Malthus published his book more than 200 years ago. He presented some astute and well-reasoned observations. He based his numbers on events that took place before 1798. But the relationships he discussed still seem to hold. In the short-term, wars prevent declines in wages. Massive wars can have long-term effects that can keep wages at higher levels for many decades after the wars end. Destruction can also create large numbers of jobs. But, again, the effects of this are only temporary: destruction is always expensive. It costs a lot to rape our world of resources. Non-destructive options don’t require people to rape the world and this makes them naturally cheap. Solar energy comes to our Earth each day whether we use it or not. The governments can prevent people from taking advantage of this free energy system for a while, if they work aggressively. (The book Anatomy of Destruction, on Amazon, explains the steps they take now.) But eventually, competition between nations will force nations to accept the cheaper methods and make the subsidies on destruction impractical. Working diligently, the leaders can keep these subsidies going for a long time, but not forever.
Malthus’ main conclusion involved the idea that wages will always eventually come to the point where workers can survive, but only in the ‘maximum state of misery possible.’ The basic forces that lead to this reality are the same now as they were in 1798. If our group in Pastland decides that we want to have a society built on the principle of sovereignty over land, our system will have the same basic forces Malthus described. Our governments may work very hard to keep us at war or to keep destruction going, so that they can create jobs. They may succeed for decades or even centuries at a time. But eventually the working class population will rise to a level that is so high that no amount of effort by the governments can prevent the decline in wages.
In this society, we don’t have a good choice to keep the welfare of the people high; we only have a bad choice, a worse choice, and an even worse choice. We cannot even try to subsidize war and destruction and let the wages stabilize at the level that leads to the maximum in misery, we can subsidize destruction and allow temporary increases, at the expense of the only world we have, or we can create unnecessary wars that basically reduce the population of the working class by killing them. There is no good choice here.
We have seen that natural law societies work entirely differently. Natural law societies don’t have a certain class that gets free wealth and another class that doesn’t get free wealth. The land produces free wealth. No one owns the land, so no one owns the free wealth. The people divide the free wealth in some way they agree is acceptable. If the population rises too high, above the levels that production can support, everyone will suffer. But there won’t be a situation where some people are suffering, year after year and generation after generation, and another class is living in luxury, like in sovereignty-based societies.
We don’t know exactly how they did this, but we do know that the people in natural law societies appeared to have been able to keep their populations stable for very long periods of time. We might speculate that they realized that the land produced limited wealth and realized that population growth would create problems. They therefore found various methods to control live birth rates and used them.
Later we will look at hybrid societies, those that mix the characteristics of natural law societies with the characteristics of sovereignty-based societies. We will see that these societies have far more social security than do natural law societies, or even the best managed sovereignty-based societies. As a result, we would expect the forces that push toward a stable population in these other societies to work for us. We will also have technology, including birth control. We will see that socratic societies can easily achieve population stability and keep population levels stable for any period of time desired.
Sovereignty-based societies, however, are inherently unstable in this regard. The leaders can take certain measures that will have temporary effects. But even with very high-quality birth control and aggressive attempts to reduce population growth (as were taken by China with its ‘one child policy’) these societies still have forces that push toward population growth. Eventually, the governments will have to face the choice above, between bad (a working class living in misery), worse (subsidies on destruction that temporarily reduce the misery) or even worse (wars that kill off large numbers of people). No matter which choice they make, is isn’t going to lead to population stability indefinitely.
If we want healthy societies, we need to have societies that are at least capable of population stability. We will see later that there are actually a lot of societies in this category. Unfortunately, the sovereignty-based societies you and I inherited are not in this category.
New Nations and War
In sovereignty-based societies, the different classes live very different lives. Workers can live in extreme poverty alongside an upper class that can live lives of fabulous luxury. The leaders and rulers of existing nations can expand their territory by sending out ‘conquerors’ to subjugate the people who have the less technologically advanced systems.
Once countries are established, they can grow. They can attract people to fight for them by offering to give some of the land they are able to conquer in exchange for military service to the conquering nation. If some land is controlled by societies that are less capable militarily, like natural law societies, they can expand their territory using terror and murder, driving these people from their homes and killing any who resist. Once they control the territory, they can give some of it to the soldiers and arms makers who helped with the conquest and keep the rest for themselves, for their friends and family, or perhaps as ‘public land,’ available for use by any who are legally inside of the lines that mark the borders of their country.
Once sovereignty-based societies exist, they will grow in much the same way as a cancer. They grow bigger and bigger, expanding onto any land capable of providing nutrition for their residents. When they get to a certain size, they will send out tendrils to new areas to establish new colonies. The colonies will grow and take more territory. Eventually the colonies will send out tendrils to become new colonies. Some of the colonies will remain part of the mother country; others will take advantage of their isolation, build militaries of their own, and challenge the militaries of their mother countries to become independent and sovereign nations themselves. Each colony will affect more and more territory and various colonies will metastasize to form new diseases that are capable of greater and greater military feats.
These societies have structural forces that make them inconsistent with healthy living for the human race and planet Earth. They are inherently diseased. The disease will grow and spread and mutate to take over more and more of its host (the human race is the host for this disease). Eventually one of two things must happen.
The first option: the people who live in these diseased societies will realize that they are diseased. They will realize that their race is capable of more. They will figure out other ways human societies can work. They will figure out what steps must be taken to treat the disease, to cause it to grow less virulent over time, and to bring about a condition of health. They can then take these steps.
What if they don’t? This disease is fatal. The infected race can’t leave it in place and survive. The people in this system may truly love the structures associated with the disease. They may love their countries with all their hearts; they may truly believe that they own the land around them and that any who claim otherwise are enemies to be killed or subjugated so they have no control over anything. But all of the love in the world isn’t going to save these societies. Their disease is fatal. Leave it in place long enough and the race of intelligent beings that contracted it—as our race did about 6,000 years ago—will cease to exist.
Our group in Pastland is in a position to form any kind of society we want. If we want, we could start with a very simple system, a natural law society, the same type of society the pre-conquest American people appeared to have had. If we do this, we can then examine other options; we can look at various other different types of societies that we could build on this simple foundation. We may also decide to recreate the systems that we left behind back in the future. If we take this second option, we will basically be creating a monster with a life of its own. Once it exists, it will be the master and we will have to meet its needs. It will want to destroy us and, if we give it enough time, it will succeed.
Back To The Natural Law Society
This chapter was a thought experiment. It was a ‘what if’ discussion. What if we hadn’t even thought about whether the land was ownable and simply assumed it was?
If things had happened differently on the few days after we arrived in the remote past, the realities of our existence would have been entirely different.
Our group in Pastland has the luxury of a thought experiment because we have just passed the moratorium. For the next 10 years, we can discuss many different options, but we can’t act on any of them without officially repealing the moratorium.
We can go over the principles of natural law societies to see if we like them. We can examine the principles of societies built on one hundred percent ownability to see how they compare. We can also work out the specific structures of other societies, perhaps some that have not existed in the past but could exist if we wanted to create them.
We can take time to examine the goals of the human race.
Do we want to move forward and have progress and growth? If we do, we can incorporate structures that lead to progress and growth. Do we want to keep the land healthy so that future generations will be around to enjoy it? If so, we can work out the specific flows of value that encourage environmental responsibility and make sure they are a part of our finished society. (Hint: if everyone shares the bounty of the land in some way—it doesn’t have to be equal and we don’t have to share all of it—we all have incentives to keep the land bountiful so our incomes remain high.) If we want social and personal responsibility, we can work out the specific flows of value that lead to these characteristics and make sure we include them in our finished society. If we decide we want to destroy ourselves (some people think it is inevitable so it should be done on our terms) we can decide how we want this to happen and make it happen.
We have all options available to us. We can decide what we want and then build it.
Here in Pastland, we have these options.
Our real-world situation here in the 21st century is slightly different. We were not born into a situation where we had no roadblocks or obstacles.
We can, however, take the starting steps discussed above: we can figure out what options are possible (or would be possible if we had all of the advantages the group in Pastland had). We can figure out which societies can meet our needs and decide whether we want to have these societies. Once we have done this, we can look at the roadblocks and obstacles that we would face converting to these other societies. We can figure out what it would take to overcome these obstacles and whether it is worth the trouble to do these things. Perhaps we may find that there really are societies that can meet our needs and, if we tried, we could get to them. (If we really are the dominant species on Earth—and our destiny is not being determined by superbeings, angels, spirits, or gods who are currently invisible and undetectable by our sciences determining our destiny—who is to stop us? If we are the dominant species on Earth and we want something else, we can have it.)
Our first step here in the 21st century is the same as the first step for the people of Pastland: we need to know what kinds of societies are possible.