A Utopia in 2050, according to an Australian Socialist Economist - Let's Critique

  • Registration closed, comedy forum, Internet drama, Sneed, etc.

Glad I couldn't help

Oh hai
kiwifarms.net
Joined
Aug 29, 2018
Here an interesting article on an Australian socialist economist, about his vision for a 'realistic' utopian social Oz by 2050:

Socialist utopia 2050: what could life in Australia be like after the failure of capitalism?
From four-day weeks to unconditional basic income to free education, it’s possible to imagine a future where society’s focus has moved from consumption to quality of life

Looking at contemporary politics, it’s easy to feel a sense of despair. All across the world, we see a resurgence of racist demagogues, now rendered respectable by the embrace of the “mainstream” political right and much of the commentariat. Pauline Hanson, once considered beyond the pale, is now barely distinguishable from Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison. On the other hand, across the English-speaking world and to some extent beyond, young people have moved sharply to the left.

With capitalism having failed them, many are willing to embrace socialism. But what does “socialism” mean?

For the moment, it may be enough to define socialism as social democracy with a spine, as I have before. But to inspire the kind of movement we need to defeat reactionary racism, a positive vision of a socialist society is essential. This calls for a kind of utopian thinking that has been out of favour for a long time. That’s in part because of the failure of so many utopian visions, and even more because of the need to defend the partially realised utopia of the mid-20th century social-democratic welfare state.

I thought it might be worth trying to imagine life in Australia in 2050, a few decades into a socialist resurgence, though well before the emergence of society that could truly be described as socialist. In the utopian vein, I’m going to look at a future where everything has gone as well as could reasonably be hoped. However, I’m going to make every effort to be realistic in terms of the economic constraints involved, and not to invoke radical and unlikely changes in human nature.

I’ll start with a typical 30-year old, born just a couple of years in our future. I’ll call him/her Ali, and leave other details unspecified for now. Like most young people in the 2030s and 2040s, Ali completed high school and went on to further education, all of which had been made free as one of the earliest measures of the socialist government elected in 2025.

Ali’s partner, Sam, was one of the exceptions, finding school a bore and not having the aptitude for a skilled trade training. Instead of free education, Sam received a grant of $100,000 at age 20, to be used in starting up a small business, in Sam’s case, a coffee shop. (A society without coffee shops would be a pretty poor excuse for utopia.)

Ali works at a community-run credit union. The resurgence of credit unions followed the downfall of the global banking sector that dominated late-20th century financial capitalism. After the Second Global Financial Crisis of 2021, and the long depression that followed it, no government anywhere was willing to risk giving financiers another chance to destroy the economy. Investment banks and hedge funds were shut down. Financial transactions taxes, of a kind first proposed by 20th century economist James Tobin, made short-term financial trading of all kinds unprofitable. Commercial banking is once again dull and safe, as it was in the 1950s, a refuge for unadventurous souls with a knack for figures. Tight regulation and the dominant role of publicly owned institutions have seen to that. Meanwhile, community banks and credit unions like the one where Ali works handle the finance of most families and small businesses.

Like most workplaces, Ali’s credit union is open for the standard four-day, 30-hour week. With Monday as a regular day off, Ronald Conway’s sardonic description of Australia as “the land of the long weekend” is now a reality. With eight weeks’ annual leave and additional public holidays, Ali works around 1,200 hours a year, about average for full-time workers.

The shift to a four-and-a-half day week beginning in 2033 was, amazingly in retrospect, the first reduction in standard working hours in 50 years, resuming a trend that had cut annual working hours in half between the mid 19th and late 20th centuries. (The trend was reversed by the massive work intensification of the 1990s, referred to at the time by John Howard as a barbecue stopper. It still stops the occasional barbecue when elderly bores start telling young people they don’t know how easy they have it.)

Despite predictions of ruin from the business sector, the reduction in output was quite small, and after a few years, was entirely offset by productivity growth. Output per hour worked doubled over 30 years as a result of technological progress. Moreover, many of the wasteful and unproductive activities of the market economy have disappeared, so that the social value of production has increased even more.

As the shorter working week was phased in, wage growth slowed down, but workers were still much better off than they had been during the early 21st century, when the benefits of productivity growth were less evenly distributed. The change was so successful and popular that the next reduction to a four-day week met little resistance.

The use of technological progress to improve work-life balance has been taken in other directions. When Sam and Ali had their first baby, they were entitled to three full years of paid leave, to be shared between them. Cynics observed that Australia had only just caught up with conditions available in Sweden decades ago, but most new parents were just happy to have the chance to spend time with their children.

Even back at work, Ali only goes into the office for two days a week, enough to maintain contact with colleagues. Most work, including banking, is done over the internet, which has long been provided free of charge as a public service. The decline of the private business sector has long since wiped out the advertising model on which the fortunes of companies like Google and Facebook were built. Since these companies relied almost entirely on content supplied by their customers, they weren’t much missed when they faded away.

Sam’s life hasn’t changed quite as much as Ali’s. The cafe is a seven-day operation and even with two business partners, running it takes 40 hours a week and sometimes more. And, like small business owners today, Sam grumbles about tax, unions and penalty rates, and the difficulty of getting good staff.

In other ways, though, Sam has it easier than in 2019. The $100,000 grant made it possible to start a business with no debt. More importantly, big corporations have disappeared from most sectors of the economy, including the cafe and restaurant sector. The relentless competition from large franchise operators, with business models based on exploiting franchisees, who were forced in turn to exploit their workers, is a thing of the past.

The elimination of tax avoidance and wage theft, through a combination of government and union action, destroyed the business model on which many corporations worked. The abolition of intellectual property and the renationalisation of monopoly infrastructure reversed the tendency towards private monopoly that had contributed greatly to the rising inequality of the early 21st century. The massive financial sector of the early 21st century, another huge source of inequality, is a distant memory.

Most formal employment is in the public and non-profit sectors, including health, education and social services of various kinds, as well as infrastructure. There are still some big businesses left, particularly in the manufacturing sector. They account for around 10% of total economic activity and about 5% of all employment, down from around 30% at the turn of the century. Most of the work in these firms is done by robots and computers, and the relatively small number of workers are well paid. Some senior managers and professionals receive five times the average wage, the legal limit imposed after the Crisis.

Not everyone in 2050 works in a paid job like Ali and Sam, but hardly anyone is unemployed. Most people without paid work receive a “participation income” which reflects non-market contributions to society, such as child-raising, participation in education or volunteering for community groups of all kinds.

Such community groups have flourished, with generous public support for a wide range of causes and ideas. This approach contrasts sharply with that of the early 21st century, in which the public sector sought to harness the energy of the community sector to reduce the costs of achieving predetermined policy goals. Associated with this was an “audit culture” in which concern over the possible misuse of public funds was given greater weight than the opportunities for positive use of those funds.

For those who can’t or won’t find any useful work, there is an unconditional basic income, roughly equal to today’s age pension in value. Despite the concerns of believers in market incentives, only a relatively small proportion of the population is on the basic income at any given time and hardly anyone stays on it for more than a few years. The universal availability of free retraining, and the wide variety of opportunities to contribute have meant that the basic income genuinely serves the function of a “safety net”.

As the focus of activity has moved from consumption to the quality of life, the environment has started to recover from the damage inflicted by unsustainable economic growth. The economy of 2050, including transport and most industry, is powered entirely by renewable energy, generated by a mixture of public utilities and local micro-grids. Coal-fired power stations and petrol-driven cars are a distant memory.

Food production has also become more sustainable, enabling Australia to feed a growing population, while increasing exports to the rest of the world. An expansion of publicly funded research through bodies such as the CSIRO has reversed the damaging cuts of the neoliberal era, and produced a range of innovations, including better climate forecasting and remote sensing, as well as more efficient management of water resources with less damaging impacts on natural ecosystems.

The socialist world of 2050 would not be the kind of utopia dreamed of by abstract theorists. It would not be one of complete leisure or perfect equality, let alone perfect people. But it would provide nearly everyone with a better life, and more opportunity to pursue their own path to happiness, than we have today.

So let give a bullet point summary of what his 'realistic utopia' looks like:
  • Multinational investment banks and hedge funds no longer exist; replaced with small credit unions and publicly-owned banks. Financial transaction taxes and tight regulation prevent large private banks from returning.
  • Monday is now regular day off, with eight weeks of annual leave and extra public holidays. This has little effect on productivity, since technological progress has continued and with various inefficient market activities have ended, so the 'social value of production' has increased. There is little unemployment, with people having a paid job getting an "participation income" for socially beneficial activities like volunteering. Additionally, there is a UBI for the unemployable, which makes up only a small fraction of people.
  • Lots of work is done over the Internet, which is a free public service. Goolag and Fakebook are dead because the advising model has died with the end of private business.
  • Big corporations are gone from most sectors of the economy, with the exception of manufacturing, which has about ~10% of GDP. This is most done by robots. Monopoly infrastructure (e.g. rail, electricity) has been re-nationalized.
  • Tax avoidance and wage theft have been eliminated by vigorous government and union action. There is an "audit culture" where possible misuse of funds is given higher priority than any gains from using that money. Intellectual Property has been abolished.
  • Energy comes exclusively from renewable energy, with electric cars and sustainable agriculture.
So some of it sounds good (e.g. the end of IP, no Facebook or Google), but I do have some complaints about this vision. First, it assume that state-owned corporations wouldn't be run psychopathically like the private corporation, which it really optimistic, especially if they became a major part of the economy. Secondly, it feels his vision would require lot of people behaving at their absolute best (e.g. the "audit culture") . This would require either massive police presence (which would bring own corruption problems) or a tight knit culture that weeds out those who fall out of line (e.g. Jewish diamond dealers, who will kick anybody out of their club if they trying to shortchange each other), both of which he wouldn't want. Also, getting energy exclusively from renewables, world-wide, by 2050 is impossible. But what do I know, I'm just a right-wing shill who can only reply to utopias with "muh Venezuela", "muh Gulags" and "Jordan Peterson".

Anyway, what do you think of his utopia? Is it desirable? Is it realistic? What kind of utopia do you envision?
 

Kevin Fudd

NOT funded by China!
kiwifarms.net
Joined
Nov 14, 2018
Currently, with the decline in the manufacturing sector, most of Australia's unions are dying. I'm sure that many of those studying social sciences and the like do support unions but will their numbers be enough to keep our unions afloat?

Many blue collar workers are moving away from unions because of a lack of perceived progress coming from those organisations which is leading to a decline to membership numbers and of course their power. I honestly doubt that the unions will be powerful enough to push for 'change' as detailed in the article.
 

Glad I couldn't help

Oh hai
kiwifarms.net
Joined
Aug 29, 2018
Currently, with the decline in the manufacturing sector, most of Australia's unions are dying. I'm sure that many of those studying social sciences and the like do support unions but will their numbers be enough to keep our unions afloat.
How powerful are the Aussie public sector unions? I think that, especially in the English-speaking World, they are the modern heart of the union movement.
 

Kevin Fudd

NOT funded by China!
kiwifarms.net
Joined
Nov 14, 2018
How powerful are the Aussie public sector unions? I think that, especially in the English-speaking World, they are the modern heart of the union movement.
The unions for blue collars here in Aus are slowly losing their power because the benefits provided by unions must also be applicable to those workers not a part of any union, known as 'scabs'. And since many unions are pretty much doing nothing whilst also charging membership fees, workers wouldn't be that encouraged to stay.

WorkChoices was a set of laws introduced in 2005 by the Howard Government that was heavily opposed by the trade unions and the Australian Labor (sic) Party (ALP) because it stripped away rights for workers. Since the unions were a bit more powerful back then, they managed to get the centre-left ALP elected in 2007.

Because of the change in the Australia's (and the world's) labour market towards a more service-based economy, traditional trade unions aren't seeing many new members come in. Sure, there are a number of unions for professionals, but not many young workers know about the unions and their role in our labour market.

I'd say that the trade unions - as a whole - are just a shell of their former selves.
 

gobbogobb

lol
True & Honest Fan
kiwifarms.net
Joined
Feb 13, 2018
So they want a Star trek style economy and government structure. I mean that's cool and all but even in fake Star trek land that didn't really happen until they figured out a nearly unlimited source of energy and efficient matter to energy conversion.

You notice what you don't see in fake Star trek Utopia? Solar panels and wind farms.

Oops I meant energy to matter.
 

BillionBisonBucks

Soon will be worth five billion pounds
kiwifarms.net
Joined
Aug 2, 2016
I think it's theoretically possible for something like this to exist - We make enough for everyone to live well, etc.

Problem is, if there's humans in administration, there will be corruption. A system like this is delicate, and while I agree that eliminating desperation will eliminate most crime, there will always be people that just want to take, and some of them will be ambitious enough to make it into the system. Those people generally aren't criminals, but they're what turn a good system into a shitheap.
 

Keystone

True & Honest Fan
kiwifarms.net
Joined
Apr 12, 2016
"Socialist Economist" is one of the biggest oxymorons out there. I'd bet anything this dude is the same garden variety socialist who loves to castigate religion and religious people for their belief in heaven and eternal happiness. This same person will, without a hint of self awareness, proceed to proclaim socialism will make everyone eternally happy through perfect resource distribution and 100% perfect cooperation from every living human; because that's totally realistic.

At the cost of sounding no different than those people who use Harry Potter and [Current Year] media to describe everything, it reminds me of that scene from the first Matrix movie where Smith talks about humans wholesale rejecting the first version of the Matrix that was "perfect" because they innately knew something was not right. Any "utopia" especially a socialist one would have the same outcome. Or that one study on the rats that everyone loves to regurgitate -- even with everything the rats needed they started going bonkers because some part of their brain was telling them something just wasn't right.

Of course any utopia would have to provide enough food for everyone, and well over a century of real world application has shown socialism just can't do that.