This one is for Dave.
So I'm on this Heinlein kick. The man is teaching me so much about so much, by just making me think about things I already knew but I wasn't really aware of. Each of his books seems to have some theme (or 2 or 12) within that resonates with me. I've just finished "For Us, The Living", his very first novel that went unpublished until quite recently, as it was found after his death. Whereas "Stranger in a Strange Land" had my mind reeling over the "man before his time" views on sexuality and religion, this book has me questioning a lot about capitalism I was taking for granting as truth. All this time, I've been convinced that communism is the best way for humanity to coexist in peace but so depressed that we couldn't ever reach a peacefulness that would allow it to work, so I've just been angry at capitalism and frustrated with democracy and livid with anyone afraid of anything that even dares to smell like socialism. But back in 1939, Robert A. Heinlein proposed that capitalism can work, and work beautifully, if we chuck out some silly ideas and drive some new ones into our thick skulls.
The whole thing seems to fly in the face of Ayn Rand, the movie versions of Atlas Shrugged anyway, which coincidentally I found on Netflix and watched just before reading this. That woman is a monster! Oy! Of course, Rand reminds me of Nancy Kress, ever since someone tried to give me a brief synopsis of the book and it sounded eerily similar to "Beggars in Spain", one of my favorite books of all time. And you know what? I'm not the only one seeing the connections. I Googled "Robert Heinlein Ayn Rand Nancy Kress" and found very promising hits on the first page, many of which I have bookmarked for reading AFTER I write this down. Because I didn't want my thoughts to get tainted by what others have to say until I've gotten all of this down.
So I've made my notes to myself, and drawn these conclusions:
On Kress vs. Rand: Nancy Kress rewrote the story of Atlas Shrugged, leaving behind one woman to fight for humanity but mostly just sympathize, and another woman within the enclave to come down from on high to actually do something about it. Except their meddling kinda makes things worse.
On Heinlein vs. Rand: Rand had an idea, Marx had an idea, Heinlein had an idea. Heinlein is pretty much the opposite of Rand. Rand wants Capitalism Deluxe where the dollar is mighty and anyone who doesn't work should be ashamed of themselves and go fuck off and die in a hole somewhere. Heinlein wants Libertarianism Deluxe where living life should be your greatest ambition, but not in a completely hedonistic couch potato way, but rather enjoy yourself, learn, educate, create, better yourself and others through the process.
I have notes on the rest, but that's about the gist of it.
But to really understand the remarkableness of what this book espouses, you have to read it. So I've just spent the past hour transcribing the 2 really important bits. But first, a tiny backstory: guy's car goes over a cliff in 1938, guy wakes up in 2075, guy has adjustment issues to current American culture, guy has interesting conversations with an economic scholar. Everything is quite different, thanks to 2 basic changes: the take over of banks to form one government bank (economic security for everyone follows, once they fight a little war that put the final snuff on the idea of an export-based economy), and the rewriting of the Constitution to ensure the total liberty of all citizens (social liberalism ensues, all thanks to a near-miss of having a wing-nut religious conservative in power).
Here's Heinlein in his own words, on how the only problem with Capitalism is our current allegiance to an export-based economy:
"It had always been the conventional point of view, especially in the economic beliefs of the conservative party, that a prosperous nation required a favorable trade balance or "gold balance" as it was formally called. In simple language, that means that a country is best off when it exports more than it imports. Phrased in that way it sounds silly, for it is surely evident that a country that ships out more than it takes in gets poorer every year in terms of real wealth. Nevertheless, there was an element of truth in it, a very practical truth at that time. The economic life was organized in such a comical fashion, that each year the country produced goods of greater value than the people of the country were able to buy back and use up. This was known as over-production, and many were the esoteric, nonsensical things said about it. But the situation was that simple. The system of necessity produced more than it consumed, of necessity...."Now here's Heinlein rewriting the Constitution to ensure Liberty for all (sorry, no mention of justice, but that's an interesting topic for later!):
"Do you mean to say, that that was all there was wrong with business in the United States in my day?"
"That was all. And all of your labor troubles and poverty and physical suffering were as unnecessary as they were tragic."
"The members of the new Congress who had been elected on an anti-Scudder ticket were pledged to Constitutional reforms to prevent a recurrence of loss of individual liberty from any cause. In consequence, several hundred amendments were proposed in the first few days of the term. The parliamentary impasses resulted in a clever piece of lawmaking. At a caucus of the Libertarians, it was proposed and agreed to that a small representative committee draft and submit to the caucus an amendment in the form of a new constitution which, if adopted and ratified, would supersede the old Constitution in toto. The Committee consisted of 5 men and one woman, great minds, all of them." ....Now, there is a 3rd bit, but I haven't found the relevant section to transcribe. I'm reluctant to put it in here because I don't have the support or even the wording, just the idea as I remember it. But it's just as important as the other 2 bits. So, here goes: when the US Government created the US Bank, they started giving everyone something called "Heritage Checks" to cover their monthly expenses. Where does the money come from? The Bank prints it. They just make it up when they need it. Think that's ridiculous? According to Heinlein, it's exactly what private banks are already doing (or they were in 1939) when they make out new loans. There is no longer a gold standard, so why not print money when you need it? Money only has value because we believe it does. Producing only what America actually consumes keeps pricing down, technology eliminates most menial labor jobs, health care is free.
"Their report was submitted to the caucus on 2028, April 20, and was debated in Caucus for 3 weeks. But the members of the committee had done their work so well, and in particular had been so skillful in retaining most of the wording of the original document, the new amendment was approved by the caucus without change, and submitted as a single bill signed by every member of the caucus. It's adoption, of course, was a foregone conclusion. It was ratified by the 37th state on 2028, November 12....
"The addition of a new restriction on the power of government. Henceforth, no law was Constitutional that deprived any citizen of any liberty of action, which did not interfere with the equal freedom of action of another citizen. Pardon me, I've stated that badly. These are the words of the new Constitution:
"Every citizen is free to perform any act which does not hamper the equal freedom of another. No law shall forbid the performance of any act which does not damage the physical or economic welfare of any other person. No act shall constitute a violation of a law valid under this provision, unless there is such damage or immediate present danger of such damage resulting from that act.
"Do you see the significance of that last provision? Up to that time, a crime had 2 elements: act of commission, and intent. Now it had a 3rd: harmful effect which must be proved in each case, as well as the act and the intent. The consequences of this change can hardly be exaggerated. It established American individualism forever, by requiring the State in each case to justify its interference with an individual's act. Furthermore, the justification must be based on a tangible damage or potential damage to a person or persons. The person damaged might be a schoolgirl injured or endangered by a reckless driver, or it might be every person in the state endangered by the betrayal of military secrets, or injured by a manipulation of commodity prices. But it must not be some soulless, super person, the state incarnate, or the majesty of the law. It reduced the state to its proper size, an instrument to serve individuals, instead of a god to be worshiped and glorified. Most especially, it ended the possibility of the majority oppressing any minority with that hackneyed, hoary lie that 'the majority is always right.'
"In another place in the Constitution, corporate persons were defined and declared to have no rights of any sort, except wherein they represented rights of real persons. Corporate persons could not be damaged. An act committed against a corporate person must be shown to have damaged a real person in order to constitute an offense. This was intended to clip the wings of the corporate trusts, which threatened to crowd out the man of flesh and blood."
If you chuck out everything you think you know about today's economy and just start over fresh without a system of overproduction or investment banking, but instead have in place an economy based on a system of simply meeting people's needs bolstered by the dollars handed out by the government each month, couldn't things get simpler and actually work?
The thing about capitalism that bothers me the most is that it seems it's all about getting ahead and being on top, the flip side of which is there's always going to be someone on the bottom getting screwed. Dave's brother, Cliff, likes to demand where all the money is going to come from to pay for all the "welfare" of any move towards socialism. He is convinced the economy is going to collapse, a matter of when and not if. Heinlein answers all of that: capitalism can work without being dog-eat-dog, and there is money to pay for everything because we printed it. There is no debt if you're not borrowing from anyone to print that money. Did I mention the elimination of private banks and the formation of one national bank means no government borrowing from the banks to stay in business? It becomes a trim government, to the extreme. But in this digital age, shouldn't phrases like red tape and paperwork and bureaucracy become obsolete? If government is only there to actually run things, not dicker around with balancing budgets and infighting and passing endless laws against and for things, does it really need such bloated overhead?
So, my question to you, why aren't we doing this? Can this work? Why not?