SocioEconomic Democracy book review

By C. L'Hirondelle, September 2006

Although relatively few people are currently writing about the concept of guaranteed income, some people have been for decades. In his 300 page book "SocioEconomic Democracy", Robley E. George shares 33 years of research to examine how we can create a democratic economy. The first two chapters explores richly detailed history and theory of "universal guaranteed personal income" and "maximum allowable personal wealth" followed by a detailed chapter on democracy and how to have quantitative democracy to determine levels for guaranteed income.

The "Ramifications" chapter addresses the topics of environment, technology, racism, sexism, the elderly, children, labour, inflation, politics, war, planned obsolescence and more. George, like some other guaranteed income proponents, points out in the "feminine majority" section, "no longer would there be such a thing as 'unpaid labour'". There are also chapters on Justifications, Implementation, Incentives and Self-interest, and even Islamic economics.

While covering many complex topics, George's book has a welcome thread of humour throughout, unlike most densely unreadable academic books on social policy.

George describes guaranteed income as a kind of "money-back guarantee" from "economic experts' pet economic theories."

In the environment section, he first makes serious points about how "a guaranteed income would financially allow people to refuse work in industries that significantly pollute the environment" before going on describe another benefit: "The reduction of the further need for the avalanche of alarmist 'doom and gloom' books describing some particular aspect of the latest emerging or long-standing manifestation of the economic and environmental problems. This would, among many other things, save a lot of trees."

How true, how true! How many resources have been spent on describing ecological and poverty problems in the last 40 years as things get worse and worse? George points out there are current "economic incentives" for pollution and ill health creating economic activities. Indeed, as long as people need jobs to survive, acceptance of any awful industry that creates jobs will be compulsory.

There were a few places in the book where I might have misunderstoon the humour (reference to entrepreneurs like Bill Gates). It also could have been stronger with the addition of references to the ideas of feminist economic writers such as Mariln Waring, Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva.

However, George's book is so full of interesting economic history and theory, quotes and quirky ironic commentary that it is worth reading just for this.

I had just finished reading the article "Guaranteed Livable Income and the Golden Rule" in the last Victoria Street Newz (Sept. 06) when I found a section George's book about the Golden Rule in the chapter on democracy. George refers to an essay by Lani Guinier who points out that "The Golden Rule principle of reciprocity functions to check the tendency of a self-interested majority to act tyrannically."

Obviously the current economic system is not in the least democratic in that the vast numbers of people in the world who are poor have no say in how the world's natural resources are used or shared. A SocieoEconomic Democracy would create a negotiation-based democracy instead of the rules being made by a tiny minority.

One of the most valuable sections of the book, although only a page long, was on how guaranteed income would benefit the environment. Most people who are in favor of guaranteed income understand the positive human health impacts, but do not make the connection on how guaranteed income would benefit the environment. This is an extremely important connection to make given our perilous ecological future if we don't change our economic system.

SocioEconomic Democracy (2004) by Robley E. George, published by Praeger.