Economic Democracy: Balancing Economic Development, Property Rights, and Individual Liberty to Advance Civilization

By Harris, Drew L.; Twomey, Teresa M. | Competition Forum, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Economic Democracy: Balancing Economic Development, Property Rights, and Individual Liberty to Advance Civilization


Harris, Drew L., Twomey, Teresa M., Competition Forum


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

We propose that civilization and economies advance through democratizing privilege and extending personal rights and liberties. Conversely, abuse of these erodes civilization. A 2x2 topography of privilege developed from business, economics, sociology, and political science distinguishes privileges as economically efficient/inefficient and formal (legalistic)/informal (cultural). This topography facilitates the construct a set of propositions for "economic democracy" consistent with principles underlying political democracy: eliminating inefficient privileges, the economic value of formal-efficient privileges accruing to the community, and protecting individual freedom and economic production. We present arguments and evidence that these propositions have significant potential to advance civilization and expand economies.

Keywords: Economic Democracy, Liberty, Free-Markets, Privilege, Property Rights, Economic Development

ADVANCING CIVILIZATION: PRIVILEGE AND PROGRESS

One could view the advancement of civilization as a saw-toothed climb of complexity, interconnectedness and cooperation interrupted by backsliding of fundamentalism, fragmentation, and hostility. This paper asserts that the key to each major upward climb is what we will call the democratization of formal privilege - the decentralizing or de-concentrating of rights or advantages shared by some and denied to others. For this claim to make sense we must define our terms, add nuance to some terms - especially civilization, privilege and economic democracy - and illustrate our meaning.

What could "advancement of civilization" mean? Black's Law Dictionary (1990: 246) defines Civilization as: "A term which covers several states of society; it is relative, and has no fixed sense, but implies an improved and progressive condition of the people. It consists not merely in . . . accomplishment and accumulation of wealth, or in advancement in culture, science, and knowledge, but also in doing of equal and exact justice." The term "of the people" implies everyone, perhaps not as individuals, but certainly considered as one body. Various criteria could measure "improvement" or "progressive condition," but for any of them to count as advancement, we must consider the number of people the improvement benefited and whether it was for the betterment of the whole.

Some advances in technology, science, economic arrangements, and culture may improve some aspects of society, but for our purposes we consider the effect on the broad body of society. One common example of progress is the advent of the printing press - the ability to easily mass-produce written information. Although illiteracy still exists, civilization as a whole undoubtedly advanced with this technology. Yet if only a small privileged class had been permitted to learn to read (as was forced by the technology of handwritten books), the advancement of civilization would surely have been less.

We propose that civilization advances when certain privileges (especially those written into law) are removed. Black's (1990: 1197) defines Privilege as: "A particular and peculiar benefit or advantage enjoyed by a person, company, or class, beyond the common advantages of other citizens. An exceptional or extraordinary power of exemption. A peculiar right, advantage, exemption, power, franchise or immunity held by a person or class, not generally possessed by others." Not surprisingly, belief in the equal worth of each person and a desire for self-determination often served as catalysts for shifts in privilege as well as the basis for political democracy.

In the following examples, concentrated privilege is rejected and contributes to enabling the next historical step:

* The rise of self-determination and greater access to written materials, especially the Bible, led to the Protestant Revolution and rejection of Roman Catholic Church's position as the sole mediator between man and God. …

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Economic Democracy: Balancing Economic Development, Property Rights, and Individual Liberty to Advance Civilization
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