(This is just a blog and I can write about whatever I want.)
Understanding our vast public wealth, which I’m going to try and explore, is not the domain of socialism. It is still capitalism, but a version where the public is not taken for granted. We build our private pursuits on a public foundation. To deny that is either dishonest or lazy. Corporations that use this public foundation produce vast wealth from which they have both a responsibility and ability to pay, but making them do so is our choice and depends on understanding our public assets.
Supposedly we are the wealthiest nation on earth, but what exactly does that mean? If we have private wealth, do we also have public? If we have per capita national debt, what are our assets? Don’t the bankers say its all about debt to asset ratio? Maybe $62,000 in per capita debt is nothing to be concerned about if per capita public assets are vastly higher. Why not increase public spending to both reduce inequality and build a foundation for private industry? R&D among large corporations is reportedly at an all time low which makes stagnation no surprise.
That $62,000 debt number gets adjusted all the time, but actually tabulating public wealth is far more complicated because it has sources that are both odd and taken for granted. The bulk of our physical assets that form public wealth may be held in clean water. Corporations that borrow our water have a responsibility to return it clean. It is lent and priced on that premise. When industries like fracking do not return public resources like water clean and force the cost of cleanup on the public and/or destroy that asset forever, they are extracting public wealth they do not deserve. These industries and their employees exploit the system and we should be more outraged by the fracker than someone poor receiving public assistance.
You typically access your public wealth at your job. Oil field workers access vast amounts because they exploit publicly owned natural resources. Environmental degradation can be like destroying an asset that does not belong to you, but that only matters if the owner cares. The fast food worker who also collects food stamps may be accessing far less of their public wealth than the oil field worker. This wealth isn’t divided evenly and that is why so many are able to steer it to their undue personal ends. Much public wealth is hoarded in the hands of the few. Does the defense contractor work harder than the fast food worker and thus deserve more? We could discuss a lot of metrics of productivity and education but to a large degree we would just be obscuring the fact that the defense contractor unjustly accesses much more public wealth at their job than the burger flipper yet one is legally no more the citizen than the other.
Many in rural areas feel excluded from this wealth because they experience few tangible American assets. The more you are excluded, especially by geography, the more you deserve deliberate efforts to even things out such as free college and universal health care. The town without a post office or other critical infrastructure investments may even deserve cash. The injured worker who can no longer access their oil field job may also deserve cash. The school child who is not yet an old field worker (exploiting public wealth) may deserve a school with funding that matches any other school in the country. We can call this a safety net, but we can also call it a return on investment for our share of public assets.
Besides water, petroleum, minerals, and public lands, a lot of our public wealth is held in the public domain which is a vast portfolio of intellectual property. Our wealth accumulates as time goes on because we accumulate public domain patents and copy rights. These public works are central to our right to tax industry. Publicly funded basic science research is also a justification to tax industry. This blog collects public research and is a significant and relied upon trove. Immense sums were paid to conduct all of it. This is not free for industry, but is why industry pays taxes even if they put century old public domain works to use. The work of Rafael Arroyo was conducted 80 years ago and can be freely learned about online, and even though I will never file paperwork explaining what intellectual property my distillery uses, I deserved to be taxed for using precisely the expired patents of Arroyo. Silicon Valley holds patents, but those businesses are still based on an immense public domain foundation.
Lobbyist have fought to extend copyright for decades longer than was ever originally proposed. Disney never wanted it’s cash cow characters to fall into the public domain. Countless abandoned scientific works get swept up in these extensions. This blog is a lot of me violating abandoned copyright that has no protocol for release because of corporate fear of the public domain. When ownership changes who pays rent changes. The public eventually becomes the landlord.
When someone infringes on a patent or copyright, they get sued and that is basically where the public should be with corporations infringing on their intellectual property by not paying dues in the form of taxes. Every billionaire is a policy failure and they are either exploiting public domain intellectual property or public natural resources. A quick look at the tax rate of specific corporations can quickly back this up. A wealth tax is a way to tally the bill, but the justification is the debt to the public for intellectual property among other resources. If International Harvester feels trapped by our public patents, they now know how our farmers feel when trapped by International Harvestor IP with no right to repair.
Most of our public wealth ends up poorly distributed and in the hands of few. Much of this money goes unused and sits in piles as it is shuffled to various tax havens. The super rich don’t exactly get richer because they do not use the money, but the poor certainly do get poorer and further away from solving collective problems.
Presidential candidate Andrew Yang intuits a lot of these ideas, but comes up very short. He makes guaranteed public income seem magical when it is more like a straightforward dividend paid out on your share of public wealth. Many wealthy countries put a lot of these ideas in practice and that is why they have sovereign wealth funds. These funds give Scandinavian countries disposable incomes that no doubt create impressive private pursuits. In most instances this dividend should not be paid out in cash, but rather experienced in the classic forms of public schools, roads, and other infrastructure. However, in many cases, especially when access is proven uneven, cash is an option we can choose.
When you take your public wealth for granted, much of it will go the military and in turn their high paid private contractors. We have gotten so far removed from awareness of public wealth that an entire generation does not realize they are able to choose between a fighter jet to nowhere or green energy infrastructure projects and universal health care. Much public wealth can simply be steered to more pressing collective problems.
Besides the military, diversion of public wealth to another cause has run amok. One reason the U.S. can keep so many people behind bars at vast expense is because each individual’s public wealth is so significant it can support them fully incarcerated. Private enterprise can start to exploit and basically steal their surplus. The average cost of incarceration of a federal inmate is $35,000 and we seem to be able to pay it easily. That is like a 3.5% annual interest rate on an investment of $1,000,000 dollars. Incarceration expenses almost become a minimum cash payable measure of per capita public wealth.
It is going to take many people with many perspectives to fully elaborate these ideas. Feel free to give it a go. Otherwise, all your public wealth goes to war and oligarchs if you do not know what or where it is.