WHAT IS EGALITARIANISM?
Click here to read "Are You A Progressive or a Revolutionary?"
Click here to see what a debate between a billionaire and an egalitarian might look like.
Click here to see what egalitarian laws might look like.
Click here to see how egalitarianism compares to other social systems.
Click here to see why egalitarianism is enormously better than today's class inequality.
Click here to see why human nature is fully compatible with egalitarianism.
Egalitarian Values and Principles
Egalitarianism is the idea that society should be based on the Golden Rule, including the values and principles in This I Believe, which apply the Golden Rule to social organization. Egalitarian values are:
1) Equality (in the "no rich and no poor" and "from each according to ability, to each according to need" sense, not the "equal opportunity" sense that means an equal opportunity to get richer than others)
2) Mutual Aid (also known as Solidarity, meaning helping each other, not being pitted against others in competition by an oppressor to control us)
Egalitarians are people who share these values, in other words the vast majority of people.
Egalitarian principles of government and the economy are ways of implementing these values. These principles are:
1. Social order--including, in particular, democratic government--should be based on mutual agreements among egalitarians, not on the anti-democratic authoritarian principle that egalitarians must obey laws that they have no equal say in writing and that are written by other people.
2. People who work reasonably share (not buy and sell) freely the fruits of the economy among themselves according to reasonable need and desire, where what is reasonable is determined by democratic government.
WE HAVE NO BLUEPRINT, BUT WE HAVE SOME IDEAS ABOUT HOW AN EGALITARIAN SOCIETY COULD WORK
We do not have a blueprint for how an egalitarian society will be--that is impossible because people will have all sorts of ideas for how to implement egalitarian values and might experiment (trial and error) with different approaches or use different methods in different places. But some of us have thought about one way that an egalitarian society might work, because it is important to be confident that there is at least one way it could work. Otherwise how could we persuade other people--or even ourselves--to fight for egalitarianism? Here are the ideas some of us have:
Voluntary Federation. The only law-making bodies are local assemblies at which all of the egalitarians in the local community (i.e., residing in the community or, in the case of a person who resides outside the community, working reasonably in an enterprise located in the community) and only they are able to partake, as equals, in making the laws for that community. Social and economic and all other kinds of order or coordination on a larger-than-local scale is accomplished by local assemblies sending delegates (recallable any time) to meet with delegates from other local assemblies (in what we call non-local assemblies). Non-local assemblies do not write laws; instead they craft proposals that the local assemblies implement or not as they wish. In practice, there is back and forth negotiation between local assemblies and non-local assemblies (i.e., of delegates) in an attempt to arrive at a proposal that is acceptable to enough local assemblies to be actually implemented.
Non-local assemblies can, in turn, send delegates to form a non-local assembly corresponding to an even larger region, and these non-local assemblies can, in turn, do likewise so that regional planning and coordination can be achieved on as large a scale as desired, even globally if people wish. Still, non-local assemblies do not write laws; they only craft proposals for consideration by the assemblies from which their members were sent as delegates. Back and forth consultation and negotiation between assemblies at lower and higher levels either results eventually in a proposal that meets the approval of a sufficient number of local assemblies to be implemented, or else no new plan or policy is implemented. This is how large scale order is achieved by mutual agreement, rather than by the anti-democratic authoritarian principle that says "you must obey the highest level governmental body." Also there can be non-local assemblies for different purposes, say sports events in one case, economic coordination in another, and scientific research in yet another.
Nothing about voluntary federation, however, prevents local assemblies from mutually agreeing to form a militia (or army) to forcibly prevent other people from attacking egalitarian values. Thus if a local assembly or even a region decided (no matter how "democratically"), for example, to enslave all the [fill in the blank] people or engage in, say, child abuse, then other local assemblies of true egalitarians would be entirely within their rights in forcibly preventing people elsewhere from enslaving or abusing people this way. (See "A Misunderstanding about Democracy" for more on this point.) The principle is that voluntary federation is the way for egalitarians to democratically shape society by egalitarian values; it is also the way for egalitarians to democratically (among themselves) prevent (violently if necessary) the enemies of egalitarian values from shaping society by anti-egalitarian values.
How, it may be asked, can egalitarians form a militia or an army? A military force, to be effective, relies on the principle that soldiers of a lower rank must obey officers of a higher rank. Isn't this the very authoritarian principle that egalitarians reject, by denying that egalitarians are obliged to obey laws they have no equal say in writing and that are written by other people? The answer would be "yes" if the soldiers were conscripted against their will. But an egalitarian militia or army is composed of volunteers who agree to obey orders from officers a) whom they elect and whom they can recall and b) who enjoy no special privileges or insignia. The authority of the officers, in other words, is entirely based on the trust that is accorded to them by the soldiers, based on the officers' reputations for integrity and judgment in defense of egalitarianism. The militia or army, in turn, depends for its supply of weapons and ammunition and clothing and food etc. on the workers in the sharing economy (described below) who voluntarily agree to supply it with these material needs.
The authority of the officers in an egalitarian militia or army is essentially the same as the authority of a surgeon in an operating room with nurses and attendants, or of a pilot in a passenger jet plane: it is the authority that people respect and obey because of their trust and respect for the person exercising that authority. Almost any time that people work together for a common purpose there will be some who are more respected for their integrity and judgment and knowledge related to achieving the common purpose than others, and who will, for that reason alone, be accorded greater authority. This kind of authority is a positively good thing. It is very different from the bad kind of authority that egalitarians reject, which is based on the authoritarian principle: "You must obey the higher authority whether you want to or not, whether you think the authority is aimed at goals that you support or not, whether you respect the motive and judgment and integrity of the authority or not; you must obey simply because it is the higher authority, period."
Sharing Economy. A sharing economy is one in which all the people in it mutually agree to work reasonably and to share among themselves the products and services they produce, for free, according to reasonable need or desire, with scarce things rationed according to need in an equitable manner. The local assembly decides what is reasonable, and how scarce things are to be equitably rationed.
Local assemblies, by mutual agreement, join in a sharing economy, with as many or as few local communities in a given sharing economy as mutually agree to be in it. (The advantages of being in a very large sharing economy are so great that it is likely that sharing economies--or a single sharing economy--would be almost, or even actually, global at some point.) Those who do not work reasonably--people who would normallly be expected to do some work but who just refuse--are not members of the sharing eoonomy and are essentially beggars. Egalitarians, being reasonable people, will no doubt count children and retired elderly and people unable to work as "working reasonably" even though they do no work, and likewise deem it "reasonable work" when people care for their own or other children or for other sick adults or attend school or apprentice programs to learn skills so as to be able to work in the future.
A local assembly may determine if an individual person is working reasonably and taking products or using services reasonably and is therefore a member in good standing of the sharing economy, but more typically the local assembly determines whether an entire economic enterprise itself (consisting of people who work together or do similar kinds of work) is working reasonably and taking products and services from the economy reasonably and is, therefore--as an entire enterprise--a member in good standing of the sharing economy. If the enterprise provides a useful or desired product or service of reasonable quality and makes it available to appropriate people in a reasonable way and does all this with a reasonable number of workers who take products and use services reasonably then the local assembly will determine that the enterprise is a member in good standing of the sharing economy. This means that the enterprise may freely take products or use services from the sharing economy that the enterprise needs to operate, and each of its workers (except any specific individual the local assembly may judge to be taking more than reasonable) may freely take products and services for personal or family use according to reasonable need or desire.
The people in each economic enterprise know that the enterprise's membership, as well as their own personal membership, in the sharing economy depends on the enterprise and its workers having a good reputation for reasonableness in contributing to the sharing economy and reasonableness in taking from it. Rather than profit, the indicator of the enterprise's success is the strength of its good reputation. This is discussed more fully in "What Replaces the 'Free Market' in a Sharing Economy?"
Within an economic enterprise (including organizations such as a school or hospital) at the local community level, the workers are all formally equals, although some, as discussed above, may provide leadership based on respect for their greater experience, knowledge, integrity or commitment to the purpose of the enterprise. All of the workers democratically determine all of the policies relating to the enterprise, consistent with all policies and decisions and laws of the local assembly. Among other things, the workers of the enterprise decide how, exactly, they will democratically make decisions (majority rule, concensus, elected "officers" or otherwise), who is or may become a member (worker) of the enterprise or organization and the general and individual-specific conditions of their membership, and all decisions formerly considered the responsibility of "management." A worker in any enterprise is always free to quit working for the enterprise and look for a different way of "contributing acording to ability."
Economic enterprises at the local level may use voluntary federation, parallel to that discussed above for local assemblies, to achieve order and coordination and cooperation on as large a scale--even global--as is mutually agreed upon by the local economic enterprises. Still, a local economic enterprise must obey the laws of the local assembly for the community in which it is located.
As discussed in more detail here, the worst problems in our present society, from unemployment and food insecurity and health care insecurity to homelessness and crime and unjust wars to unwelcome profit-driven changes in our neighborhoods would be quickly solved in an egalitarian society.
What about a person or family or group of people who want to work on their own land or in their own workshop (or equivalent) and be self-sufficient and not be a member of the sharing economy? That's perfectly fine if that's what they want to do, and they can own, in addition to personal items, as much land or other things related to economic production as they can put to productive use by their own, and only their own, labor; they cannot hire other workers. What they do with the fruits of their labor is up to them; but since society is no longer based on money and they have chosen not to be in the sharing economy, they might decide to barter some of the fruits of their labor with individual members or economic enterprises in the sharing economy, which is fine.
WHAT ABOUT THE ARGUMENTS THAT SAY INEQUALITY (SOME RICH AND SOME POOR) IS BETTER THAN EQUALITY (NO RICH AND NO POOR)--EVEN FOR THE POOREST?
Those who defend class inequality (click here for what is perhaps the most articulate such defense, by Ludwig von Mises), say there ought to be some rich and some poor, and they give two faulty arguments for why.
First, they argue that capitalism, which is indeed inherently based on economic inequality, produces more wealth than egalitarianism, and thereby provides a higher standard of living for the poorest people than they would have in an egalitarian society where all were economically equal. It turns out that this is just factually not true, as discussed in some detail in "Which Creates a Higher Standard of Living: Capitalism or Egalitarianism?" (click here to read it.) To the extent that we want to increase productivity (an important question, given important environmental concerns and the need for human life on the planet to be sustainable in the long term, and also that people may wish to work less and make do with less but have more leisure) an egalitarian society is far more capable of that than a capitalist one, and is far more likely to do it in a manner that is responsible rather than motivated by the greed of a few billionaires.
Second, they argue that everybody benefits when just a few have luxuries. Their claim is that what is considered a luxury ends up eventually being considered a necessity (Ludwig von Mises cites the example of using a fork to eat--initially, he says, only the rich aristocrats used a fork and regular people used their fingers; he also cites indoor toilets enjoyed, initially, only by the rich but now considered a necessity by even the poorest in developed nations.) If such luxuries could not be initially enjoyed by the rich, they argue, then they would never be enjoyed by anybody.
This is a truly stupid argument. It uses the conclusion it aims to prove as a premise--totally illogical. It amounts to saying this: "In a society that is organized in such a way that novel things like forks and indoor toilets cannot be widely available to all unless they are first made available only to a few very rich people, then any novel thing not first made available only to a few rich people will never be widely available to all." But it is just as "logical" to make the following argument exactly parallel to Ludwig von Mises's silly "logic." It would go like this: "In a society organized in such a way that novel things like forks and indoor toilets become widely available to all only after being made available to a few who enjoy them as a result of the rationing of scarce things in an equitable manner according to need, then any novel thing not first made available only to a few who enjoy them as a result of the rationing of scarce things in an equitable manner according to need will never be widely available to all." People like von Mises argue from the premise that capitalism (or, more generally, class inequality) is the only way society can be organized, and idiotically conclude, therefore, that whatever good things appear in a capitalist (or class-inequality) society could only have appeared in a capitalist (or class-inequality) society in the manner that capitalism (or class inequality) causes them to appear.
We're always told by the defenders of inequality that the very rich--people like Bill Gates--produce jobs and if they weren't allowed to be very rich they would stop producing jobs. This argument, like the one above about how we need rich people to enjoy luxuries others don't get to enjoy, rests on the assumption that the only way the world can be is the way it presently is--a capitalist world. Sure, if a few rich capitalists personally own all of the things, like farmland and factories, etc., that people need in order to produce the products and services they want (which is what capitalism means), and if the only way a regular person can obtain any of these products and services is by paying for them with money (which is what capitalism means), and if the only way a regular person can obtain money is by "having a job," i.e., agreeing to work for a capitalist and do whatever he or she commands (which is what capitalism means), then yes, it is true that only a rich capitalist "produces" jobs and regular people need jobs: a lot of IFs!
But what if it is NOT a capitalist society but an egalitarian one? What if the farmland and factories, etc. are, like the air we breathe and the sunshine that warms us, not the personal property of a few rich capitalists but rather acknowledged to belong to all of society for the good of all? What if people in local communities democratically decided how the farmland and factories, etc. in their community should be used? What if they decided to let everybody who wanted to work reasonably on the farmland and in the factories, etc. do so (as discussed above in the Sharing Economy section) and then to let them take for free the products and services they reasonably wanted (as discussed above also)? Then nobody would need or even want a "job" (meaning an agreement to work for a rich capitalist and do whatever he or she commanded). A sort of parable about this is here.
Far from class inequality not being better than equality, there are extremely important reasons for abolishing class inequality over and beyond the simple injustice of it. Go here for some discussion of these reasons.
GOOD ARTICLES WITH FURTHER DISCUSSION OF EGALITARIANISM
The following articles provide much greater detailed discussion of how an egalitarian society might work (the point being that there is indeed at least one way it could work) and why an egalitarian society is so much better than what we have today.
Thinking about Revolution (spells out what a good society might look like, and how it can be achieved; this was written before we began using the word "egalitarian")
A Misunderstanding about Democracy (why only egalitarians are members of the voluntary federation assemblies)
This article may be copied and posted on other websites. Please include all hyperlinks.