WHAT IS EGALITARIANISM?
Click here to read about what an egalitarian revolution is.
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, & here for an egalitarian Bill of Rights.
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.
Click here (pdf) to read the online book, We CAN Change The World: The Real Meaning Of Everyday Life, which shows why egalitarian revolution is indeed possible.
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, and not in the sense of identical either; also in the sense of fairness)
2) Mutual Aid (also known as solidarity, meaning helping each other, not being pitted against others in competition by an oppressor to control us; and fairness)
Egalitarians are people who, whether they've ever heard the word "egalitarian" or not, share these values, in other words the vast majority of people. (Children and mentally incompetent adults are discussed here.)
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 (such as so-called "representatives").
2. People who work reasonably according to ability share (not buy and sell) freely the fruits of the economy among themselves according to need and reasonable 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 have the right to partake, as equals, in making, and deciding how to enforce, 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 (re-callable 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., assemblies composed of delegates) in an attempt to arrive at a proposal that is acceptable to enough local assemblies to be actually implemented. Local and non-local assemblies may possibly decide to make use of online (digital) votes as they see fit, but the actual meeting of egalitarians in person at the local assembly remains the sovereign authority. Read more about this on pg. 19-20 here.
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, no matter what." 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. Read more about egalitarian militias here.
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."
Voluntary federation of egalitarians, as described above, has two purposes: 1. create social order that is desired by egalitarians on as large a scale as mutually agreed upon; 2. prevent anti-egalitarians from imposing, or re-imposing, class inequality with its consequent oppression, by using whatever means necessary including, when necessary, force and violence. When there are a large number of anti-egalitarians who are trying to impose class inequality by all means at their disposal including violence, then voluntary federation of egalitarians will quite possibly rely on violence or its credible threat to defend egalitarian principles. At the other end of the spectrum of possibilities, when there are virtually no anti-egalitarians, then voluntary federation of egalitarians will rely on virtually no violence or its credible threat and only rely on moral nonviolent persuasion. In this latter case, voluntary federation of egalitarians may be described as anarchy, meaning the absence of a state (with state defined as the organization that has a monopoly of violence or its credible threat within a given region.) But this anarchy is conditional on there being no anti-egalitarians present, which is quite different from unconditional anarchy which makes no sense for the reason discussed here.
Sharing Economy. [Note, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the "sharing economy" phrase that has lately been used in the mass media to refer to things such as people renting out parts of their private homes to make some extra money, or driving people somewhere in one's own car for a payment.]
The egalitarian economic principle is: "From each according to reasonable ability, to each according to need or reasonable desire with scarce things equitably rationed according to need."
A sharing economy is one in which all the people in it mutually agree to work reasonably according to ability and to share among themselves the products and services they produce, for free, according to need or reasonable 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. Money is not used at all inside a sharing economy or between distinct sharing economies; this video explains why.
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 according to ability--people who would normally be expected to do some work but who just refuse--are not members of the sharing economy and do not have a right** to take anything from it for free. Egalitarians, being reasonable people, will no doubt count children and retired elderly and people physically or mentally 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. Also, being reasonable people, egalitarians will no doubt take into account, when deciding how much work is reasonable, how onerous or unpleasant or dangerous some kinds of work are compared to other kinds.
A local assembly may determine if an individual person is working reasonably according to ability 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?".
Read how this kind of egalitarian economy produced more wealth than the capitalist economy it replaced in about half of Spain in 1936-9 in "Which Creates a Higher Standard of Living: Capitalism or Egalitarianism?"
Within an economic enterprise (including, in this context, organizations such as a school or hospital, as well as non-economic neighborhood associations, etc.) at the local community level, the workers (or members) 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, consensus, elected "officers" or otherwise), who is or may become a member 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 reasonably according 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.
People Have the Right NOT to Belong to the Sharing Economy
What about a person or family or group of people who want to work (as much or as little--even perhaps not at all--as they wish) 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 and private property such as a home (as discussed further here), as much land or other things related to economic production as they will put to productive use by their own, and only their own, labor; they cannot hire**** (or enslave!) other workers. These things are provided to them by the Local Assembly of Egalitarians if it agrees that the intended purpose of their use is reasonable, and according to availability and the principle of mutual aid, with priority given to meeting the needs of those who do contribute reasonably according to ability. All of the people working reasonably according to ability in such an economic enterprise must have equal status with respect to its democratic decision-making and enjoyment of the wealth produced according to need or reasonable desire. 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 (read about the difference between barter and money, and between wage and non-wage labor, here) some of the fruits of their labor with individual members or economic enterprises in the sharing economy, which is fine.*******
People who opt not to belong to the sharing economy are still obliged to obey the laws of the Local Assembly of Egalitarians, of which they may be a member if they support egalitarian values. The Local Assembly of Egalitarians may, if it deems it necessary to honor the principle of mutual aid, require those who are not members of the sharing economy to contribute reasonably products or services that are required to ensure that others in the community who contribute reasonably according to ability may have what they need or reasonably desire (with scarce things equitably rationed according to need). Aside from this, those who opt out of the sharing economy may own all the wealth they produce with their own labor. Some may produce more wealth than others this way by working harder or longer or smarter or luckier, but since it is wealth produced only by one's own labor***** and not the labor of hired wage workers (or slaves!) this difference in wealth cannot come even close to the difference in wealth between rich and poor people today. This difference in wealth is thus qualitatively the same as the differences between people in health or body strength or talent, etc., and not the same as the "some rich and some poor" difference that constitutes class inequality today or which could restore class inequality in the future.
If a person (or persons) decide not to be in the sharing economy and furthermore produces very little or nothing with their own labor and hence cannot obtain by barter sufficient food, etc., that they need to survive, then the Local Assembly may--if it wishes; it is not morally obliged to!--provide food, etc., to this person or people.
How Are Victims of Injurious Accidents and Disasters Compensated in an Egalitarian Society Not Based on Money and In Which It's Not Possible to Sue for Monetary Rewards?
Anybody who is a member in good standing of the sharing economy and who is injured (no matter what the cause) can take for free what he/she needs or reasonably desires, including whatever extra things or services are required to deal with the injury or in the case of scarce things have equal status with others when they are equitably rationed according to need.
What about a person who is not a member of the sharing economy? What if, for example, such a person had chosen not to be a member of the sharing economy and had (as discussed above) property he/she was using productively (perhaps bartering with people in the sharing economy), including an automobile, and the automobile exploded causing him/her severe injuries and the person required lots and lots of health care? Egalitarians should, in the spirit of mutual aid, arrange for the injured person to receive the health care he/she requires, for free. Choosing not to be a member of the sharing economy is not an act hostile to egalitarianism and a person so-choosing still deserves the benefits of mutual aid.
What if a flagrant freeloader--a person who is perfectly healthy mentally and physically but has always refused to do any useful work even though he/she would be reasonably expected to do some, and who insists that other people work to provide him/her what he/she needs or wants--is severely injured? In this case, the freeloader does not DESERVE (i.e., have a right to demand) anything from egalitarians. Egalitarians may, however, choose to provide health care to the freeloader for any number of quite sensible reasons, even though they are not morally obliged by any egalitarian principle to do so. (See "A Parable: The Right to Health Care" about this.)
Instead of the victim suing for a monetary reward (which he/she does not need in an egalitarian society), egalitarians would (using the voluntary federation government) determine who, if anyone, was guilty of wrongdoing that caused the injuries and what punitive or non-punitive actions should be taken to try to ensure that such injuries don't happen again.
In this kind of egalitarian society, people are as free as the realities of human existence permit to do wonderful things to enrich their own lives and the lives of others, both in formal economic enterprises that they democratically run and on their own individual "off work" time. Aside from the laws of nature and the limits imposed by physical reality, the only limits to what people can do to make the world better and better are the limits of their imaginations and creativity, and the limits of their ability to obtain the support of others who may be affected by a given project or whose help may be required by it.
Is this Utopia? No. Is it enormously better than a society based on class inequality such as ours today? Absolutely yes!
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?
* One can envision a "local community" to be perhaps the size of a United States postal zip code, of which there are about 34 inside the city of Boston, Massachusetts; this would equate to approximately a community with a total population of around 40,000 people. This size would be arrived at by trial and error; it is not written in stone. A "local community" should be large enough to make sense but small enough so that all the egalitarians in the local community who wish to participate in a Local Assembly meeting can fit in a large room, as people do at large conventions. While the Local Assembly is the sovereign power (no higher authority has law-making power) in its local community, people would likely have all sorts of smaller meetings of egalitarians who work together or who live in the same neighborhood or who share some common interest of whatever kind, for three purposes: 1) to decide how to do routine things, or decide to do new things that do not require additional support from the larger community nor conflict with laws and policies determined by its Local Assembly; 2) to develop proposals to submit to the Local Assembly; 3) to participate in voluntary federation with people both within the local community and outside of it to achieve cooperation with them for some goal or purpose on a larger scale (as mentioned above) with the only condition that they must abide by the laws and policies determined by their Local Assembly. Additionally, the Local Assembly may if it wishes, and for as long a time period as it wishes, delegate certain limited (geographically or otherwise) policy-making powers to some of these smaller meetings/organizations/committees.
Here's an interesting historical fact that may be somewhat relevant. The open area where the democratic governance of Ancient Greece took place was called the Pnyx. “Meetings at the Pnyx could involve anywhere between 6,000 and 12,000 people, groups comprising free adult males drawn from perhaps 20 per cent of the city’s total population.”— The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber
** Just because a person has no right to something, meaning no basis on which to demand that other people provide him or her with it, does NOT mean that there may not be some other very good reason for people to provide a person with it. One obvious example of this is that a very good argument can be made--and most egalitarians would likely make it--that everybody--no matter if they have a right to it or not--should be provided with sufficient health care to prevent a public health hazard. Another quite reasonable argument could be made that everybody no matter how deserving or not should be provided with sufficient health care to prevent those who do contribute reasonably according to ability from experiencing the emotional distress of seeing people "dying in the street" so to speak. Another sensible reason why egalitarians might want to provide something (not just health care but anything else) to everybody no matter what is that it would cost more in terms of labor and resources to check who is deserving and who is not than would be otherwise given to undeserving people. (I heard that this was in fact the reason that the British National Health Service provided care to anybody, even a foreign person who just happened to be in the UK when sick.) There are all sorts of good reasons why egalitarians may want to provide this or that to those who do not contribute reasonably according to ability, but the notion that such people have a right to this or that is not one of these reasons.
*** Centralized governments based on the authoritarian principle (i.e., that says "You must obey the highest level of government no matter what") tend inevitably to stifle the creative and intelligent initiative from below by the only people who have direct knowledge of the relevant facts. This initiative from below--initiative that voluntary federation PROMOTES--is, in reality, the only way that a large and complex economy can work well to provide the products and services that people need and desire.
**** Wage labor, even if the wage is "in kind" (i.e., a product or service given to the laborer in exchange for his/her labor), is illegal in an egalitarian society, no matter what. Period! Barter, in contrast, is the exchange (between specified individuals or groups of individuals) of material things for other material things, and barter is legal. Labor is not a material thing. Read more about this here.
***** Actually, "fruits of their own labor" should more technically read, "fruits of their own labor as well as of the labor of those who produced the means of production that the Local Assembly provided to them plus the labor of those who produced any means of production that they might have obtained by bartering."
****** Here's one example of how there are different ways of implementing egalitarian values. “Basque villagers in this region are self-conscious egalitarians, in the sense that they insist each household is ultimately the same and has the same responsibilities as any others; yet rather than governing themselves through communal assemblies (which earlier generations of Basque townsfolk famously created in places like Guernica), they rely on mathematical principles such as rotation, serial replacement and alternation. But the end result is the same, and the system flexible enough that changes in the number of households or the capacities of their individual members can be continually taken into account, ensuring relations of equality are preserved over the long term, with an almost complete absence of internal conflict.” See the book for an explanation of what "mathematical principles" means in this context.
— The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow
******* If some person (by which is meant a person or economic enterprise in what follows) inside the sharing economy barters with a person outside of the sharing economy, the person inside the sharing economy must barter in a manner that is consistent with the terms (mutually agreed upon by all the members of the sharing economy) on which their membership in the sharing economy is based.
For example, if a person's membership in the sharing economy is based on providing X widgets per month to the sharing economy, then widgets they might provide (through barter) to a person outside of the sharing economy to not count towards meeting the X widgets requirement.
On the other hand, if the widget-producing person in the sharing economy needs doo-dads to produce widgets and nobody in the sharing economy produces doo-dads but there are lots of thing-a-ma-jigs produced in the sharing economy and a person outside of the sharing economy who produces doo-dads will barter doo-dads for thing-a-ma-jigs then it may be mutually agreeable among all members of the sharing economy for the widget-maker to take for free enough thing-a-ma-jigs to barter for enough doo-dads to produce X widgets per month for the sharing economy.
Alternatively, if somebody outside the sharing economy produces doo-dads and wants to barter them for widgets, then the person in the sharing economy who makes widgets might be able to make some widgets in excess of the X widgets owed to the sharing economy and use those excess widgets to barter for the doo-dads needed to keep making widgets.
If somebody outside the sharing economy is, say, an artist who paints paintings for barter and they go to a sharing economy store to barter a painting, the person running the store may or may not decide to accept a painting for barter (or only offer certain items in exchange for a painting) depending on applicable policies about such things established by the local community. If the person running the store does exchange something in barter for the painting then the painting belongs to the local community sharing economy, not to the person running the store. The painting, as a luxury item (at least a one-of-a-kind item) that nobody needs any more than anybody else, would be rationed in an equitable manner to people in the local community's sharing economy: possibly a lottery would be used to select one of the people who expressed a desire to have the painting and that person could have it for some specified period of time.
Bartering is, undeniably, cumbersome. It is for this very reason that joining a sharing economy is so attractive. But a sharing economy is voluntary. Though it would seem unlikely, it would nonetheless be possible that nobody in some community or set of communities would join a sharing economy and everybody there would use only barter, even if they were all perfectly fine egalitarians. People have the freedom to do this if they wish, in an egalitarian society. But they cannot use money or wage labor or slave labor or create class inequality with some rich and some poor.