Covid-19 Can Open New Path to More Equitable and Just Societies

SHARISM is different from socialism or communism. It does not give ownership or management of the individual means of production to the people. Ownership of the means of production remains with those who have it now. Sharism just divides up the overall output of the national economy among the people who are responsible for that economy.

Sharism is not in the business of running any economy. It leaves that task to every entity contributing to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as in a capitalist or socialist economy. Those individual entities prosper only when they provide products people want at a price they are willing to pay.

Secondarily, sharism is not involved in the day-to-day operation of government either. It can work equally well, whether the government is democratic or autocratic.

What do other people think about sharism’s potential to create economies that can eventually transform people’s lives for the better without leaving anyone behind? Does anyone harbour the hope that it could work?

This week I put the basic question about sharism to Godfrey Harris, the Los Angeles-based public policy specialist and ex-staff member of former United States President Lyndon B. Johnson. Harris has been the first to write about sharism.

I asked him this: “Is it possible for governments to reorganise their monetary systems in ways that allow their citizens to share in their national wealth equally, given the fact that we are living in an inherently unequal world”.

Harris gave an answer that sounds like there could be several people thinking there is need to reorganise world economies to create better lives for humankind after the coronavirus pandemic.

“Just as we think enormous changes are coming in the way we live, our lives because of what Covid-19 has made us do, so we see ways to change governments and economies to work better than the socialistic and capitalistic models we now use,” Harris said.

I then asked him if putting money into the hands of the people through a tangible share of GDP — and giving them an annual dividend based on the growth of GDP — would work?

He said he thought it could. He also noted that the other side of sharism is a properly functioning implementation of Modern Monetary Policy (MMP).

In governments that have made MMP work, a state prints the money it needs to conduct the public’s business rather than wholly relying on taxing the citizenry to pay for public services.

Without the cheating, corruption and problems of most taxation systems, Sharism can flourish. But it takes a disciplined government to make MMP function.

It has worked in Japan, but failed miserably in Venezuela and Zimbabwe. What makes it work? A leadership that understands the balances that need to be achieved so the printing presses do not cause run-away inflation such as existed in Germany in the 1920s.

I also asked whether the idea of giving black citizens a bigger initial share of GDP than white citizens might help solve the gulf that now exists between those who demand zero compensation for the confiscation of land and those who believe that fair compensation is required if land is to be redistributed.

Harris said he thought it might depend on what bonus percentage of the GDP was settled on. If it is too high for blacks versus whites, it would bring an imbalance to the economy, cause inflation, and limit investment. If the bonus is fairly determined and widely accepted, it might bring the stability and growth that everyone craves.

Harris had more to say about the economic and political burden that corruption places on all economies. He thinks corruption may be the biggest barrier to the successful implementation of Sharism.

“Corruption,” he says, “comes from lobbying — the effort to sway legislative and administrative decisions in favour of one side or another. Lobbying often uses government to direct its resources to enrich the few while the rest remain poor.

If you all paid influencing is ended — in the corridors of the ANC, in the National Legislature, in the government offices in Tshwane and the provisional capitals, in the court rooms and local councils in the country — you can bring a level playing field back where democracy can function in the best interests of all the citizens,” answered Harris.

He had one more thought: “And the way to end corruption forever is to confiscate all property and restrict all travel that a person doing the corrupting or accepting the rewards of corruption owns or can do. If you wipe someone out — essentially make him, his family and his entourage the poorest of the poor overnight and with no exceptions or extenuating circumstances — this forever penalty will instantly outweigh any short-term gain that corruption may offer.

In short, if you make the risk so high that no reward will be able to match it, you stop the game. Who is ready to do that in any of the southern African countries?

It looks like I had stumbled on a treasure trove of possibilities in sharism. Harris had some academic credentials for indulging in the thought experiment of sharism.

He told me he had taught comparative government at Rutgers University in New Jersey in the 1960s before he went into the US diplomatic service where he served in three international capitals. He had also taught American government at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

He noted this: “I enjoyed the comparative government more. In teaching American government, you are dealing with a subject that the kids think they know. They don’t. They know some of the surface facts, but they really don’t understand how the machine works. It becomes a tough slog getting them to drop their old notions to look at new ideas. And you are walking on egg-shells to hide whatever prejudices you feel about one political party or the other.”

On the other hand, Harris said that while teaching comparative government, he soon discovered that the students knew absolutely nothing of how, for example, the French government worked, or the Chinese government actually functioned. So they were sponges for a teacher to educate.

They left the classroom thinking that there are other ways to organise and operate a society. The subject had never come up in high school and so the students were open to fresh thinking.

So Sharism is a legitimate alternative to other ideas for managing an economy or bolstering a governmental approach. It needs to be discussed.

Harris’s point is a simple one. What is happening in Africa now is patently not working for everyone. A few are benefiting, but the masses are suffering. The old models do not offer the kind of innovation that a new economic and governmental approach might. Hence his hope that sharism might be something that can be molded into use after people become familiar with it and test out how it might impact them personally.

Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning journalist who has written extensively on environment and development issues in Africa for the past 26 years.

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