Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of talking with Prof. Anne Khademian, the Executive Director of the Universities at Shady Grove (USG), about a wide range of topics related to USG’s new strategic planning process. Our conversation covers why I decided to travel to the USA (over 20 years ago!) to study in the Technology and Policy Program at MIT, and how my subsequent research on sustainable development and binary economics/inclusive capitalism, led me to the emerging movement of Community Wealth Building (CWB).
Our new paper entitled “Addressing Inequality: The First Step Beyond COVID-19 and Towards Sustainability” is now available. I will provide the story behind this paper in a subsequent post.
On Tuesday, June 23, from 9:00 to 10:30am (EDT), I will be participating in the online (and open access) 2020 Beyster Symposium. The purpose of the symposium is to study broad-based forms of capital ownership and capital income such as employee stock ownership, equity compensation, profit sharing, gain sharing, and worker cooperatives in the corporation.
During my session at the symposium – which focuses on “UBI, Taxation, and the Environment,” a recording of my presentation will be released and the panelists in the session will be available in the chat feature of the conference platform to answer any questions you might have on our presentations or papers.
To join my session, go to https://beystersymposium.org/ and select Room 2 at 9:00am on June 23.
All of the material prepared for the symposium can be accessed via this dropbox site.
I will be presenting a co-authored paper entailed “Universal Basic Income and Inclusive Capitalism: Consequences for Sustainability.” My Prezi presentation can be accessed via this link.
For those of you who can read polish, the paper I coauthored with Prof. Robert Ashford (Syracuse University) and Prof. Nicholas Ashford (MIT) on Broadening Capital Acquisition with the Earnings of Capital as a Means of Sustainable Growth and Environmental Sustainability, has been publish in RPEiS (Ruch Prawniczy, Ekonomiczny i Socjologiczny; Journal of Law, Economics and Sociology). RPEiS is the oldest academic journal in Poland that deals with all areas of law, economics, and sociology.
The original article was first published in the European Financial Review in 2012.
Robert Ashford, Ralph P. Hall, Nicholas A. Ashford (2017) Koncepcja binary approach jako instrument kształtowania zrównoważonego wzrostu. Ruch Prawniczy, Ekonomiczny i Socjologiczny 4: 191-201.
Earlier this month, Prof. Robert Ashford and I had the pleasure of engaging with various academic, government, and non-government entities in the UK about our ideas on inclusive capitalism. The two images below will take you to a version of the presentations we gave at the University of Oxford, in London (at the Portcullis House and Syracuse University’s Faraday House), and at the University of Southampton.
In the first presentation, I outline two major challenges that can be represented by two “ice hockey stick” curves. The first curve relates to global climate change, but can be thought of as emblematic of a range of stubborn environmental concerns that show no signs of halting or declining with continued economic growth. I predict that we will soon see a similar curve for the volume of plastic waste in the world’s oceans. Curves could also be drawn for the bioaccumulation of persistent chemicals. For example, when looking at the health of long-lived and high trophic level marine mammals, there is now evidence that some killer whales have consumed sufficient quantities of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) to be fireproof. Many scientists are now concerned about the health and environmental impacts of these chemicals, especially on reproductive and immune systems.
The second ice hockey stick curve provides a snapshot of the concentration of wealth in the US that is accompanied by a series of graphs that chart a number of concerns relating to the hollowing out of the middle class (or job polarization) in America and the EU, and to trends in income inequality over the past several decades.
The real challenge comes when the two curves are considered alongside one another. In 2012, the Rio+20 conference advanced the notion of the Green Economy as a mechanism through which progress will be made towards sustainable development. Since the dominant strategy for advancing a green economy – that targets the decoupling economic growth from growth in environmental impacts – is based on advanced and hyper-efficient technologies, a critical question is what will happen to well-paying jobs and more broadly to trends in income inequality and job polarization. (For more on this issue, see my book review of Cents and Sustainability.) Having mapped out these macro concerns, Prof. Ashford (in his presentation) provides a new way to view them based on the principles of binary economics (what we call inclusive capitalism).
The following text (from our talk description) provides a brief overview of the content of Prof Ashford’s presentation (which can be viewed by clicking on the image below below).
To reverse growing income inequality and to achieve greater and more broadly-shared prosperity and sustainable growth, Professor Ashford advocates a much more “inclusive capitalism” (beyond conventional right- and left-wing strategies of austerity and stimulus) based on “binary economics.” The inclusive capitalism approach is to broaden competitive market opportunities to acquire capital with the earnings of capital. The same market mechanisms that presently assist mostly wealthier people to acquire capital with the earnings of capital can even more profitably be opened, without redistribution, to assist poorer people to acquire capital with the earnings of capital. The prospect of such ownership broadening will unleash substantial (presently suppressed) productive capacity in the UK because the prospect of more broadly distributed capital earnings in future years provides great untapped incentives to profitably employ more labor and capital in earlier years.
Our proposal for the MacArthur 100&Change ($100 million) grant was submitted this morning. Using the language of Virginia Tech’s Beyond Boundaries initiative, this is our ‘moonshot’ idea. If implemented it could fundamentally retool the global economy to provide everyone with a capital ownership stake in an inherently sustainable economy. Here is the executive summary of our proposal:
Boldly conquering global poverty will require an innovative economic paradigm that provides everyone on this planet with a personal ownership stake in the future. This project aims to transform our economic systems and promote sustainable enterprises by leveraging creativity and innovation. Our forward-looking mechanisms will enable all people to obtain a capital-based income that will supplement their labor income. Using the principles of binary economics, people will acquire capital with credit repayable with pre-tax future earnings of capital (future savings). The approach does not require coercive actions of government or a redistribution of existing wealth. As capital ownership becomes more broadly distributed, the economy will grow as people spend their newly acquired income on inherently sustainable goods and services. Our team’s alliance of academics and expanded-ownership pioneers will demonstrate how universalizing access to capital ownership can reduce inequality and advance sustainable development to create inclusive and sustainable prosperity for all.
In this post, I wanted to reflect a little on how we made it to this point.
My decision to advance a proposal came after listening to Regina Dugan speak at Virginia Tech in August. During her talk, Dugan commented that organizations are often limited not by what they can do, but by what they “believe” they can do. Having initially decided not to develop a 100&Change proposal due to the sheer scale of the grant and significant global competition, her comments and the Beyond Boundaries initiative made me rethink this decision.
I would put my ideas for how to spend this scale of funding into two categories. The first contains those ideas that could lead to siginfnicant progress, but largely within the existing development paradigm. One example would be the creation of an accessible and open data-rich sustainable water decision-support platform that could be expanded to include other sectors of the economy such as energy and agriculture. The second category contains those ideas that are potentially transformative in a macro sense, but are also currently on the fringe of mainstream thinking. One example, and the anchor of our 100&Change proposal, is the theory of binary economics that has been developed for over fifty years, but has yet to receive significant attention.
During her talk at Virginia Tech, Dugan commented that real innovations tend to occur when you feel uncomfortable about what you are doing – uncomfortable in the sense that there is no known pathway to success and there is a high potential of failure. While binary economics inspired the creation of employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), its economic principles have yet to be fully implemented in a way that increasingly broadens capital ownership and creates a sustainable economy. Thus, some could argue that it is an unproven idea. Flying at Mac 20 was also an unproven idea until it was not. With regards to the high potential of failure, I view this in the context of a highly competitive grant competition, rather than failing in terms of the approach. Having spent many years exploring the approach with Prof. Robert Ashford, I feel confident it has the potential to reduce inequality and stimulate significant economic growth. The basic idea is that if everyone received an additional and growing income from capital ownership, they would spend this money on goods and services, stimulating further growth (‘binary growth’). Given the potential negative environmental impacts of this growth, our proposal developed an innovate way to finance the growth of inherently sustainable goods and services. The problem statement from our proposal clearly explains the combination of these two ideas.
Few people today produce enough to take care of themselves or their families. Labor, the main source of economic productiveness prior to the industrial revolution, has declined in relative productiveness as labor-displacing technology advances and becomes hyper-productive in comparison to labor [see the Second Machine Age]. These trends are driving the growth in inequality and the erosion in labor earning capacity, with the ownership of productive wealth being highly concentrated, and with most people owning little or nothing. Attempts to generate equitable growth via government stimulus or austerity programs have failed.
A second critical and related problem is the negative environmental impacts that accompany technology-fueled growth. The Rio+20 promise of a Green Economy has yet to truly materialize, but simply going green is not enough. A new, inherently sustainable industrial revolution is needed, where products and services are produced, used, and disposed of in closed-loop, hyper-efficient systems. A major challenge, however, is the creation of markets for these next-generation products and services. These markets need to provide all people with an equal opportunity to earn incomes from their labor and from a capital ownership stake in the inherently sustainable products and services they benefit from.
When put together, these two macro problems – i.e., inadequate income and the negative environmental impacts of growth – underlie most of the major challenges facing humankind. The fundamental problem addressed by this proposal is how to create Inclusive and Sustainable Prosperity for All.
Since we decided to advance a 100&Change proposal in the first week of September (four weeks ago!), I needed to recruit help to make this proposal happen. I decided to focus my sustainability seminar on the topic of binary economics and asked my graduate students to help structure the content of the 100&Change ‘pitch’ video. They willingly agreed to help and spent several weeks reading, learning, and struggling with the ideas before developing what I considered to be a firm understanding of binary economic principles. The pictures below capture some of the ideas we discussed during this learning process. We also developed a number of concept videos that can be viewed here and here.
While my students helped develop the video (with technical support from TLOS), I was fortunate to have colleagues in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), the Office of International, Research, Education, and Development (OIRED), and the Institute for Policy and Governance (IPG) who both understood the approach and worked hard to help craft a viable project (described below).
This project will make the ownership of capital – a critical and growing form of income – more inclusive by using future capital earnings (future savings) to finance broadening capital acquisition to provide growing numbers of people with capital income. The new capital income will target inherently sustainable goods and services, stimulating innovation and supporting long-term sustainability. As production becomes ever more capital intensive, providing everyone with an ownership stake in capital will be critical to broadly increasing purchasing power, reducing inequality, and fostering sustainable communities.
Because most people lack the capacity to generate past savings, there must be a shift to using future savings to finance new capital. Presently, almost all capital acquired by corporations is acquired with the earnings of capital, and much of it is acquired with borrowed money. The new mechanisms developed by the project team will open to all people the techniques of corporate finance that will broaden capital ownership and provide beneficiaries with a growing capital income. Because present demand for the employment of capital and labor is dependent on expected demand for goods or services in a future period, a voluntary pattern of steadily broadening capital acquisition promises more production-based consumer demand in future years and therefore more demand for a fuller employment of labor and capital in earlier years. Further, the targeted use of newly acquired capital income to purchase inherently sustainable goods and services will significantly expand the market for these goods and services, creating powerful incentives for innovation.
What is perhaps most interesting about this experience is that while I initially viewed the challenge of creating a 100&Change proposal as a moonshot, the more we worked on the idea and began to form the team, the more it became a realistic possibility. My graduate students proved to be the best critics of the ideas we were exploring and played an important role in framing the approach to the project. In many ways, as the proposal evolved, so too did the team’s confidence in what we could accomplished with binary economics. Our final 90-second video (below) is ‘one small step’ towards a broader understanding of the approach.
After completing our proposal, I started watching the other 100&Change videos on YouTube and realized that our approach could finance those ideas focused on the creation of inherently sustainable goods and services. Thus, if you find yourself wondering what inherently sustainable means, take a look at the available videos and get inspired.
On Sunday, May 4, a conversation between Robert Ashford, Joyce Rothschild, Woody Crenshaw, and I aired on Talk at the Table with Andy Morikawa. During our conversation, we explain the basic idea of binary economics and how it relates to critical issues such as growing income inequality and sustainable development.
On Wednesday, April 2, Prof. Robert Ashford will be giving an introductory talk on binary economics. His talk will focus on how the approach can address inequality, create demand for employment, and finance sustainable development. More information on the talk is provided below.
When: Wednesday, April 2, 5:30 to 7:30pm
Description: In general, earning capacity can be enhanced by some combination of two contributions: (1) increased wages earned through employment; and (2) money earned through the ownership of productive capital (e.g., land, technology, patents, etc.). Usually, only people who already own capital are able to acquire capital with the earnings of capital; and they do so substantially in proportion to their existing wealth, which helps to explain how wealth tends to concentrate in a capital intensive economy like the USA. Binary economics reveals practical ways of extending effective market opportunities to poor and middle-class people so that they can also acquire capital with the earnings of capital. In this way, as production becomes ever more capital intensive, poor and middle class people can earn not only by working but increasingly as owners of productive capital. In this talk, Prof. Ashford will introduce the binary economic approach and explain how it can enhance not only an individual’s capital earning capacity (addressing inequality), but also the demand for employment and the prospects for achieving sustainability.
When: November 7, 1-3pm
Where: 3080 Torgersen
Prof. Robert Ashford will be teaching a seminar for faculty and doctoral students at Virgina Tech on “Teaching Binary Economics in Courses That Include Substantial Economic Policy Analysis.” The seminar will be offered through Virginia Tech’s Network Learning Initiatives (NLI).
The seminar will provide faculty and doctoral students with a basic introduction to “binary economics” – an approach to market economics that lies conceptually beyond the mainstream economic theories that underlie the polarized political and economic debate between proponents of austerity and stimulus. Based on a distinct understanding of production, distribution, prices, and growth, Prof. Ashford will use a binary economics lens to explain how the prospect of more broadly distributed capital earnings in future years provides incentives to profitably employ more capital and labor in earlier years. The seminar will be a great opportunity to learn from one of the leading binary economist in the world.
I’m pleased to announce that Prof. Robert Ashford will be visiting Virginia Tech in November, during which he will take part in a series of events related to the concept of Binary Economics. The first of these events will be a SPIA seminar on November 6, during which Robert will make the case for “democratizing capital acquisition” by broadening competitive market opportunities to acquire capital with the earnings of capital – see the flyer below for more information about this talk.
Over the past several years, I have had the opportunity to work with Robert, leading to the two papers below published in the European Financial Review.
- Ashford, N. A., Hall, R. P., and Ashford, R. (2012) Addressing the Crisis in Employment and Consumer Demand: Reconciliation with Environmental and Financial Sustainability. The European Financial Review, October-November, 2012, pp. 63-68.
- Ashford, R., Hall, R. P., and Ashford, N. A. (2012) Broadening Capital Acquisition with the Earnings of Capital as a Means of Sustainable Growth and Environmental Sustainability. The European Financial Review, October-November, 2012, pp. 70-74.
I first became aware of binary economics when searching for alternative, transformational models of development. The importance of identifying new development pathways has only intensified following the recent global financial crisis that has deepened economic inequality both within and between nations. Robert’s ideas relating to binary economic growth hold great potential to transform and reignite the economy. My interest in this subject, and reason for bringing Robert to VT with the assistance of an AdvanceVT grant, stems from the need to ensure that any surge in economic growth does not also create a surge in negative environmental and social externalities. My hope is that we can find ways to stimulate binary growth while transforming industrial systems towards inherently sustainable practices.