Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Income-Swapping Society

The Income-Swapping Society

This idea came to me in a dream. (Yes, so help me Freud, this is the kind of dream I have.) I have no idea how it would work in real life. (I woke up before my subconscious could supply a scenario.) However, I thot I'd share it. Perhaps folx whose talents run to fiction (or building D&D worlds) can find something to do with it.

The basic idea is this: "Several times a year" (or so my dream said; I'm figuring about 2 months out of every 3 or 4), half the people in a society would be given a chance to swap incomes with some randomly selected person from the other half. (My waking brain supplies some details. In an odd-numbered month, people born on odd-numbered days would be matched with someone born on an even-numbered day; vice-versa in even-numbered months.)

Each person with an option would get "a couple of days" (I'm thinking maybe a week) to get to know the person whose income would be traded. Then he or she would decide whether to do it or not. The decisions would be enforced by society as a whole.

Now, you'd probably figure that most people would take the swap if it meant more money and decline the opportunity if it meant less. Heck, I can imagine the news coverage of the person who, in any given month, got matched with Bill Gates. It would be the equivalent of winning the lottery without the nuisance of having to buy a ticket. But I bet there'd be many instances of someone of modest means getting matched with someone who's truly desperate, taking pity on them, and okaying a trade that would provide some temporary respite for the unfortunate one.

I think the long-term effects of this kind of policy would be to even out the wealth disparities in the country.

My conscious mind supplies a cross-reference to A Theory of Justice by John Rawls. Rawls asks the provocative question "What kind of society would you design if you knew you'd have to spend your entire life in it but didn't have any control over who you'd be?". That is, once the society was set up, you'd be dropped into some random body in it, and you'd be stuck there. You'd have no way of knowing in advance if you'd be rich or poor, male or female, strong or weak, gay or straight, immigrant or native, black or white, old or young, slave or free, etc.

RIght off the bat, you could see that pretty much nobody would ask for a society that featured slavery, or peonage, or an untouchable caste, or any other subset that was regularly subjected to systematic oppression and degradation. Who'd want to take a chance at having to live like that? No one.

A lot of people would probably go for a society where almost everyone had the basics taken care of, but maybe 10-15% were pretty well off, tho not obscenely so. That would appeal to the gambling instinct.

Rawls postulates that almost everyone would opt for a society founded on basic tenets of honesty, fair play, and equal opportunity. I think an income-swapping society would tend to move in that direction.

At the very least, it would give everyone a periodic opportunity to find out how "the other half" lives. It would spread the loot around better than what we have now. And it would give us something new and different to talk about around the office water cooler.

I don't foresee any presidential candidates adding this to their platforms any time soon, tho.

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