Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Storehouses again

Workplace Constitution, III


Yesterday we discussed some unexpected consequences of the proposal for rural storehouses that Abdu'l-Baha put forward at least twice while traveling through America, once in the form of a document and a second time in the talk to socialists in Montreal that we featured on this blog not long ago, at:




Let us quickly review some salient features of this proposal.


In this talk, Abdu'l-Baha confirms in the strongest terms that socialists are right in their aggrieved sense of injustice on behalf of the poor and oppressed. This situation is intolerable, a basic betrayal of our humanity. We must avoid a situation where some starve while others bask in luxurious affluence. At the same time, He warns against the forced equality proposed by the Bolsheviks, Vladimir Lenin's extremist faction of the Second International that had come into prominence several years before. He offers the storehouse proposal as a way to gain universal "happiness," "welfare" and "comfort" while avoiding completely any "sedition", "contention", "difference," or "dissention." This teaching of Baha'u'llah would avoid "any harm or injury attacking the general order of things." (para 7)


"First and foremost is the principle that to all the members of the body politic shall be given the greatest achievements of the world of humanity. Each one shall have the utmost welfare and well-being." (para 8)


This is an important principle. It implies an extremely decentralized economy and thus contrasts with the top-heavy design of socialism and capitalism. A local storehouse collects all wealth at source, the source being the land and community where people live. Since the most important workers are farmers, the Master describes how storehouses affect them, the simplest form of a universal welfare system.


In every village, a general storehouse is set up with five main sources of revenue, tithes, animals, minerals, wills and treasures found on land. Presumably, mineral, fishing and hunting rights are not bought and sold on the open market; they will be placed in the hands of the elected representatives of locals first. Then the Master describes a graduated income system starting with a tenth at lowest income levels and increasing to half at the highest pay scale. As mentioned, the farmer is treated as an independent business, with expenses deducted before taxable income is calculated.


If such a system were implemented Africans, sitting on immensely valuable mineral deposits would shoot overnight from the poorest in the world to the richest.


However, there is more. Who gets first shot at the wealth in an emergency? The farmers themselves,


"Then there must be considered such emergencies as follows: A certain farmer whose expenses run up to ten thousand dollars and whose income is only five thousand will receive necessary expenses from the storehouse. Five thousand dollars will be allotted to him so he will not be in need."


Only then are the needs of orphans, the poor and disabled cared for. In other words, farmers really do come first, not last. This makes sense. After all, if farmers go under, we all starve. Yet the trend over past centuries is to drive farmers off the land at the slightest stress. Since agricultural exiles contribute to urbanization, this has been thought a good thing. And for the five percent who own the lion's share of the world's wealth, this indeed has been a very lucrative proposition. Instead, wealth will be apportioned to those in need at the periphery before those in the center even see it. The result is universal felicity and nobody will be destitute,


"All will live in the utmost comfort and welfare. Yet no schism will assail the general order of the body politic." (para 17)


At the same time, the disabled, widows, orphans and other poor people will not be objects of pity, so-called "charity cases." They will hold their heads high with dignity as full members of the human family.


"The result of this [system] will be that each individual member of the body politic will live most comfortably and happily under obligation to no one." (para 21)


At the same time, this is not the forced, artificial equality that the Bolsheviks had in mind. There will still be leaders and followers, the latter far outnumbering the former.


"Nevertheless, there will be preservation of degree because in the world of humanity there must needs be degrees. The body politic may well be likened to an army. In this army there must be a general, there must be a sergeant, there must be a marshal, there must be the infantry; but all must enjoy the greatest comfort and welfare. (21)


In spite of this, it is safe to say that when Abdu'l-Baha spoke of preserving rank, He did not have in mind the huge disparities that are common today. Now that capitalism and market fundamentalism are predominant, we have become used to extreme inequality. We are all familiar with the statistics showing how wealth is increasingly concentrated in fewer hands. Even twenty years ago, most businesses were far more egalitarian than now; the president of a corporation makes hundreds of times more money than back then.


Millions of years of human evolution formed humans in such a way that we function best in relatively egalitarian, small groups, but still groups with leaders and other ranks. In traditional societies leaders were chosen but in every important respect, lifestyle, wealth, world-view, they were little distinguishable from those they led. Today H.G. Wells' prediction in his "Time Machine" that the privileged would become an entirely different species is closer to fulfillment than anything hoped for by the socialists.


Next time, let us discuss how all this affects the workplace.

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