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Interviews Post-Capitalist Vision

Yanis Varoufakis Interview on Another Now – Part 2 – Housing, Taxation, Inequality, Monopoly, Workplace Democracy

Editor’s note: discussion topics include security in commercial housing in the Another Now model (AN), taxation in AN, income and wealth inequality in AN, inheritance in AN, time-limited or depreciating money, whether divergent incomes combined with compound interest can lead to class divisions in AN, firm size in AN, monopoly in AN, workplace management structures in AN, and the argument for equal decision-making rights within enterprises.

[After the Oligarchy] Hello everybody, this is After the Oligarchy. Today I’m speaking with Professor Yanis Varoufakis.

Yanis Varoufakis is the former Greek Finance Minister, a professor of economics, co-founder of DiEM25 and the Progressive International, leader of MERA25, and a member of Greek parliament. This is the second in a series of interviews with Professor Varoufakis, if you haven’t watched the first check that out.

Today’s conversation is in association with mέta: the Centre for PostCapitalist Civilization. And the topic is Yanis’s latest book Another Now, published in 2020, which presents a vision of a post-capitalist society. It’s an advanced discussion of the model proposed in that book. If you want an introduction, I wrote an essay and made a 40-minute video doing just that. Though I do recommend that you read the book.

Yanis Varoufakis, thank you very much for joining me.

[Yanis Varoufakis] Well thank you very much for having me on After the Oligarchy. We are living under the oligarchy, but anyway let’s imagine, let’s imagine.

[ATO] Exactly.

So again I have a lot of questions for you. We’ll begin with a question about housing, because after I posted the first interview and also the model summary something that kept coming up again and again from commenters was that they were worried about security in the commercial housing sector. The problem raised was basically that you’re saying that every year, or every period of time, I have to keep bidding to retain access to my house. And if somebody comes along who has more money than me then then I get kicked out.

And, of course, I certainly appreciate the ingenuity of the mechanism, to try to constantly reveal the opportunity cost of the land and the housing for society to be able to get that back so that there isn’t a rentier dynamic in housing.

How would you respond to that question of security?

[YV] Well, firstly, remember that this is about the commercial zone. In in my blueprint, every county – think of it as counties – chooses to create a space that’s not … I mean, it’s democratically determined how large this commercial zone will be. The purpose of this commercial zone is for it to be run commercially by the many, for the many, in order to extract rents from those who want to operate in the commercial zone; rents with which to build social housing, social zoning, social entrepreneurial activities, common spaces, the commons. So it is a good feature, a well-designed feature of the commercial zone, that anybody who wants to operate in it has to live in fear. If you wanted to live in a house that that you paid for, not in a social house, not in a unit within social housing, then yeah I mean live in fear.

Remember, it’s not just that once a year you bid for it, but it’s something like a perpetual auction whereby anybody can actually outbid you and throw you out. Which is great because the commercial zone is there to make money for the many, for every citizen who lives in the social zone and whose activities – whether they’re poetry readings, or paintings, or producing social goods – are being funded by the commercial enterprises within the commercial zone. So it’s okay if you if you live in fear. And the whole point of this permanent auction is to ensure that there is complete incentive compatibility. In other words, that when you declare to the authorities what you value that building or piece of land as that you’re truthful. And you will only be truthful if … you can undervalue it if you want, but then somebody can come and outbid you and throw you out. So I have no defence to those who say that ‘oh, the people who live there in commercial zone will live in fear’. We want them to live in fear.

And, you know, it’s a game for them. The crucial point here is that you don’t have to live in the commercial zone. I would live in the social zone. But if you want a fancy house, a much fancier house than you deserve, or you want to create an enterprise in a place that society does not deem that you should have it, then yes you pay for it. And if you make the money for it, yeah good it all goes back to social housing and the social zone.

[ATO] Okay, so it’s really that that the priority is being put on the redistributive function of the commercial housing zone.

To move on to something else, I’ve a series of questions about income and wealth inequality. This is also a concern for some people, it’s a concern for me as well and any kind of market system … so, for example let’s talk about taxation. In Another Now there are two taxes. I mean, maybe there could be a carbon tax but let’s not go into that. There is a corporation tax, which is a tax on the revenue of all firms, and then there’s a land tax and we were talking about that there.

[YV] Land tax only in the commercial zone, only the commercial.

[ATO] Yes exactly, on the commercial zone. One might say ‘well, are you serious? There’s no income tax?’

[YV] Yeah! There’s no income tax.

[ATO] Because there could be seriously divergent incomes, because different firms could have much different rates of profitability or revenue streams, so it’s likely, one might say, that there is a lot of inequality generated. But there’s no progressive income tax.

[YV] I’m not convinced. I don’t believe there will be. If you look at the capitalist system, or techno-feudal system, in which to live today, inequality – mind numbing and soul-crushing inequality – is the result of two things. Firstly, the private ownership of firms, of the means of production, shares, share markets. That’s one, and finance is the second one. That’s where the huge inequality that is destroying our spirit comes from. Not to mention our planet.

In Another Now there would be neither. Because shares are distributed on the basis of one employee, one member, one share, one vote. And there is no financial sector, the financial sector has been taken over by a distributed ledger of the central bank. And therefore this highly problematic toxic duet – duetto in Italian – between the banker and the mogul, the banker creating, printing, money out of thin air, lending to the mogul, who uses the printing presses of the private bank in order to corner the market in the share market and effectively own everything. And then the wealth begets wealth.

Now why is Zuckerberg so much wealthier today than he was at the beginning of the pandemic. Nothing to do with the profitability of Facebook. It’s got to do with the fact that there is this combination of financial capital – the printing presses of the central bank working for Zuckerberg, not for the people, not for the many unlike in Another Now – and ownership of Facebook. And if you break down ownership of Facebook, and Facebook is equally owned by everybody who works in Facebook, and if you end the printing presses both of the state and the private sector banks operating at full throttle on behalf of the very, very, few, then the inequality that you and I are used to goes.

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Interviews Post-Capitalist Vision

Robin Hahnel Interview on Participatory Economics – Part 1A – Housing & Land

Editor’s note: discussions topics include how housing is built, distributed, and managed, in Participatory Economics (parecon), the distribution of land in a socialist economy, and economic rent.

[After The Oligarchy] Hello everybody, this is After The Oligarchy. Today I’m speaking with Professor Robin Hahnel. Robin Hahnel is a professor of economics in the United States, co-founder with Michael Albert of the post-capitalist model known as Participatory Economics, and author of many books.

Today’s conversation is in association with meta: the Centre for Post-capitalist Civilization. This is the first in a series of interviews with Professor Hahnel about Participatory Economics, and in particular his latest book Democratic Economic Planning published in 2021. It’s an advanced discussion of the model proposed in that book, so I recommend you familiarize yourself with Participatory Economics to understand what we’re talking about.

The discussion will also continue on the forum of participatoryeconomy.org.

Robin Hahnel, thank you for joining me.

[Robin Hahnel] It’s great to be with you today.

[AO] I finished reading Democratic Economic Planning recently – here it is for viewers – and it’s an outstanding contribution I think. It’s very technical, which for me is a good thing. I really feel that I needed that book, I felt like I was waiting for that book to be published and it came along at exactly the right time. So I’d say if any viewers are similarly inclined, buy the book Democratic Economic Planning,read it. If viewers want a more straightforward and accessible introduction to Participatory Economics, then Of the People, By the People is very good; short, clear, and accessible.

So without further ado, there are something like 60 questions to discuss in total but we won’t go through all of those today, of course. Today, I just want to begin with some questions about consumption in a participatory economy.

[RH] Before you ask me a question, let me congratulate you for actually reading that book. I don’t know how many people have actually managed to do it yet. You are in very select company I can promise you. And it’s because, I mean, it’s long and there are sections that are that are very technical. And I wish there were more people who had managed to take the time and energy to wade through it. I may have to reassess my opinion of economists versus engineers. I understand that you have an engineering background?

[AO] Yes.

[RH] What I thought was, well, economists can read this book but I’m worried about my fellow political activists, where it’s kind of difficult. And actually AK Press is going to come out with a book sometime in about three or four months called A Participatory Economy, and that book is intended for the for the activist audience, you don’t have to be an economist. But I’m going to revise my strategy to think that, well I can address economists and expect them to actually read things carefully. Maybe I should shift over to the engineers and make you my target audience from now on, because at least you’ve demonstrated a willingness to put in the work.

[AO] Yes well I will add one thing, which is that I’ve got a very intense interest in political economy and I’m kind of pursuing an autodidactic course in economics to prepare myself to become an economist. So I’m in a bit of an odd position. However, I will say that in our post-capitalism discussion group in DiEM25 – so I’m a member of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 – there are quite a few engineers, it’s something that tends to crop up. What I will say about engineering and politics is that something I think about is – it has shaped my view a lot – I think one benefit is that you have a technical and numerical, mathematical, training but you’re not necessarily indoctrinated into the same presuppositions about economics. So there’s a potential there to engage with political economy that maybe those who were trained in orthodox economics don’t experience.

[RH] I can tell that engineers are more inclined to matter-of-fact thinking and therefore less interested in ideology. And I think that’s a huge barrier in thinking about alternatives to capitalism, you know, if you’re so wrapped up in the ideology. Because I think a lot of what we have to do in the aftermath of the failures of attempts to build socialist economies in the past is, I mean we have to engage in really some very concrete thinking about procedures and, you know, what the implications of deciding things this way or that way are. Less political grandstanding and more matter-of-fact thinking would stand us all in good stead. I think the answer is we need to recruit some more engineers.

[AO] Well engineers are not I completely agree with you. That’s the whole premise of this channel, the more concrete the better. And I’m completely on your side in terms of the necessity of vision, in that, it’s kind of common sense: whenever we want to do anything in life we really need to think about what exactly we’re trying to do. And there’s no reason that that would be less true in politics or economics than in any other field of life. But a lot of us on the left have managed to convince ourselves that there’s something wrong with this.

The first question is about housing. There are a few questions about this, and I will throw a few of them at you and we’ll move through them and maybe come back. How is housing organized in a participatory economy? Because obviously housing is a very important sector, it has distinct characteristics in terms of houses being assets, they’re durable, they’re large purchases, and so forth. If there’s no private ownership of housing and all housing is socially owned, then what are the rights of use? How does society decide who gets to live where, and for how long? And then, is housing rented? If so, how’s the rent calculated? And so on, but we’ll come to that.

[RH] Actually before starting, let me say that when I looked at your questions the first five are the ones that I am least suitable to answering as fully as we’re going to try and do now.

[AO] Yeah that’s all right.

[RH] Actually as you just mentioned, housing poses some particular problems. But I think what I’ll explain is not really from the production side, that’s not where it’s peculiar, it’s different. It’s from the using and consumption side, because it is such a major … I mean a house in terms of an asset or purchase, if you purchased it, dwarfs everything else you buy. And the other problem is that on a regular income you can’t actually pay for the entire thing, and that’s why we have mortgages. So here’s something that we somehow have to figure out: a way for people with sensible incomes to manage to pay sensible amounts as they go.

Now renting is kind of easy, and so my answer could be well ‘what if we just don’t’? What if all housing units are rentals? Then they would be produced by … if you take a look on the production side, compared to a lot of really, really, large firms, contractors who build housing, these aren’t multinational firms. They’re large, many of them are large companies, many of them actually aren’t. So the idea that you can have worker councils, with carpenters, and electricians, and all of the kinds of people that actually work to build housing, including the engineers that design them – well that could be a workers council and that’s the product that they are selling.

That’s sort of straightforward and easy, but it’s the financing and purchasing of it. and when you’re living in it how do you pay for and what are your rights, etc, that that do pose some special difficulties. And I’m just going to say that this is a subject that one of my collaborators … I accuse him of obsessing over it. This is Anders.

[AO] Ah yes.

[RH] Anders who is a member of the collective in … he’s Swedish and he lives in Stockholm.

[AO] That’s Anders Sandström, is it?

[RH] Yes, it’s Anders Sandström. And he’s published a book called Anarchist Accounting, which I think has the most brilliant title of any book I’ve ever heard. Because who would be the least likely people to have anything to do with each other? It would be anarchists and accountants. And here it is. So I’ve declared him to be the most famous anarchist accountant in the history of the world.

And he also obsesses on matters do come into play particularly heavily in trying to deal with a situation like this. I mean it’s amortization and how do you cost all that out. So I’m just going to say that I’m going to give you my answer, but he took up that challenge in his book Anarchist Accounting in more detail and more seriously than I have in anything I’ve published.

Here would be the short side of it. I think if we just had housing always rented, there’d be a fairly straightforward explanation. And the rent would be, people will be charged the social cost of providing the housing. Whether or not they are paying that to the construction workers council that built it, or whether there’s actually an intermediate workers council which is … I mean usually the builders aren’t the ones that are then managing the property, or the sale of the property, or if it’s rental taking care of the rental. Then there’s another workers council that basically is managing that.

But I think that that people sometimes have a legitimate interest in not just being a renter, where, you know, they might be thrown out at any point. And there I think the idea that comes to mind is well there’s a difference between a lease and being a renter. It’s sort of a halfway ground between ‘I’m the owner of the property’ and ‘I’m merely a renter’, and maybe I sign a one-year contract but basically I’m paying rent month-to-month and the rate can be varied as we’re going along. So as far as I’m concerned, I don’t see any reason that we couldn’t be leasing for people who wanted the lease, and that gives you a long-term contract.

And now you’re thinking ‘okay, we have people who still probably are working on family farms’. And so here’s a family farm and the parents die, and should there be some sort of arrangement? Or just if you grew up in a house, and your parents have been there all that time, you’d grown up, and now you want to stay there. I don’t know why we couldn’t write in something like a first right of [refusal]…

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Post-Capitalist Vision

Post-Capitalism: Another Now by Yanis Varoufakis – Model Summary

Introduction

In this essay, we will summarize the model presented in Another Now, a proposal for a post-capitalist society. This summary is also available in video format (see video embedded below). However, the essay is definitive.

In 2020, Yanis Varoufakis, professor of economics, former Greek finance minister, co-founder of DiEM25 and the Progressive International, general secretary of MERA25, and member of parliament in Greece, published the book Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternative Present. The book discusses an alternate history where humanity broke with capitalism after the 2008 financial crisis. It’s a brilliant book, highly readable, inventive, and likely to appeal to general audience, so I recommend that you read it. This essay will present an abstract summary of the model found in those pages.

Before we begin though, some clarifications are needed.

Firstly, this is not a summary of the book Another Now. Another Now is written in a science fiction format with a lot of dialogue between characters with different opinions. In the book the characters find themselves in contact with another reality i.e Another Now, a post-capitalist reality. The details of that new society are scattered throughout the narrative. So I’m only going to present that alternate reality here. I will not say anything about the characters. And for the most part I’m not going to summarize the arguments made in the book, just the conclusions.

Secondly, this is only a summary of the economic model of Another Now. I’m not going to discuss activism, strategy, and transition, even though these topics are discussed in the book and they are crucially important.

Thirdly, this isn’t a review, analysis, critique, or endorsement. I will only provide an exposition of the model.

Brevity is the reason for the foregoing. Those are topics for another date.

Lastly, this essay emphasizes accuracy and completeness. However, it will be very clear and will make extensive use of illustrations. If you follow you’ll understand and by the end you’ll be an expert in Another Now.

Now, before we dive into the details I want to quickly give you the gist of Another Now. It’s a kind of socialism. There’s a big emphasis on properly functioning markets, on worker self-management, on radically reforming finance (especially through a public payment system), on international economic institutions, on the public ownership of land, on digital data rights, and there is extensive use of sortition for regulation and governance.

If you haven’t come across the word ‘sortition’, it means picking people at random (sorting people). You can use many different words: sortition, lottery, by lot. Effectively it means picking people at random. And this is the technique which was used predominantly in the Athenian democracy.

The main headings for the essay are as follows. I grouped the proposals in Another Now into five main categories:

  1. Production Units & Regulation
  2. Finance
  3. Digital Information
  4. Land & Immigration
  5. International Trade and Development.
Figure 0 – Summary diagram of some key features of Another Now.

Before moving systematically through those headings, I want to give you a global picture of the model. Production units are divided into a nationalized sector, a worker-owned sector, and a domestic economy. And these production units are regulated by Social Accountability Juries. The central bank has a very important role, with a public payment system, local digital currencies, a private credit system, and each resident having an account at the central bank (broken into three sections with different functions). People have full property rights over their digital information and its use is controlled by a Sovereign Data Fund and micro-payment system. Land is publicly owned and is governed by County Associations, and immigration is managed regionally. Lastly, there’s a relation between the nation state and other states through the International Monetary Project, which regulates international trade and economic development.

Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to understand this yet. All will be explained.