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The Stakeholder Society

The Stakeholder Society

Bruce Ackerman
Anne Alstott
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Stakeholder Society
    Book Description:

    A quarter century of trickle-down economics has failed. Economic inequality in the United States has dramatically increased. Many, alas, seem resigned to this growing chasm between rich and poor. But what would happen, ask Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott, if America were to make good on its promise of equal opportunity by granting every qualifying young adult a citizen's stake of eighty thousand dollars? Ackerman and Alstott argue that every American citizen has the right to share in the wealth accumulated by preceding generations. The distribution of wealth is currently so skewed that the stakeholding fund could be financed by an annual tax of two percent on the property owned by the richest forty percent of Americans.Ackerman and Alstott analyze their initiative from moral, political, economic, legal, and human perspectives. By summoning the political will to initiate stakeholding, they argue, we can achieve a society that is more democratic, productive, and free. Their simple but realistic plan would enhance each young adultís real ability to shape his or her own future. It is, in short, an idea that should be taken seriously by anyone concerned with citizenship, welfare dependency, or social justice in America today.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14767-4
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction

    • 1 Your Stake in America
      (pp. 1-18)

      Americans have always had an uncertain love affair with equal opportunity. We believe in it, we know it really doesn’t exist in today s world, and yet we have learned to live comfortably in the gap between ideal and reality. After all, aren’t all ideals elusive?

      Perhaps unequal opportunity was easier to accept when a booming economy guaranteed that children from every class did better than their parents. Even if lower-class kids still ended up near the bottom, they had a sense of participating in the general upward movement. But those halcyon days are over.¹ Although the economy as a...

  5. Part I The Basic Proposal

    • 2 Citizen Stakeholding
      (pp. 21-44)

      Modern policy-talk lives in a time warp. It speaks in languages that have been the object of thoroughgoing philosophical critique over the past generation. With few exceptions, libertarians struggle against utilitarians as if they were the only guys in town. But there are other serious options, and in the past generation, liberal political philosophy has sought to rework the basic terms of debate.

      Of course, philosophy is not a game with definite winners and losers. But neither utilitarianism nor libertarianism now dominates the conversation. The weaknesses in each position have led philosophers to define new understandings of “liberalism” and its...

    • 3 The Stake in Context
      (pp. 45-64)

      It is time to bring stakeholding down to earth—to consider the tough choices required to transform our idea into an operational reality. For starters, there are key questions of eligibility. Who precisely should be allowed to stake a claim? Resident aliens? All citizens? Criminals?

      Having drawn the circle around eligible stakeholders, we consider crucial matters of program design. Instead of forcing everybody to wait until age twenty-one, we think that high school graduates should be allowed to spend their stakes immediately on their college educations. This single step will in turn revolutionize the existing system of higher education in...

    • 4 Profiles in Freedom
      (pp. 65-76)

      We have been telling our story with statistics, but there is another way of putting stakeholding in context. We invite you to imagine what eighty thousand dollars might mean in the real lives of real people you know. Then try to move beyond your own friends and neighbors to imagine other lives at greater distance. To help in this, we offer a few American profiles of our own devising. Bill and Brenda represent millions of hard-pressed young couples in the twentieth through fortieth percentile of Americans.¹ Mike and Mary Ann come from the better-off group in the fiftieth to seventieth...

    • 5 Payback Time
      (pp. 77-93)

      Real freedom and equal opportunity don’t come cheap. Using conservative assumptions, we estimate that the cost of our initiative in 1997 would have been about $255 billion—a little less than what we spent on national defense.¹ This is a big number, but as a nation we have made comparable commitments in the past. Would America have been a better place after World War II without the GI Bill of Rights? At that time, wealthy taxpayers were a lot poorer than they are today, and they were paying far heavier taxes, yet they did not seek to evade their obligation...

    • 6 Taxing Wealth
      (pp. 94-112)

      The previous chapter invited you to consider stakeholding in long-run equilibrium. As each generation dies, it repays its initial stake into the fund, and if there is an anticipated shortfall, it also pays a trusteeship tax during its lifetime. By replenishing the fund, each generation passes on stakeholding intact to the next, which seeks to fulfill its trusteeship obligations in turn, and so on until the end of the Republic.

      But this long-run view will not get stakeholding off the ground. If we are ever to begin, a substantial sacrifice will be required from Americans who never receive a stake....

    • 7 The Limits of Growth—and Other Objections
      (pp. 113-126)

      We can now put our short-run and long-run perspectives together into an integrated proposal. Stakeholding comes onto the scene tied to an annual wealth tax of 2 percent, paid by all Americans whose individual wealth exceeds eighty thousand dollars at tax time. This form of financing continues unchanged for forty years or so until the first generation of stakeholders begins to die in large numbers. As financially successful stakeholders discharge their payback obligations at death, the wealth tax declines substantially—possibly, but not necessarily, reaching zero as the program matures into a second full generation. On the other hand, if...

  6. Part II Expanding the Stake

    • 8 From Worker to Citizen
      (pp. 129-154)

      Stakeholding challenges the basic priorities of the welfare state. Traditionally, the main concern has been with the provision of safety nets, most notably to the elderly. Our focus has been on the provision of equal opportunity, most notably to young adults. This new emphasis raises new concerns. Does our emphasis on younger Americans suggest a shift in the traditional treatment of the elderly? Does our stress on opportunities require a revised understanding of safety nets?

      Our short answer is yes. Some safety nets ought to survive in the stakeholder society, but they should be reshaped in ways that better express...

    • 9 Taxing Privilege
      (pp. 155-178)

      Now suppose that America has expanded stakeholding to include oldage pensions. Citizenship, not the workplace, has become the centerpiece of a universal right to a dignified old age.

      This large step forward will serve as a catalytic reform, pushing yet another big question onto the public agenda. Having lifted retirement benefits out of the workplace, one of the great pillars of the existing system of public finance suddenly loses its function. We are speaking of the payroll tax, whose status would immediately become a bone of contention.

      Most Americans don’t realize that this tax has revolutionized public finance in the...

  7. Part III Defending the Stake

    • 10 Ideals
      (pp. 181-196)

      Two hundred years ago, Tom Paine surveyed the revolutionary world that he helped create and saw that something was missing: “A revolution in the state of civilization is the necessary companion of revolutions in the system of government.”¹ This could be accomplished, he was convinced, only through stakeholding. Every citizen, Paine insisted, had a right to a stake of fifteen pounds sterling “when arrived at the age of twenty-one years . . . and also the sum of ten Pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living of the age of fifty years, and to all others as...

    • 11 Alternatives
      (pp. 197-218)

      All this prepares the ground for a response to a criticism that we have frequently encountered: “Stakeholding sounds nice, but aren’t there better and cheaper ways of fighting poverty?”

      We will consider concrete alternatives shortly, but first we want to challenge the question. Stakeholding is not a poverty program. It is a citizenship program. It is not concerned simply with raising the bottom. It aims to realize our commitment as Americans to freedom and equality for all. Our initiative will succeed whenever a young man or woman from the suburbs gains the freedom to start a family or small business,...

  8. Appendix: Funding the Stakeholder Society
    (pp. 219-230)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 231-274)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 275-288)
  11. Index
    (pp. 289-296)