Many thanks to Rodney Shakespeare for his brief explication of Binary Economics. I think it is a useful theory and shares the goals and objectives of Distributism, namely, the necessity of distributive justice for economic order. However, I am not a full convert, and can briefly list here the pros and cons of the system. Rodney is already familiar with these critiques, as we have had this conversation before.
- Binary economics is binary, that is, it attempts to view economics as a system of complimentary factors, primarily labor and capital. A system that emphasizes one against the other (and it doesn't matter which one) will always be wrong.
- It emphasizes distributive justice, without which no economy can ever reach equilibrium and will require meddling by the state of vast infusions of consumer credit (usury) to balance supply and demand.
- Its major tool, the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) is a kind of industrial distributism in itself.
- It recognizes the ruinous role of usury in the economic system, and the power of "fiat"and debt-based money to create a special and undeserving class of "winners" at the expense of everybody else.
- Although it advertises itself as "the" new paradigm, it is in reality much too dependent on the errors of Neoclassicism, especially in regard to productivity. In fact, BE's "productiveness" theory is just a radical restatement of J. B. Clark's "marginal productivity" theory, and if "productiveness" (which allocates 2/3rds of productivity to capital) where to be widely adopted, it would work against worker rights, not for them.
- BE holds that savings are not necessary for economic expansion, because the government can just print money to lend to new enterprises, money that will be paid back and then withdrawn from circulation. However, while it is true that financial savings are not necessary, actual savings are. A new plant can only be built from existing stocks of cement, and while the government can easily print money, it cannot print cement. There must be unused capacity in cement (and everything else) for expansion to take place.
- Printing money can only re-allocate existing stocks. A person who saved a million to build a factory (or borrowed from those who saved) must compete with the person who was given a million by the government to build the new plant. Therefore, such printing is inflationary. Now, BE claims it is not inflationary, because the money is withdrawn from circulation as it is repaid. But in between the loan and the repayment, it certainly will be inflationary.
- BE adopts the marginal utility theory of value (which is incoherent) and rejects the only coherent theory of value, the Cost of Production theory or the Labor Theory of Value. Again, it is repeating a mistake of neoclassicism.
- Finally, it depends on the "shares" model of ownersihip, which is technically not as good as the cooperative model of ownership. Shares create a problem when workers exit the company, because shares represent a claim on future earnings. Thus, in one of the most successful ESOPs, the Springfield Remanufacturing Company, the company had to spin off a non-employee owned subsidiary for the express purpose of growing it and selling it off when the original founders retire, so as to have funds to pay off the share claims of these original owners, which will be considerable when they retire; it is somewhat paradoxical for an ESOP to depend on a non-employee owned company in order to succeed.
- Contrast this with cooperative ownership, in which the workers take out their share of the profits when they leave, but have no claims on the future earnings of the firm. Hence, there is nothing to buy out, and no problems threatening the stability of the company. The retiring employee has his share of the cash that his work has created, and may invest it as he pleases, but has no further claims on the workers who remain with the firm.