Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Peter Corning's "The Fair Society"

Peter A. Corning is director of the Institute for the Study of Complex Systems. He is the author of The Synergism Hypothesis and Nature's Magic, among other books.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book is part of a key chapter in which I detail the fourteen basic needs that represent biological imperatives for all of us and that define the basic purpose of a human society. As I argue in the book, we are all engaged, first and foremost, in a "collective survival enterprise," and our "prime directive" (to borrow a term from Star Trek) is to provide for the basic needs of our population.

However, a fair society depends on much more than this. There are, in fact, three distinct categories of fairness -- three distinct fairness principles -- that must be combined and balanced in order to achieve a fair society. These principles are equality in relation to our basic needs, equity (or merit) in relation to our efforts, achievements, and contributions, and reciprocity -- the obligation to contribute a fair share in return for the benefits we receive from society.

In my book I argue that neither capitalism nor socialism can pass the fairness test; both of these outdated nineteenth century ideologies falls short and should be abandoned in favor of a new "biosocial contract" based on the three fairness principles I identify. This, in turn, leads to a sweeping set of recommended political and policy reforms -- from a full employment program and a basic needs guarantee to tax reform and the democratization of our economic system under the banner of "stakeholder capitalism."

From Plato to the modern philosopher John Rawls, it has been abundantly clear that a harmonious and successful society depends on social justice. The political challenges that lie ahead are formidable. But as the TV interviewer Bill Moyers put it, "The only answer to organized money is organized people."
Learn more about the book and author at Peter Corning's blog and the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue