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I currently have a world-spanning empire doing great deeds such as supporting the poor while creating massive pieces of machinery and swimming in art and lavish decoration. Surely they have a seemingly infinite supply of wealth.

My question: How could it be all be funded in an ethical way? There are no slaves, no wars, no exploitation of any kind.

The only way I could think of is taxes or prison labor, but the government does not want to limit trade or take large amounts of money from the wealth, currently there are no fines in the legal system (only imprisonment) and the prison labor is payed with apprentice wages (since they work as apprentices).

Any and all ideas are welcome.

EDIT: I should add that the newest technology available is radio, with much automation using diesel engines.

EDIT 2: There are 8 nations in the world, but the empire is by far the largest panning North America, United Kingdom, North Africa, Saudi Arabia, India and Oceanea. No other nation is on-par from a technological stand.

EDIT 3: The government is controlled by a mechanical ruler, able to manage most things on multiple levels while predicting and evaluating possible outcomes. Most paths through lead through her for anti-corruption purposes.

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  • $\begingroup$ used properly taxes don't impede trade, in fact the right taxes incentivise trade, like net wealth taxes. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 16 '18 at 2:04
  • $\begingroup$ Exploit (sell.. use) natural resources that you acquire by force. That's how all empires work. $\endgroup$ – Richard Dec 18 '18 at 12:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Richard I ask for a solution with no (at least direct) exploitation, as written in the second paragraph. $\endgroup$ – A Lambent Eye Dec 18 '18 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ @ALambentEye ok.. Invent a system where value is represented by pieces of paper. Then print lots of it. That's how it's done now. $\endgroup$ – Richard Dec 18 '18 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Richard #inflation $\endgroup$ – A Lambent Eye Dec 18 '18 at 12:30
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Possibilities include:

  • Tariffs. The government places a small tax on imports and exports. By keeping the tariffs low, trade is unimpeded, and as trade grows the government rakes in more and more funds.

  • State capitalism. The government owns businesses, like a monopoly on energy, fuel, or telecommunications services, and they operate these businesses for profit at market rates. But, they tax these businesses at higher rate than private sector businesses, and the tax revenue of course goes to the state.

  • Keep as many people off the public assistance program as possible. Make sure the country is a places where businesses, especially small businesses, can flourish. Encourage people to be self-sufficient. Make personal gardens and aquaponics setups fashionable. Reserve public assistance for people who are truly unable to take care of themselves.

Your government has a problem because supporting the poor and buying lavish decoration are activities that don't even break even. They're just a drain on the government's funds.

Let's say you have a job, but you're supporting 100 of your relatives who don't work, and you're always buying lavish decorations and art for yourself. You can always get a better job, but a government can't, especially a world government. All government can do is redistribute wealth from the people who produce it to the people who consume it. Even if the government owns a great business that makes amazing amounts of money, the government has to take from its own productive efforts and give that wealth to people who just consume it and don't produce anything.

When you get too many consumers for your producers to support, the system breaks down and most likely the society breaks down with it. If your government can keep the amount of wealth it must expend to buy cool stuff and support the poor less than the amount of money is makes from its tariffs and state capitalism businesses, it can keep going.

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    $\begingroup$ Tariffs are a bit tricky in a world government, since by definition you can't have imports or exports. (You could have regional tariffs, I suppose.) Anyway that seems even more damaging to trade than taxes would be, so the government would probably reject it. $\endgroup$ – Cadence Dec 16 '18 at 7:37
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There are always limits, and if your story doesn't accomodate them, it won't ring true to readers

The pyramids and other massive monuments of Egypt were built using slave labor (a LOT of slave labor). The Great Wall of China was built fairly slowly, over nearly a 2,000 year history. Even today, governments across the world struggle to pay their bills (the U.S. debt is so large it doesn't mean much to that average citizen anymore).

But, whether you're forcing people to work or paying people to work, in the end, it's all about limited resources. A government really can't just print more money or you end up with inflation as was seen with the Confederates near the end of the U.S. Civil War or Nazi Germany near the end of WWII. A lot can be said about both organizations (the Confederates and the Nazis) discovering that wealth is never unlimited — and you can't fight a war (or pay for a party) with diminishing resources.

So, knowing the human tendancy to spend like there's no tomorrow, your government needs to manage several issues:

  • You can't just spend. Even the U.S. doesn't "just spend." It sells bonds (most of which are owned by China today). In other words, it's borrowing from the wealth of other nations to fund its own extravagance. This will last only as long as other governments have excess wealth to spare.

  • Tax initiatives must be balanced against spending initiatives. Governments are traditionally horrible at this, especially as it looks like the money really can go on forever. One of the issues resulting in the recent Paris riots was the amount of actual value (money) being taken from indiviuals. In short (and oversimplifying something awful), the government overtaxed their people and the people revolted.

  • Slavery is only valuable when (a) there's enough of them to make a difference, (b) when you have the power to impose slavery on a large enough scale, and (c) when there aren't too many activists opposing slavery. Ancient Egypt obviously had the ability to control a lot of slaves due to both their military power and economic control over the enslaved peoples. The same could be said of slavery in the first half of U.S. history. But prisoners? Do you really have enough of them? Are you sure your free society won't revolt against the slavish use of their persons? Make no mistake, slavery is what you're talking about — and in any form slavery is a wolf held by the ears or a tiger by the tail.

  • A tax by any other name is still a tax. People get caught up in terms, often believing that the word used to describe something changes what it is. Nope. If your government needs 100,000 Martian Torkkas to operate, and your population is 100,000 people, then the government must take 1 Torkka from every member of its population. Except the very old and very young don't work - make that 2 torkkas from the working class. Except some drive and some don't, so we'll take 3 torkkas from the drivers and only 1 torkka from the non-drivers. Wait, it's not fair that people who make less than 1,000 torkkas a year must pony up to the bar, so we'll take 4 torkkas from the wealthy, 2 torkkas from the middle class, and none from the poor (defined as those who make less than 1,000 torkkas). Dang! The wealthy have good lawyers! So we'll take 5 torkkas from the working middle class, 2 torkkas from the wealthy, and impose a fee for using the government-controlled information network. Trust me, a fee isn't a tax, right?

In the end, your government has no successful path to infinite wealth. People can only be taxed so much, so quickly. Business tarrifs can only be collected so much, so quickly. Your neighbor will only buy so many of your bonds. Etc., etc., etc. You actually want it this way! or your story won't seem real. Government wealth is about how much the population can tolerate. In good years, they can tolerate a lot. In bad years, they howl like the wind. In really bad years, they start sharpening swords. After all, government is basically a concept, a concept that changes very quickly when heads start to roll.

Conclusion

Your government is only as wealthy as (a) it can extract from its people and (b) it can borrow from its neighbors.

  • People will tolerate a high tax if they're getting good service in return. Decorating your streets isn't all that good a service. Good medical care is. But when the pain of taxation exceeds the value of rendered services, people start the process of changing the government.

  • Neighbors are always in it for themselves. They'll buy your bonds so long as they can affor it, so long as you pay the interest or dividends, and so long as it represents a positive leverage in international negotiations. If I recall correctly, Mexico once tried to cancel its debts. The resulting chaos in world markets caused an uproar that forced Mexico to re-recognize its debts (if my memory is wrong about this, please correct me in comments. Thanks!). Even medium-sized countries have a huge impact on international trade and relationships. So, your bonds are only as good as your neighbor thinks they are. Better keep them happy.

Which is a very long way of saying nothing's perfect and there are always consequences.

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  • $\begingroup$ It has been for some years now that it has been accepted that the pyramids where indeed NOT built by slaves, but wage labour. Apparently relatively well paid labour. $\endgroup$ – Erik Engheim Dec 24 '18 at 1:40
  • $\begingroup$ @AdamSmith, Thanks! I didn't know this and it'll be fun to study (curse you Herodotus! Curse you Hollywood!). Well, my example stinks, but I think the slave labor analysis is still intact. Would you agree? $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 24 '18 at 3:35
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Eliminate the poor completely.

The resource-based economy actually allows introducing objective criteria for that. In average a person needs about 20kW of power to cover his needs - food and technology and shelter and such stuff. 10kW for food and less than 10kW is used in average per person in industrial countries - to produce all the commodities we are producing, supporting transportation servicing distribution networks etc.

Make sure everyone possesses the amount of energy so as that there are enough facilities to use it in, some big clusters city size production zone, automated and all that which can process materials and produce enough stuff to supply some region.

Automation sufficient to cover production of some basic stuff one needs to not be in poverty is the goal of the system. Extra is up to person to person and B2B interaction.

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    $\begingroup$ There could be something cool here, but there's a part I'm not understanding. Some poverty is systemic. Some poverty is indemic. How does spending to provide for all basic needs guarantee the recipient is productive beyond the value of the provision? My knee-jerk reaction was, "this is inciteful!" but as I thought about it I realized that it's a net-loss, not a net-profit, unless a portion of the converted-poor are productive to cover the cost of supporting all the poor. Can you help me out with this? $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 17 '18 at 8:30
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH yes, sure. I probably didn't put enough efforts into explaining things to avoid the answer to be too long. The main point is that it is not a spending, spending is pointless and it turns things opposite of what it needs to be. The main point everyone should have to possess enough resources to support themselves and cover their needs. Resources which they can use in a bigger industrial system. It less about working for the future, but more about the guaranteed level of existence from now into the future until the death of an individual. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Dec 17 '18 at 10:24
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH I do not have some coherent piece on that topic, as an article, but second half of that maybe may help. or mabe ping me on discord $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Dec 17 '18 at 10:29
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You do essentially three things:

  • Tax your population
  • Make sure theres as much population as possible to Tax from.
  • Get the average wealth as high as possible.

The point of an economy is to keep the money moving. By spending money on the poor to educate them and provide them with the food, lodging and work necessities when they cant afford them you can make sure they can pay taxes on their earnings and spending later when they arent poor (and that money is moving through all the people you pay to provide for the poor). The beauty is that it reduces the poor who are in need for support, the richer the average citizen is the more taxes come in which leads to more money being spend on luxeries and the more easily attainable those luxuries become for the government as well.

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The biggest government expenses in the United States:

  1. Medicare.
  2. Social Security.
  3. Defense.
  4. Education.

If you require people to save for their own retirement, that takes away the two biggest expenses. If your country is not worried about defense, that's another.

Finance education with loans. So people go to school for however long and then pay back the loans once they start working. This will work much like a tax, but it's technically not a tax.

Finance law enforcement as mandatory insurance (it's also possible to fund healthcare that way). The insurers will handle the police duties to keep payouts down.

So now we're down to your initiatives. Caring for the truly indigent is not one of the four big expenses. Nor is art. Nor are giant machines. These might be funded by seigniorage. That's the amount of profit from printing money. Currently the US uses a fractional reserve system, where 90% of that value is lost. Your country might use a full reserve system, so the government captures the full value. This would cover about 10% of government expenses in the US, but your country has lower expenses. It might manage 40% or 50%.

The government may own all coin metal mining rights. So anyone who wants to buy platinum, gold, or silver (or copper?) must buy it from the government.

If that's still not enough, consider a program of mandatory service. So one day a week, each citizen has to work for the government. The citizen could help care for the indigent, make art, build giant machines, mine coin metal, or enforce regulations or laws. Or perhaps allow citizens to buy their way out. Again, that would work like a tax but would technically not be a tax.

Mandatory service could also replace unemployment and able-bodied welfare. Everyone works if they can. During recessions, the government would have more money, as they'd open more mines with the additional labor.

Charge products a fee based on the added costs they add. Food producers pay for anti-obesity programs (sugar and butter makers may pay more than oatmeal producers). Beer, wine, and liquor producers pay for alcoholism treatment and some medical care (e.g. cirrhosis treatment) that way. Cigarette sellers pay for programs to quit smoking and cancer care. Other drug purveyors pay for anti-addiction treatment. This fee would work much like sin taxes but again is technically not a tax.

All roads are toll roads or private roads. The tolls (not taxes) pay for those roads and the residents pay for private roads through homeowners' associations. Toll roads get you from place to place. Private roads get you to residences and in some cases, businesses.

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Free Market Capitalism and Donations

It is the only "ethical" way. Any other way is forced and involuntary. Taxes are basically a mob of people ganging up and deciding what A group hands over to B group at the threat of imprisonment or a gun. Of course in the process of deciding what to do with A group's money, some money inevitably ends up in the hands of the government bureaucrats who will find ways to spend the money of the people on special interests.

Whenever the government spends money on special interests, it does so poorly. Just think of the welfare programs. How much money was spent on R&D for the projects themselves, implementation of the projects, pensions for the poverty professionals redistributing the taxed (stolen) money, paychecks for the poverty professionals. All of that money could have been spent on the poor in the form of a negative income tax. With a negative income tax (just give people money, no bureaucrats involved), there is no longer an incentive to stay on welfare (in the form of a loss of benefits when wage increases) which is the real thing that keeps the poor poor (In addition to the total destruction of the nuclear family brought on by welfare in the form of lowered benefits for parents that stay together).

If you truly want to help the poor, have a skyrocketing economy, and get great art, just step out of the way! People will naturally donate to things they care about and pay for things they want in a voluntary manner. How will you know they are buying the "right" things? By definition they are! People buy what they value. I don't know about you, but I would pay for roads and healthcare and car insurance without government telling me. Just like how I comb my hair or brush my teeth or eat healthy (by ignoring the often wrong food pyramid).

I don't trust the government to do the small things right. For example could you imagine how a government Iphone or Android would look and function. Why would I trust the government with finding the ideal way to handle healthcare in an efficient manner when the government can't even compete with private industries when it comes to delivering mail. Remember the only reason the government mail system still exists is because whether or not a taxpayer even uses the system, the taxpayer still pays.

The government should really focus on a few main things

  1. Uphold private property rights
  2. Only use violence/force to uphold private property rights or as a defensive measure against violence/force
  3. Supposing the government MUST tax (treasury dept for money circulation replacement, the CDC, pay for upkeep of government buildings, dept of justice): Ensure you give each citizen an ITEMIZED list of what they pay for. This gives the people knowledge of who and what they pay for.

This is not to say you will get a "utopia" of some kind, but you will get the best economy you can hope for in the most ethical way.

TLDR: To keep a wealthy government, just let the people progress over time. It happens naturally with free market forces. It's immoral to force someone to eat a tomato. It's also immoral to force someone to pay for your government special interest in the vague concept of "progress" while naively ignoring the hidden costs the government imposes

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