Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Socialist Economy

Many self-described progressives use the term and seem to believe a socialist economy will end wars and save the planet. Generally, such folks faithfully believe such an economic system would work, if we would but elect pols such as Cindy, Ralph, Dennis, etc.

What would a socialist economy look like? Cuba? North Korea? The old USSR? Not according to the hardcore socialist. For instance, Eric Ruder believes a socialist economy looks like this.

RUDER : Socialism harnesses the immense productive capacity that capitalism has brought into existence and gives the power to decide on what and how much to produce to the people who actually do the producing--the workers whose labor is essential to running every factory, office and school.

In a socialist society, increasing efficiency and the elimination of waste will translate directly into benefits for workers--by increasing the standard of living and adding to leisure time.

For a socialist society to succeed, abundance, rather than scarcity, must be the norm. The immense technological advances in production over the last couple centuries have made such a world feasible--a world based on Karl Marx’s famous principle of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need."

In a socialist society, the power to decide what or even whether to invest would be taken from this small, parasitic class (capitalists) that lives off the labor of the vast majority.

The people who do the work in the world’s workplaces could--through a process of voting and surveys about consumption desires--decide whether they were interested in working fewer hours or having more consumption choices, or whether they’d like more ability to travel or larger places to live.

One workplace or community might choose one mix of work and leisure, and another might chose differently. After all, equal access to resources doesn’t mean conformity.

As Mandel put it, “The hallmark of a classless society itself would not be the similarity of the individuals who comprise it, but the greatest differentiation of the greatest number of individuals within it. The goal of socialism is not so much the socialization of the person as the personalization of society--that is, the fullest possible development of the unique personality of each individual.”

----- Okay, sounds good, always did, particularly decades ago when I believed all humans were decent, hardworking, honest, and capable of living as one.

Worker owned and operated has been around a long time, i.e. Saturn auto (didn't do well, I think GM holds it now), family owned and operated businesses (mom and pop era), franchises, self-employment.

I'd like to see miners owning the mines that fill their lungs with dust; I'd like to see assembly line workers own the factories, although these days they may be Asian, Indian, or Latin American workers since so much manufacturing has left the US. Would a socialist economy force these factories back to the US? How? I would like to see we the people owning and controlling utilities and energy, and banks.

As the US has become a "service economy" how would the nursing home workers own the nursing home? Would the workers own the hospital or would the State own those? How would franchisers give their burger flippers and tater fryers an equal share in the profits of producing billions of BigCrap burgers?

If one "workplace or community" making Auto X was owned and operated by slackards and the workplace down the street making Auto Y had workaholics, hence more profitable - who helps Auto X'ers when they go under, leaving workers who cannot pay the rent or put food on the table? The State? From the taxes of Auto Y'ers who might resent paying for the folly of the X'ers?

"From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Sounds reasonable on the surface. But, consider Auto X'ers and Y'ers again. X'ers have the "ability" to concentrate harder, work longer hours, make better business decisions. The Y crowd for a variety of reasons - chose more leisure time, invested in a new line of Edsels, voted in management on personality not skill, etc. which led to bankruptcy - who decides the "each according to his need" when the "need" is caused by slackards or indifference?

What if I have the "ability" to work circles around you - will my needs be less, more, or equal to yours? If there's an "abundance" do we all share equally even if only a portion of workers are the producers? Will the more productive workers have no expectation of "extras" for hard work? If there are "extras" will some workers feel superior/inferior to those who received extras - especially if they didn't "need" those extras.

Who puts up the capital to start the "factory, office and school" in a socialist economy? The workers? Where do the workers get the capital? The State? Where does the State get the capital? From nationalized banks?

When "the power to decide what or even whether to invest ... taken from this small, parasitic class (capitalists)" ... this power is given to the workers.

Will worker power/decisions be swayed by union bosses? By government? By company management? By elected company representatives? Will socialism rid society of sadistic bosses, corrupt government, greedy management, bribed representatives?

How would overpaid celebrities, sports figures, and "self-made" millionaires be dealt with in this socialist economy? Is their need to live in Beverly Hills greater than yours? Would Paris lose her fortune once the Hilton hotels are owned and operated by the employees? Would socialism lower Bill Gates net worth if the factories making the software, order fillers, packers, shippers and deliverers, were equal owners/operators of Microsoft? Would prison inmates own the companies which use their labor? Can I still wear silk even if my abilities can only produce burlap?

Would worker X be expected to help fund the "needs" of worker Y when he doesn't believe Y needs it? For example would anti-medication X'er share the expense of Y'er who believes his kids "need" to be on Ritalin and/or antidepressants? Would drug-free X fund crack head Y's need for rehab? If Y gambles or drinks up his share of the abundance in a socialist economy - does X pay for Y's rent, groceries, utilities? How does a socialist economy support hoards of needy people who, by choice or circumstance, have no abilities; will Joe Dim be forced to clean toilets and how are his needs determined?

Kinda sort of seems we have a little of this socialist economy already.

What does a socialist economy do with those who simply do not want to work for their daily bread? Are they in the same "small, parasitic class" with the capitalists?

And for those who would resist a classless society - who would enforce compliance? Socialist cops and soldiers? Would soldiers own the Pentagon or will there be socialist defense contractors - oh wait, I forgot, there will be no war, no lust, no greed, no sociopaths, no need for cops or troops.

According to Mandel this "classless society" means "not so much the socialization of the person as the personalization of society." I've listened to many an intellectual drone for hours using such abstract language of ideas - and they actually think they said something. Such are the phrases that sound good but have no real meaning.

Or worse - classless society means we will all labor real hard according to ability .... to be in the same social class - which is not likely to happen with 6 billion, 300 million, or even my town of 16,000. It works on a small scale - if you're Amish, or tribally remote - but even then there's a pecking order, most often with women and children pecking lower.

The theory reminds me of H.G. Wells Time Machine where happy, simple Eloites seem to live in a classless society without conflict, but unfortunately are food for the cannibalistic underground Morlocks; both groups less than human and living off one another.


Don said...

It sounds like you haven't a clue of how socialism works. Actually read a book. Socio-Capitalist societies is the answer. You make the big guy take care of the little guy that works in the community, instead of pocketing all of it. You force the big guy to provide a livable wage. The problem with capitalism is that only the few lucky around 6% worldwide, control the economy. It's a pyramid scheme at it's finest.

Kate-A said...

Sounds like you don't have a clue, period.

Look around, your "socio-capitalist" economy is here, has been for a while. And getting stronger, i.e. sociocapitalism "utilizes government intervention in a mixed economy to prevent "market failure" such as the Great Depression." Sounds like the latest bailout to me.

The US has been on the socio-capitalist path for 30 years - and ain't we better off now than those capitalist days of the 1940s, 50s, 60s?

When and if Obama takes office you're gonna get all the socio-capital government intervention you can stand, good and hard. The masses are all going to be equal, more or less at the same level (poverty). After the nuclear war of course to convince even the staunchest capitalist that we must all share the wealth, rather meagerly and spread thin but for the well-paid administrators and social experts doling it out to us lucky survivors.

Have faith - you may get more from the "big guy" sooner than you think.

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