Labour Vouchers

What are labour vouchers?

Labour vouchers (or labour cheques, labour certificates, labour-time vouchers) are a device suggested to govern demand for goods in "socialism", much as money does today under capitalism.

Originally proposed by Robert Owen in 1820, they were later taken up by Marx in 1875, to deal with the immediate and temporary shortages remaining from capitalism, if socialism had been established at that time.

The World Socialist Movement opposes labour vouchers entirely, because they will not be needed or desirable.

Those who support labour vouchers have several different approaches or definitions of them. We try here to clarify what labour vouchers are, and why we oppose them. In the rest of this section we use the words "paid", "earned", "purchase" and similar words to mean actions in "labour voucher socialism" that would be similar to what those words mean today.

Labour voucher supporters hold the following general beliefs:

Most labour voucher supporters agree that:

  1. Labour vouchers are paid for hours of labour performed.

  2. Labour vouchers are not money.

  3. Labour vouchers are used to purchase goods and services.

But they disagree with each other:

  1. How are labour vouchers apportioned?

    1. Each worker gets the same quantity for each hour worked. If the agreed upon rate is 100 labour vouchers for 1 hour, everyone who works for one hour gets 100 labour vouchers.

    2. The number of labour vouchers paid per hour depends upon the difficulty or desirability of the work performed.

  2. Temporary or Permanent?

    1. Labour vouchers are a temporary measure. The general feeling here seems to be that people are used to money now and need time to wean themselves from it.

    2. Labour vouchers will be permanent. These advocates say that society needs some method to restrict access to goods, and/or that without them there is no way to determine what items should be produced in what quantity when there are conflicting desires for goods.

  3. What about those who do not or cannot work?

    1. Basic necessities should be free to all.

    2. Enough labour vouchers should be given out to those who do not work (or don't work enough) to ensure that they can afford basic necessities (and perhaps more).

    3. Enough labour vouchers should be given out to those determined (by someone or some group) to be needy, or justifiably unable to work, to ensure that they can afford basic necessities (and perhaps more).

  4. What about non-traditional work, or work not paid today? (housework, art, etc.)

    1. Pay for housework, art etc. on an hourly basis like any other work. (possibly including difficulty factors, etc.)

    2. Pay for art based upon desirability: how many people go to see it or some such measure.

    3. Straight exchange: art is purchased with labour vouchers for whatever the buyer and seller agree upon.

  5. Can labour vouchers circulate?

    1. No. Once a purchase is made the labour vouchers are either destroyed, or must be re-earned through labour.

    2. Yes. It appears that there are few who believe that labour vouchers should circulate like money, but there are those who believe that they can be "invested" (although not for profit, proponents assure), or that when something is purchased, the seller could use them for their own purchases.

While supporters of labour vouchers have different approaches or ways of stating their beliefs, this broad-brush approach does give a good general feel for the range of ideas of those supporting labour vouchers.

Socialism means free access to the goods and services produced by society without any exchange, barter, trading, labour vouchers, or money. Instead of arguing specifics socialists argue against the whole concept of labour vouchers.

Why the World Socialist Movement opposes Labour Vouchers

Labour vouchers are not necessary

Labour vouchers, given that they are unnecessary, are undesirable

Labour vouchers, as suggested by some, are money

In any case, socialism will be a society of free access and voluntary labour. There will be no need for labour vouchers.

Shortages will not be a problem

People will make rational consumption choices.