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To buy, or not to buy?

A hundred people go into a supermarket, stick all the things they need in their trolleys, and at the checkout the cashier asks each one: “Do you want to pay or take these for free?” Given that choice, how many would choose to hand over payment? Five? Three? Less? Anyone claiming most would opt to part with their money is clearly an idiot.

Of course, under capitalism, the choice not to pay for goods and services produced by waged employment does not exist. The store's shareholders pay for their supermarkets' construction, rents, electricity, products on the shelves, adverts, employees' incomes etc, and they want back their costs plus as much profit as the market will allow. The same goes for other businesses.

That people will avoid paying for their needs, given the choice, is obvious. Money matters, and if you can freely choose to go home with a week's shopping buckshee with no chance of any retribution whatsoever, who wouldn't? What about when you're expected to pay, but avoid doing so?

The record industry's recent efforts to prevent people obtaining free singles and albums by shutting down Napster's pioneering internet file-sharing facility, while introducing new paid-for music services, has so far failed miserably. Those denied free digital downloads from Napster have instead switched to more elusive net services like Gnutella, Aimster and Morpheus, and saved their money.

For defying society's laws, millions are called “pirates”, “thieves” and “cheats”. Accusations that big record companies also engage in thievery by cheating workers and music fans to grossly reward big shareholders can be ignored since this piracy is “legitimate” within today's economic system. Eventually, business measures, state legislation and enforcement in defence of capitalist property rights, markets and profits will probably crush this determined “dot.communism”.

Fare dodging, TV licence shunning, vehicle tax evasion. If people can get away without paying, they will. But why merely settle for endless conflict, just occasionally 'getting away' from restrictive and iniquitous laws unbeatable as long as capitalism exists, or alternatively compliantly paying up zombie-style, when we possess the power to be rid of them permanently?

If we want and enjoy having goods and services for free, there's only one obstacle – capitalism. If we choose to replace it with socialism, free access to whatever we need becomes reality. People don't have to buy goods and services when they directly own and control the means of producing them. Analogously, by collectively owning the bakery you own the bread, cakes and biscuits too, with the unrestricted ability to produce as much as is required.

Would people work co-operatively to produce the goods and services this moneyless free-access socialist society needed, in a similar way that a hundred million or so internet users are presently working together to provide and share free music? Or, conscious of the differences between the capitalist present and a socialist future, would they choose to continue working and living within the money-wages-profit system, where incomes for most are insufficient to meet needs; involve a longer, harder, exploitative working week just so profits can be extracted from labour to sate the owning class's greed and selfishness; involve constant annoyance, time-wasting and worry from money-related mortgages, debts, bills, income tax returns, welfare benefit form filling, price comparing, insurance selecting, utility switching, queuing to pay, burglaries, car thefts etc; inadequate health care and public transport; environmental destruction and pollution; endless food scandals; political sleaze; terrorism and warfare?

The choice is as difficult as deciding whether to pay or not at a supermarket checkout.