Incentive Under Socialism
Many people are genuinely puzzled by the Socialist contention that production will go on under Socialism without the existing privileges and inequalities. “How,” they ask, “will people be induced to work except under the incentive of wages and the possibility of getting into a higher-paid grade or of escaping into the ranks of the propertied class, who can live without working?” They are not much impressed with the answer that normal healthy human beings who have been educated to an understanding of the social system, and trained to perform useful work do not want to escape working. They want to work and need no more inducement than is given by the knowledge that work must be done to keep society going, and that they are playing their part in it along with their fellow men and women. One curious thing is that it is never himself that the questioner has in mind. He never says that he won’t work, but will try to sponge on those who do; always it is some other fellow who will do this. The same blind spot exists when the defenders of capitalism try to justify their system and its supposed “principles” of distributing rewards. In the abstract they defend capitalism on the ground that it is good and necessary that each individual should be looking after himself and trying to get or grab as much as he can, but when it comes to particular cases (always concerned with the other fellow) they repudiate their own principle. Notice how they object to the unemployed receiving a miserly dole without having to work, but never object to the millionaires (most of them in that position through inheritance) being able to live in luxurious idleness. Read the angry letters in the Press objecting to certain workers having changed their jobs in war time in order to get more wages—letters usually written by men whose income is far higher than the one they complain about.
Of more interest are the attempts to state some kind of principle to justify the present system. In the course of a letter to the Times (June 27th, 1940), Mr. Maurice Hely-Hutchinson, M.P., laid down one such principle: —
It seems unlikely that mankind will ever move forward except on the twin foundations of reward for accomplishment and of personal responsibility. It is axiomatic that there must be a hierarchy of incomes if there is to be a hierarchy of responsibility.
At a superficial glance it may appear that that is a correct description of the present order of things since some attempt is often made to weigh up the responsibility of grades of workers working alongside each other in the same organisation. The foreman usually gets more pay than the men he orders about.
But what is this “hierarchy of responsibility,” and why is it axiomatic? Always the responsibility is responsibility which goes up grade by grade to the owners of the business. That responsibility may conflict and often does conflict with responsibility for the safety of the workers and the responsibility for the interests of the population in general. Why is it axiomatic that the responsibility to the profit-seeking owner should over-ride other responsibilities? Why should the man who supervises road transport drivers and tries to speed them up be paid more for his responsibility to the owners than the careful (but possibly not so speedy) driver who is impressed with his responsibility to pedestrians?
When we leave the individual concern and look at capitalism as a whole the practice is equally at variance with any such principle. How does anyone decide that the head of one of the railways is worth £14,000 a year for his responsibility to shareholders when the train driver or signalmen, who have great responsibility for passengers’ lives, receive about one-fiftieth of that amount?
On what principle do our millionaires enjoy their vast unearned incomes? Why does the President of the American concern of Lever Brothers receive a salary of £117,500 a year (News Chronicle, July 2nd, 1940); and does Mr. Hely-Hutchinson think that the responsibility of Shirley Temple, as indicated by her income of £76,750 in 1939, is all that much greater than his own as indicated by his £600 a year for being an M.P? Why, in the Post Office, does the Director-General get a higher salary than his own chief, the Postmaster-General? According to Mr. Hely-Hutchinson this goes dead against the axiom. And would he say that the responsibility of the £5,000 a year (“plus generous expenses”) directors of the Suez Canal is greater than that of the men who run the canal on the spot—the directors, by the way, perform their “responsible” functions in Paris?
Altogether, those who take it upon themselves to explain and apologise for the capitalist system put up a remarkably poor show. Before leaving the matter just observe the Daily Express. That journal is ordinarily energetic and unrepentant in its advocacy of capitalism and ridicule of the supposed impossibilities of Socialism. Often it has dealt with this question of incentive and argued that the only satisfactory incentive is the prospect of making money. But on November 2nd, 1940, its editorial was concerned with the urgent need to find a means of overcoming the night air raiders over London. Instead, however, of being consistent and urging the Government to give large sums of money to whoever would discover the answer to the problem, the Express urged that “the public should be given the names” of the scientists who are at work on the problem. “ Remember,” said the Express, “scientists are human beings. They, too, will flourish under a nation’s praise.” So here, when it comes to the point, the Daily Express is going to rely on mere praise as an inducement to scientists to work hard and fast on a critical problem.
That should be remembered when next the Express argues that Socialism will not work because of lack of incentive.