1970s >> 1970 >> no-786-february-1970

Hey, Mr. Speaker: Socialism can work

How can we do without money, runs one objection to Socialism, it would mean we’d have to go hack to barter.
Why? Who said that barter and money were the only two ways of getting wealth to people? Obviously if that were the choice, money would win hands down. It is a very convenient invention that saves much time and trouble whenever goods are bought and sold. It would not be very sensible to go back to barter anyway, since money developed out of the barter system when it was seen how convenient it was if all goods could be exchanged for one particular one.
It is not quite true that socialists want to “abolish money”. Socialism will not be like today except that there won’t be any money. What socialists want is a society in which, among other things, money will have become unnecessary. That brings us to the third choice: free distribution of wealth, or if you prefer free access to wealth, where people can take from the common store what they need as and when they need it.

But that’s absurd. There’d be utter chaos. People would just grab as much as they could.
Why should they? People don’t grab those things which even now they can have as much as they like of. Take water. Once you have paid the rates, there is no restriction on the amount you can take. Do we find people leaving their taps running all day or filling buckets to hoard away? Of course not. People know what their daily needs of water are. and that there will always be enough to meet them, so they only take what they need when they need it. There is no charge to use some parks or libraries but people still behave normally: they use these free facilities as and when they want to. In some places they don’t charge for travelling on public transport or (after paying the rental) for local telephone calls. Yet still people behave sensibly: they use the trains or the phones only when they want to. This is normal behaviour. In a socialist society, where food, clothing, shelter, travel, entertainment and the other things people need to live and enjoy life will be freely available, why should people suddenly go mad and start grabbing more than they need? Is it not more likely that, as with water today, they will take only what they need?

There wouldn’t be enough to go round anyway.

Oh yes there would. You needn’t worry about that. Scientists and engineers have long known that mankind has the means — the modern industries and farms, the technical know-how and the skilled manpower — to abolish for ever famine, poverty and slums. There is no technical reason why modern industry should not turn out an abundance of the things people need. We can easily grow more and better food; manufacture more and better clothes: build more and better houses, schools, hospitals and other public buildings. It is a question of incentive. Today where production is geared to profit-making, this is not done because the rule is “no profit, no production”. In Socialism where production will be geared instead to meeting human needs, people can go on producing till all their needs are met.

Who’s going to produce this abundance of wealth? If people didn’t have to work nothing would get done.

True, people working on materials from nature is the only way of producing wealth, but once again the underlying assumption, that people are basically lazy, is wrong. Most people don’t want to laze around all day doing nothing. It is normal to want to do something — in other words to want to work. For work is simply exercising your mental and physical faculties. Work may be pleasant (as in your leisure-time activities) or unpleasant (as, generally speaking, in your employer’s working time). Most people, quite reasonably, expect the work they do voluntarily to be pleasant. In Socialism, with satisfying human needs (including the need for enjoyable work) as its aim and where all work will be voluntary, people will ensure that they work in safe and pleasant surroundings and that they enjoy what they are doing to help run the society of abundance which benefits them all.

You still wouldn’t find anybody to do the dirty work.

Well, that depends on what you mean by “dirty work”. What work is dirty and what is not is a matter of opinion. The same work can be pleasant or unpleasant depending on why it is done and on how other people think of those who do it. People who wouldn’t dream of being a navvy will gladly dig holes in their gardens. And some of the tasks performed by doctors and nurses are not much different from those done by lavatory cleaners.

Machinery could be designed to do nearly all the dull, repetitive jobs which human beings are now forced to do because it is cheaper to employ them than  to install machines. When society is geared to serving human needs, there will be every incentive to design and install machines to eliminate drudgery. If there prove to be some jobs that cannot easily be done by machines, then either they can be left undone or done (perhaps only for short periods) by people who recognise that someone has to do them. That such people will be found is a reasonable assumption since even today the dangerous, but obviously necessary, job of manning lifeboats is done mainly by volunteers.

Is it not so, when you come to think of it, that your everyday experience confirms that Socialism is practical? Common sense of course shows that it is desirable.