Free access to services
Apart from material things, socialism will bring many intangible benefits that capitalism denies us.
In our June issue we discussed some of the ways in which production solely for needs and free access (socialism) will replace production for profit and buying and selling (capitalism). In July we considered some problems of consumption in socialism, such as dangerous products, access to outer space, and when restricted access would be sensible. Here we extend the discussion to matters of services rather than goods: education; health and welfare; leisure, entertainment and sport; arts and culture; and dispute resolution.
At present in schools, colleges and universities, access is available (free or at a price) to a wide range of knowledge. But the emphasis is always on the norms and values of the profit system. Learning how to buy and sell things seems to be more important than making them and getting them to the people who really need them.
In socialism teachers and educational bodies will be geared to the needs of the new form of society. There may be historical lessons about capitalism, but on a similar scale to the teaching about pre-capitalist societies today. The proportion of people who choose teaching as their main contribution to society will be much greater than today. “Jobs” needed only to run capitalism will have disappeared.
With the advent of world socialism a priority will be to offer free access to education to those who have had none or too little because they or their parents could not afford to pay for it. That is not to say that children in Africa, Asia, South America and elsewhere will be given what is today considered a “good” education by European or North American standards. It will take time for world socialist education to develop its own character, and there is no reason to suppose that it will take the same form for everyone everywhere.
Health and welfare
Some health and welfare services are now available to some people free at the point of delivery or consumption. But many are not. In socialism the principle of free access according to reasonable need will be universally applied. Of course there will be some limitations, but far fewer than at present. Health and welfare problems resulting from accidents and natural disasters like floods or earthquakes will continue to require emergency measures. But the problems won’t be as extensive. For one thing, people living in disaster-prone areas will be offered removal to safer environments.
Having to seek paid employment when jobs are scarce, experiencing money problems, just living in a world that places so much emphasis on “must have” personal possessions — all this causes sickness and shortens lives. So in socialism there won’t be such a widespread demand for health and welfare services. You won’t need to take pills to get you through the day or night.
Leisure, entertainment and sport
Today the leisure industries promote and sell you what is profitable for them to supply. You can choose to entertain yourself with pastimes or hobbies, or in social gatherings with little or no resort to the market. But there is heavy pressure on you to be a customer of one or more of the leisure industries. Most people who say they are interested in sport don’t actually play a game or even attend a live event – they mean they watch it on TV.
With socialism there won’t be buyers and sellers of leisure, entertainment and sport experiences. But there will surely be more participants. There won’t be a distinction between amateurs and professionals, though some people will continue to be better at some things than others. So audiences will be bigger or smaller – but never paying anything except attention and respect. Whether or not individuals or teams are champions at some level at whatever, they will have the same free access to what they reasonably need as everyone else.
Arts and culture
Capitalism allows the very rich to possess rare items of art and culture, and even to lock them away from public view. Not so with socialism. It won’t be sensible to let everyone have the freedom to keep original masterpieces in their own homes. But it will be feasible and desirable to store and maintain rare artefacts in supervised public places.
With regard to access to popular events such as concerts, there might have to be restrictions. The relative merits and demerits of advance booking, first come first served, and even rationing would need to be sorted out. However, one way or another, access to artistic and cultural artefacts and events will be available to all, not just to a privileged minority.
With the abolition of the killer disease of nationalism, wars and the whole destructive war industry will be a thing of the past. Many other disputes about property – divorce settlements, allegations of mis-selling, for example – will also have gone. Some rules and regulations, emphasising pro-social behaviour not punishment, may still be desirable. But the law as we know it today will have no place in a socialist world.
Reasonable though the vast majority of people will have to be before socialism is introduced, it is unreasonable to expect all of us to be good boys and girls all the time. There will no doubt be a few disputes that will call for some procedure of resolution. This will probably best be done by some form of mediation, by people interested in, and perhaps trained for, this form of public service.