Many global organizations know the world has the resources for all humanity to live comfortably. The question, therefore, comes to mind—why isn’t the whole of humanity living comfortably? The exchange economy – capitalism – will not allow human needs to be met. “Needs” are measured by the “market”. You can have anything you want, from baked beans to human beings, as long as you can afford to pay for it. We all know that what we want and need and what we can afford are not necessarily the same thing.
When the World Socialist Movement say that in socialism people will be able to give, in terms of work, according to their abilities and then take from the common store of wealth according to their needs as they decide them, the supporter of capitalism’s typical reaction is: people are greedy so they would grab more than they need and shortages would soon develop again.
But why? Greed is not a built-in part of human nature but a behaviour pattern under certain specific social conditions.
When people know that the free supply is going to last they adjust their behaviour accordingly. They no longer frantically seek to grab what they can. Instead, they wait till their current supply runs out and then they go and get some more or, in the case of a service, they wait till they need it and then they go and use it.
All the experience of free goods and services even under capitalism confirms this. Of course, it is true that “there is no such thing as a free lunch” under capitalism: everything has to be paid for in the end, in one way or another.
Supporters of capitalism don’t want you to believe that it is possible for humans to behave in this sensible way.
The case for a class-free society, in which production is geared to satisfying human needs, and in which production for sale and the market economy are abolished, is underlined by the fact that modern industry and technology have now been developed to the stage where they could provide an abundance of consumer goods and services for all the people of the world. The problem of production — of how to produce enough for everybody — has been solved. Humanity’s long battle to conquer scarcity has been won. Potential abundance is a reality. The task is to make abundance itself a reality.
This can never be done within a society based on class ownership of the means of production, where wealth is produced for sale with a view to profit. The only framework within which abundance can be realized is a society where all resources, manmade as well as natural, have become the common heritage of all mankind, under their democratic control. On this basis production can be democratically planned to provide what human beings need. In such a society, the market, wages, profits, buying and selling, and money, would have no place. They would cease to exist.
A society of abundance is not an extension of today’s so-called “consumer society”, with its enormous waste of resources. It does not mean people will come to acquire more and more useless and wasteful gadgets. It simply means that people’s material needs, both as individuals and as a community, will be fully satisfied in a rational way.
Contrary to what is popularly believed (and carefully cultivated by the defenders of capitalism), mankind is not inherently greedy; human needs are not limitless. From a material point of view, human beings need a certain amount and variety of food, clothing and shelter; what this is in individual cases can soon be discovered by oneself — and would be if there were free access to consumer goods and services. But, it may be objected, with free access wouldn’t people take more than they needed? But why should they if they can be certain (as they would be given the productive power of modern industry and the common ownership of the means of production) that there would always be enough to go around? After all, today when access to water (or at least to the amount of water consumed in any one period) is free, people only use what they need for washing, cooking etc. Similarly, when all consumer goods and services are freely available people could be expected to take only as much food, clothing etc. as they felt they needed. To take any more would be abnormal and pointless.
But could modern industry really supply enough for everybody to have free access to consumer goods and services? Certainly, the waste of capitalism wastes resources.
First, there are the armed forces and the manufacture of armaments.
Second, there are all the people, buildings and equipment involved with the market and money economy generally: banking, insurance, government pension and tax departments, salespeople, ticket collectors, accountants, cashiers etc. Indeed, it might be said that under capitalism well over half the population are engaged in such unproductive activities.
Third, there is planned obsolescence, the deliberate manufacture of shoddy goods made to break down or wear out after a comparatively short period of time. In a rationally organized society, consumer goods could be made to last; this would mean an immense saving of resources.
With the elimination of these three sources of waste that are inherent in capitalism, enough to adequately feed, clothe and house everybody could easily be produced. The absurd priorities engendered by the profit system are illustrated by the fact that more people work in house financing than in house building. While the number of homeless increases, the quality of new homes deteriorates.
What exactly do we mean by “free access”?
It is all very well to say that society cooperates to produce things and that we take what we want from what Marx called consumer stores. But what is society going to decide about what it is going to put into these stores?
Marx used the phrase about meeting the wants of the masses ‘‘decently and humanely”, but this does not really get you very far. In modern terms, it means this: universally you would have energy and water supply, sanitation, educational facilities, health services, transportation, housing, food and all of the things that people require.
But “free access” is not to be interpreted to mean that in a socialist society whatever you think you would like to have you can have. In a socialist society, you will only be able to have free access to the things which communities collectively decide it will make available for free access.
As far as is possible, naturally and sensibly, you leave it to local people to take the initiative in everything, that is in producing what they want and deciding what they are going to make available for free access where they are in the locality. A system where people control their own lives is needed to replace the market economy. But people can only free themselves — they cannot be forced to cooperate voluntarily.