This is an extract from Socialism as a Practical Alternative, published the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1994.
It is often claimed that market competition makes society run efficiently. It is even claimed that it ensures our resources are used in the interests of society as a whole. In reality, the destructive waste generated by the market system is so vast and complex that it is impossible to measure it precisely.
We can get an idea of the scale of present waste by looking at different kinds of jobs and asking whether they are connected with providing for real needs, or whether they are only connected with operating the market itself. For example, does a bank worker contribute to real needs? In their work, bank workers spend the day counting out money or transferring totals from one piece of paper or computer screen to another. Under capitalism it is obviously an indispensable employment. But this work arises from the lending and borrowing of money for investment, purchasing and so on. It is therefore inextricably bound up with the day to day operation of the market system. It is not intrinsically useful work, necessary for the production of goods and the running of services for needs.
To banking we could add insurance and finance. But the waste does not stop here. All these functions are serviced by other workers.
For example, bank workers are carried to work by transport, they work in buildings which require maintenance and use equipment such as computers. In this way the administration and servicing of the profits system involves circuits of waste which pervade the entire structure of production.
There are many other examples of employment which is necessary for the profit system but would be immediately redundant in a socialist society of common rather than private ownership and production for use instead of for market sale. The list is a long one – legal workers, chartered accountants, cost accountants, estimators, valuers, claims assessors, underwriters, brokers, taxation workers, marketing and sales personnel, advertisers, social security workers, cashiers and check-out assistants, police, prison workers, security guards, charities, armies, navies, air forces, armament workers, defence establishments etc.
The armed forces, in particular, waste vast resources. They use millions of people and divert the most advanced techniques of applied science. On a world scale, tens of millions of people are involved in the war machine. With the abolition of the armed forces, these vast resources of energy, skills, materials, and technology would all become available for useful production in socialism.
Moreover, wars, large or small, are always going on in capitalism and means of production are constantly being destroyed (International Conflict). War objectives include the destruction of industrial networks and communication systems. In the wars of this century the destruction of factories, industrial equipment, buildings, railways, roads and bridges represents a vast amount of waste. It also involves a massive waste of the labour used in their construction.
Other people who are at present wasted under capitalism are the unemployed. They represent the whole spectrum of human skills forced into idleness while human needs are denied. This in itself constitutes the self-evident proof that the capitalist system maintains an economic barrier between production and needs.
A final acute problem of wasted labour arises from world-wide poverty (Who Owns The World?).
The full extent of waste under capitalism is impossible to quantify precisely. But taking account of the main features, we can estimate that, with the elimination of all of capitalism’s wasted labour and materials, socialism will probably be able to at least double the number of people available for the production of useful goods and services directly for need.
Author: P. Lawrence
What Others Have Said
Approximately 60 per cent of the employed in U.S. America are working at tasks that are not producing any life support. Jobs of inspectors-of-inspectors; jobs with insurance companies that induce people to bet that their house is going to be destroyed by fire while the insurance company bets that it isn’t…..(Critical Path – R Buckminster Fuller, p262)
Economically, those who are not needed as personnel for this system have no productive life at all and inevitably become out-caste (sic). The number of these increases, for in the new Industrial Revolution the exploitation of labour is not a majpr factor in production. According to various estimates, at the present stage of automation, twenty to forty thousand are thrown out every week. A RAND Corporation estimate is that the present goods and services can finally be produced by 2 per cent of the present labour force. (!!!)(People Or Personnel – P. Goodman, p136.)
The computer will show that 70 per cent of all jobs in America and probably an equivalentally high percentage of the jobs in other private-enterprise countries are pre-occupied with work that is not producing any wealth or life support(!!!)(People Or Personnel – P. Goodman.)
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