- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Socialist Incentive

Posted by: Barry Stoller on December 10, 1999 at 20:44:11:

Of all the myths spread about socialism by procapitalist ideologues, few are as enduring as the myth that socialism, if prevalent, would reduce individual incentive.

While some procapitalist ideologues readily admit that 'menial' (unskilled) work is primarily accomplished through the fear of punitive sanctions (such as unemployment, i.e. hunger and homelessness), most procapitalist ideologues insist that only the 'profit motive' will sustain the innovation, risk-taking, dedication, and so on, associated with 'mental' (skilled) work.

It certainly is useful to separate skilled work and unskilled work when considering incentive.

However, the procapitalist reliance upon carrots and sticks exclusively is both primitive and UNNECESSARY.

Before discussing non-hierarchal means of fostering excellence in skilled work and basic compliance in unskilled work, I wish to state that my thoughts on socialist incentive include the predicates that jobs will be rotated and incomes will be uniform. (Particulars regarding job rotation and specialization can be found here; the argument for uniform pay is made here.)

Like capitalist society, incentive in socialist society will have two main categories: skilled ('desirable') work and unskilled ('not so desirable') work.

The incentive to perform skilled work, contrary to procapitalist ideology, is largely self-perpetuating. For example: faced with a choice of digging ditches for $5 an hour and supervising others digging ditches for $5 an hour, most people would eagerly choose the latter. Indeed, most people readily assent that skilled work is far more satisfying to do than unskilled.

It is agreed by procapitalist ideologues that status motivates excellent work---while they qualify this by insisting that status is demonstrated by money and material privilege. Nonetheless, in a society without money or material privilege, status would not disappear---it would simply assume non-material manifestations. Instead of money and material privilege demonstrating special ability, the special ability ITSELF would demonstrate its existence. One example: those demonstrating special ability would attract a wider, and more satisfying, selection of potential mates, friends, and renown.*

Work, as many individuals in high skill professions will gladly say, is its OWN reward.

Let us now consider what means of incentive there may be for the unskilled work.

One deterrent against shirking one's quota of unskilled work in socialist society will simply be peer pressure. Example: the less I do today (on laundry duty, perhaps), the more awaits you tomorrow---I expect you'll have an opinion on this matter.

Another factor that will promote performing one's quota of unskilled work in socialist society shall be the abolition of alienated labor.

When everyone decides WHAT sort of commodities and services are desired (instead of having the 'profit motive' of a minority decide such matters), many negative qualities regarding (unskilled) work will be effaced. Example: does the majority of people desire owning individual automobiles enough to spend a constituent amount of their own time working in a car factory to make cars available for everyone? If so, the work performed will be tangible goods that society clearly wants.

The negative qualities of (unskilled) work---so characteristic of most jobs in capitalist society---will, not surprisingly, be mitigated immeasurably by the fact that no one person will ever have to perform unskilled work ALL the time.

Force is also an option in the case of any individual's arrant refusal to perform an unskilled work quota.

Perhaps the suspension of skilled work for those who refuse to satisfactorily complete their quota of unskilled work would be implemented. Perhaps, in extreme cases, socialist society, taking a page out of the capitalist song book, may refuse to feed and house those perverse few who refuse to do such work. (To suggest that such a measure would abrogate human liberty is to admit that capitalist society does so on a DAILY basis.)

Another option may be the implementation of behaviorology (which, in essence, is the science of incentive)---providing that such a science works as well in real life as it has in research settings.

Briefly stated, behaviorology has demonstrated that some reinforcement schedules engender stronger and more frequent responses than others. Examples of these schedules---as applied to work---include: fixed-interval (predetermined weekly, biweekly, or monthly salary) and variable-ratio (commissions and profits) schedules of reinforcement. Extensive behaviorological research has documented that variable schedules are much more effective in maintaining high and steady rates of performance. This scientifically explains the 'intense ambition' of investors and proprietors as contrasted with the 'lesser ambitions' of wage laborers. What is important to keep in mind is not the payments of either wage-workers or capitalists, but the schedules themselves---which, according to behaviorological research, are as potent 'motivators' as the material reinforcement itself.**

Behaviorology, it should be made clear to the uninitiated, posits that ONLY positive reinforcement is effective. Behaviorology explicitly REJECTS all forms of punitive sanctions, 'mind control,' and other psychological weapons used to coerce behavior.

A rational and egalitarian socialist society would implement the same (effective) schedules of reinforcement in order to bring out the best in everyone.

So, in summation, there ARE some alternatives to the traditional 'profit motive' incentive of capitalist society.

And: one useful thing about abolishing the 'profit motive' is that the (surplus-) value that once went into mansions, luxury jets, trophy wives, etc., etc., can be put right back into productive 'investment'---which would only accelerate further productivity (and abundance / leisure for everyone). Which, itself, would engender even MORE incentive---naturally.


* 'Nothing hides the difference in merit between one person and another so much as differences in income. . . Between persons of equal income there is no social distinctions except the distinction of merit. . . There would be great people and ordinary people and little people; but the great would always be those who had done great things, and never the idiots whose mothers had spoiled them and whose fathers had left them a hundred thousand a year; and the little would be persons of small minds and mean characters, and not poor persons who never had a chance. That is why idiots are always in favor of inequality of income (their only chance of eminence), and the really great in favor of equality.' Shaw, The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, Constable and Co. 1928, p. 70-71.

** See Ferster and Skinner Schedules of Reinforcement, Appleton-Century-Crofts 1957. Although psychologist Barry Schwartz has claimed that reinforcement schedules are another form of Taylorism (Battle for Human Nature, Norton 1987, pp. 232-33), the fact that capitalists do not support behaviorological studies nor apply behaviorological principles in work places strongly suggests otherwise. Indeed, the POSITIVE aspects of behaviorology contradicts capital's internal logic to pay workers as little as possible (Skinner, Science and Human Nature, Macmillan 1953, p. 388)---which may explain the massive university defunding for behaviorological departments since the neoliberal 1980s. Indeed, so incompatible with capitalism is behaviorology (specifically, positive reinforcement) philosopher Jerome Ulman, speaking at a philosophy conference in Cuba, called for a 'grand synthesis of the thinking of Marx and Skinner' ('Toward a Synthesis of Marx and Skinner,' Behavior and Social Issues, 1: 1, Spring / Summer 1990, p. 67).

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