- Capitalism and Alternatives -

the tragic tale of the lampshade maker

Posted by: Gee ( si ) on May 18, 1999 at 15:24:45:

In Reply to: Needs. posted by Red Deathy on May 17, 1999 at 23:31:18:

: Not really, since we'd have democracy, people would attune their wants/needs pretty easilly to what they reasonably know can be produced- everyone decides for themselves what they need, and then votes- after due debate.

May I suggest that the due debate would last forever. The debate would be a series of conflicting wants (end products) and conflicting job wants (in terms of what they wish to do) which presetn either/or propositions. Imagine a person who wants to be lampshade maker when there are more than enough lampshades. In capitalism he will be put off by the very low returns available in a saturated market. In the above scenario he must be dissuaded by his fellows, who must have information about lampshades (can you tell if London has enough lampshades?) if they are to 'prove' anything. The lampshade man must also then be self motivated not to go ahead and make lampshades pointlessly, because he still gets to share in what other people are producing, but to work at something thats needed (which again is difficult, can you tell how many loaves of bread are actually needed in London, or in the local village for that matter?).

In capitalism he will be put off by the low returns (low demand) and motivated by the higher returns (caused by demand) in bread making. In the above scenario he needs to be 'advised' by other people to change job with information which is questionable, and can be debated in terms divorced from reality (ie "i want to, I feel invigorated - its an intangible benefit") and when put to vote, can be ignored anyway ("I have the right to make lampshades and the right to share in your produce too")

:: If everyone had equal share of the 'collective' produce then how many more half an hour per day street musicians would there be at the end of year 1?

: As many as felt that would be a useful application of their time. Point being, each member knows that to protect their own interest, they need the collective effort to succeed, and so would work to protect their own interest- the condition of failure is the motive for success.

The problem being that identifying the source of their own downfall would be debatable. Imagine a commune where necessities are produced that *just* keep everyone alive. the musicians dont want anything more (ie they are not failing) and simply take the food and carry on being musical. For them, all their wants are met. The people producing the actual goods needed for survival do want more goods and more choice (they are failing), and certainly want less second rate renditions of Bob Dylan. They debate & they vote, but they cant a) force musicians to do more productive work or b) produce only for themselves which would free up capacity to pursue those other wants they had.

The musicians have the others over a barrel. As long as they (others) produce sufficient collective basic goods they can just take and live off their work whilst putting out their own unwanted 'produce'. The producers of the basic goods cannot withold their produce from the poeple whom they perceive as bringing a disvalue to the commune - and no amount of debate and voting can stop it - because force is barred and being unpopular is not an issue among the large group of street musicians. Eventually such a sponging setup will collapse as the producers move away, or simply strike - or a bad season wipes them all out, in each case the victims of injustice are the producers.

In capitalism the musicians will understand the low regard their produce is held in by the lack of resources they get for their efforts. The producers of the basic goods will have the extra capacity to produce extra goodies. The musicians will not be baled out (*rewarded* for producing no value for other people) by others.

Red, Im not being obtuse. I think you underestimate the complexity of 'producing for needs' and the extent to which the system is open to abuse, either well meaning (the lampshade man) or malicious (the musicians) with the consequence that the output is grossly inefficient (lampshades) or grossly unjust (musicians). Less extreme and far more subtle versions of both the 'well meaning' and malicious abuses of democratically orchestrated production would plague even quite homogeneous communes.

The key is that people act in their self interest by following their individual values and i argue that the values poeple pursue differ so widely that the homogeneous populations required for even the marginal success of such market-less communes dont exist in any number over around (I'm guessing) 200 well chosen highly similar members. It is no accident that the most vigorous competitive capitalism grew up in the 'melting pot' of highly diversified America, whilst in comparison the more homogeneous japanese people are notably more 'collective' in their culture (to a point).

I do think youre 100% right that this kind of socialism cant happen until people are ready for it, and that is the reason I dont think it will ever happen on any significant scale.

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