01 January 2006

The Limits of Socialism

Growing up with parents and family that were sympathizers to socialism was a different experience than that of most mainstream children growing up in more or less normal families. I got to see the guts of socialist ideology, economic thought and views on human nature from the other side... and when I asked questions, being good scientific socialists, my parents let me know how those questions were answered by Socialism.

Socialism is an invention of late-19th century European industrialization. The era that spawned socialistic ideas and ideals was one of triumphant progress seen in industrialization, chemistry, mathematics and global expansion. Older mercantile, aristocratic and pre-industrial systems of commerce and social organization were in flux and needed to change. The 18th century idea of Capitalism was strongly taking root in Great Britain and the United States, and to a lesser degree in other countries. Capitalism is a system of rewarding ingenuity and adopting change readily into the means of production and accepting new ways of doing things to make for more efficient production and for novel ideas that can rapidly change entire markets. By adopting market-based viewpoints and addressing needs of sub-segments of the population, Capitalism becomes dynamic and encourages adoption of new ideas and products readily.

The reaction to industrialization, which was seen as a boon to society, was that of trying to imply order and end-state theories that said 'this is all that can be known and done'. Indeed, a head of the US Patent Office in the 19th century said famously that the Office should be shut down at the start of the new millennia as there was nothing left to discover or innovate. This concept was also wide-spread in European societies and influenced their outlook on what should be done for social organization. Thus Socialism was born under the precepts that the economic pie would need to be divided rationally, resources husbanded and applied by social compact, and that there was no real need for innovation as the best of everything would be produced. "Each according to his ability; each according to his need". No one would go hungry, no one would starve, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, all would be provided for equally. No labor is better than any other, no time spent working was better than any other, and no contribution to society was better than any other. The only reward was recognition, and that was that.

"Each according to his ability, each according to his need." - From ACTS in the bible to Marx and beyond, a great slogan... but...

When I asked "Why is the time of neurosurgeon's work equal to that of a ditch digger's?", I was told that an hour of labor was an hour of labor and that no man's labor is lesser than that of another's. Hmmmmm...

So that means that investment in higher skills to do more complex work does not receive greater reward than shoveling ditches, nor higher praise, nor higher recompense. Because, y'know, all labor is equal. Yes, simplified, condensed, sweetened, stirred and such... but that is Socialism. A lovely ideal... This becomes Premise 1.

Premise 1: All working hours are equal, no matter the time investment into gaining the skills to do them.

Painful, isn't it? And why is this so? Well, the entire structure of needs and getting them is labor based, so you need to put in an equivalent amount of labor to get the equivalent amount of needs met. So you put in an hour of work, you get an hour worth of goods in return... uh-huh... ok... now, imagine you want to buy a house... how much labor is that? Now the magic of Google is available, so :

" It takes perhaps two to three thousand skilled man hours to build a home, more if unskilled. " and that is for a basic, adobe home.

Mind you this gets you a relatively simple adobe home. A more complex home will take more time... so do the quick math on 8 hour days and come up with 250 days of labor. Not bad... but... you also need to *live* and work until then... hmmm... then there is the problem of lack of credit. Not only don't you get it, you can only use what you accrue or combine with others. Now I really have no idea what happens when something complex like an apartment building is fully paid-off, hour-wise, by its tenants, but I guess they cooperatively own the structure. And if you move, unless you can find someone to give you the equivalent in hours for what you paid in to get an apartment, you keep your past residence and ownership thereof and headaches therein. And if your ownership collective hasn't kept the place in pristine condition, anyone looking to buy from you will tell you that it is not worth the hours you are asking as it is rundown. That, of course, is un-Socialist and would probably be prosecuted... lovely, huh? The Laws of Thermodynamics and Entropy are not considered into Socialism. More particularly the perceived valuation of something is only based on labor hours to create and maintain something and such things as decaying of a created item via such things as oxidation, corrosion and wear are not considered actively.

So, taken with equality of labor hours, one must ask when the condition of all labor being equal is met? Well, the socialists don't have a real good answer to that one, considering time investment to get new skills and learn tradecrafts and such, all of which is considered work, thankfully.

Now the second concept is that one man shall *not* gain benefit from another's work, save if full payment of hour by hour trade. Thus, there is no concept of 'rental'. Nor is there a concept of 'profit'. Nor a concept of 'compound interest'. All very un-socialist, exploiting thy fellow man, even if he or she approves of it and sees such as fair compensation. This becomes Premise 2.

Premise 2: One man shall *not* gain over another's work on an hour by hour valuation.

Growing up with Scientific Socialists was interesting as they did *not* run the household via Socialistic precepts. All labor is equal, but the work of parents to perform a *job* did not, somehow, equal a child's time in school. Although they said that training and learning was work... very interesting. And the concept of reward for extra work done around the home, since it had not social impact, was done through a system familiar to all families: you get an allowance. And if you actually *spent* money on such things as candy, snacks, soda and such, well there was a bit of a negative to that as you were not putting the money away for a rainy day. Of course, my parents were also the generation that went through the Great Depression and the Second World War, so some forbearanceance is expected. But it seems that both of them had totally overlooked the post-war economic boom and assumed the 1970's 'Malaise' and Viet Nam and Watergate problems indicated an inherent flaw with Capitalist society. Add to that the OPEC Embargo and disco, and one had little problem seeing flaws in the social fabric, but tying them into capitalism became a bit tenuous, especially when trying to explain the prevalence of polyester leisure suits and dependencyancy upon oil from the Middle East, all as an outgrowth of unbridled capitalism.

On the positive side, socialists, at least the ones I got to know, were a gregarious lot, always having meetings and cook-outs and acting very much like their early to mid-20th century counterparts in Europe. I did actually listen to the talks given, speeches read, and all the rest that went with such outings. A half-hour of sheer boredom seemed a small price to pay for such outings. But the more I listened to the ideas that voting will be done at the workplace, that worker's councils will decide what to be made, that a grand Worker's Congress would regulate society for the greater good of everyone, the more questions I started to think of.

By being set in a 19th century mindset, socialism suffers from stunted lack of human achievement syndrome. It is obvious to socialists that the people actually making goods are the best ones to decide what shall be made... why yes there would be feedback, and the worker's councils would deliberate upon such and act as necessary. You know, I actually encountered this at work with a Process Improvement Program, also a TQM program, and various other re-engineering programs to better get things done more efficiently. What one would do (and I know this in excruciating detail) is submit an idea, which would then get an initial review by a board or acting program supervisor, then that would be sent to the actual group that would be impacted by any change for review and evaluation. The interesting thing is that if an idea comes from the outside, it is denigrated and given a very harsh evaluation because 'you have no idea of how we do what we do'. So I also got a large pile of rejection slips, from all over, saying the same thing. Now as an insider that actively pushed such improvements to adoption and use, such reviews were given very easy going treatment and lauded, because I was part of the process. So when you think of a Worker's Council reviewing outside criticism and needs, do remember that. Adoption of new techniques, under socialism, would be glacial compared to that under capitalism as the basic human nature is to favor the group one is in and to look down upon others outside of that group.

Premise 3: Workers know how best to do their work.

An even funnier thing I have run into is that when you make people more efficient, they do not, of necessity, actually do more work. When making the move from analog to digital work in the printing business (as in actually printing sheets of paper from a 40" or larger printing press) is that if the underlying time structure does not change for doing work, then no additional work gets done. So if a job has 'always' taken X hours to get done, and a new method that totally revolutionizes how the job is done is put in place, so that there is drastic reduction in time to do work down to Y hours, then X-Y=Z and Z is non-zero. Z then becomes time to do non-productive things until the management structure catches up. In any business this is Allocative or Productive Inefficiency, and is a known source of problems in businesses that have been static for long periods of time. And do note that in this case it is one business sector (computerized control of equipment) effecting a sector that had been highly manual for decades if not longer. These workers obviously had *not* kept up with business practices nor the best way to do their job and it was a management decision to automate the tasks at hand. There was no incentive to change from the grass-roots up. This is a major flaw in how socialists view work as a commodity. In work areas that are static for job skills and functions it is descriptive. However, when it becomes the only mode of thought it becomes prescriptive making change and improvement difficult if not impossible. This is rooted in the history of manual labor as described earlier and is a premise that is largely overlooked or unspoken.

Premise 4: The amount of labor to complete a given task is static over time.

Yes, howls of outrage from socialists and Marxists. 'Not true! We take that into account...' [note that this argument gets foggy leading to various places, from Workers Councils to shop based organizations to the fact that anything that is a benefit to all workers should obviously be implemented] or 'Workers are best suited to deciding when and where improvement should happen' or even 'The overall social value of improvements must be weighed before putting them into effect'. But when one looks at the overall working situation over time it becomes apparent that industrialization was the road to lead mankind out of long hours with poor working conditions and into a better life for all. A very slight improvement for everyone would lead to contentment amongst the working class, self-organizing work areas, seizure of the capital from the capitalists and a worker's paradise. That can only happen if the amount of labor to complete a given task is static. If it is *not* static, that means that there will be some areas of work with an advantage over other areas doing the same job, and those lazy so-and-so's will be goofing off in their free time! Either everyone gets the goodies or no one does. And who decides that? Yes, those lovely Worker's Council's! Such progressive people! Now if they implement the change and don't tell anyone, well that is free time off for all those workers for that job. To all those people wondering *why* socialist economies end up making everyone equally poor: there you have it. Once there is increased non-productive time and production levels are set and static, then attention paid to actual productive time decreases as efficiencies increase. Quality level drops drastically as group-think sets in, until you get to the point of expected shoddy materials because no one cares enough to produce good materials. I mean, what is made meets the need, doesn't it?

Of course it was explained to me that the U. S. S. R. was *not* a socialist country! Many times and in detail were the differences between Communism and Socialism gone over, although they both described the same thing way back when. It started out as a great dream, the first country to go socialist was... well... not a capitalistlist country. Not even an industrialized country. Pretty much an agrarian based country with a Monarchy in place. That the Soviet Union made great advances into the industrialized era there is no doubt. That they had the best blackboard engineers on the planet, there was no doubt. That there working class had no say in their society nor no investment in what they produced, of that there was no doubt. But *somehow* the majority of the industrial base got stuck in 1930's era production levels, save for dragooning workers around the clock in factories during the Second World War. So when theoreticiansians in the West were wondering in 1972 what people would be doing with all the free time they would have from productivity increases by 2000, the Soviet Union was faced with a static or even declining overall economy. While some intense concentration on a few relatively advanced areas were done, it was at a social cost of denying the use of increased productive techniques to the workers overall, or, even worse, implementing them and finding that productivity did not change.

Work, then, is its own reward for its necessity for the survival of the society, thus becoming Socially necessary labor. Individuals labor because it is part of keeping society together and, indeed, necessary for the fulfillment of the individual. People will work looking to no more recompense than notice of a job well done and trade of labor hours for labor hours. As a theory, that all sounds wonderful, but when you look around you at the way people actually act, you see a different world. Many people have hobbies, avocations and past-times that produce satisfaction for their own enjoyment, and when many are asked what they will do when they retire, they look fondly at their non-socially necessary labor and smile. When you look at how people view their lives, doing jobs that may have socially necessary reasons for being done and compare it to the Joseph Campbell concept of "Follow your bliss..." you get a totally different viewpoint on life from that as people who do what they would like to do, even if they are not very good at it. Well, that little concept doesn't get you an efficient society nor one that addresses socially necessary labor very well. Doing for the good of society weighed against doing what is enjoyable for oneself must strike a balance somehow. On the Capitalist side, it is reward for doing a job through pay commensurate with performance without regard to happiness of the individual. On the Socialist side it is performing Socially necessary labor out of recognition that the society needs it to be done, with minimal recognition to the individual. However, what Capitalism does do, that Socialism will inherently not do, is reward individuals disproportionately when they make a contribution that is labor saving beyond that individual. To a Socialist that is exploitation, to a Capitalist that is a percentage of cost savings accruing to the individual that earned it.

Premise 5: Work is its own reward in keeping society running.

These are some of the limitations of Socialism, then, as I have been able to figure them out:

Premise 1: All working hours are equal, no matter the time investment into gaining the skills to do them.
Premise 2: One man shall *not* gain over another's work on an hour by hour valuation.
Premise 3: Workers know how best to do their work.
Premise 4: The amount of labor to complete a given task is static over time.
Premise 5: Work is its own reward in keeping society running.

None of this goes into the social structure which would have proletariatiate own the means of production, the state ruling over the people but the people being fully represented by their work place and all of the rest of it that are necessary to have a socialist society. These are well known issues, well booted around for decades and longer. Note that it seems that the first and second premises are a restatement of the same thing, but they are not.

The first is saying that there is no greater value to labor hours for those tasks that require a deep skill set against those that require no skill set.

The second is stating that over time, there is no compensation for doing more in less time, thus removing productivity of an hour of labor from the equation.

The third indicates that while workers may know how to do their jobs and tweak them for an existing environment they may not be the best judges of how to fundamentally change their work or processes in response to innovation.

The fourth is a follow-on from the third, which is a result of the second which grows from the first. Work measurement is static. Given tasks tend not to be innovated as there is no recompense for doing so. Jobs, then become static, because doing more in less time garners no reward.

The fifth is the stipulation that people will, of necessity do the *minimum* possible to keep society running.

When can these conditions actually be met so as to allow Socialism to flourish?

This is a very difficult thing to consider, but, lets look at it from a 19th century perspective a bit and speculate.

Premise 1: All working hours are equal, no matter the time investment into gaining the skills to do them.

This becomes true when there is no time burden of learning new skills and that all work is equally easy to do from the view of actually knowing the work. And such a thing can only come about once there is easy transference of skills from individual to individual with no inherent learning time involved in the process. For scientific socialists this has always meant the education of the proletariat. Once everyone is equally educated, it becomes *obvious* that all work is equal. To me this means a nano-technological encoding of skills and the thought processes necessary to drive them becoming easily transferableable between individuals. Further, actual physical effort must no longer be a consideration in this, either. Meaning a highly automated and roboticized world in which physical exertion to accomplish any task is equal. At best 30-50 years out.

Premise 2: One man shall *not* gain over another's work on an hour by hour valuation.

To satisfy this, #1 must be satisfied this. Once there is no difference in skill acquisition and maintenance, then all work is truly equal on a time for time basis. However *personal* value on time spent will always be subjective, so even if an individual rationally knows that all work is equal, work done by that individual may be seen as having more value than work done by someone else. "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. " - James Madison While there may come a day when we will all, collectively as humanity, recognize each of our own biases, recognizing them is not the same as removing them or properly weighing them and factoring them on a personal basis. Remove individuality from the process (maybe through the Borg collective) and subdue it and that day may come. Don't bet on it.

Premise 3: Workers know how best to do their work.

Satisfy #1 and this is on the way to being satisfied. However, how best to organize and divide work or collect work done into a coherent means of holding a cohesive society together is something else, again. Satisfy #2 and this is satisfied perforce: Angels don't need government nor organization, and everything done is to the common good of all. And yet even the Angels get in trouble for personal viewpoints....

Premise 4: The amount of labor to complete a given task is static over time.

This happens when there is no more innovation of any sort that can be done to make a task more efficient. Perhaps the largest overlooked flaw in the criticism of Capitalism is that because it strives for efficiency and incentivizes it, the amount of labor to do a given job *decreases* over time. That wonderful 1972 speculation on what we would do with all that time *saved* by increased productivity overlooked the fact that advancements would be across the board. If you wanted to live in the same standard of living as 1972, one would have plenty of free time. Eliminate all medical advances since then, remove all technological innovations since then, reduce the over all life expectency and, generally, look forward to the coming of disco. So one would hopefully ensure that everyone lived as well as the middle class did in 1972. Strangely enough, the poor, in general, are living at or above that level, save for the extremely destitute. As the US has eliminated poor houses and confining those not mentally competent to lead a productive life, these people are now on the streets. I cannot say that this is better or worse than the institutionalized, degradation with no hope of salvation that was the rule previously. It is assumed by many that because they were not seen, they were not there. And even then, there are people in regions of the world that would trade places and position and problems in an instant with those destitute on American streets, because that would offer them the *hope* of something better.

Premise 5: Work is its own reward in keeping society running.

Noticed that I stipulated *minimum* for the amount of work above. Because if there is no recompense beyond that, then such work to keep society going is, effectively, without value. If premise #1 is satisfied, then anyone should, in theory, be able to do such work, unless it is automated out of existence. If #2 is satisfied, we need no government nor means of control as mankind has become Angelic in quality. And if anyone can do the work, then #3 would be satisfied although note the problems even the Angels have in coordinating such things. If #4 is satisfied, we have reached the end of all knowledge and reached the limits of all technology. Further, the resources available at that point are limited to the maximum extent of that technology and their limits well known. Then and only then must some form of Socialism come about, and even then I doubt that research will ever stop in the hopes that something might be found in the storehouses of mankind's knowledge. Or whatever we call ourselves at that point.

Socialism as originally designed and thought about was to be an end-state of economics. It still is, and that end appears a long, long, long way off.

[please note that Blogger is having a dyslexia period, some posts are getting garbled while one is not looking]

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