Saturday, March 03, 2012

Charity vs. Socialism 2, objections to pooling of resources

In the first post, I pointed to the pooling of resources to provide a baseline of benefits for society as the first step of socialism. Surely, though, your work is your work, and pooling benefits just enables people who don't work and pull their weight to profit off of those who do. Well, not quite.

Marx would argue that we're already pooling our resources every day in capitalist society, but it's being done unconsciously and in a way that allows the owners to appropriate most of it. What I mean is this: any useful work a person does, no matter how individualistic, contributes to society as a whole. You make a product and sell it, that product is bought because it satisfies some need on the part of the person who buys it, and so contributes to the well being of that person and by extension society. On the job you provide a service, like serving as a checkout person at a supermarket or at a store. You check out products and answer questions, thereby facilitating people getting their stuff and getting the knowledge they need, which contributes to society getting along as a whole.

All work contributes to the well being of society, advances it, yet unless you own your own company or are an independent producer you don't really decide what value you get in return for providing those services. There are prevailing wages for different kinds of work, but it's all decided within the corporate structure, meaning that they're the wages that corporations are willing to pay you for your work as opposed to what you'd get if you had a hand in determining the value yourself, say if you owned part of a small company and had a say in what your wage might be. The two values, that decided by corporations and what the actual value of your work might be, may correspond, but they may not. Now, when the two don't correspond, that extra value goes somewhere, and it goes to the corporation, that uses it for its own purposes, which include building the business as well as profit and salaries for CEOs and executives.

Although corporate appropriation of value can be unfair, it brings up an interesting point, that is to say that if everyone got the exact value of their labor in return for their work, and all of it went solely for personal spending, there would be no money left over for investment in expanding companies or planning for the future. This can be seen in the case of people who are in business for themselves, making and selling their own products: they quickly find out that they if they want to stay in business they have to save money and put it back in the business and not take the maximum for themselves.

Because of this, having everyone just get the full value of their labor back, while fair, would likely lead to economic collapse. What's needed is for some of that value to be pooled for common ends, decided on democratically. Businesses, or places of work, individually would have money available to grow themselves, but the money that in our system goes towards profits distributed to the owners or shareholders, or to CEOs as salaries and bonuses, or to executives and higher management as inflated salaries, would go to society as a whole to be used for purposes that benefit everyone, and would not be personally appropriated by anyone.

on edit: alternatively, a lot of that money would or could first go back to the workers themselves, but folks would hopefully decide to voluntarily reinvest it in society for social ends.

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