The Common Questions Answered series from the August 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard
Q: Since there will be no money and no payment of any kind under Socialism what will be the incentive for people to do the necessary work?
A: It’s true that most of us at present have to go to work to get money, but this is not an end in itself being only the means of obtaining some of the things we produce. Capitalism puts a price tag on everything, including workers’ energies which are bought by the employer for wages. To the capitalist class “having money” means having the means of exploiting the labour of others. Far from ensuring that all necessary work is done. Capitalism sacrifices the needs of human beings to the demands of markets. Textile mills are not closed because nobody needs textiles, but because not enough have the money to buy what they want. In contrast under Socialism the incentive for all to work will be the direct satisfaction of human needs. Everybody will have equal access to the wealth of the world, to which they will contribute to the best of their ability, and they will need no incentive other than the knowledge that they will be helping themselves and others to live full and happy lives.
Q: If people weren’t forced to work if they didn't want to wouldn't most of them very quickly give it up and just take what they want without putting anything in?
A: The mistake you make is in thinking that work under Socialism will have the same objectionable features—low pay, long hours of boring routine, needless risk to health and limb, etc.—that employment has under Capitalism. When freed from conditions associated with exploitation work will not be looked upon as a necessary evil but as the normal activity of mankind. Hobbies, voluntary work and often an unwillingness to be pensioned off disprove the theory that people will only work for money. The cash incentive may now be strong but it is also very anti-social, since it results in many useless and harmful acts, from the stupidity of ticket-clipping to the monstrosity of world war. Under Socialism only useful work will be done and those whose labour is now wasted or employed for anti-social purposes will be free to help. In those circumstances it is difficult to imagine anybody refusing to put something into the common pool, though individual contributions will neither be forced nor will any attempt be made to relate them to consumption.
Q: Under Socialism we should presumably all choose the work we like doing, if any. But suppose a lot of us decided to do one job and nobody would do another?
A: What makes you think such a state of affairs would exist? It's true there will be the need for organisation and division of labour, but the scope for utilising all the varied human talents will be far greater than exists today. More people will be able to do more things and will be free to express themselves in ways which property society denies them. Of course if the work is harmful to doer then society will either go without the product or find some other way of obtaining it. Remember that Socialism is only possible when a majority of people understand the need for it and what it entails. The fact that people will be free to do the work they like means that there will be nothing to make them do otherwise—but, being sensible folk, they will not insist upon doing something the result of which nobody wants. Since everyone will be encouraged to use his particular abilities to meet society’s needs, the question of certain social-needed work not being done will not arise.
Q: Who’s going to decide how much of everything each of us needs'? Wouldn't there be difficulties in allocating those things which are bound to be short occasionally?
A: Who will decide how much you need? The answer is—you will! Nobody can tell you now how much food will satisfy you since you are the best judge of that. Even capitalists do not keep on eating just because they can afford to. Under Socialism the whole productive and distributive machinery will be geared to satisfying self-expressed human needs. It’s very unlikely that people who have succeeded in building a society free from war, poverty and the other evils of Capitalism will be baulked by the problem of distribution. A temporary shortage of a certain type of goods or service will be the cue for those who are willing and able to change their contribution to the work of society, to do so.
Q : What incentive would there be for the ordinary hard-working chap to produce things which a few anti-social types could monopolise. Wouldn't he refuse to do so mid so wreck the whole system ?
A: Your views on what Socialism will be like are coloured by your accepting capitalist standards, which prevents your understanding what the world will be like when they are replaced by socialist ones. There will be no anti-social behaviour such as you suggest because there will be no incentive to it. Nobody wants to monopolise what is freely available—capitalist markets are only “cornered” to make a profit, not out of greed for the commodities themselves. We've never met one of these anti-social types (it’s always “the other chap”) who wants to stockpile free goods. Even if there are a few human magpies when Socialism is in its infancy, the novelty of hoarding will soon wear off.
Q : Knowing people as they are today, with all their faults, do you really think they will in fact work for the good of society even though they agree to have Socialism?
A: Your question assumes that in a socialist world people will have the same anti-social habits and tendencies that are bred in a capitalist one. To question that they will do the work required to meet all reasonable needs is to question their understanding of Socialism. But why doubt the willingness of your fellow-men to shoulder burdens which will be far lighter than those they shoulder under any form of Capitalism? What really stands in the way of the growth of socialist understanding is not this question of incentives, but the fact that most people accept Capitalism as the only possible system. The incentive socialists have is that they are helping to build a world which will at last be for the greatest good of the greatest number.