Pamphlet Review from the January 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Economics of Freedom: An anarcho-syndicalist alternative to capitalism. Solidarity Federation. 2003. £2.50.
This 40-page pamphlet presents an alternative, variously described as an “anarchist economy” and “libertarian communism”, to capitalism.
We wouldn’t disagree with the general description of the alternative offered:
“. . . a society without money. People work as a social duty; wages are unnecessary – ‘from each according to their ability’; and cash is no longer needed to acquire goods – ‘to each according to need.’”
“ . . . a system without the market and where everyone has equal rights to have their needs met . . .”
“ . . . a society where all have equal control over decision-making and equal access to goods and services.”
“All work is voluntary, and goods and services equally accessible. Money, wages and prices do not exist.”
But what is surprising is the alternative to having to use money to acquire consumer goods described in the section “planning basics”, which speaks of “voluntary ‘rations’, decided democratically”:
“Some sophistication is needed to run this ‘rationing’ system. There is no point in allocating everyone four eggs a week. Some people do not eat eggs; others would prefer six but no cheese, and so on. In the case of food, it might be a ration of calories and nutritional intake, taking into account factors like age, height, special dietary and other needs. People would be entitled to any common foodstuff that met these needs, rather than being allocated quantities of specific foodstuffs.”
We really are talking here about a system of rationing (without the inverted commas) in which people would be allocated (equal for people in equal circumstances) certain amounts of things. The proposed alternative to money turns out to be a computerised card to be presented to draw your entitlement from the common store:
“Allocation of goods can be computerised to record every product or service a person takes or uses with the information also being stored on cards to be presented when someone wants a product or service. The purpose is to prevent very excessive consumption. For example, it allows staff in common stores to query why someone might be requesting a new suite six months after getting the previous one.”
This is surprising as the pamphlet is supposed to be describing an “anarchist economy” whereas the scheme proposed, involving as it would keeping computerised records of everything individuals consumed, can only with great difficulty be described as “libertarian”. Not even capitalism does that! And, what about the shoplifters?
Socialist society will certainly, for planning how much to produce, need a rough figure for what people are likely to consume over a given period, but this only needs to be measured globally for any district – as, for instance, by a computerised system of stock control or by sample polling – not at the level of each and every individual.
But why could not people have free access to consumer goods and services according to what they themselves decide their needs are? There are only two circumstances that would make this unworkable: (a) if it wasn’t technically possible to produce enough to satisfy the needs of everyone, and (b) if it was thought that even a significant minority would consistently take more than they could use.
All the evidence suggests that, once the artificial scarcity imposed by the need to make a profit has been removed, and once all the resources currently wasted on selling activities (and on armaments and armed forces) have been redirected to useful production, then enough could be produced to supply everyone’s needs. And experience of where even today people have free access to something – e.g. buses, telephones, drinking water, in some places – they only use these things when they need to. In any event, what would be the point of taking more than you needed when you could be certain that the stores would be stocked with what you wanted? That would just clutter up where you lived.
Certainly, particularly in the very early days of socialism and perhaps later after some unexpected natural disaster, there could be shortages of some things that might necessitate recourse to some system of rationing for those things. But this would only be exceptional and temporary, the normal situation being free access to goods and services according to self-determined needs.
What this pamphlet proposes is an intrinsic system of long-term rationing, even if the rations are to be decided democratically. That would be a possible alternative to money and, if it worked, fairer than money, but it’s not necessarily what socialists advocate could – or should – happen in “a society without money”.