Sunday, October 11, 2015

Notes on Economic History (11) (1961)

From the September 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Theory of Population

As Adam Smith's doctrine spread, it was elaborated and modified. Attempts to develop his ideas led to endeavours to explain the poverty and misery of the working class and all the defects that had become apparent during the rapid development of Capitalism, from the time of publication of his Wealth of Nations.

Two contrasted attitudes appeared. One was a condemnation and a criticism of conditions—this led to ideas about Socialism. The other was a pessimistic resignation, accepting the conditions and declaring them to be the result of the working of natural laws. This was the views held by Malthus. Malthus was responsible for two important works; in 1820 his Principles of Political Economy was published preceding by some 22 years his Essay on the Principle of Population, first published in 1798, and for ever associated with his name.

Malthus begins his statement on population with an account of the "tendency of all life to increase beyond the amount of nourishment available to it." In illustration he quotes Benjamin Franklin—"It is observed by Dr. Franklin that there is no bounds to the prolific nature of plants or animals, but what is made by their crowding and interfering with each other's means of subsistence. Were the face of the earth, he says, vacant of other plants, it might be gradually sowed and overspread with one kind only, as, for instance, with fennel; and were it empty of other inhabitants, it might, in a few ages, be replenished from one nation only as, for instance, with Englishmen." It follows from this, he says, that population has a constant tendency to increase beyond the means of subsistence.

Studying the increase of population in America, where there was an ample supply of good fertile and virgin land, and where there were few natural checks to growth of numbers. Malthus arrived at the conclusion that during about one hundred and fifty years the population had doubled itself every 25 years. The natural increase of population therefore took place like the increase in a series of numbers—1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256. In short, population, when its growth is unhindered, tends to increase in geometrical progression.

On the other hand, says Malthus, it is impossible to increase the produce of the soil in such a ratio. Under favourable conditions we may suppose that by improving the land already under cultivation, and by utilising the comparatively poor and neglected land, it would be possible to increase yields considerably. But the increase in twenty-five year periods (those in which population can double) could not be expected to be more rapid than is represented by the series of numbers—1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. "It may be fairly pronounced . . .  that, considering the present average state of the earth, the means of subsistence, under circumstances the most favourable to human industry, could not possibly be made to increase faster than in an arithmetical ratio." To sum up, whereas population can increase in geometrical progression, the means of subsistence can increase only in arithmetical progression.

Population for Malthus, therefore, is limited by the means of subsistence. As a result of the tension inherent in the contrast between these two rates of increase, there is a tendency for population to increase beyond the means of subsistence. The result is that population increases in any country when the means of subsistence increase, whether as a result of more intensive agriculture, the import of food, or changes in the distribution of national wealth. Insufficiency of the means of subsistence, on the other hand, makes itself felt in the form of checks. These checks are of two kind—positive and preventive.

The positive checks are those which set by destroying existing population: the most obvious are wars, diseases, and famines, but they include every cause, whether arising from ignorance, vice or misery, which in any way helps to shorten the natural span of life. Preventive checks are those which are deliberately undertaken, such as refusal to marry and what Malthus calls the postponement of marriage, moral restraint. "By moral restraint I  . . .  mean a restraint of marriage from prudential motives, with a conduct strictly moral during the period of restraint."

The fact that the produce of land is uncertain and irregular was embodied in the "Law of Diminishing Returns." In the cultivation of land, assuming that the technique remains unchanged, Malthus argued that each successive addition of capital and labour applied to it beyond a certain amount (the optimum expenditure upon a particular technique) produces a smaller increment of yield. Accordingly, beyond the optimum expenditure further increments of capital and labour no longer produce equal additions of yield, but progressively diminishing ones. To put the matter in more general terms—the conditions remaining unchanged, additions of expenditure prove less profitable. If, for instance, the expenditure of 1,000 of additional capital produces an additional product of 500, the expenditure of a second 1,000 will produce an additional product of only 300: that of a third 1,000 will produce no more than 200, and so on.

This "law" has in fact been shown to be fallacious. It assumes that the productive technique remains unchanged, an assumption which is contrary to all evidence. In fact, Malthus himself says that this "law" is valid only so long as agricultural techniques remain unchanged. It would be difficult to find a period since Malthus wrote the essay, during which advanced countries' techniques of production has not been continuously changing and must, as man's knowledge increases, continue to change.
Bob Ambridge

Notes on Economic History (10) (1961)

From the August 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Value of Labour-power

Adam Smith wavers in his analysis of commodities and there is confusion regarding the determination of exchange value. He determines the value of a commodity by the labour time contained in it, but then relegates the principle to older or more simpler times. What seems to him to be true about a simple commodity does not apply to the more complex forms of capital—wage labour, and rent. The value of commodities, he says, used to be measured by labour time.

There is also confusion in his analysis of commodities about which he varies regarding the determination of exchange value. He makes the exchange value of labour, wages, the measure of the value of commodities. Thus, wages are equal to the amount of commodities purchased by a stated amount of living labour, or to the quantity of labour which can be bought by a given quantity of commodities. The value of labour, or rather labour power, varies, like all other commodities, and in this respect does not differ in kind from the value of other commodities. And so value itself becomes both the measure and the explanation of value and we go round in a circle.

Marx has demonstrated the fallacy of this reasoning. He also said, very appropriately, "It is one of the chief failings of classical economy that it has never succeeded, by means of its analysis of commodities, and in particular of their value, in discovering that form under which value becomes exchange-value. Even Adam Smith and Ricardo, the best representatives of this school, treat the form of value as a thing of no importance, as having no connection with the inherent nature of commodities. The reason for this is not solely because their attention is entirely absorbed in the analysis of the magnitude of value. It lies deeper. The value form of the product of labour is not only the most abstract, but it is also the most universal form taken by bourgeois production, and stamps that production as a particular species of social production and thereby gives it its historical character."

Adam Smith also saw that profit sprang from the exploitation of labour, for he says: "The value which the workmen add to the materials therefore resolves itself in this case into two parts, of which the one pays their wages, the other the profits of their employer upon the whole stock of materials and wages which he advances." But he also confused surplus value and profit.

Smith was the product of the early manufacturing period in this country. He made a valuable contribution to political economy, and was one of the most painstaking and critical of the small band who tried before Marx to find out what makes society tick.
Bob Ambridge

Notes on Economic History (9) (1961)

From the July 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is Economic Life? 

Adam Smith's ideas on the development of economic life led him to make a clean sweep of all feudal ties and servitudes. The abolition of serfdom, the introduction of freedom of occupation and industry, freedom of movement, political autonomy; these were the inevitable corollaries of the new doctrine.

A demand heavy with consequences, the demand for free trade, formed a logical and essential part of the demand for the abolition of all restrictions upon production and distribution. Smith's theory of free trade was as follows:—
If trade be freed from all restraints, through the working of competition, it will come to pass in the long run that every country will produce those commodities which its natural facilities enable it to produce most cheaply. Thus there will arise a natural international division of labour, which will rebound to the maximum benefit of each nations, for each will be able to buy all it wants in the world market at the lowest possible prices: while selling there to the greatest advantage those things which it is exceptionally fitted to produce. It is the maxim of every prudent master of a family never to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy. (Wealth of Nations.)
In regard to the applying of these free trade principles, Smith was prepared to compromise. He agreed to the need of excise duties as a source of revenue, as also to the expediency of retaliatory duties imposed upon imports from countries whose policy was protectionist, and for duties for special purposes, for instance where an industry was judged to be essential for the safety of a country and was in need of protection. Smith, not being the dogmatist, as those who subsequently opposed his doctrines declared, was very cautious in practical matters.

Much of present day opinion of Smith's views is based upon the modifications his teachings underwent at the hands of Ricardo, and later still in the eighteen-thirties by the Manchester School of Free-traders. It is necessary to point out that Smith was not hostile to the landowning class. On the contrary, he considered that the interest of those who lived by rent was "strictly and inseparably connected with the general interest of Society" for their income increased proportionately to an increase in the general welfare.

Of the capitalist class he wrote that its interest had not the same connection with the general interest of Society as that of the landowners and wage-earners. For, he said, the rate of does not, like rent and wages, rise and fall with the booms and slumps that affect society. On the contrary, it is low in times of boom, and high in times of slump. Smith says it is always highest in countries that are going to ruin. To him, the interest of the second order, that of those who live by wages, is as strictly connected with the interest of the society as that of the landowning class. He advocated high wages and freedom of combination, but he deprecated State interference in wage contracts.

Smith's teaching brought about an entirely different way of looking at political economy. It did this, first of all, by showing investigators that the source of wealth is not a simple matter. He regarded labour as the primary source of wealth, but the conditions under which labour had to operate were of vital importance, and especially the increase of productiveness by the division of labour. Smith regarded everything from the outlook of exchange in the market, he conceived of economic phenomena as centering in exchange in the processes of "trade", and his explanation of the motive force of economics was derived from this conception.

Smith's chief contribution to economic doctrines was his neatly rounded and bold notion that economic life was a series of processes of exchange linked to each other. Herein lay such originality as he possessed. He finalised the physiocratic idea of the natural order, that is the harmonious encounter of numberless individual self-seeking economic activities. In his doctrine, exchange, the trading intercourse of separate economic agents, became the central manifestation of economic life. His system was not a theory of production, but a theory of price and value which he considered determined production just as much as distribution.

Like all economists worth considering, Smith endorsed the physiocratic concept of the average wage, termed by him the natural price of labour: "a man must always live by his work, and his wages must at least be sufficient to maintain him. They must even upon most occasions be somewhat more: otherwise it would be impossible for him to bring up a family and the race of such workmen could not last beyond the first generation". The fact that the development of the productive powers of labour brought no benefit to the worker is stressed by Adam Smith. Smith notes that the productive power of labour underwent no really important development until labour was transformed into wage labour, and until the means of production had taken the form of private ownership, either of land or of capital. Thus, labour's productive powers did not begin to develop until the worker was no longer able to take for himself the results of development.
Bob Ambridge

William Morris’s Red House in Bexleyheath (2012)

From the June 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

My work is the embodiment of dreams” - William Morris

After a train journey from London to Bexleyheath, you walk through roads of 1930’s semi-detached private housing to arrive at William Morris’s Red House. When Morris lived here this area was an open Kentish landscape of orchards and oast houses above the Cray valley near the hamlet of Upton. Morris commissioned architect Philip Webb to build the Red House. It was the need to furnish the interior of the house that led Morris to establish his textile firm and today you can now relish the aesthetic of his ‘Strawberry Thief’.

Inside the Red House Morris, Webb and Burne-Jones created a medievalist environment of furniture, stained glass, wall hangings, wall paintings, panels, embroidered panels, the impressive Drawing Room settle with miniature minstrels gallery, and murals featuring Chaucer, Malory, Froissart and Dante themes.

Ted Hollamby lived at the Red House and founded the William Morris Society but was also an important architect of post-war housing. Hollamby was Senior Architect at London County Council where it was said the department was infused with the ideas of Morris and the formalism of Le Courbusier. Later he was Director of Architecture at Lambeth Council. There was massive council house building inspired by Bevan’s  socialist” vision of new estates within capitalism where “the working man, the doctor and the clergyman will live in close proximity to each other”. The LCC and Lambeth were responsible for the design and construction of affordable, high quality housing projects such as Lambeth Towers, the Alton, Thamesmead, Pepys and Brandon Estates.

This reformist dream came to an ignominious end when capitalism went into crisis in the 1970’s. Ironically, Hollamby ended his career in the 1980’s working for the London Docklands Development Corporation where redevelopment of the Isle of Dogs was now private sector in creating homes for the corporate wealthy.

In the Studio you can find Hollamby’s book collection and Pevsner’s, but also works including Dialectical Materialism and Science by Maurice Cornforth (theorist of the Communist Party of Great Britain), Stalin’s Leninism, and Lenin articles for Iskra. The Red House used to host “impromptu CP meetings”. The CPGB adopted a reformist policy towards capitalism which was little different from the reformist Labour programme of 1945 and Bevan’s “egalitarian” vision for housing inside capitalism. Reforms to capitalism do not work in the long term. The house building of successive reformist Labour and Tory governments was eventually undone.

William Morris explicitly dismissed the whole idea of reformism in the manifesto he drafted for the Socialist League in 1885. Morris had originally been in Social Democratic Federation (SDF) but this organisation did not have the blessing of Engels, and its authoritarianism and increasing reformism led Morris and Eleanor Marx to leave and form the Socialist League. Morris died in 1896. In 1904 members left the SDF to establish the Socialist Party of Great Britain whose avowed policy is the  abolition of capitalism and the introduction of socialism not reforms to capitalism.
Steve Clayton

Notes on Economic History (8) (1961)

From the June 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Adam Smith's theories of Income

Adam Smith establishes an elaborate theory of the formation of value and of price, arguing that under primitive conditions, when there is little capital and when rent has not yet come into existence, the value of goods is determined solely by the amount of labour embodied in them. Things, like water, which a have a great use-value, have no exchange-value; and conversely, things with very little use-value, like diamonds, have a very high exchange-value. It follows that as the measure of the exchange-value of goods it is their "natural price" that matters. Not the utility of an article, but the amount of labour that has been expended in producing it.

In accordance with the fluctuations of supply and demand this market price swings to one side or the other of the labour expenditure price. The various items out of which the actual or market price is made up are the outcome of private property and the existing legal order, consisting of (a) wages, (b) the share payable to capital, and (c) rent, which may be regarded as interest paid for the use of land (equivalent to the difference between the price of the produce of the land, on the one hand and, on the other, the expenditure of the farmer upon wages, plus profit on his farming capital).

From this is deduced a theory of distribution, or of the formation of income (Smith uses the term "revenue"), for inasmuch as production is carried on with an eye to the market on the basis of the division of labour, the product is distributed in accordance with the laws of the formation of prices in the market. The distribution of wealth is effected in accordance with the constituents of every price; the worker receives the equivalent for his labour, and the capitalist and the landlord receive equivalent for the co-operation of capital and land.

Thus all the commodities which compose the whole annual produce of the labour of every country must resolve themselves into the same three parts, and be distributed among the different inhabitants of the country, either as wages, profit on capital, or rent for land. "Wages, profits and rent are the three original sources of all revenues as well as of all exchange-value. All other revenue is ultimately derivable from one or the other of these." Wealth of Nations (Book 1, Ch. VI).

Smith's theories on the laws of distribution may be briefly phrased as follows. rates of wages are determined, like market prices in general, by supply and demand, due to whose operation they vary to one side or the other of a subsistence wage:
The more capital there is in a country, the greater is the demand for labour, and the higher therefore are wages. The profit of capital has the opposite trend. The more capital there is, the lower is its rate of profit; the more capitalists there are, the greater is the tendency to underbid one another. Consequently, the more labour there is in a country, and the richer it therefore is, the lower in general is the profit of capital. (Book 1. Ch. IX.)
In the matter of land rent, a more complicated machinery is at work:
Increase in the productiveness of labour the division of labour and the expansion of manufacture leads to a fall in the prices of the products of industry. To the extent to which this happens, the products of agriculture automatically exchange for larger quantities of industrial products; that is, the former become dearer. This rise in agriculture prices is attended or followed by a rise in rent. (Book 1. Ch. XI.)
Rent also rises concurrently with an increase in capital, for since more capital and labour are applied to land, and land is therefore used more effectively, the income from land necessarily increases.

According to Smith economic life develops best when it is left alone. The main business of the State is to keep order. Economic activities when perfectly free develop harmoniously, and free competition must be left to do its work. Competition forces everyone to follow his own economic aims, to develop all his forces, and to produce as cheaply as possible. Consumers are supplied with goods at the lowest prices, capitalists can devote their energies to their tasks unhindered, and workers can seek employment wherever wages are highest. In this way a condition of social harmony is attained. At the same time, it results that everyone engages in the occupation which comes most natural to him. Division of labour takes place along the lines that are most economical.

By virtue of its own mechanism, society can get the better of that selfish outlook which is (primarily) hostile to society. Everyone becomes enabled, by the pursuit of his own advantage, to enjoy his natural rights.
Bob Ambridge

Notes on Economic History (7) (1961)

From the May 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Wealth of Nations

Since England was the first country in which modern large-scale industry developed, it was only to be expected that capitalist political economy would appear and flourish here. The introduction of spinning machinery (Wyatt 1783, Lewis Paul 1741, Arkwright 1769); the steam engine (Watt 1765 and 1770); and later of the power loom (Cartwright 1785, Jacquard 1802); and similar transformations in the methods of industrial production, indiced changes that led to an enormously accelerated growth of large scale industry.

Adam Smith was the man, who, under these conditions, established a new system of economic doctrine. Smith spent three years in France, where he became known personally to the physiocrats, and was greatly influenced by them. For ten years after his return from France, he devoted himself to economic study and to writing his book Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations published in 1776.

Adam Smith defines the wealth of a nation in the opening of his inquiry.
The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessities and conveniences of life which it annually consumes, and which consist always either in the immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other nations.
To this he makes an important reservation. Labour which is not devoted to the production of useful things, which have an exchange value is to Smith unproductive. Thus, services of all kinds are unproductive. The wealth of a nation is greater accordingly as a larger proportion of its inhabitants are engaged in useful labour. This in turn depends upon the amount of capital devoted to the employment of workers (the wage fund), but above all, upon the productiveness of labour.

According to Smith the productiveness of labour is increased mainly by the division of labour. Consequently, the division of labour is the chief cause of prosperity. He illustrates this thesis by the many processes required for the manufacture of such a simple thing as a pin. The further the division of labour is carried, the more is production carried on with a view to marketing.

Now for the purpose of the market there must develop an acceptable means of exchange, or instrument of trade—in other words, money. Money, as explained by Smith, arises out of indirect exchange. Commodities are exchanged in the market by means of money as the medium of exchange, and thus originates an exchange-value or price of goods, as distinct from their use-value. We see, then, that the division of labour is the starting point of the economic process and its development; it is the cause of the exchange of goods, for no one can live upon the product of his own activity. But exchange is effected in accordance with exchange-value (price) and the exchange value is therefore decisive (a) for the distribution of the goods, since it settles the question who can buy them; and (b) for their production inasmuch as this is guided by the expectation of the price to be realised.

Upon this premise Adam Smith builds up his economic system, and so do all the capitalist schools that follow him. The laws that regulate the formation of exchange-value are held to be also laws in accordance with which the wealth of nations comes into being; they are, according to Smith, the primary laws of economic motion.

By formulating this conception of the nature of political economy, Smith made an important step forward in capitalist theory. He gave a new turn to economic thought. Whereas both the Mercantilists and the Physiocrats had made productive circulation the basis of their reasoning, now for the first time a study of the laws of exchange-value was undertaken. Thenceforward the theory of value and the theory of prices became the basis of economic theory in general. For since prices are the determinants of the production of goods, the law of prices decides what goods shall be produced; and since prices decide which would-be purchaser has sufficient purchasing power, the laws of prices are also the laws of distribution. In a word, the laws of price are also the laws of distribution. As a result, therefore, the theory of distribution is developed as a theory of particular prices (wages, rent, etc).
Bob Ambridge

Notes on Economic History (6) (1961)

From the April 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Physiocratic School

No examination of the ideas of physiocracy would be complete without a reference to those who took up and developed Quesnay's teachings. They called themselves "economites". This school acquired great influence in France. Turgot, one of the members of this group and author of an important work on on the subject of physiocracy (Reflections on the Formation and Distribution of Wealth) was appointed Controller-General of the Finances in 1774. Another of Quesnay's pupils who became political chief of the physiocratic school, was Marquis Victor de Mirabeau, generally known as Mirabeau the elder. Others were quick to espouse physiocracy in the land of its birth.

The physiocratic doctrine soon spread from France to other countries, but mage little impression in England. It had immense in Germany, where Karl Friedrich Margrave of Baden, aided by Schlettween, the most distinguished among the German physiocrats, made an unsuccessful attempt to put in practice the physiocratic principles of taxation. Leopold I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, endeavoured to introduce a "land tax" in his duchy. Joseph II, Catherine, and most of the other monarchs of the period, were affected and influenced by physiocratic ideas. The doctrine found adherents also in Italy, Poland, Sweden and elsewhere.

After Quesnay's death in 1774, dissensions broke out among the French physiocrats, chiefly because of Condillac, who insisted that commerce and industry were "fruitful" as well as agriculture, which was unorthodox to other physiocrats. The disputes that followed paved the way for the collapse of the movement. The dismissal of Turgot from office as a result of the poor condition of the State treasury, the bad harvest of 1775, the rise in the price of bread, and the bread riots all over the country, all helped this collapse.

Finally, the French revolution, bringing the birth of Modern Capitalism to France, relegated the idea of physiocracy to the realm of the past.

The ideas of the Physiocrats did not escape criticism, even in the country of its origin. Of particular interest are the works of Linquet, (Legislation on Trade, 1769) and Necker, (Grain Legislation and Trade, 1775 and the Administration of the Finances of France, 1785).

Linquet, who wrote ironically about conditions of the period, appears to defend chattel slavery against wage slavery, and ridicules all the physiocratic ideas of property. The following quotes from his writing of 1767 illustrate this. The first quotation is the answer to the physiocrats.
It is the impossibility of gaining a livelihood in any other way which forces our day labourers to till the soil whose fruits they will never eat, and our masons to raise buildings in which they will never dwell. It os poverty which drives them to market to dance attendance upon the masters who might wish to buy them. It is this which compels them to kneel before the rich, and to beg of them permission to enrich them.
And on freedom—a boast of the physiocrats:
What is this apparent liberty with which you have invested them? They can live only by renting their hands. They must find someone to rent them or die.
To the economists of his time he said this about the workers.
Do you not see that the obedience, the abjection—let us say it—of this numerous flock, is the wealth of the shepherds? If the sheep who comprise it were ever to lower their heads to the dog who herds them, would they not be dispersed and destroyed, and their masters ruined? Believe me, for his interest, and for your own, and even for theirs, leave them in the persuasion where they now are, that this cur which bays at them has more power itself alone than all they together. Let them flee at the mere sight of his shadow. Every one will be the gainer. You will find them easier to round up for the fleecing. They are more easily kept from being devoured by the wolves. It is true that this is only so they can be eaten by men. But then, that is their lot from the first moment they enter the fold. Before talking of releasing them, overturn their fold, society.
Necker in his work shows that the development of the productive forces if the workers merely permits the worker to devote less time to the reproduction of his own wages and more to the enrichment of his employer. The importance of this is that Necker derives profit and rent, the wealth of the capitalist class, from surplus labour. But he sees it only as relative surplus value, produced not by the prolongation of the working day but by a reduction of the necessary labour time. The following quote from his Administration of French Finances shows the class position of his time.
That class in society whose fate seems as though fixed by social laws is composed of all those who, living by the labour of their hands, receive the imperious law of the proprietors and are forced to content themselves with the simplest necessities of life. Their mutual competition and the urgency of their wants constitutes their dependency; and these circumstances can in no way change.
In assessing the value and place of physiocracy in any history of political economy, we must take into account the economic development of France and other countries where the doctrine was accepted. Physiocracy is first and foremost the ideas of an agricultural economy; it is the philosophy of Feudalism gradually transforming into Capitalism. Its importance fades with the French Revolution.

For us today, physiocracy can be seen as a link in the chain that leads up to, and influences, later economists. Adam Smith was influenced by it, as were several others after him. The Henry George School of modern times is also a reflection of the old physiocrats. The liberal ideas of laissez-faire, freedom of competition, likewise flow from this source.

Finally, its weakness has been shown by Marx in Volume 2 of Capital, as already mentioned in these notes.
Bob Ambridge

What about human nature? (2002)

From the September 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard
The human nature objections to socialism take several forms, but it is almost always other people, and not the objector, who are said to make socialism impossible by being incurably acquisitive or aggressive or whatever. Rarely is the objector himself or herself included among those who have these nasty characteristics.
It is claimed that it will be impossible to get people as a whole to work together to their mutual advantage because humans are by nature acquisitive. Each, it is said, will always want to get the better of the other, to grab the lion's share of whatever is going. True this does sometimes happen in capitalism, although there are many examples of people behave differently, even risking their own lives to help others.
In socialism there will be much more scope for us to help each other, and no reason for us to act acquisitively. Each will be free to take what they need from the common store, so there will be no point in anyone trying to get more of anything than their neighbour. Such behaviour would not only be unnecessary but also a nuisance. Air is free to all and nobody is stupid enough to try to store any up. the same would apply to things generally in socialism, to which access will be free, each determining their own needs. Anyone storing up much more than they need would be treated sympathetically, perhaps indulged a bit as an eccentric.
Then there is the question of whether the alleged aggressive propensity of human nature would make socialism impossible. In his book The Brighter Side of Human Nature Alfie Kohn effectively rebuts the claim that aggressive behaviour is part of human nature:
  • The frequency with which national leaders have to draft their citizens into combat is powerful evidence against the idea that wars reflect natural human aggressiveness
  • There is no evidence from animal behaviour or human psychology to suggest that individuals of any species fight because of spontaneous internal stimulation
  • Assumptions about aggression owe much to images presented by the mass media, controlled by interests who benefit from just such assumptions
  • No circle is more vicious than the one set up by the fallacious assumption that we are unable to control an essentially violent nature
Another human nature objection to socialism is that men and women are naturally lazy and will only work if they are forced to by economic or other means. Certainly the profit system encourages workers to get the best price they can for their skills, and to withhold it if the pay is too low or the working conditions too bad. But all the evidence is that healthy human beings are normally active and creative and don't relish sitting around doing nothing for any length of time. In fact studies show that people do their best work when they find it fun or enjoy doing it in the company of others, not when they are in it for the money.
Encouraging pro-social behaviour by the use of incentives or other appeals to financial self-interest doesn't work very well or works only in the short run. Capitalism tries to put a price, and to make a market, out of everything, but it also relies heavily on a tacit appeal to people being to helpful to others. The system couldn't operate without a substantial amount of “free” labour given by unpaid carers, volunteers and “good citizens”. In socialism all activities will be undertaken because someone or the community needs the product, service or experience that results. An outbreak of mass laziness is far less likely than a temporary shortage of things to do.
Then there is the “stupid” objection to socialism. The mass of people are said to be too ignorant and unteachable to enable any system that doesn't rely on compulsion of some kind to work. It is claimed that either most men and women are incapable of understanding socialism or they would never be able to run society in their own interest. Propagandists for capitalism never tell us that we are too stupid to understand the tortuous arguments that are used, for instance, to prove that the way to preserve peace is to prepare for war. The point is that the will to learn is only actively discouraged when its threat to the continuation to the continuation of the present system becomes apparent.
If most people are stupid then they must have leaders. Thus it is said to be human nature for some people to be leaders and others to be followers. The existence of leaders and the led means that only the former have the power to make decisions. But in co-operative enterprises in capitalism, and in socialism generally, the concept of leadership is foreign, since all participants have a common purpose. When you know what you want to do collectively, you may appoint or elect organisers, but you don't need somebody else to lead you to do it.
Human nature is strictly what is common to the biological nature of all human beings. It has nothing to do with possession or non-possession of knowledge. The varying capacity to acquire knowledge means nothing more than that some people learn things quicker than others. It does not prove that some are incapable of learning. Socialism will entail a world in which everyone will be encouraged to learn what they wish, for their own interest and pleasure and for the sake of the co-operative community and society in which they live.
Stan Parker