Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Withering Away of the Quasi-Socialist State

‘Socialism proper’ is when the wealth of society is in the hands of the commons or the public as opposed to a particular individual or individuals. Quasi-socialism is piece-meal socialism embedded in capitalist societies. Examples of this are workers unions, social programs, the public ownership of roads and parks, or anything else that gives the working class and the public in general a greater degree of power.

Quasi-socialism has been deeply implanted in Western European and North American countries. Without it a society is always precariously teetering according to the whims of the economy. As a result, the people that live in that society are also precariously teetering between survival and death. Each day people starve to death in a world where there is enough for everybody.

Imagine the world where there is no quasi-socialism. A world where capitalism is completely unfettered and little or no social programs are in place. This is the situation in many countries around the world and it is a situation that capitalism tends toward through time.

In this situation a worker must sell his or her time to a business owner in order to eat, to buy health care and medicine, to feed the children, to buy electricity and so on. Without money the individual has no freedom, none whatsoever. He or she is not even free to access these basic necessities. Money is required to survive and without it, you don't. For the citizen and her children to be free of the stalking grim reaper she must surrender her time and labour to a business owner and produce wealth or provide services to that business owner. There is absolutely no freedom in this situation. It is a situation of wage-slavery. The choice is simple and stark. Either sell your time to a capitalist or die. So, obviously, the citizen sells his or her time to a capitalist.

While that worker is employed by the business owner, he or she is completely subject to the whims and arbitrary decisions of the boss. The owner might decide to have sex with the worker and may demand it. The choices the worker has at that point is to give in to the owners demands or face malnourishment or worse. The boss might discover that the worker is gay or may find out that the worker is of the wrong religion or has friends that are Black and for that reason, the owner fires the worker. The main point is that one individual has discretionary and arbitrary power over another. When that condition exists and it is a matter of survival and the choice is submission or survival, there is not a trace of freedom.

The agreed upon conditions could be ignored by the owner but the worker will be forced to comply and then some. For instance, the owner may decide that the worker should work several extra hours a day for free. I have lived in a country where workers worked six days a week and an additional two hours per day for the bosses for no pay. This was the expectation. Even at that, the bosses would notice who left first. Firings were arbitrary and came without warning and the threat was ominous. The oppression was ubiquitous for workers but the owners seemed to be having a good time.

A firing doesn’t mean the same thing where there is no social safety net. The sense of fear emanating from workers in that situation is palpable, especially when the boss is around.

Consider the contrast; in societies where unions have taken hold and where social programs have been developed, the standard of living is quite comfortable for most. In societies where unbridled capitalism exists, the standard of living is generally poor. This is because the more wealth is distributed among the population, the more demand there is for goods and services. But aside from those macro-economic considerations, there is the consideration of freedom. There is the consideration that one person, or one class of persons, has arbitrary power and control over others. This situation is completely unacceptable and it is a human rights issue.

So the choice is obvious. Unbridled capitalism is a set-up for abuse; a set-up for abject slavery and tyranny. The only acceptable conditions for capitalism are conditions where workers have a decent measure of power and economic freedom. That means that they have choices within and outside the workplace. That means that they are free to organize unions and that if they are unemployed, they are still free to make choices, to eat, to avail themselves of telephones and transportation and medical care. That means that an adequate social safety net is in place.

The problem is that capitalism has significant built in contradictions. And what that means for workers is that capitalism and capitalist states as a whole will become more austere as capitalism matures. The bangles and decorations at its edges are beginning to disappear. Universal health care, welfare, unemployment insurance, and the whole social safety net has started to rot and many people are falling through. They have landed on the sidewalks of the cities and they hold their hands out begging for spare change. They are doing so because they have lost their freedom to eat, to live in a home or to ride a bus. Whole families are homeless and the capitalist world is slipping into a foreboding future.

The big question is whether the withering away of the quasi-socialist state is irrevocable. Has capitalism grown to a point of no return or can we resurrect the ghost of John Maynard Keynes? Can the capitalists afford to throw us a few scraps? We must not forget however that while we in the West enjoyed the blessings of the marriage between J.M. Keynes and Henry Ford, people continued to starve to death in many parts of the world. Now capitalists are moving their shops there, to where the labour is cheap. Their need and desire to throw scraps to workers in the West has diminished.

In the near future we may lose our tax base for social programs. Maybe we will be forced to nationalize some of the profit making industries to pay for schools, hospitals and doctors. We can’t do without them. Or maybe we’ll have to take the whole socialism thing a few steps further than that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Are you on vacation? No new work lately I see. ...... Deets