Fiat Money Socialism vs Lower Form Communism

My recent posts on the possibility that fiat money could provide a path to a better (perhaps even communist) society have drawn very intelligent and stimulating responses. These are prompting me to think harder about what kind of path this might be. It occurs to me that it might actually be possible, by the completion of the fiat-money phase, to leap over Marx’s lower form of communism, as described in his Critique of the Gotha Program, straight into a rudimentary form of “from each according to ability, to each according to need”.

In a recent post I have argued that, under a flexible exchange-rate fiat currency system, any mix of public and private sector activity is, in principle, feasible and sustainable to a greater degree than under commodity backed or fixed exchange rate monetary regimes. In particular, the capacity of the government to dictate the terms on which the currency is issued means that it need not be financially constrained in its spending. An implication is that capitalists cannot jeopardize activity that is run on principles other than the profit motive or logic of capital through investment strikes, bond vigilantism, etc., although they can of course exert whatever other political pressure they can muster. The operative factor becomes the political pressure capitalists, on the one hand, and the general population, on the other, are able to exert on government.

In terms of the possibility of moving toward socialism, it therefore appears possible through democratic processes to push for an increasing role for public sector activity at the expense of private sector activity. With more activity undertaken in the public sector, there could be an attempt to democratize decisions over what is produced, and how it is produced, and also to push for a wide range of goods and services to be provided free of charge.

In such a development, there would be a move toward “from each according to ability to each according to need”, except to the extent that some goods remained only available at positive prices. Even here, redistributive taxes and transfers could eliminate most inequalities of access to goods and services between people with similar needs (e.g. working parents with two kids, single person with no kid, etc.). However, there would still be money, so this would not be communism.

This raises the question of what would be necessary to get from this socialistic set-up to communism. If we take Marx’s descriptions of communism in his Critique of the Gotha Program, there are supposedly two phases, a lower and higher form. In the lower phase, there is no money, but workers receive labor certificates, which verify that they have taken part in society’s aggregate labor time and entitle them to a corresponding amount of goods and services, produced with the equivalent amount of labor time. (Deductions are made to provide goods and services for those not in the workforce, and for various other things such as administrative and insurance funds.) In this manner, in the lower phase of communism the labor time of workers of varying abilities and productivity is treated as equal, and they are all recompensed on the basis of their labor time. Inequality still remains, however, because the needs of workers can differ (e.g. one worker might have to support more dependents than another). (See pp.10-11 of Critique of the Gotha Program.)

According to Marx, the higher form of communism is only attained

… after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly — only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

Technological improvement and increased mechanization open up the possibility of freeing individuals to this degree, but presumably, even under communism, this would not be an end state, but a process of continual improvement in the conditions of life.

It is hard to conceive exactly what is necessary for society to qualify as operating under this higher form of communism, so I am not even going to try in this post. What I do want to point out, instead, is that if a socialistic path under fiat money was taken, then in principle there would be two basic differences between it and the lower form of communism. In one respect, the fiat-money society would be inferior, because it would still involve money. However, in another respect, the fiat-money society would be superior, because it would have moved closer to “from each according to ability, to each according to need” than a lower communist society. In the latter society, a worker would be remunerated strictly on the basis of labor time with no account taken of the worker’s actual needs.

If society really progressed to this degree of socialism under fiat money (essentially access to goods and services according to need), it would seem to be a very manageable step then to eliminate money altogether, simply by making access to all goods and services free. There would then be no need to pay wages (no need for wage labor) and no need for government spending and taxation. There would be a non-monetary economy in which access to all goods and services was free.

Further, it would be possible to do better than labor certificates, such as those used in the lower form of communism. Having attained fiat-money socialism, it would be conceivable to jump straight to an equal access to goods and services based solely on citizenship and any other relevant factors (e.g. family size).

This would not be a society yet at the highest form of communism, but it would be already beyond the lower form of communism.

This is my thinking, anyway. On the basis of some of the high quality and interesting comments to recent posts, I am not sure that Marx or Marxists would agree with my post, but this at least is my current thinking on how to “get from here to there”.

I do know this. Marx clearly did emphasize the need to develop communism out of the system we are in now:

What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.

I think Marx’s point applies irrespective of the society we want, and the society we are currently in. Whether it is a better capitalism, socialism, communism or something else, where we are now matters in trying to find our way forward. Like it or not, our current society is monetary. Fortunately for many of us, the monetary system we currently have involves a flexible exchange-rate fiat currency. I feel strongly that it therefore makes sense to consider seriously the social possibilities of fiat money when thinking about how we might progress to a better society.

26 thoughts on “Fiat Money Socialism vs Lower Form Communism

  1. “In terms of the possibility of moving toward socialism, it therefore appears possible through democratic processes to push for an increasing role for public sector activity at the expense of private sector activity. With more activity undertaken in the public sector, there could be an attempt to democratize decisions over what is produced, and how it is produced, and also to push for a wide range of goods and services to be provided free of charge.”

    I am so sympathetic to this I don’t even know hoe to express it. If we do not move in this direction…. well, in the long run, as Keynes says, we’re all dead. I genuinely believe this. I think if we cannot manage to transition to this sort of general system the world economy is going to enter a phase of something that is quite ghastly. And geopolitical relations may well follow.

    But then I get critical…

    “If we take Marx’s descriptions of communism in his Critique of the Gotha Program, there are supposedly two phases, a lower and higher form. In the lower phase, there is no money, but workers receive labor certificates…”

    These are just money. Let’s face it. If I receive a ‘certificate’ what is it but money? You can call it something else, but it’s just fiat money. As I said in a previous post (sort of): fiat money is a contract on labour issued by the state. Nothing but. Especially so in the ELR sense.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Philip. They are much appreciated.

    The criticism is helpful in prompting me to think through weaknesses or blind spots in my thinking. Some of my more recent posts are in one sense thinking aloud, although they are an attempt to begin to flesh out a basic idea that MMT seemed to make possible when I first encountered it.

    These are just money. Let’s face it. If I receive a ‘certificate’ what is it but money? You can call it something else, but it’s just fiat money.

    This makes me think, even more, that fiat money may enable a similar path to the higher form of communism (or, for others, whatever is considered a better society) than the lower form of communism involving labor certificates.

    As I said in a previous post (sort of): fiat money is a contract on labour issued by the state. Nothing but. Especially so in the ELR sense.

    Yes, like you, I think the job-guarantee wage essentially plays the same role as the labor certificates, as far as they apply. The labor certificates, in the lower form of communism, would in principle apply to all workers. But that then raises the question, can we jump straight to all workers receiving the same remuneration for an hour’s labor, or would this still initially entail some workers receiving more? (In the video discussion I linked to recently, the discussants were talking about how to deal with physicians who demanded more, for example). If such inequalities remained, then it would be very similar (functionally identical?) to fiat money with all workers guaranteed at least a minimum wage (through the job guarantee).

    Also, if it is possible to jump straight to lower form communism (i.e. people are ready to all receive the same remuneration for an hour’s labor), then this would also seem possible in a fiat money system through a generalization of the job-guarantee mechanism.

    In other words, I think we are viewing this aspect very similarly to each other.

    Then the issue arises of what to do if people are not yet ready to submit voluntarily to equal remuneration for an hour’s labor. My view is that, in the absence of taxation, this could not be maintained other than through almost a sole resort to brute force, and I am flatly opposed to that. I think that taxation – though clearly coercive – is the most tolerable and least draconian method of compelling the transfer of some resources from the private to public domain. And fiat money seems to offer the means to do this more and more over time if that is in fact the social will. If it is not the social will, then fiat money would seem to offer the means to serve whatever is the social will. (Unless, of course, the removal of money itself is the social will. But even then, it may be that the conditions under which the removal of money become feasible can be brought about through appropriate use of fiat money.)

    I am not arguing necessarily for only gradual change rather than a more dramatic shift. But I do think any shift can only be as large as society is ready and willing to take. It may be that we are quite ready to make fundamental changes. I touched on this idea somewhat in this post.

  3. Hi Peter,

    This from Marx: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

    Now here, when he says “From each”, what is “it” that each of higher ability is supposed to supply? “Money”? Does Marx mean that the each of higher ability should supply “money” to then be sent over to the each in need of “money”?

    Mike coined a phrase a while back “taxpayer on the hook!” which is how many who dont understand currency systems look at things, and under a FFNC this concept of a higher ability taxpayer actually providing “money” becomes false the way I look at it. The civil govt is the provider of ALL “money things”.

    So perhaps here Marx had a blindspot (ie not you) in that he didnt understand state currency systems (many in the academe today dont so this should not seem surprising) and Marx himself thought that it was “taxpayer on the hook!”…

    Resp,

  4. Interesting question, Matt. Since “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” is referring to a situation that for Marx only attains under the higher form of communism, it would be a non-monetary economy in which everyone contributes what they can to the general well being (by contributing to the production of real goods and services and life in general) and takes from it what they need.

  5. Peter,

    A very quick thank you for providing a site where we can discuss these important philosophical issues without being denounced as some kind of heretic.

    The level of debate here is of the highest quality and minds are open to possibilities outside the usual boxes.

  6. For me “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” is one of those platitudes that everybody agrees with, but nobody can tie down and therefore can be used to justify any system you fancy.

    Just like “everybody should pay their fair share of taxation”.

  7. Thanks, Neil. I really appreciate the time people are taking to make such intelligent and diverse contributions. It is an example of “from each according to his or her ability”. 🙂 It makes for interesting, thought-provoking discussions.

  8. “The labor certificates, in the lower form of communism, would in principle apply to all workers. But that then raises the question, can we jump straight to all workers receiving the same remuneration for an hour’s labor, or would this still initially entail some workers receiving more?”

    What I’m saying is that regardless of whether fiat money or labour certs (same thing?) is used, the transition will be no transition at all. Instead, control over labour will gradually move into the hands of the State and what you will get is either State Capitalism or State Socialism. The former if only part of industry is nationalised; the latter if the whole of industry is nationalised.

    We’ve seen both these dynamic forces unleashed before. The results of State spending being used to give the people a welfare state remains with us today. In it we just have a certain amount of the workforce in the public sector. While the use of State spending to directly take over all investment led to State Socialism in the old Soviet Bloc countries. There was never any ‘leap’ into Communism. Instead workers were hired by the State for money wages — or, in Marxese, they were ‘alienated’ in the State rather than in the capitalist wage-relation.

    When you start either of these projects the results will always be pretty much the same. Because you’re setting up a priori conditions that are quite strict through the use of the money system. And you’ll always find that whatever entity issues the money will find itself drawing more and more resources (labour being one) into its grips.

    The ‘leap’ to Communism is never any more explained than a ‘leap’ because that’s what it is imagined as. All the explanations I’ve ever seen of it are faith based rather than thought through.

    We know what different uses of the money issuing capacity of the State can lead to. There might even be a case to be made that we could have State Socialism without the totalitarian political apparatus that grew up in the Soviet Bloc (though I doubt it). But either way labour will remain ‘alienated’, according to the Marxist doctrine, in greater amounts in whatever entity issues the greater amount of money (read: whatever entity undertakes more investment). Because, as I’ve already said, it is the money-relation itself that Marx thought to be the source of ‘alienation’.

    In order to go further into this and explore why the whole Communist ideal is so misguided we’d have to have a big philosophical discussion about what supposed ‘alienation’ is. And what a ‘freedom’ from alienation would actually look like. (I think, as Isaiah Berlin pointed out so well, it would actually be a pretty good definition of insanity). Suffice to say that humans seem to require abstractions (a) to think about anything properly and (b) to organise their social relations. Neither thought nor social relations can ever be approached in their immediacy (i.e. unmediated, in the Hegelian language). The only people who even begin to approach either in their immediacy are deemed insane and, far being models of the Ideal Man, deserve only our sympathy and compassion.

  9. For what I have in mind, I don’t think a big philosophical discussion about alienation is necessary. It may be necessary to reconcile where we are heading with Marx’s perspective on communism, I’m not sure, but I am merely (!) thinking in terms of how we can move towards a society in which there is a high degree of economic democracy (including at the local level), more equality and liberty, and a declining minimum labor time commitment so that people are freed to do their own things either individually or in voluntary association with others.

    For example, one issue will be how we handle technological improvement. In particular, as basic needs can increasingly be met through automated production, there will be the potential for all of us to be largely freed from doing work we don’t want to do. We can have more free time, which hopefully we learn to use well, both for our own individual enjoyment and also in socially beneficial ways. But will we really be freed in this way or will we instead be compelled to continue working similar hours as today in jobs we don’t necessarily want to do? I think it depends on our level of consciousness – for example, how fully do we want to live life? – and how much political pressure we can exert for this kind of progress through democratic means. This, in turn, depends on the design of democracy and economic activity, particularly the scope it provides for a mix of localized and centralized decision making.

    Just to make sure I’m interpreting your concerns correctly, are you suggesting that totalitarianism is more or less inevitable, one way or the other? Such a future does seem more likely than not at the moment, I must admit. But I don’t think it’s inevitable if we oppose it in sufficient numbers. Hopefully, anyway.

  10. Re: totalitarianism. Depends how you define it. I’ve always thought totalitarianism as a means to describe the Soviet Bloc regimes after the Stalin era was misguided anyway. Havel called them post-totalitarian regimes which is probably more accurate — post-totalitarian could probably be used to describe China at the moment too.

    To my mind it basically means the absence of the rule of law and the ability of the State to mess with your shit because they don’t like you and your opinions. I seriously doubt that Western democracies can move in this direction. The rule of law is too deeply ingrained. Yes, we’ll get laws that look increasingly dodgy (Patriot Act etc.) but I think we’ll come to see these as being used only in very marginal cases. We have a culture conducive to the rule of law and it would take a lot to change that.

    The only movements that I can see actually changing that in any substantial way are the Marxist movement and the so-called libertarian movement. In short: the movements that want the world to fit into their fantasies of what they think Utopia should be. Of course, these movements are very fringe right now — to the extent libertarianism is getting any support I think it’s more a sign of the death of the last phase of conservatism rather than anything else.

    Anyway, I think that the only movements that could destroy what I called the culture of the rule of law in the Western democracies are Utopian movements — movements that have a very particular conception of freedom and want to force you to be free whether you like it or not. I don’t see them getting much sway in the coming years. The big problem is what looks like the uncontrolled disintegration of the world economy that is taking place right now. That’s very worrying altogether. We could be moving into a rather stagnant period in history if governments don’t get their acts together and start buttressing investment. This could well translate into soured geopolitical relations too.

  11. Great discussion here Peter. I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to contribute as much to the discussions on this blog lately as I would have liked. I have been bogged down in finishing a long essay of my own, which is not complete. I think we have a lot in common in our thinking about how a fiat money system is conducive to an expanded role for the public sector and a more egalitarian society.

    Part of the problem, though, is that old “false consciousness”. A lot of powerful people seem to have a very strong interest in money mystification, and in actively trying to prevent democratic citizens from understanding the underlying nature of their own monetary system. Of course, a lot of powerful people are themselves confused about the nature of the system they are trying to control.

    On the question Philip raises, I think one thing that distinguishes money, as we understand it today, from other kinds of vouchers or credits or government liabilities, is transferability or marketability. If the person receiving the labor certificates is the only person permitted to redeem them, and therefore cannot exchange them in a private market for something else, they are not functioning as money. But once any kind of government-issued certificates, tokens or points – which are pegged by some official government liability for a particular product or service the treasury controls – are routinely exchanged in markets for goods other than those to which they are officially pegged, then I think we have money.

    I think “fiat money” is a bit of a misnomer. Governments never succeed in turning some objects into a common tool of exchange simply by declaring them to be so – that is, by fiats. The declarations always have to be accompanied by other enforced laws and actions that mandate certain uses for the object and set boundaries for their use. The metalists and others think the actions have to consist in issuing credible binding promises to redeem the money on demand for some other thing people might happen to want. Neo-chartalists say it’s the action of issuing tax bills that can only be settled with the government’s money. There are other theories.

    I don’t think I have a lot of sympathy with Marx’s notion of the higher form of communism. I think we need a healthy mix of free market activity along with an active public sector. The world is always changing. People are always, creating and innovating, and their wants shift along with those changes. There can be no stable calculus of human need. Money, by virtue of its role as the most common and liquid element of exchange and measure of prices, serves the social role of placing a standard of value on things whose values are constantly evolving. It makes very diverse things roughly commensurable, so we can actually say something meaningful about who has more and who has less. And it gives people a measure of freedom in working things out for themselves in response to their own values. Money is just a technology, and I think it’s a pretty good one. It’s one of those technologies whose use is improved by being well-regulated by government.

    I think the best way of moving to a more equal society is to preserve a monetary system, and then use that system as a way of keeping track of how much people are earning in income, and then try to regulate the flows of income somewhat better. If people all earned roughly equal amounts of monetary income for contributing their best efforts, then we can leave it up to individuals to figure out what they want to spend that income on in our creatively evolving systems of production.

  12. Dan, very instructive as always. The opening parts of your “Public Money for Public Purpose” series at New Economic Perspectives (here and here) have me immediately hooked, because they address similar issues. I’ll be looking out for your upcoming article.

    Thanks for the clarification on labor certificates. It seems, in principle, that these could be designed in a way that did not impact on flexibility and individual choice in consumption. That is, individuals could choose what to obtain with their certificates, and suppliers of the goods and services could respond to demand. Goods and services could be taken out of this sphere and provided free (e.g. education, public transport, internet access, housing, health care). This is already done to some extent in capitalist societies (e.g. school education, public libraries).

    Mostly the same effect could be achieved in our current monetary system through the provision of some free goods and services in conjunction with the job-guarantee minimum wage. The main difference seems to be that wealth can be accumulated in private hands in the monetary economy, whereas under the labor-certificate system this would not occur.

    There would need to be some change in what drives behavior for the labor-certificate system to be as dynamically and technically efficient as in a monetary system. Under the current system, the profit motive compels the adoption of new technologies and production methods (dynamic) and capitalists are compelled to minimize cost in the hope of increased profit (technical).

    I am actually quite hopeful on the dynamic aspect. A lot of the increase in knowledge and development of new technology in our current system (as opposed to the adoption of that technology) is the result of activity by individuals who are not necessarily driven by profit or monetary considerations. I don’t know many scientists, for example, who went into the field for the money. Typically, their drive in doing their jobs well comes from other motives, including an enthusiasm for the work. Even if the rate of discovery is high, there still needs to be a desire to adopt it in production processes, but to me this does not seem insurmountable.

    Technical efficiency might be a concern, although I think it is often overstated. Workers, as opposed to capitalists, are not actually directly motivated by profit under capitalism, since they don’t earn profit. They are motivated by many other factors. Of course, one of those factors would be missing in a labor-certificate system (and also in a system with a JG and/or basic income guarantee): the fear of becoming unemployed. However, there are many other motivations for performing well in the job. The job may be better than other realistic alternatives, it may be a stepping stone to a better job, performance affects self-esteem and sense of contributing, etc.

    I do think there are issues here that are potentially problematic, but in my view they needn’t be fatal. I think, also, that these sorts of motivational problems would become less significant as less pleasant jobs become increasingly mechanized and people are increasingly able to pursue work that they enjoy.

    Currently, though, we are in a monetary system, and there is little sign that people want to jump to a system of labor certificates any time soon. That’s why I find the possibilities opened up by fiat money (not sure what to call it) exciting. I think it is possible to move to a system very close to communism from which it would then be possible to eliminate money altogether, if that is (or becomes) the social will. Of course, if it is not (and never will be) the social will, that is a different matter. It will never happen if we don’t want it to.

  13. “On the question Philip raises, I think one thing that distinguishes money, as we understand it today, from other kinds of vouchers or credits or government liabilities, is transferability or marketability. If the person receiving the labor certificates is the only person permitted to redeem them, and therefore cannot exchange them in a private market for something else, they are not functioning as money.”

    I’m sorry, but they are. This is a money system and its weird to set itself up otherwise…

  14. Philip, no need at all for apologies. Your comments here have been of high quality and really helped to move the discussion forward. (Or am I missing something?)

  15. “The main difference seems to be that wealth can be accumulated in private hands in the monetary economy, whereas under the labor-certificate system this would not occur.”

    Pretty much…

  16. Dear PeterC,

    I find what is written on this blog interesting, but for far different reasons than the topics under discussion. One reason parallels the sound advice given to doctors: ‘don’t forget – first and foremost – you are treating and talking to real human beings; not just a patient’. As interesting as any discussion may become as theory, I don’t see any significance or meaning unless real human beings are involved. This means we have to thoroughly understand human nature; which means mandatorily, we have to understand our own nature.

    First of all then, I would compile and paraphrase these contributions of a Tibetan monk:

    * A word on paper or an uttered sound is a Symbol that masks or reveals Meaning – meaning, in turn, masks or reveals Significance;

    * Meaning and significance are held in the mind of the creator of the symbol – but not necessarily the observer – therein lies both art and inconsistency in communication, and a prime source of confusion in the world;

    * “The basis of correct knowledge is correct perception, correct deduction, and correct witness (or accurate evidence)”. [Patanjali];

    Peeling off layer after layer of any theory or mental construct we always arrive back at one point – the Self. At the centre of any musical composition, behind every work of art or literature, any philosophy or personality expression – all lead back to the Self. That is the first thing we should understand about our nature – words on a blog reflect the Self within – sitting there writing, painting, composing – we see ourselves reflected. But we have not lifted the cover that veils Self – merely sensed its presence. All pursuits lead to the Self …..

    Now, a bridge for example can be described in a series of formulas; perhaps even one master equation (theory). But as everyone knows, there are layers of meaning in a bridge, and layers of significance. In the end, human beings are involved whose appreciation and experience of the bridge cannot be formalised or formularised. Therefore any formal investigative model is a tool with limited scope – (no problem when part of the analysis); a mathematical tool just as handy as any psychological, artistic expression, philosophical tool – or even cartoon character if used correctly.

    Your minds (my mind) are one such tool.

    Just as a hammer can produce artifacts manufactured through hammering, so too can a rolling pin produce pastries through rolling – “from each according to ability, to each according to need”. The point for me is, the tool is limited by its own nature.

    From age 4 or onwards, the ego too is under construction. This is the tricky bit! Many people identify so closely with their minds, love their patterns of thought so much, that if one dismantles a favoured conception, they feel personally under attack. The ego reacts because it is one of the most deeply ingrained ‘waves in the mind’. I don’t know of any university that trains its students to regard the mind as an external tool, imperfect in its operation and limited in production. Capable of only partially reflecting reality! Or explains ego as illusion. Instead ego (especially the academic variety) is placed on high horses or pedestals; much to the amusement of ordinary folk. People ignore (= ignorance) how vulnerable and comical, how lost a human being is in reality! Pretension is comical and doesn’t really help.

    Mind – the inefficient tool that is the creator of all of the world’s problems, is also held out (by the mind) to be the only solution? Mind (to my mind) is lost without the human heart to guide it. Enlighten it!

    Everything one does in this world sums horizontally to zero (that’s my idea of maths)! The breath is a vertical transaction ….!

    I will leave you with a very old and odd understanding from the Upanishads: “The worldly mind is born in darkness, lives in darkness, and dies in darkness”. They didn’t screw around with their minds. They turned within to find Reality first – then allowed that insight to enlighten the mind.

    Just saying: maybe there is still, always has been – another way ……leading in exactly the opposite direction to that which most feel they have to travel. Mind will multiply the questions it asks itself ad infinitum – that is its nature! The human heart desires something else …..

    PS: Nobody commented on my babies analogy – I thought I defined money quite well???

    Cheers,
    jrbarch

  17. PS: Nobody commented on my babies analogy – I thought I defined money quite well???

    jrbarch, I have appreciated your comments since first coming across them at billy blog, but am often left speechless, unsure how to respond. 🙂

    Here, your comment has me very intrigued, but I am not sure I am really grasping what you are saying. If it is that social development requires a change in consciousness or some kind of renewed understanding of what is important to us, I agree. I sense this may be partly under way, but is concealed (and pushed from our minds) by the forms of behavior required under current economic arrangements.

    Or maybe you are saying that in the recent discussions here we have been looking at the situation all wrong. (?)

  18. ” In particular, as basic needs can increasingly be met through automated production, there will be the potential for all of us to be largely freed from doing work we don’t want to do. We can have more free time, which hopefully we learn to use well, both for our own individual enjoyment and also in socially beneficial ways. ”

    As you point out that is harder than it sounds. Once you are freed from the burden of having to work, it is very easy for your life to become aimless. The children of the wealthy are a case in point. In history many wealthy Victorian philanthropists considered their position a huge personal burden and responsibility. Lottery winners often go off the rails.

    Work can and does provide purpose, and fulfilment. Being freed from that can be a shattering experience.

  19. The dream of being freed from work we don’t want to do runs into the challenge of human mortality and human limits. To put it picturesquely, the gap between human finitude and the infinite gulf of our unfulfilled desires is always infinite.

    Think of how much work goes into medical research, medical technology production and the provision of medical care. If we increase the average life span to 100, people will want to live to be 150 or 200 or … you get the picture. Each increment demands a lot of work: More work, more business, more competitive stresses. It’s hard to see how that ends. You have to imagine a time when people say, “OK, that’s enough.” But will people ever think they have enough?

    That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to replace, for example, life-threatening and health-destroying forms of busyness – like using human beings to dig minerals out of deep pits in the ground – with somewhat less harmful forms of busyness, like running a round an airport with a laptop strapped to your shoulder and a cellphone in your hand.

    But an overall growth in aggregate play time and reduction in aggregate work time would seem to require more than just technological progress and progress in our economic system. It would seem to require a kind of spiritual and emotional progress as well.

  20. Neil, Dan: Good comments. I very much agree that work provides purpose, social connections and fulfillment. I find working hard also heightens the enjoyment of leisure. The feeling of taking a break is much more satisfying if it is a break from exerting effort.

    I think the aim is not to eliminate work, but as much as possible the work that we don’t want to do. Along with any reduction in the minimum labor time commitment, we could (and I think should) be providing scope for people to occupy themselves productively if they so desire. It is a minimum labor time commitment, so there need not be a restriction on exceeding the minimum. People who love their jobs – probably many people in research, science, teaching, the arts, entertainment and any number of other areas – should be free to pursue their passions. An intention to serve the minimum time would probably be most relevant in cases were people are still in jobs they don’t really enjoy. It would be important for these people to have opportunity to pursue other vocations in their free time, if they wished, by making relevant facilities accessible to volunteers. These activities could be very broad in scope, from outdoor physical work to educational studies to creative and sporting activities, and many things in between.

    By free time, I really mean time beyond the minimum labor time commitment. Each person could choose whether they wanted to spend that time productively or in leisure. At the same time, the types of activities considered “productive” could be expanding.

    On this topic, I really like a recent comment by Tom Hickey in a thread at Mike Norman Economics. He wrote:

    With a different mindset, humanity could step forward to a new level of distributed prosperity, including the option of greater distributed leisure. However, I suspect that most people would not opt for greater recreation but more creative endeavor.

    Most people can’t lie around on the beach for too long before they get antsy. And most people also find that their creative juices flow better when working in cooperation and coordination with others.

    Then the differece between work and play would become the difference between process and result. Pure play is only concerned with process, and pure work is only concerned with results. The meeting point is in creative endeavor freely engaged in. Then leisure and work get combined, so that process and result are served simultaneously.

    Really the only thing inhibiting this now is a collective mindset that is obsolete.

  21. Hi Peter – No, not ‘looking at the situation all wrong’. I like the way people look at things on this blog (congrats to DanK. and PhilipP. too if I may). Just saying that mind has its limitations and there is another place or space within each of us – a bit like the centre of a cyclone – from where the concepts that whirl around in this world are best viewed.

    And Yes, a change in consciousness is required. It is the change in consciousness in a drunk that allows him to gather enough strength and insight to heal his own personality – the mind adapting in response. For me the chain of causation is always Self >> Consciousness >> Mind:ego with feedback. The world drunk on many things!!

    Cheers …
    jrbarch

  22. “Along with any reduction in the minimum labor time commitment, we could (and I think should) be providing scope for people to occupy themselves productively if they so desire. ”

    Yes. But you have to realise that many people find that very hard to do and end up depressed because of it.

    Once you lose the external motivation of starvation you have to find some internal motivation to do something else. And our school systems are designed to churn out robotic mass production workers not people who routinely explore their inner motivations and then work out how they can act on that to fulfil their desires while considering the needs of others.

    So we have a society full of worker bees with a smaller and smaller hive to maintain.

  23. I believe the main point that had bewildered most people is how to “provide” people with money effectively and efficiently. All the talks about JG, JIG, BIG, ELR and so forth, still boils down to money.

    Money drives economy and people goes to great length to accumulate money. Some people start a business whilst others chose the path of wage earner.

    Now the question remains, how do we want the people to get their hand on the money?

    From my perspective, inflation should not be our main concern. The reason being is that since 1971, there had been trillions of dollars or pounds, yens, wons and etc created and sloshing around the globe and yet we have not a global hyperinflation.

    To me JG, JIG, BIG, ELR and so forth are just another method to get the people off the couch and start accumulating money.

  24. “In the lower phase, there is no money, but workers receive labor certificates, which verify that they have taken part in society’s aggregate labor time and entitle them to a corresponding amount of goods and services, produced with the equivalent amount of labor time. (Deductions are made to provide goods and services for those not in the workforce, and for various other things such as administrative and insurance funds.)”
    I do not feel like this is the argument Marx was making at all, this is some Proudhonist stuff. Marx is very explicit in the Grundrisse that labor certificate trading simply becomes a different name for the same function.

    Or is there a context specificity I am missing?

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