Sunday, September 30, 2012

Socialism Social-democratic Style II

As should be recalled, the effect of the former on the formation of personality types was twofold, reducing the incentive to develop productive skills, and favoring at the same time the development of political talents. This precisely is also the overall consequence of social-democratic socialism. As social-democratic socialism favors nonproductive roles as well as productive ones that escape public notice and so cannot be reached by taxation, the character of the population changes accordingly. This process might be slow, but as long as the peculiar incentive structure established by redistributive policies lasts, it is constantly operative. Less investment in the development and improvement of one’s productive skills will take place and, as a consequence, people will become increasingly unable to secure their income on their own, by producing or contracting. And as the degree of taxation rises and the circle of taxed income widens, people will increasingly develop personalities as inconspicuous, as uniform, and as mediocre as is possible—at least as far as public appearance is concerned. At the same time, as a person's income simultaneously becomes dependent on Politics, i.e., on society’s decision on how to redistribute taxes (which is reached, to be sure, not by contracting, but rather by superimposing one person’s will on another’s recalcitrant one!), the more dependent it becomes, the more people will have to politicalize, i.e., the more time and energy they will have to invest in the development of their special talents for achieving personal advantages at the expense (i.e., in a noncontractual way) of others or of preventing such exploitation from occurring.
The difference between both types of socialism lies (only) in the following: under Russian-type socialism society’s control over the means of production, and hence over the income produced with them, is complete, and so far there seems to be no more room to engage in political debate about the proper degree of politicalization of society. The issue is settled—just as it is settled at the other end of the spectrum, under pure capitalism, where there is no room for politics at all and all relations are exclusively contractual. Under social-democratic socialism, on the other hand, social control over income produced privately is actually only partial, and increased or full control exists only as society’s not yet actualized right, making only for a potential threat hanging over the heads of private producers. But living with the threat of being fully taxed rather than actually being so taxed explains an interesting feature of social-democratic socialism as regards the general development toward increasingly politicalized characters. It explains why under a system of social-democratic socialism the sort of politicalization is different from that under Russian-type socialism. Under the latter, time and effort is spent nonproductively, discussing how to distribute the socially owned income; under the former, to be sure, this is also done, but time and effort are also used for political quarrels over the issue of how large or small the socially administered income-shares should actually be. Under a system of socialized means of production where this issue is settled once and for all, there is then relatively more withdrawal from public life, resignation, and cynicism to be observed. Social-democratic socialism, on the other hand, where the question is still open, and where producers and nonproducers alike can still entertain some hope of improving their position by decreasing or increasing taxation, has less of such privatization and, instead, more often has people actively engaged in political agitation either in favor of increasing society’s control of privately produced incomes, or against it.46
With the general similarity as well as this specific difference between both types of socialism explained, the task remains of presenting a brief analysis of some modifying forces influencing the general development toward unproductive politicalized personalities. These are effected by differing approaches to the desirable pattern of income distribution. Russian and social-democratic socialism alike are faced with the question of how to distribute income that happens to be socially controlled. For Russian-type socialism it is a matter of what salaries to pay to individuals who have been assigned to various positions in the caretaker economy. For redistributive socialism it is the question of how much tax to allocate to whom. While there are in principle innumerable ways to do this, the egalitarian philosophy of both kinds of socialism effectively reduces the available options to three general types.47 The first one is the method of more or less equalizing everybody’s monetary income (and possibly also private, nonproductively used wealth). Teachers, doctors, construction workers and miners, factory managers and cleaning ladies all earn pretty much the same salary, or the difference between them is at least considerably reduced.48 It does not need much comment to realize that this approach reduces the incentive to work most drastically, for it no longer makes much difference—salary-wise—if one works diligently all day or fools around most of the time. Hence, disutility of labor being a fact of life, people will increasingly fool around, with the average income that everyone seems to be guaranteed constantly falling, in relative terms. Thus, this approach relatively strengthens the tendency toward withdrawal, disillusionment, cynicism, and mutatis mutandis, contributes to a relative reduction in the general atmosphere of politicalization. The second approach has the more moderate aim of guaranteeing a minimum income which, though normally somehow linked to average income, falls well below it.49 This, too, reduces the incentive to work, since, to the extent that they are only marginal income producers with incomes from production only slightly above the minimum, people will now be more inclined to reduce or even stop their work, enjoy leisure instead, and settle for the minimum income. Thus more people than otherwise will fall below the minimum line, or more people than otherwise will keep or acquire those characteristics on whose existence payment of minimum salaries is bound, and as a consequence, again, the average income to which the minimum salary is linked will fall below the level that it otherwise would have reached. But, of course, the incentive to work is reduced to a smaller degree under the second than the first scheme. On the other hand, the second approach will lead to a relatively higher degree of active politicalization (and less of resigned withdrawal), because, unlike average income, which can be objectively ascertained, the level at which the minimum income is fixed is a completely subjective, arbitrary affair, which is thus particularly prone to becoming a permanent political issue.
Undoubtedly, the highest degree of active politicalization is reached when the third distributional approach is chosen. Its goal, gaining more and more prominence for social democracy, is to achieve equality of opportunity.50 The idea is to create, through redistributional measures, a situation in which everyone’s chance of achieving any possible (income) position in life is equal—very much as in a lottery where each ticket has the same chance of being a winner or a loser—and, in addition, to have a corrective mechanism which helps rectify situations of “undeserved bad luck” (whatever that may be) which might occur in the course of the ongoing game of chance. Taken literally, of course, this idea is absurd: there is no way of equalizing the opportunity of someone living in the Alps and someone residing at the seaside. In addition, it seems quite clear that the idea of a corrective mechanism is simply incompatible with the lottery idea. Yet it is precisely this high degree of vagueness and confusion which contributes to the popular appeal of this concept. What constitutes an opportunity, what makes an opportunity different or the same, worse or better, how much and what kind of compensation is needed to equalize opportunities which admittedly cannot be equalized in physical terms (as in the Alps/seaside example), what is undeserved bad luck and what a rectification, are all completely subjective matters. They are dependent on subjective evaluations, changing as they do, and there is then—if one indeed applies the equality of opportunity concept—an unlimited reservoir of all sorts of distributional demands, for all sorts of reasons and for all sorts of people. This is so, in particular, because equalizing opportunity is compatible with demands for differences in monetary income or private wealth. A and B might have the same income and might both be equally rich, but A might be black, or a woman, or have bad eyesight, or be a resident of Texas, or may have ten children, or no husband, or be over 65, whereas B might be none of these but something else, and hence A might argue that his opportunities to attain everything possible in life are different, or rather worse, than B’s, and that he should somehow be compensated for this, thus making their monetary incomes, which were the same before, now different. And B, of course, could argue in exactly the same way by simply reversing the implied evaluation of opportunities. As a consequence, an unheard of degree of politicalization will ensue. Everything seems fair now, and producers and nonproducers alike, the former for defensive and the latter for aggressive purposes, will be driven into spending more and more time in the role of raising, destroying, and countering distributional demands. And to be sure, this activity, like the engagement in leisurely activities, is not only nonproductive but in clear contrast to the role of enjoying leisure, implies spending time for the very purpose of actually disrupting the undisturbed enjoyment of wealth produced, as well as its new production.
But not only is increased politicalization stimulated (above and beyond the level implied by socialism generally) by promoting the idea of equalizing opportunity. There is once more, and this is perhaps one of the most interesting features of new social-democratic-socialism as compared with its traditional Marxist form, a new and different character to the kind of politicalization implied by it. Under any policy of distribution, there must be people who support and promote it. And normally, though not exclusively so, this is done by those who profit most from it. Thus, under a system of income and wealth-equalization and also under that of a minimum income policy, it is mainly the “have-nots” who are the supporters of the politicalization of social life. Given the fact that on the average they happen to be those with relatively lower intellectual, in particular verbal capabilities, this makes for politics which appears to lack much intellectual sophistication, to say the least. Put more bluntly, politics tends to be outright dull, dumb, and appalling, even to a considerable number of the have-nots themselves. On the other hand, in adopting the idea of equalizing opportunity, differences in monetary income and wealth are not only allowed to exist but even become quite pronounced, provided that this is justifiable by some underlying discrepancies in the opportunity structure for which the former differences help compensate. Now in this sort of politics the haves can participate, too. As a matter of fact, being the ones who on the average command superior verbal skills, and the task of defining opportunities as better or worse being essentially one of persuasive rhetorical powers, this is exactly their sort of game. Thus the haves will now become the dominant force in sustaining the process of politicalization. Increasingly it will be people from their ranks that move to the top of the socialist party organization, and accordingly the appearance and rhetoric of socialist politics will take on a different shape, becoming more and more intellectualized, changing its appeal and attracting a new class of supporters.
With this I have reached the stage in the analysis of social-democratic socialism where only a few remarks and observations are needed which will help illustrate the validity of the above theoretical considerations. Though it does not at all affect the validity of the conclusions reached above, depending as they do exclusively on the truth of the premises and the correctness of the deductions, there unfortunately exists no nearly perfect, quasi-experimental case to illustrate the workings of social-democratic socialism as compared with capitalism, as there was in the case of East and West Germany regarding Russian-type socialism. Illustrating the point would involve a comparison of manifestly different societies where the ceteris are cldearly not paribus, and thus it would no longer be possible to neatly match certain causes with certain effects. Often, experiments in social-democratic socialism simply have not lasted long enough, or have been interrupted repeatedly by policies that could not definitely be classified as social-democratic socialism. Or else from the very beginning, they have been mixed with such different—and even inconsistent—policies as a result of political compromising, that in reality different causes and effects are so entangled that no striking illustrative evidence can be produced for any thesis of some degree of specificity. The task of disentangling causes and effects then becomes a genuinely theoretical one again, lacking the peculiar persuasiveness that characterizes experimentally produced evidence.
Nonetheless some evidence exists, if only of a more dubious quality. First, on the level of highly global observations, the general thesis about relative impoverishment brought about by redistributive socialism is illustrated by the fact that the standard of living is relatively higher and has become more so over time in the United States of America than in Western Europe, or, more specifically, than in the countries of the European Community (EC). Both regions are roughly comparable with respect to population size, ethnic and cultural diversity, tradition and heritage, and also with respect to natural endowments, but the United States is comparatively more capitalist and Europe more socialist. Every neutral observer will hardly fail to notice this point, as indicated also by such global measures as state expenditure as percent of GNP, which is roughly 35 percent in the United States as compared to about 50 percent or more in Western Europe. It also fits into the picture that the European countries (in particular Great Britain) exhibited more impressive rates of economic growth in the nineteenth century, which has been described repeatedly by historians as the period of classical liberalism, than in the twentieth, which, in contrast, has been termed that of socialism and statism. In the same way the validity of the theory is illustrated by the fact that Western Europe has been increasingly surpassed in rates of economic growth by some of the Pacific countries, such as Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia; and that the latter, in adopting a relatively more capitalist course, have meanwhile achieved a much higher standard of living than socialistically inclined countries which started at about the same time with roughly the same basis of economic development, such as India.
Coming then to more specific observations, there are the recent experiences of Portugal, where in 1974 the autocratic Salazar regime of conservative socialism (on this type of socialism see the following chapter), which had kept Portugal one of the poorest countries in Europe, was supplanted in an upheaval by redistributive socialism (with elements of nationalization) and where since then the standard of living has fallen even further, literally turning the country into a third world region. There is also the socialist experiment of Mitterand’s France, which produced an immediate deterioration of the economic situation, so noticeable—most conspicuous being a drastic rise in unemployment and repeated currency devaluations—that after less than two years, sharply reduced public support for the government forced a reversal in policy, which was almost comic in that it amounted to a complete denial of what only a few weeks before had been advocated as its dearest convictions.
The most instructive case, though, might again be provided by Germany and, this time, West Germany.51 From 1949 to 1966 a liberal-conservative government which showed a remarkable commitment to the principles of a market economy existed, even though from the very beginning there was a considerable degree of conservative-socialist elements mixed in and these elements gained more importance over time. In any case, of all the major European nations, during this period West Germany was, in relative terms, definitely the most capitalist country, and the result of this was that it became Europe’s most prosperous society, with growth rates that surpassed those of all its neighbors. Until 1961, millions of German refugees, and afterwards millions of foreign workers from southern European countries became integrated into its expanding economy, and unemployment and inflation were almost unknown. Then, after a brief transition period, from 1969 to 1982 (almost an equal time span) a social-democratically led socialist-liberal government took over. It raised taxes and social security contributions considerably, increased the number of public employees, poured additional tax funds into existing social programs and created new ones, and significantly increased spending on all sorts of so-called “public goods, “thereby allegedly equalizing opportunities and enhancing the overall “quality of life.” By resorting to a Keynesian policy of deficit spending and unanticipated inflation, the effects of raising the socially guaranteed minimum provisions for nonproducers at the expense of more heavily taxed producers could be delayed for a few years (the motto of the economic policy of former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt was “rather 5% inflation than 5% unemployment”). They were only to become more drastic somewhat later, however, as unanticipated inflation and credit expansion had created and prolonged the over- or rather malinvestment typical of a boom. As a result, not only was there much more than 5 percent inflation, but unemployment also rose steadily and approached 10 percent; the growth of GNP became slower and slower until it actually fell in absolute terms during the last few years of the period. Instead of being an expanding economy, the absolute number of people employed decreased; more and more pressure was generated on foreign workers to leave the country and the immigration barriers were simultaneously raised to ever higher levels. All of this happened while the importance of the underground economy grew steadily.
But these were only the more evident effects of a narrowly defined economic kind. There were other effects of a different sort, which were actually of more lasting importance. With the new socialist-liberal government the idea of equalizing opportunity came to the ideological forefront. And as has been predicted theoretically, it was in particular the official spreading of the idea mehr Demokratie wagen (“risk more Democracy”)—initially one of the most popular slogans of the new (Willy Brandt) era—that led to a degree of politicalization unheard of before. All sorts of demands were raised in the name of equality of opportunity; and there was hardly any sphere of life, from childhood to old age, from leisure to work conditions, that was not examined intensely for possible differences that it offered to different people with regard to opportunities defined as relevant. Not surprisingly, such opportunities and such differences were found constantly,52 and, accordingly, the realm of politics seemed to expand almost daily. “There is no question that is not a political one” could be heard more and more often. In order to stay ahead of this development the parties in power had to change, too. In particular the Social Democrats, traditionally a blue-collar workers’ party, had to develop a new image. With the idea of equalizing opportunity gaining ground, it increasingly became, as could be predicted, the party of the (verbal) intelligentsia, of social scientists and of teachers. And this “new” party, almost as if to prove the point that a process of politicalization will be sustained mainly by those who can profit from its distributional schemes and that the job of defining opportunities is essentially arbitrary and a matter of rhetorical power, then made it one of its central concerns to channel the most diverse political energies set in motion into the field of equalizing, above all, educational opportunities. In particular, they “equalized” the opportunities for a high school and university education, by offering the respective services not only free of charge but by literally paying large groups of students to take advantage of them. This not only increased the demand for educators, teachers, and social scientists, whose payment naturally had to come from taxes. It also amounted, somewhat ironically for a socialist party which argued that equalizing educational opportunities would imply an income transfer from the rich to the poor, in effect to a subsidy paid to the more intelligent at the expense of a complementary income reduction for the less intelligent, and, to the extent that there are higher numbers of intelligent people among the middle and upper social classes than among the lower, a subsidy to the haves paid by the have-nots.53 As a result of this process of politicalization led by increased numbers of tax-paid educators gaining influence over increased numbers of students, there emerged (as could be predicted) a change in the mentality of the people. It was increasingly considered completely normal to satisfy all sorts of demands through political means, and to claim all sorts of alleged rights against other supposedly better-situated people and their property; and for a whole generation of people raised during this period, it became less and less natural to think of improving one’s lot by productive effort or by contracting. Thus, when the actual economic crisis, necessitated by the redistributionist policy, arose, the people were less equipped than ever to overcome it, because over time the same policy had weakened precisely those skills and talents which were now most urgently required. Revealingly enough, when the socialist-liberal government was ousted in 1982, mainly because of its obviously miserable economic performance, it was still the prevalent opinion that the crisis should be resolved not by eliminating the causes, i.e., the swollen minimum provisions for nonproducers or noncontractors, but rather by another redistributive measure: by forcibly equalizing the available work—time for employed and unemployed people. And in line with this spirit the new conservative-liberal government in fact did no more than slow down the rate of growth of taxation.

Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, A

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