Monday, February 20, 2006

"From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs"

The above is an influential quote of Marx's from his "Critique of the Gotha Program." The Gotha program was a socialist program, but Marx disagreed with the theoretical approach they were taking. They would distribute goods in a society according to the labor each individual added to the whole, rather than according to Marx's standard, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."

Marx disagreed with this because he believed that amount of labor supplied by each individual was a bourgeois manner of distribution, and would lead to inequality. Although the standard was the same for all (the labor of the doctor would be just as valuable as the labor of the trash collector), nevertheless inequality would still result because the raw amount of labor that each individual could supply would differ according to natural ability. Since some people would be able to supply more labor, they would be accorded a greater amount of the final distribution of goods than those that weren't able to supply as much labor.

So, Marx introduces a standard wherein distribution should not be according to labor supplied, but according to need.

The errors in this are manifest. What is need? Is it different than want? Is it only subsistence? Then what of the superfluous goods of societies? Who is going to get the ocean-front property in California? Who is going to have live in Nebraska?

Much like the above problems with need, we must also wonder about ability. How do you determine someone's ability? Surely this is not an objective measure. You cannot assign a number to someone's ability. If someone says to you "Work according to your ability," are you apt to work a tremendous amount on difficult tasks, or to focus on easy, more fun tasks? Say, are you more likely to build a bridge (even if you are outstanding at this, but hate doing it) or to write a novel (even if you are absolutely Danielle Steele at this, yet nevertheless enjoy it)?
The only solultion to the dictate "from each according to his ability," is to turn it into a mandate for slavery. "From each according to his ability" then becomes a justification for the forcible extraction of labor from the individual. If you choose not to apply your abilities, then you must be enslaved and forced to apply them--this is half of the recipe for a totalitarian society.
The other half of the recipe is supplied by the rest of Marx's dictate, "to each according to his needs." This is a call for the total dependence of the people on some distributor. Since needs, beyond very basic subsistence, are subjective, as noted above, and these subjective "needs," when morphed into "wants" naturally outstrip the scarce resources present (I want beach front property in California, a house made out of gold, scores of servants, fancy cars, etc.), there must be a distributor to determine people's needs on an objective level if society is to function. This determination will necessarily be arbitrary, and will ween a people totally dependent on the distributor, and beholden to it for everything--food, clothing, hobbies, etc. This is the dictionary definition of a totalitarian society. The totality of one's life is dictated by another, and dependent on another.

These are problems that would inevitably result from having ability be the standard for production and need be the standard for distribution--that is, for there being two radically different standards for the production and distribution of goods juxtaposed uncomfortably (and, I would say, unnaturally) next to each other. The natural tendancy is to use as little of one's ability as possible (at least as it pertains to work, and not to the pursuit of one's pleasure) and to fulfill as many of one's needs as possible.

The capitalist solution is to reward people for their work in proportion to its demand from society. People are paid more for doing work that others value. This motivates the use of one's abilities. Then, people are supplied goods according to the amount they are willing to pay for them. This rations out scarce resources to those who most value them, and allows each person to decide their own needs, and rank some needs above others. Which all, in turn, allows the individual the capacity to make decisions about their life, rather than some, hopefully benevolent, but always controlling and totalitarian, distributor.

5 Comments:

Blogger Grant said...

How about the inverse of Marx's proposition "From each according to his needs, to each according to his ability."?

That is, people should work as much as is necessary to supply their needs, and they should be rewarded for said work according to their ability (as appraised by supply and demand).

3:44 PM  
Blogger Grant said...

Well, I'd say its good as far as it goes (that is, as a nice slogan for a screen-print T-shirt featuring a Che Guevara-esque stylized Marx, to be worn by smug libertarians with appropriate irony) but not necessarily as a defining dictate for the operation of an ideal society (that is, municipal government in Lindsborg, Kansas).

So, y'know, don't put to much intellectual stock in it. But, rhetorically? Go right ahead, baby--you're gold.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Logan C. Adams said...

As a business owner (lcaphoto.com) let me say the following:

Capitalism Rocks.

Also, I recommend against commenting on your own posts so much when no one else has. It's like you're talking to yourself, and it's freaky.

But it is a free country, after all, so do what you want.

6:30 PM  
Blogger Grant said...

Heh, who let him in here?

6:51 PM  
Blogger Grant said...

Don't look at me, dude. I thought he was with you

6:52 PM  

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