Saturday, May 23, 2015

Utopia: Nowhere or Now Here

 Utopia is possible

If you're deaf, dumb, and blind to what's happening in the world, you're under no obligation to do anything. But if you know what's happening and you don't do anything but sit back idly then you are complicit in the exploitation and oppression taking place. It is already clear that business as usual is leading toward catastrophic collapse of the natural eco-systems that billions of people depend upon for their livelihood. Social and environmental problems are not accidental, but are direct consequences of our capitalist system of production and consumption. The logic of profit is to clear-cut every tree and move on to the next forest.  Greenhouse gases will increase as long as our economy depends on fossil fuels, controlled by some of the wealthiest corporations in history. Converting the whole economy to recycle materials and use renewable energy, abandoning fossil fuel investments, would impose huge costs on business budgets. Under capitalism, decisions on what and how to produce are made by owners and executives maximising profits by increasing sales and decreasing costs. Securing an environmentally sustainable production system will require fundamental political and social change. Human and environmental needs can be brought into sustainable balance only if production and distribution takes account of all environmental consequences. This requires conscious planning and foresight.  For all the impacts to be taken into account, the people affected must participate in planning and decision-making. Rather than trying to just patch up a system that isn't working, let's work for a system that really meets human needs.

Another world is really possible. Imagine a world guided by a "caring economics." Complete detailed “blueprints” are both impossible and unnecessary but the project of elaborating on the outlines of a future socialist society is essential. A sustainable economy requires production to be democratically planned and controlled by well-informed people. The environment can be sustained by sharing of resources and by cooperation rather than acquisition and competition.  We call this socialism.

After socialism is achieved there will be an initial period of rapid expansion to provide a decent way of life for those currently in poverty and destitution, a steady state society will emerge where the enormous power of planning, combined with the release of human resourcefulness will enable huge steps to be taken to preserve the environment. What will it actually consist of? It involves allocating resources of labour and materials for the production of goods and services for the benefit of society as a whole, rather than to make profits for the capitalists. It will operate at three levels, locally regionally and globally and will be implemented either industrially or at the individual enterprise.

Since Marx’s day, economists and academics have written books about why socialism cannot work. One of those criticisms is that planning the efficient allocation of resources is impossible because of the vast complexity of modern industrial society where millions of economic transactions take place every day. However most of these economic interactions are between enterprises, they do not involve consumers, and it is quite clear that present day multinational corporations conduct planning of a similar complexity to that required by socialism all the time. The activity of the multinational companies answers a further criticism that the operation of supply and demand to determine price is the only efficient way to proceed in the exchange of goods. In their operations companies simply allocate resources between factories without reference to the market. Boeing uses central planning to develop and build new airplane designs, when a sky scraper in built it's based on central planning. Central planning brings water to your house and empties it back out to the sewer. What planning isn't central? It's the only way planning can be done, otherwise CEOs couldn't run their company, you would get airplanes that couldn't fly, skyscrapers that collapse and sewage backup. Yes, there will be a need central planning in socialism!  But since the system will decentralised, all of the day to day planning on energy production, manufacturing, food harvesting, etc., is done locally and automatically, based on algorithms and feedback loops. There really isn't that much for a command economy commissar type to screw up, and actually, there isn't any room for a government bureaucrat.

As far as planning for consumer needs are concerned the key point is that means exist that can respond to their demands. Today, supermarkets use bar-codes and scan the consumers’ purchases and technology link that to their warehouses and these in turn are connected to suppliers and growers. It is an automatic process. In addition to this, techniques such as market research and using the internet feedback will make the tasks faced by future socialist planners enormously easier. It is important, though, not to exaggerate the role that will be played by the internet or look for a ‘technical fix’- the existence of democratic institutions such as consumer co-operatives will be paramount. The role of democratically elected and powerful consumer bodies will also make sure that shoddy goods are not produced and quality is maintained. Here as well, the advances in modern production management techniques can be applied, since the future socialist society will inherit a culture, associated with the highest levels of technique developed by capitalism of the “the customer comes first.” Planned obsolescence will itself become an obsolete concept, where good will be designed and made to be recyclable and repairable. The condition of the environment will not be subject to the whim of the capitalist market, where it will always have a low priority.

The Socialist Party hopes to connect the struggle at the ballot box of today with the struggle for a socialism that is implemented once victory is won. 

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