Socialists: How would you deal with the "incentive" problem?

I'm asking in the context of current reality, not in a post-scarcity society. In a world of “from each according his ability, and to each according to his needs”, how would you induce people to work, rather than mooch? How do you avoid having high performers create black markets or leave?

So first I had a good chuckle over the ideological distortions among many pro-capitalist answers. Wake up folks. The data is in. This very old question has been thoroughly answered by real-world successes. For example:

1. **Open Source.** Many years ago I implemented Linux across hundreds of enterprise servers. It worked better (was more scalable, reliable and faster) than every other commercially available server environment. And all of the software running on those boxes was also Open Source. Some of it was authored by coders with pseudonyms, and supported by the faceless, nameless geeks in discussion groups. None of this software production cost anything. No one was rewarded. No one got an “attaboy” or ego boost from my implementations. All of the Linux-based environments were a product of passionate devotion to intelligent, flexible, open design. And because nearly all of the initial implementations were on old, retired hardware destined for the trash heap, there wasn’t even any capital outlay for that (it was like giving Moore’s Law a kick in the nads).

2. **Publicly Funded Research & Innovation.** Again returning to the tech industry, you know who created most of the innovations we rely upon today in our most beloved computing gadgets? Publicly funded academic and government research. Yup. And these students and researchers weren’t incentivized by the profit motive either. They were curious, or competing with their peers, or stubborn problem solvers…not folks working on commission or hoping for juicy patent windfalls.

3. **For Fun, Passion or Compassion.** There are clubs, societies, non-profit NGOs, government agencies, charities and a host of other organizations around the globe that engage the world with innovation, highly professional services, excellent products and high levels of productivity because they care. And the more they care, the harder they work, the more they innovate, the more they create…and so on.

The only reason that these obvious examples seem to be persistently overlooked by market fundamentalists is that they don’t want to see or acknowledge the obvious contradictions to their most cherished beliefs. Classic confirmation bias. In other words, the answer to “Where is John Galt” seems to be “He has no idea, because he can’t see the glaring truths in front of his face.”

My 2 cents.

Comment from Pieter Rossouw: "Great valid point. But, it’s hard to eat or drink Linux and if I wore it to town to see a movie I would be arrested. All 3 your points were made possible by wealth created by free markets affording the creators a good basic standard of living."

Ah that is the fantastical narrative that neoliberals, anarcho-capitalists, Randian objectivists and the like would have us believe. But it is false. What created the conditions for the activities, pursuits and values I’ve described was not “free markets,” but civil society. Without civil society - the rule of law, the willing sense of political obligation, the mutual generosity and support, the active engagement in society’s betterment, protections for the marginalized and exploited, the elevation of prosocial behaviors, etc. - there would be no “good basic standard of living.” There would be no social good at all…just thuggery. All of the wealth would simply concentrate in a few lucky thieves and cunning opportunists. That is the true nature of unrestrained capitalism and laissez-faire “free markets” - at least as demonstrated throughout history and into modern times. It is a lovely fantasy, to be sure, for us to believe that natural monopolies do not occur, that slavery does not occur, that oppression and exploitation do not occur, and that capitalism left unchecked does not simply result in a brutal resurgence of feudalism. But this fantasy is a distortion (and/or a nefarious hoodwink) that we need to leave behind - IMO as soon as possible, so that we can focus on what really matters.

From Quora post:

What do you think about Karl Marx's Fragment on Machines?


Well I think we have waded into the “deeper waters” of Marx’s complex thought here.

To appreciate what Marx seems to be saying, we need to go back to his fundamental assertion that what makes human labor unique is the creative and knowledge value that human beings add to their work. This is a critical consideration in understanding how capitalism then corrupts, distorts and negates this value - through subsuming labor, objectifying it, abstracting it, appropriating it, alienating it, commodifying it - in this case via mechanical automation. Machines help turn people into predictable, usable, but essentially valueless and non-living variations of fixed capital. At the same time (and here Marx contradicts himself a bit - or at least provides contradictory arguments for similar ends) machinery both reduces the time that human labor is involved in a given measure of productivity, while at the same time prolonging a worker’s capacity to work. In one way or another, Marx sees this as working against capital’s own definition of how wage slaves can enrich themselves, even as surplus value (profit) is expanded for the capitalist. Thus Marx is arguing that both the qualitative and quantitative value of labor is being eliminated in service to capital, and that this is - intuitively, if not obviously - unsustainable and self-defeating.

The second part of Marx’s argument, concerning disposable time, is a bit more subtle. What I think he is getting at is that the increase in worker free time because of automation will result in greater self-development of the individual. And this development, in turn, will inherently set itself against the non-agency of automatic, mindless, lifeless labor - because “real wealth” will then be measured in disposable time, rather than wage income. The irony he points to is that the objective of capitalism is to maximize surplus labor, while a consequence of that very effort is an increase in disposable time, which is antithetical to surplus labor. Further, all of these trajectories - an increase in disposable time, an increase in soulless labor, and a desire for greater profit from surplus labor - are all fundamentally contradictory. And this is what Marx hints to be an inevitable transformative current in society. At least I think this is what he is getting at here. If someone can find the original German for these passages and post it here, I might be able to provide some better insight. Translation is an art…and not always accurate if the person translating doesn’t understand the concepts being discussed.

As to what I think of all this…I think Marx is basically correct, and that history has already proven much his assessment to be valid. I also think that he was essentially inventing language for concepts and dynamics which themselves were relatively new, which is why his wording and reasoning can sometimes be so abstruse.

My 2 cents.

P.S. As I was describing this post to my wife, I ended up summarizing it this way: “Basically if Marx watched Office Space, he would nod knowingly and say ‘Yes, yes, I saw this coming….’”

From Quora post:

Why should a young person be a Socialist?

Simply put: because democracy should not - and in fact cannot - exist only in the political sphere. It must also be part of the economic sphere. At its core, this is what various forms of socialism are all about. That said, economic democracy in socialist proposals has often been coopted the same way democracy has been coopted in capitalist societies: by concentrations of wealth. Well, to be truly “democratic,” a society can’t have a small number of folks who a) make all the decisions, or b) control all the wealth. Wealth and power concentrations are how oligarchy and plutocracy are created and maintained - there is no “freedom of choice” in markets where corporate monopolies dominate, for example. This is such a fundamental historical fact, but it often gets overlooked in mainstream discourse on both the right and left halves of the spectrum. Socialism (and I think most specifically libertarian socialism…but that is my bias) acknowledges this reality and seeks to remedy it - so this would be a great starting point for any young person. The challenge, of course, is how to evolve such notions into a new, functional paradigm that replaces the tyranny of private ownership.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:

What exactly does "social ownership of the means of production" mean?

Thanks for the A2A.

Generally it means one of the following scenarios - which may or may not be combined into elements of a given political economy (predominantly, this tends to be a Mixed economy):

1. Workers control and own the means of production. See Mondragon Corporation as one example.

2. The community controls the means of production. See Elinor Ostrom's 8 Principles for Managing A Commmons as one avenue of research.

3. The State owns and controls the means of production. See State-owned enterprises.

4. Consumer-members are both the primary stakeholders and primary beneficiaries of the means of production. See Canadian Credit Union Association as one example.

Therefore “social ownership of the means of production” exists nearly everywhere around the globe in one form or another. The main differentiation from “private ownership of the means of production” is simple: it’s democracy. In some way, democracy guides these enterprises in a bottom-up way - via the electorate in State enterprises or CPRMs, or consumer-workers in the case worker/member-ownership. Contrastingly, in privately owned and managed enterprises, a few owner-shareholders make decisions in a top-down manner, and democracy (and the interests of anyone but the owner-shareholders) is not in play. Interestingly, the performance of socially owned and managed enterprises exceeds that of private ownership in nearly every metric (worker productivity, efficiency, innovation, customer satisfaction, worker satisfaction, etc.) except the profitability that benefits those private owner-shareholders. One has to wonder, then, what the point of private, for-profit institutions really is, since they are only benefiting already wealthy owner-shareholders who do not, in turn, pay taxes, give to charity, or stimulate the economy in a proportionate manner (that is, dollar-for-dollar in comparison to worker-consumers). In other words, they just pocket the profit or start another money-making enterprise with the cheapest labor and resources they can find - usually in the developing world where exploitation, pollution and eventual resource exhaustion are overlooked. So what’s the point of having private ownership of the means of production at all, other than concentrating wealth in the hands of a few…?

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:

What kind of world do socialists envision?

Answering the question: "What kind of world do socialists envision?"

Thanks to Daphne for the A2A.

First off it is important to differentiate between State socialism and other forms of socialism that are non-Statist, such as libertarian socialism, collectivist anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism, etc. It is often assumed that “socialism” equates State control and centralized empowerments, but that is an error.

Second it is important to understand the basic philosophical ideas behind socialism, which do not subscribe to the belief that a “fundamental objective” of all people is “self-enrichment.” The belief in “economic realities imposed on us by human nature” is a product of individualism and materialism, which are very recent developments in human civilization, and don’t actually describe how society has been organized or how it has functioned throughout most of human history. Neoliberal economists and folks like Ayn Rand have popularized (and propagandized) individualist and materialist beliefs so that they have entered into mainstream thinking, but it is important to realize that these authors have never provided a scientific basis for their ideas; they are invented fictions. Going all the way back to Locke’s conception of “labor appropriation,” there have been fundamental mistakes in evaluating human preferences and motivations that are simply not grounded in reality. In fact, most scientific research points in the opposite direction, toward what are called “prosocial” behaviors in humans and animals that contradict pro-capitalist assumptions about what motivates reflexes like generosity, kindness, compassion, sharing and altruism. To read up on this, do a search on “evolution of prosocial behavior” or “genetic predisposition for prosocial behavior.” Historically and biologically, humans are simply more geared toward collectivism than individualism.

What “hard core socialists actually want to happen” is freedom from tyranny. This is one of the basic building blocks of socialist thought. To achieve this freedom, one of the greatest oppressive forces of modern civilization needs to be recognized and disrupted: namely capitalist enterprises that enrich themselves at the expense of everyone and everything else. In your own language, it is these corporate monopolies that are “holding us for ransom,” and governments often complicit in service to corporations. If you are unfamiliar with the tyranny of capitalist corporatocracy, I recommend reading Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges, Yanis Varoufakis or Greg Palast on that topic. If you want to explore a more traditional critique of capitalism - you would also do well to read Marx’s Capital.

Socialists believe that, in order to create a more egalitarian civil society where relative equality, democracy and community are facilitated in the most effective ways, “the means of production” of all services and goods needs to be returned to the control of the people instead of the capitalist oligarchs. However, there is much debate around how best to do that - and that is why you see so many variations of socialist thought over time, from Marxism to democratic socialism to anarcho-syndicalism to Participism. If you were to try to understand all of these variations of socialism - and the sometimes subtle and nuanced differences between them - you would likely need to dedicate a few years to serious study. Alternatively, you could read books that cover a lot of historical ground in a more summarizing way, or offer proposals grounded in historical realities. There are probably two books I would recommend in this regard: Alec Nove’s The Economics of Feasible Socialism Revisited, and Peter Marshall’s Demanding the Impossible.

As a libertarian socialist, I am also a fan of Noam Chomsky, and you can find many of his lectures on YouTube that elaborate on socialism, capitalism, anarchism, democracy and so forth (just do a search on those terms). It’s well worth your time to watch a few hours of these IMO. From the libertarian socialist perspective, the same concerns over the tyranny of capitalist oligarchy applies to the State itself, as the State so often becomes the focus of plutocotratic manipulation. This is what we call “crony capitalism,” “regulatory capture,” “State capitalism,” etc. and it is the system under which most of the world currently operates. At the core of the socialist ideology is a well-proven observation that concentrations of human wealth - and/or concentrations of human power - are disastrous to our overall well-being and indeed the well-being of everything else on Earth. You could say it is simply an extension of the observation that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The natural end-state of our current form of corporatocracy will inevitably be the enslavement of most of humanity and the destruction or exhaustion of our planet’s resources - it is already happening via sweat shops, wage slavery, debt burdens and excessive and rapid environmental destruction. This is why socialists want to move beyond capitalism as quickly as possible to create a more compassionate, sustainable and egalitarian political economy.

My 2 cents.

What exactly is Libertarian Socialism?

Answering the question: "What exactly is Libertarian Socialism?"

Thanks for the A2A Binyemîn Alpaydin.

I like Tom Wetzel’s answer, but I understand that you are looking for a simplification. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if a complex idea like libertarian socialism can be easily reduced. However, I will give it a try….

Some elements common to many libertarian socialist proposals:

1) As little centralized State authority as possible - where power is distributed to the people as locally as possible (this is sometimes called “susidiarity”) through various methods of direct democracy, consensus democracy or citizens councils.

2) Greater democracy in the economy - for example, where workers own their own factories, bank customers own their banks, the community has a say in how local resources are used, etc.

3) Greater social equality and wealth distribution - where everyone in society has similar access to opportunities, productivity and civic participation.

4) Non-aggression - force is only used in self-defense.

5) There is less private property, and more common property shared by all - in some cases private property is completely eliminated.

6) Access to a basic level of income, infrastructure, and essential services (education, healthcare, etc.) is provided to everyone through voluntary agreement of all.

7) An emphasis on collectivism rather than individualism.

My 2 cents.

Comment by Jacob Hood: "So… Decentralized communism?"

Interesting that you should mention that: there is something called “anarcho-communism” that does fall roughly within the boundaries of libertarian socialism (IMO). However, communism from a Marxist perspective generally has had a heavier reliance on centralized controls (i.e. a strong central State), and that doesn’t mesh well with the libertarian perspective. However, many self-described libertarian socialist proposals have been heavily influenced by Marxism (Participism, for example).

What is the effect of fully commodifying labor?

Answering the question: "What is the effect of fully commodifying labor?"

Question details: Yanis Varoufakis said in his article “How I became an erratic Marxist"

"If workers and employers ever succeed in commodifying labour fully, capitalism will perish."

What does he mean by that?

Thanks for the A2A. First off, that’s a great article that I hope more people will read. Second, I think Justin Schwartz hit on some key considerations. Third, I’ll offer some additional thoughts….

We might assume that Varoufakis is referring to the vast historical arc of Marx’s historical materialism, as outlined in Das Kapital, that ultimately results in the collapse of capitalism. But there are some specific themes in Marx’s thought that Varoufakis touches upon, and which in and of themselves might account for Varoufakis’s statement.

For example, one theme Marx offers is that capitalism tends to convert all that is, in reality, about human relationships and interactions into some sort of monetary exchange value, and that this is an inherently bad thing, especially when it ignores (or devalues) the inherent, qualitative importance of those relationships and interactions in more human terms. If I say “I love you” to my wife, and in her mind that equates an expectation of material demonstration in the form of payment, goods, services, etc., then such expectation tends to undermine the intrinsic value of love and its importance in our non-material bond. In the same way, a trusting friendship can be replaced with money, in that I will only have expectations of you if I pay you, and you will only feel obligations to me if your are paid. So these are examples of commodification that are inherently destructive to human social relations (a conclusion which is obvious to anyone with emotional intelligence, but less so to someone who lacks it).

So what Varoufakis may be alluding to is that one of the most important “non-material” contributions of labor is what we might call creativity: the ability to add value (be it aesthetically or in terms of utility) to some raw material, which is a pretty amazing quality of human behavior. And in the same sense that we can’t quantify or commodify love or trust, we really can’t quantify or commodify that natural, unpredictable, inspirational creativity either. This isn’t entirely ignored in capitalism, where someone might pay millions for a Vermeer; there is an element of what Marx called “fetishism” involved here, to be sure, but there is also a very reasonable awe invoked by Vermeer’s profound and rare talent, and a consequent attempt to quantify what simply cannot be captured. Thus there is really no upper limit to such capture efforts, which is why such creations are effectively “priceless.” Sometimes this valuation is tied mainly to scarcity…but that’s simply not the whole picture (or painting in this case).

So if all labor (that is, all potential qualitative contributions that labor enables) were completely commodified by employers and employees in the sense described, then the very qualities that add value to goods and services will be completely excised. Take love out of a marriage, and what do you have? Take trust out of a friendship, and what do you have? Take creativity out of the means of production, and what do you have? This could be what Varoufakis means when he says “capitalism will perish.” That special human ingredient that fuels the capitalist enterprise and generates value (and ultimately profit) will be extinguished through the commoditization of all labor…so how could capitalism continue?

But this is just one take. Varoufakis could also just be alluding to the complete alienation of labor through its treatment as mechanized, tedious, robotically monotonous production by capitalists…another important theme in Marx. Or he could be referring to Marx’s predictions about the consequences of monopolies and an increasingly centralized means of production (and concentration of capital), which in turn prod the steadily impoverished masses into open revolt. Or he could be referring to all of these things….

My 2 cents.

What do you think of Dmytri Kleiner's 'The Telekommunist Manifesto'?

In answer to Quora question "What do you think of Dmytri Kleiner's 'The Telekommunist Manifesto'?"

Thanks for the A2A. I hadn't encountered the Telekommunist Manifesto until you asked this question, and have just finished spending some time with it. I think Kleiner offers good ideas, many of which I've encountered before in other socialist musings, and many of which clearly arise out of the Open Source movement - and most of them resonate with my own thinking about highly distributed, rhizomatic approaches. As a tool to help demonstrate viable alternatives to capitalism, I think his proposal of commons-based production ("Venture Communism") could be a useful model. At the same time - and this is an issue that Kleiner seems concerned with as well - it reminds me of the many past and present efforts to create such alternatives (communes, planned communities, Open Source construction sets, etc.), which remain fully embedded in capitalist systems, and in fact continue to remain reliant on them. In other words, they tend to invest in a "mimesis" replication to help escape the orbit of the dominant political economy. I don't think this is a bad thing, or entirely's just not a particularly strong meme to counter individualistic materialism. As with many Marxist approaches, Kleiner's critique of capitalism is well-articulated, but it takes on structural oppression and exploitation without necessarily addressing the self-medicated, escapist, indulgent and infantilized state in which modern consumer society finds itself. In other words, it presumes that people (workers, etc.) are already itching to self-liberate, without accounting for the moral altitude necessary to move beyond I/Me/Mine.

So, as a possible piece of the bigger puzzle, I think Venture Communism offers some interesting ideas, and could be attractive to some people. At the same time, I find that I also have trouble with the adversarial nature I encounter in a lot of Marxist thinking. Class struggle is so central to Marx's ideas, and there always seems to be an In Group/Out Group dynamic in play. And of course I too find myself shaking an ideological fist at the oppressive machinations of huge corporations and the commoditization of every aspect of life. But I tend to shy away from the fetishism of the Proletariat in Marx, or focusing so emphatically on the means of production as a panacea for societal ills. Yes, I think worker-owned collectives are a great idea; and yes, I think a return to a commons-based model of self-organized resource management is absolutely necessary. In fact I discuss these ideas at length in much of my work. For me, though, there are many other important considerations. For example, community-centrism is also a critical piece; the idea that geographic communities (rather than the virtual communities that Kleiner describes) should be a basic unit of organization, that civic engagement and economic activity should occur first and foremost at the geographic community level, and that these communities should have a pronounced influence over local production activities, are all more critical to me than worker-empowerment per se.

Why? There are a number of reasons. For one, virtual relationships are limited; they are not truly multidimensional, and not fully interdependent. In fact, they tend to reinforce both a false sense of atomistic self and the "okayness" of incomplete sociality. In contrast, what occurs between people who see, touch, smell and hear each other in-the-flesh - and live together in cooperative ways - adds exponential depth to human interaction, increases a sense of belonging, enhances collective investment and communal accountability, and consequently enlivens and expands interdependence. In this way, the prosociality that strong community elicits helps erode the fundamental destructive features of capitalism. And this speaks to an even deeper issue for me: that individualism and materialism (and the moral immaturity they represent) are more substantive barriers to horizontally collective liberty than the Bourgeoisie; the real "boogeyman" is within us - it is the self-absorbed ego that craves easy gratification to animalistic impulses, and cronyist, clientist State capitalism is merely a byproduct of that underdevelopment. Thus community isn't the whole solution to this challenge either - but it is a critical piece.

This is probably why I'm not the biggest fan of anarcho-syndicalism as a standalone solution, and why Kleiner's proposal isn't a complete solution for me either: these simply don't address this more fundamental, inner challenge of requisite moral development. In fact I think that many libertarian socialist proposals (Participism, for example) also fall short of addressing this issue, and even though they have influenced my own framework, they are just a piece of the puzzle. What I feel add essential value to the moral development discussion are the ecology-centric ideas in Permaculture, Deep Ecology, Ecosophy and the like. This is where we begin to see the requisite enlarging of individual identity beyond individual ego, tribe, class affinity, or indeed even community. Again, though, even here the expectation is that participants will have already realized the importance of the ecosystem on which we all rely; they are preaching to the choir as it were. So moral development is still a separate issue that needs to be addressed, and that is what much of my own work has sought to engage. That is, in part, what Integral Lifework is about.

My 2 cents.

What do socialists think of Takis Fotopoulos' model of 'Inclusive Democracy'?

In answer to Quora question: "What do socialists think of Takis Fotopoulos' model of 'Inclusive Democracy'?"

Okay so I'm biased because I identify as a Libertarian Socialist, and ID falls squarely and neatly into that frame of political economy. Of course there are many, many other proposals that also fall within that frame. Personally, I think we should look at all of them (see Libertarian socialism ( and be very flexible and dynamic in any application. I'm a firm believer in the pilot principle and subsidiarity; for example you could have agreement about standards at the boundaries of various community-based systems, but each system could operate relatively autonomously within its own boundaries. But the smallest "boundarized" unit will probably need to be what Foutopolos estimates for his "demotic assembly." I also like his idea of democratic economy, but again I think we should look at Parecon and other proposals too, and I suspect that direct democracy can't quite replace the need for economic experts at the macro level. Along these same lines regarding governance, I think ID is insufficient. In my own proposals I discuss the need for technocrats who are either elected or appointed from a qualified pool via civic lottery. The idea is that, as the systems, services and infrastructure of society become more complex (both in terms of technology, scope and interdependence), there will need to be folks who are experts in various fields that help manage those systems, services and infrastructure. And this would apply equally to macroeconomic issues. What resonates the most strongly for me is Foutopolos's inclusion of paideia in his vision - this is very similar to my own inclusion of Integral Lifework as a building block for a more compassionate and holistically intelligent citizenry where, just as in ID, political responsibility and engagement are not just a facilitation of self-protective or egoic desires, but an expression of one's own moral convictions about love-in-action.

My 2 cents.