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In Pittsburgh, we don't take the bus to our destination. In Pittsburgh, we walk to our destination, possibly with the assistance of the bus.

In Marxist thought, the notion of wage-slavery is a critique of pre-Marxist economic relations, whereby people are forced to channel their creative energies as directed by the owners of capital, in order to be paid and meet their basic needs. In this process, the worker is alienated from their creative self (creative in the sense of create) - their natural inclination to labour is alienated from them and they lose to some degree the joy in accomplishment, this being (my addition here) reserved for work purely chosen by them. In modern times, hobbies may much resemble work, but because they are self-directed, the pleasure in accomplishing an entire task is retained. Marx likewise criticses division of labour - it makes it harder for a craftsman to identify with the end product of their work, making them a cog in a machine. Under marxist communism, we presume that workers have their basic needs met by society and their creative efforts are theirs to use as they wish - they are an artist, presented with the smorgasboard of societal needs and their own interests, directed only by a strong form of the core communist ethic, "From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs".

With this, we respectfully dissent. I consider the effects of this dissent placing me outside marxist orthodoxy, although one could reasonably conclude instead that it makes me a non-marxist communist (I don't particularly care about the classification). I believe the characterisation of wage-slavery as essentially fair, but I don't think society should pay the costs associated with its complete abolition - I am not convinced that eliminating it entirely is a workable model (if it is, it is for the distant future). I am not opposed to it should it prove to be workable, but I have doubt enough that it is that I feel we should oppose its existence as doctrine. Instead, I feel we should commit to a system that is not based as much around ownership as it is around institutional democracies.

First, let us consider the basic obligations of society towards its members, and state them as powerful priorities. We divide people into three groups, based on merit and applying only to individuals:

  • Those unwilling to labour for the good of society
  • Those willing to labour for the good of society
  • Those who commit themselves to excellence in labour for the good of society
Orthodox marxism poses that everyone would naturally gravitate towards the third in a just society, and it is the present organisation of society that causes people not to do so. We recognise that there are creative drives in society and that at least some people are naturally inclined towards the third. However, we are uncertain if everyone would, so we commit to the following:

  • Those in all groups should be entitled to reasonable-if-minimal food, shelter, health, and water
  • Should that be accomplished, those in the second and third groups should be entitled to residency, education necessary for employment and good citizenship, more reasonable levels of the previous, and general reasonable comfort in living
  • Should that be accomplished, those in the second and third groups should be entitled to lifelong education and reasonable travel for enjoyment
  • Should that be accomplished, those in the third group should be entitled to honours and somewhat higher levels of living space, moderately more posessions, etc. This disparity must not be excessive, and must be the result of a conscious policy decision, not unmediated market forces (tax does not qualify as sufficient mediation).

Status is, as noted, on a per-individual basis - it is not inheritable, and its implementation with regards to families or other types of cohabitation is a detail that would need to be worked out.

Institutional democracies might take many forms, but they focus on administration of the means of production, owned by society in general, administered in joint between bodies composed of the public at-large and those in a particular trade (or organisation engaged in that trade). There is more than one particular form of this that is acceptable to us - we could imagine having competing organisations performing the same task, each organised by consensus or democracy internally, exploring different tacks to various business problems, and each having the public interest represented by organisations representing the public at-large (e.g. universities, factories, medical groups). Alternatively, we could imagine a more unitary model. In the end, unless we should prove capable of otherwise as a society, we will remain wage-slaves in the strict marxist sense, although this slavery will be much lessened without a culture of ownership.

We further note, primarily as an aside, that an added aspect to guaranteeing reasonable-if-minimal food, shelter, health, and water is that the existing problem in modern societies where those who have spent time in prisons and are released will, if unable to care for themselves with their skills, occasionally commit crime in order to return to an environment where their basic needs are reasonably met, is heavily mitigated. It is heavily problematic when we guarantee so few basic service for those unable to productively labour (whether they would do so if given education and opportunity necessary to) that they would have their basic needs met better under incarceration.

Today was full of anxiety and sketching, more creative output with no meaningful socialisation. I now have a very warm cat asleep on my leg. On the upside, being asleep, she has stopped her deafeningly loud purring.


There is some difficulty in determining who is willing to labor or not, and/or commit themselves to excellence. How do you tell what labor or excellence they could produce, if only they were given what others have? Be careful reestablishing a class system. ;-)
Much of the injustice in the class system lies in the ability to leverage wealth to dominate others, the gross disparity in standards of living made possible by it, and the hereditary nature of wealth (leading to unearned privilege and the permanence of social classes).

There is indeed difficulty in judging excellence in a way that leads to some reward - I want to mark such things as allowable (and possibly useful) in principle, provided the rewards don't result in the problems above.
I had a similar reaction, I think: who gets to decide which people are in which group? And how do you compare the contributions of people in different fields? Does a street artist who works really hard get the same perks as a cancer researcher who works really hard, or are the benefits the same no matter how useful to society your efforts are?

As for the "existing problem in modern societies," I worked in corrections for three years, and I never met anyone who got arrested on purpose in order to get their basic needs met. It always struck me more as the kind of thing that happens in movies, or in the imagination of people who haven't actually been in jail before, than in real life.
I will see if I can find you studies on the latter. While working in a shelter in Columbus we occasionally had clients struggling with this (although it was strongest with clients who had spent time in prison in their late teens and early twenties, where the "it's the only society you know" factor comes into play).

I'm not offering a solution to the first matter you have concern with, but, semi-related, have you heard of the Bell/Weingarten experiment?
As a police officer, I agree. What I have seen is people, ONCE ARRESTED, trying to see their impending trip to jail in the best light possible and commenting something akin to saying they are better off on jail with the food/shelter/medical care thing. But they also ask me not to take them to jail in other parts of the conversation.
"Those unwilling to labour for the good of society"

How do you differentiate "unwilling" vs. "unable"? This occurs to me in particular because I work with disabled people, e.g., severely mentally ill, often with chronic physical health conditions as well. Some could do very little if any work. Others could maybe kinda probably do work for the good of society if they had the motivation and the opportunity.

Also wondering how you define "labour." Does caring for one's own family (including children, elderly and disabled relatives, etc.) count? Does seeking to improve one's own condition so as to become ABLE to do productive work, count?
Those who are sufficiently mentally ill should be considered not to be legally adults, with neither the obligations of society nor its freedoms. They would be considered minors, potentially in care of the state.

I think taking a reasonable amount of time off for maternity/paternity would be appropriate, but in the full sense labour should be at the very least mohistic - caring for kin or others where there is a strong shared identity is effectively withdrawl from the public interest and should make one considered category one. I should note though that a public policy goal for an advanced socialist state would be to increase work efficiency to the point that fewer hours of labour would be needed every day to comfortably sustain society - getting expected labour down to 25 hours a week (just tossing out a figure) would ideally leave more time for personal interests.

Willingless to labour is not the same thing as actually labouring. Ideally education would be mixed with some kind of labour the whole way through (and people would continue to take classes throughout their entire life if they're interested), but an actual willingness to labour is the criterion by which being societally vested is established. I suspect there will always be productive work to do of some kind, be it cultural, production of goods, administrative, or similar - not all labour is skilled labour.
"Those who are sufficiently mentally ill should be considered not to be legally adults, with neither the obligations of society nor its freedoms. They would be considered minors, potentially in care of the state."

There's a problem here. There's a long continuum of functioning from those who cannot perform the most basic tasks or exercise adult-level judgment most of the time, to those whose functioning ebbs and flows, to those who can manage some of their own affairs (e.g., live in own apartment) but don't go out much, to those who can work sometimes with supports (e.g., a job coach, job that is tolerant of frequent absence, etc.) to those who can maintain full-time competitive employment. Once again, physical disability also plays a major role.

Caring for kin is as instinctive as eating and sleeping. I don't understand why you consider it a withdrawal from the public interest. Welfare Reform, in recognizing child care as work but not caring for one's own children, has led to some real absurdities. For instance, Mom A looks after Mom B's kid while vice versa.

I don't often identify with a family values platform, but I do value the work of parents in caring for their children (and adult children for parents, and brothers for sisters, etc.).

You refer to people who are not willing to work. Do you really think there are people who are fully able to work, but not willing? Who are they and why do they not want to work? What could be done to motivate them? Remember that we are all subject to behavioral conditioning.
I am aware there's a continuum. This is political philosophy - it is meant as inspiration or raw material for "societal engineers" who would turn it into real policy. That transformation would either draw lines somewhere or smudge them a bit to provide some kind of a gradient. There's no way the intuitions and raw value judgements of political philosophy could be the actual rules of a society - likewise, Halakah and Sharia are composed on a lot of judgements and ideas following the basic ideas laid out in Quran and Torah (and law books in the US occasionally draw on both legal philosophers and political theoriets (like John Rawls)).

Your particular example of swapping for childcare is something I explicitly disclaimed - I would expect people to take time off for maternity or paternity, and the system should explicitly provide for that. In order to have an efficient society, care that is to be considered work should both be on a larger scale (although not much larger) and it should not permit people to withdraw from broader society. I think I provided a link to the Chinese philosopher Mozi in my last comment - I think his notion of universal care, while being a bit further than I would take it, is a very positive societal element that would be worth incorporating. As an added benefit, it would block for free some potential abuse of the system - a family who has significant parts of their resources caring only for their own.

There was a time in my life when I was fully able to work but was not willing given the circumstances - when I was unemployed between my CMU employments. Some of this was because of intense depression (which really hasn't gotten any better), some of which was because I was unwilling to take a non-university job. There are other forms of this - if someone simply wanted not to be employed for awhile, if not working becomes a habit, etc. Certainly conditioning might be applied as well in some cases to nudge people back towards work (depending on why they're not willing), but in the meantime a loss of some societal privileges is warranted.

(somewhat off topic)

I want to thank you for inspiring me to think about this stuff, as I haven't in quite a while. It seems the root question is about what one's economic utopia would look like.

To me, the key to such a state lies not only in policy, but in a major change in values. Of course, policy could help to move us in that direction; as my social psychology textbook put it, stateways CAN change folkways. Anyway, I tend toward a form of anarcho-socialism as an ideal system. The economy of such a society wouldn't be government controlled, but would be based upon voluntary cooperation and voluntary sharing/giving/creating. To refuse to share what one has with others who are in need would be seen the way child molestation is seen today: completely socially unacceptable, evoking revulsion in most people, very few even tempted to do it. On the other hand, to go above and beyond in either giving to others individually, or creating resources for the common good (whether tangible or intangible) would earn one widespread love and respect.

I guess that to be physically and mentally able to do productive work, but to refuse to do so, would be seen as refusing to share what one has with others who are in need. But really, I think most people do want to offer productive work. Even in your example, you were being picky as opposed to being unwilling to do anything productive.

We should differentiate from "work" defined as that which is valuable to the community--in the status quo economy that is often called "volunteering" or "activism"--as opposed to solely defining work as that which an entity with money chooses to pay someone to do. In the capitalist/mixed economy, even in far more prosperous times that today, many people who would be willing and able to do some valuable work can't find a paying job that will support their needs.

Re: (somewhat off topic)

Maybe those of us who are thinkers (all of us here, I think) who also have a daily lenghty connection (job, for example... you, me, Gatar) with the economically depressed and actually feel multi-faceted empathy for such people while other thinkers who do not have such a daily contact are more likely to have a colder, libertatian type of view.