Backpacking, forced labor, and incentives to work

BY: Scott Hiley| March 16, 2017
QI wanted to get the perspective of someone on the other side of the spectrum from me on communism. In a communist society, what is the incentive to work? Does the goverment force people to do their jobs. How do you encourage people to become doctors or entreprenuers when they will earn the same income as a part time waiter. What if someone quits their job (if you can even quit) and decides to go backacking. Will they be jailed or executed? I'm legitimately interested in what you have to say.
ATerrific question!  Thanks for writing in.  My answer is kind of long, but I hope you'll find it helpful. (I'll add that I, personally, hope that socialism gives me more time to go backpacking.)

I think we have to start by looking at the incentive to work under capitalism. Most people living under capitalism work because they don't have a choice--they need to buy food, housing, health care, etc.  The wages they get only reflect a portion of the value they create. Most of that value goes to business owners or shareholders. So the choice is basically this:  use your labor to enrich someone else, or starve. In other words, capitalism blackmails people into working.

Because of this blackmail, most people in our society are working either far more than they should be or far less than they want to.

Think about automation--robots in factories, automated checkout in stores, etc.  If human labor can be replaced by machines, it should make our lives easier and more comfortable. Since less human labor is needed to produce the same amount, we should be working fewer hours for the same pay.  Instead, it has made some people work longer hours for less money while others are unemployed or underemployed.  That's because all the gains of automation and increased productivity go into the pockets of shareholders.

We Communists think about work quite differently.  First of all, we believe that adequate food and housing, clean water, energy, full medical care, and education are basic human rights.  They should be available to everyone, regardless of whether they have a job, how much they make, or how many degrees they have.  So we want to eliminate the blackmail that forces people to sell their labor to the capitalist class.

From that perspective, it's not really about getting people to work more--it's actually about figuring out what labor we need to have an innovative and prosperous society, and then distributing that labor fairly, so no one is being exploited and most people are doing something they like.  Salary differences would probably persist under socialism, but wouldn't be based on how much training is required (since education would be free).  Instead, more money or shorter hours could be used to attract workers into understaffed or undesirable, but necessary, fields.

Finally, entrepreneurship and innovation.  How do we get people to pursue new ideas?  I think this is an area where capitalism has dropped the ball.  Now, if someone has an idea they want to try, they have to invest their own assets and/or make the rounds begging for private venture capital. This means that ideas are selected for how profitable they are, rather than how important or useful they are.  If we had publicly financed entrepreneurship grants, where public money replaced venture capital and new ideas were public property, we could give people the freedom to innovate in ways that aren't possible in a high-risk, profit-dominated context.

So, to sum up, I see socialism as a way of transforming work from the compulsory labor of capitalism into a source of personal fulfillment and collective well-being.  Hopefully, we'll have enough time left over to get a lot of backpacking in, and enough unspoiled natural areas to do it in.


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