War Socialism Is a Step toward a Natural Economy
War Socialism is a step on the path from USAmerican-style Fascism to a Natural Economy. I used the descriptor “natural” because the economy I had in mind is the internal political economy we expect to find in a well-regulated extended nuclear family. The name of the process that moves a society along that path is Dematerialism. (From time to time, I have referred to the ideal society that we hope to reach after a very long time as Dematerialism, whereas I should have reserved the term for the process, which constituted pretty sloppy writing, I must admit.) In this section, I intend to show that, in order to be sustainable, a War Socialist political economy must embrace the most important features of the Natural Economy envisioned in On the Preservation of Species and elsewhere, namely:
1. A consumer-planned economy subject only to the consumer's responsibility (a) to use no more than 1/Nth of the total sustainable dividend of the economy (measured in emergy units) where N is the number of consumers and (b) to reproduce himself only, to pass on his reproductive rights to another, possibly a person who dominates all others with respect to excellence in his principal endeavor (I am reminded of all the young men named after Nolan Ryan), or not to reproduce.
2. Direct participatory (Aristotelian) democracy with (a) distinguished persons in a fractal government selected like jurymen for limited terms that cannot be followed by other such appointments and (b) recall by direct vote of all members of the community who are the only permanent members of the government.
3. Direct participatory democracy in decentralized workshops owned in equal shares by all tenured workers, except that distinguished workers are selected by merit rather than by random chance. After all, managers of economic enterprises require more skill but wield less political power than do managers of governmental enterprises.
Regrettably, the term “Natural Economy” has been used to describe the political economy that will result whenever a community with institutionalized Deadly Sins is allowed to seek its own level. The Deadly Sins may be unavoidable from time to time, but nothing forces autonomous communities to adopt one or more of them as the basis of a social contract.
The Sloth Economy is Jay’s name for an economy in which the first and most important feature is that all useless economic activity is avoided. This idea was first presented by me in On the Preservation of Species. It was quantified in “Energy in a Natural Economy” at . The analysis was repeated, more conservatively, in “On the Conservation-within-Capitalism Scenario” at and, more rigorously, in “Energy in a Mark II Economy” . Presumably, these are the essays referred to by Jay as so sloppy that I am giving Dematerialism a bad name. Jay had better hope that the number he took from them for the energy to be saved in a Sloth Economy is correct. In “Energy in a Natural Economy”, I wrote the following:
A much more useful view of employment is almost never taken, namely, that the two most important aspects of employment are (i) the cost to the environment and (ii) the usefulness to the world of the products, e.g., food, clothing, shelter, health care, central heating and cooling, a few simple luxuries to take the misery out of life, and, from our viewpoint, computers and communications. According to this view, the world would be much better off if people who produce nothing useful would quietly amuse themselves at whatever they enjoy doing most, with which it is the purpose of a good education to acquaint them. Most people would not object to this arrangement provided they received the same living and enjoyed the same status as everyone else. Certainly, they should not expect more.
The reason I mentioned "expecting more" is that many of those who should be furloughed are accustomed to living quite high on the hog. The case of highly paid doctors, who are needed even when the stress of materialistic Capitalism has disappeared, troubles me, as they should not expect to consume at the level to which they have become accustomed. How do you think they will feel about earning the same as machinists? Will people still be willing to go to medical school? I think they will, but I'll bet they won't put up with systematic torture during their period as residents. That will benefit us all. (I don't relish being attended by an inexperienced physician who has been on the job for the last 30 hours but not much longer.)
The furloughing of honest workers – who have been engaged in unnecessary work or in providing goods and services to support unnecessary work – is what makes it essential that all members of the community receive the same fraction of the economic dividend regardless of their employment or contribution to the community. If those who contribute nothing receive the same as those who do, I do not understand on what basis anyone else has a right to expect more, especially under circumstances of extreme scarcity. One would not serve larger portions to the members of a nuclear family who contribute the most to the family economy, except in cases of greater physical need.
Moreover, there is no reason why people without formal employment should be slothful. The theory of intrinsic motivation referenced at shows that, in a Natural Economy, economic activity is fun and leisure activities are carried out in earnest; and, from time to time, persons not associated with a workplace may contribute to the economy. This is illustrated by the parable at . So far, War Socialism is an incomplete copy of Dematerialism except that its most important features, other than energy conservation, are unspecified.
How is wealth to be divided and how is community policy to be decided? There is very little choice if War Socialism is to be sustainable. The next feature I shall discuss is necessary to prevent class conflict and a descent to ochlarchy in the wake of Peak Oil, whereas the third is necessary to prevent the deterioration of production efficiency due to the ignorance and disinterestedness of command and control. Other features of War Socialism are likely to correspond more or less to Wayburn’s vision depending upon the wisdom of the architect.
War Socialism must maintain roughly equal incomes and real holdings among its participants because of David Delaney’s Point C. In Delaney’s own words, “The third dependence on economic growth is in the political and geopolitical need for tolerance of inequality. Differences of wealth are at least as great within the developed countries as they are between developed and developing countries. Think of the ratio of the average income of American CEOs to the average salary of workers in their companies. Domestically and internationally, the tolerance of the poor and middle classes for the existence of wealthier classes and countries depends on a belief in economic growth. The poor struggle, while seeing that others are wealthy and still others are grotesquely wealthy. The poor are told a story: if they keep to their work and to their diversions, and tolerate the rich, they will be better off in the future than they are today.
“They believe this story, or at least don’t revolt against it, because it is supported by propaganda and shared myths, and has been true for many. When economic growth disappears forever, the poor, like everyone else, will recognize that they will be progressively worse off, with no future relief possible. The peaceful tolerance by the poor and the middles for the rich will disappear. A peaceful end of economic growth would require redistribution of wealth, with consequent political and geopolitical contention. Desire to avoid the contention makes it unlikely that deliberate elimination of economic growth will be attempted before economic growth is ended by nature. The intolerance of differences of wealth that will then appear will itself not be tolerated by the rich, causing additional domestic and international conflict just at the advent of other adverse changes. At that time, if not before, tyrannical repression of the poor will greatly tempt the rich.” In either case, sustainability will be destroyed by class conflict as I outlined in an earlier post:
1. If wealth is not equal, there will be competition for wealth.
2. If there is competition for wealth, there will be winners and losers.
3. If there are winners and losers, the losers will get poorer and poorer in a steady-state or shrinking economy.
4. Since there are more poor losers than there are rich winners, as talent at competing for wealth is not very common, the poor will recognize that to take the winners’ wealth by main force and to prevent further competition is their best chance to survive. The “losers” in small bands might attempt to take as much for themselves and damn the hindermost; however, to raid the real bastions of the rich will require concerted action by nearly all of the poor, which establishes a precedent for community – and class loyalty.
5. The rich will pay soldiers to keep down the multitudes of poor until the army realizes that, no matter how much they are paid, they will never enjoy the privileges of the rich, which will place them squarely in the camp of those economically oppressed. When the poor begin their attack upon the rich, the army will either help them or not. In any case, War Socialism will collapse.
In an earlier post, I sketched a another brief outline of the argument for roughly equal wealth sharing through emergy accounting, which is ultimately the consumer’s responsibility after a period of community-wide rationing:
My argument should consist of the following at least:
1. I hope that we can agree that excessive consumption increases our ecological footprints if we suppose that every conservational measure to mitigate this effect is already in place and that an increase in our ecological footprint is inconsistent with sustainability. Thus, it is necessary to prevent resource dominance to make a community sustainable. Does anyone in this group have any objection to that statement? If so, we can go into details. I insist that everyone engaged in this debate read Delaney’s four points in Addendum 2 of .
2. The abandonment of the institutions that make resource dominance possible is necessary. Otherwise, human nature guarantees that some people will engage in competition for material wealth. So, imagine a system by which the emergy consumed by each member of the community is recorded and is reported to each consumer. Does anyone claim that no such system can be devised? If so, we can stop right here and deal with that objection. Finally, let us suppose that there is no financial or monetary system in place and black marketing is forbidden – under penalty of exile or summary execution I won’t say until later.
3. People can continue to establish pecking orders. The best mathematician will continue to enjoy more prestige than his colleagues; but, although jealousies will arise, they will result in murder and mayhem too infrequently to amount to a serious problem. The young ladies will continue to shower their favors on the best athlete and those who rise to the tops of their professions, but the “losers” will continue to pair off with members of the opposite sex and have as much to eat as the winners. We all know whose advice will be solicited in public meetings. Intelligent people can enjoy having additional influence over the policies of the community. Perhaps I can devise an experiment to determine if this sort of success is sufficient to prevent unhappiness due to the frustration of human nature.
4. Finally, I must introduce the scientific study of intrinsic motivation to show that people will do their work enjoyably even though they don’t need to do it to live but rather to be effective and therefore happy. See the work of psychologists Deci, Ryan, Condry, and others. The Rochester website is at with a few old papers listed at .
The second feature of a Natural Economy to which War Socialism will have to conform to become politically sustainable is direct participatory (Aristotelian) democracy with (a) distinguished persons in a fractal government selected like jurymen for limited terms that cannot be followed by other such appointments and (b) recall by direct vote of all members of the community who are the only permanent members of the government. Certainly variations of this are permissible; however, because of human nature, concentrated political power will lead to corruption and rebellion eventually. Moreover, since autonomy is an essential pre-condition for happiness according to Edward Deci and other proponents of intrinsic motivation, a society that has lost control of its own affairs will lead, eventually, to unhappiness, alienation, anomie, and either revolution or chaos.
The third feature of a Natural Economy to which War Socialism will be forced to conform is democratic command and control of the production of goods and the delivery of services. Nowadays, accountability within industry is divided among the stockholders, the boards of directors, the managers, and the workers. This is a scenario ripe for abuse as each group has its own agenda, which may be at odds with the best interests of the consumer, the neighbors of the facility, the suppliers of raw materials and other needs of the enterprise. Also, blame-shifting occurs. [Note in proof (11-3-96): In academia, the trustees, administration, faculty, chairmen and deans, staff, students, parents, and neighbors have conflicting agendas, which results in the worst conceivable human behavior.] Stockholders will no longer exist because of David Delaney’s Point D at . The only group that is indispensable is the workers and that is the group we should retain and vest all responsibility and control in.
Additional stakeholders are the consumers and the neighbors of the enterprise. The workers will wish to consider the interests of the neighbors and the consumers. The priorities of the workers should be (i) do no harm, (ii) ‘have fun’ provided (i) is met, and (iii) produce a quality product provided (i) and (ii) are met. Profit no longer enters the picture, even when (i), (ii), and (iii) are met.) In case of environmental nuisance caused by the enterprise, the neighbors hold the veto power – in keeping with the Freedom Axiom and the Environmental Axiom. Consumers can make their wishes known easily – directly or indirectly!
Workers will own the means of production personally but in the sense of custodianship. This is not the sort of ownership that can be transferred. Workers might elect managers from among themselves or managers might be chosen by their performance on standardized fair tests. Someday every worker will be qualified to manage because of universal education and because people who cannot cope will no longer have to participate in economic enterprises as they must do now for economic (extrinsic) reasons, i.e., to make a living. When this new ideal is achieved, managers, who might by that time be mere spokespersons, should be chosen randomly to prevent injustice. We see how badly elections fail to assure democracy in our political system and that failing should be addressed too.
The compelling reason why this system might be instituted without the abuses we now observe is that enterprises, including collective enterprises, can be simplified tremendously in a decentralized society. Nowadays, the building of a bridge across a river in Vermont may involve the input of thousands of people directly – legislators, entrepreneurs, lawyers, activists, special interests, engineers, construction workers, judges, etc. – and millions of people indirectly – who might vote in a referendum. In a decentralized non-materialistic society those who want to use the bridge are free to build it. They would have no reason to ignore the advice of ecologists and other forecasters, which would be available freely and on a volunteer basis. Gone would be the adversary nature of such a simple enterprise. One merely arranges for the materials to be appropriated from the economy and delivered to the construction site and follows the plans provided by the engineers who, presumably, are interested parties and will play a direct role in performing the labor of building a bridge. No one may be compelled to build a bridge to feed her children. People who build bridges intend to use them. Thus, management is replaced by consensus and government is replaced by the advice of professionals. We really don’t need politics to build a bridge.
June 13, 2007