Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In Praise of Idleness, Chapter Seven, Part Two

“The Case for Socialism,” Part Two, pages 105-117

Picking up from Part One with the remainder of Russell’s nine arguments for socialism….

6. The Emancipation of Women and the Welfare of Young Children   The economic dependence of women, whose housework is unremunerated, on their husbands cannot easily be remedied absent socialism. The state needs to see to the financial demands of children, and wives need to work outside of the house: architectural adjustments and the provision of nursery schools are part of the requisite reforms.

7. Art   The privacy fetish undermines public art, and this predilection also can be overcome with socialism.

Commercial motives are holding back the development of cinema: some observers even believe that the apex of the cinematic art lies in Soviet Russia. Profit-motivated authors, too, temper their writing to preclude offense and produce pap to widen their appeal. The state monopoly of publishing that an insecure socialist state would offer could be worse [-- a concern that Russell expressed years earlier.] In a secure socialist state, however, more free time for creative activity, and a norm that anyone’s work can be published if the expenses are privately covered, would lead to more creativity than now exists.

8. Unprofitable Public Services   There are many public goods, such as defense, that are poorly provided by individual, profit-oriented activity alone, and as a result, these goods are provided by the government. A recent addition has been public health measures, which the private enterprise fanatics have opposed, but which bring substantial benefits in practice. Private enterprise in this realm might involve blackmail via privately profitable threats to spread a plague: better that quarantine be a public mandate.

The scope for public provision of services has expanded, with education now being largely a public matter, though religious, charitable, and profit-oriented schools also exist. (“On the whole, the profit motive has had little influence on education, and that little bad [p. 108].”) Even areas dominated by private provision of goods and services are regulated by the government, and rightly so, as the spillover effects are often broad and long. Residents in one neighborhood of a city work in other neighborhoods, so multiple areas are affected through behavior that in itself is geographically isolated. Transport and economic development increase interdependence and undermine the self-sufficiency of towns and villages. Power stations have monopoly control, and unfettered, that control could be exercised in an extortionate fashion. Roads, railroads, and airplanes all advance, heightening geographical spillovers.

9. War   War is too dangerous to risk, and socialism holds the potential to reduce the risk of war – which is not to say that war is a capitalist invention. Economic motives are traditionally prominent in war-making, but so are status motives: spirited men enjoy war, and enjoy that women like men who are successful soldiers. Global socialism would be an effective antidote to war, but socialism in the largest, most powerful countries, would also offer substantial protection.

The intellectual case against war is now strong and widely shared, bolstered by the sufferings of both the winners and the losers from the previous war [WWI]. The next war will involve even more damage and death to civilians. Entire cities can be destroyed, and Britain has lost its longstanding immunity against invasion.

Despite the broad desire for peace, further war is on the near horizon. “The proximate cause, of course, is the harshness of the Versailles Treaty, with the consequent growth of militant nationalism in Germany [p. 110].” Nonetheless, the next war likely will bring a still harsher peace, and the process will repeat itself. So the answer lies not in winning a war but by ending the causes of conflict, which primarily are economic.

Economies of scale help to stoke the rivalry. Large factories can undersell small factories, so manufacturers need access to a huge market to be profitable. The US domestic industry has such a market, but the manufacturers of Britain, France, and Germany do not. Further, much industrial demand (such as for steel) comes from armaments, so industries profit from international tensions. German and French steel makers believe that they will flourish when their country wins the next war (with the costs borne by others), though their unsurprising confidence is unwarranted. The valuable ore in Lorraine switched from German to French hands after the last war, providing an example of the economic benefits of victory, and making Germans keen for their turn.

The capture of the state by large industries is facilitated by their tapping into popular sentiments, such as fear or resentment. Sophisticated self-interest argues for cooperation among European nations in ways that can improve well-being generally, but voices of reason are drowned out by nationalistic cant – and the cant itself is stoked by those with a financial interest in keeping tensions high. This is the mechanism through which modern capitalism causes war: the drive for profits produces propaganda that appeals to the worser angels of our nature. [Smedley Butler’s phrase “War is a racket” still echoes today. – RBR] An international democratic socialism that conducted the affairs of large industry in the interests of society instead of for profits would eliminate this mechanism for militarism – and even a partial socialism, comprising the most powerful countries, would go a long way to ending militarism.

Beyond the nine advantages already adduced, socialism can mitigate other problems. Decentralized, profit-oriented investment decisions lead to the absurdity of investment booms followed by low prices and bankruptcies. [This was a major part of the Soviet critique of capitalism, as put forth, for instance, in their 1930 book aimed at explaining central planning to young people, New Russia’s Primer. – RBR] Under socialism, transitions from old to new technologies can be made gradual, with younger workers being retrained for the new jobs; further, shorter work days will keep unemployment low. Those who are unemployed but who are willing to work will not suffer financially from unemployment. And the productivity gains from technological improvements can be shared between higher living standards and increased leisure.

Economic dependence on other individuals will decline under socialism, replaced by both less uncertainty and the state as provider. Wives will not be dependent on their husbands, and children will be less dependent on the qualities of their parents.

Socialism holds the potential to be good for virtually everyone, by sharply limiting economic insecurity and by decreasing the likelihood of war. The belief of some communists that socialism can only be introduced at the point of a proletarian sword in a class war is unfounded. Socialism has developed in the minds of its opponents an unnecessary and unfortunate connection both to atheism and to tyrannical rule. Nonetheless, socialism is consistent with religious views of all stripes, and most tyrannies are of the reactionary sort (though in battling these regimes, socialism might be contaminated with some of their bad features). “But in countries which still permit some degree of free thought and free speech, I believe that the Socialist case can, with ardour and patience combined, be so presented as to persuade much more than half the population [p. 115].” Perhaps there will be counter-revolutionaries, but their numbers will be small, and overcoming their opposition will not induce a socialist tyranny. And if the majority is not in favor of socialism, then it should not be imposed, in keeping with standard practice in democratic societies. [This is a point Russell repeatedly made years earlier.]

Some people say that the slow, evolutionary methods of introducing socialism are unrealistic in a world where fascism has taken hold. This might be true in fascist countries themselves, but is not the case in France, Britain, and America. Indeed, both France and Britain have socialist political parties with considerable support. In Britain, the socialists could soon be in charge. But even in power, they will face obstacles to implementing their policies, and a forcible implementation will be a temptation. But again, force will be to no avail in making socialist policies lasting. Indeed, departures from democratic methods strengthen the hand of fascists, not socialists.

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