Sooner Or Later, Individualism Must Fall

Sooner will make human survival more likely.

Efficiency equals profit
By Ian Pinkus
Jun 8, 2007, 05:35

Editor’s Note: Ian Pinklus reflects on how the ideology of individualism has trumpeted and triumphed over almost all individuals living under monoply capitalism’s “free market” economy based on the natural need to acquire maximum profit for the fewer and fewer owners of production.

Individualism — my individual needs and desires are greater than social needs and wishes — instructs us to accept as “natural” that there will always be winners and losers. I believe that imposed economic competition presents all of us with the need to face moral dilemmas in all aspects of life. Therefore, we anti-capitalists (including socialists, communists, anarchists, autonoms and any other collective approach to society) must find ways of communicating with our fellows with moral arguments aimed at destabilising individualism and replacing it with collective moral agendas. So, our fight must not rest only on economic incentives–more wage per hour of labour imput — but more on how can we best live with one another. The messages of idealists and materialists — such as Jesus and Ghandi, Marx and Plekanov, Lenin-Stalin-Trotsky, Che, Castro and Chavez–should be interwoven in our struggles. And we need to see one another (all of us anti-capitalists, including those with whom we are stragetically or tactically in disagreement) as brothers and sisters in the global struggle to create a world based on justice, equality and peace. Ron Ridenour, columnist.

Not long ago, a correspondent to the Morning Star letters column suggested that Tesco be nationalised.

Strictly speaking, what was proposed was that this should become a plank of policy for the left. I suspect that the suggestion may have been made a little tongue in cheek. All the same, it brought to mind some interesting, as well as some rather depressing, possibilities.

First, it would not make sense to campaign solely for the nationalisation of Tesco. We would not want the other “one-stop grocery” giants, such as Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrison to feel left out.

Anyway, partial nationalisation of the industry would miss the point. The ultimate objective is common ownership of the means of production. Nationalisation of one industry, let alone just part of one industry, is no more than a stepping stone.

But let us be realistic. In the present economic climate, the proposal to nationalise almost any industry would be met with derision and ridicule from the political establishment.

We can more or less be certain that 99 per cent of economists would be aghast at any such proposal. They would lead the opposition to it.

We know that they would argue that nationalisation would harm the industry or industries concerned. They would argue that enterprises such as Tesco could never operate as “efficiently” under public ownership as under private ownership. They would cry that nationalisation would be an economic disaster.

What they are argue is that enterprises in the private sector are more motivated because they need to make a profit.

From the top down, from directors, through the managerial strata to the shop floor, the profit motive drives what they would term “efficiency.” It seeks out waste and eliminates it. It finds innovation and rewards it.

State-owned and run enterprises invariably provide both managers and workers with greater job security. Failure to turn a profit does not immediately threaten the workforce with redundancies and unemployment. The profit motive is not uppermost, so individual performance is not prey to the firm’s balance sheet.

Since the principal test of “efficiency” in a capitalist economy is the size of profits, the claim that private-sector business are more “efficient” becomes self-justifying.

The track record of many, though by no means all, privatised industries suggests that they are more innovative, more cost conscious, more profit-oriented and, overall, more profitable than their nationalised predecessors.

But the reason does not lie simplistically in the fact that they are owned privately rather than by the state. It lies in the ideological framework within which they operate.

Capitalism uses economic incentives to cajole and motivate economic agents, whether they be directors, managers or workers. The vast majority of people who go to work – indeed, the vast majority of the population, accept these economic or financial incentives, not just as justifiable but as “natural,” part of the way that the world is.

They have been brought up to accept such values and norms by their families, by their schools, their religions and their televisions.

Almost all of us, even if we intellectually reject these values, cannot but help live some significant part of our lives governed by them.

Such ideological values are not restricted to economic concerns. These are just a part of a whole ideological range of value systems that extend into all quarters of our individual and social lives.

Underpinning this ideological framework are some very basic values. One of the most significant of these is the principle of individualism.

‘The main test of efficiency in a capitalist economy is the size of profits, so it’s not surprising that the private sector is “efficient”.’

The primacy of the individual as the basic unit of capitalist society is well established. It did not need Margaret Thatcher to pronounce that there was no such thing as society, only individuals. In the 19th century, utilitarian philosophy and Darwinian science had already established individualism as a foundation stone of bourgeois thinking.

The influence of this philosophical cornerstone extends to all aspects of our lives. In no aspect is it more apparent than in our economic behaviour.

We are a workforce trapped in an economic system not of our making. Our need to provide for ourselves and our family forces us into competitive behaviour where our success is at the expense of someone else’s failure. The ramifications of this are manifest to all of us on a daily basis. As socialists, this confronts us with moral dilemmas each day.

So, whether we acquiesce to the values of the marketplace willingly, unwillingly or unconsciously, we comply with its demands.

Hence, it is not surprising that the stricter, profit-driven financial incentives of the private sector are likely to prove more effective in driving the workforce towards the creation of higher profits.

We can take some comfort from the fact that, so far at least, bourgeois capitalism has yet to successfully privatise health, education and social services. But the Labour government will do its best.

Recently, it proposed 17 licensed casinos. Not for a microsecond did it contemplate the possibility that they might be state owned and run.

In France there are no betting shops, no private-sector betting, there is only the PMU. This is a state-owned and run system of pool betting. In Britain, we call it the Tote.

Is this just a hangover from when France was socialist? Not at all. Australia, whose socialist credentials are less than those of France, also has a state-owned Tote that has a monopoly everywhere except the racetracks. And, in Hong Kong, that showcase of capitalist success, there is a complete Tote monopoly.

In Britain, the state-owned Tote has to compete with the private sector. The Labour government is in the process of privatising it.

The proposal to nationalise Tesco is a sharp reminder of how capitalism is constantly undergoing change.

Even 20 years ago, Tesco would not be anywhere near to the top of the nationalisation “must-do list.”

Today, it is one of the most obvious targets. Tesco has grown fast and big. Its expansion is a fascinating illustration of a growing trend in modern capitalism for industries to become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

Monopoly capitalism continues to grow and restructure the economic landscape. This is largely the consequence of technological advances and it is unlikely to stop.

Ironically, it also brings closer a realistic prospect of common ownership.


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1 Response to Sooner Or Later, Individualism Must Fall

  1. Anonymous says:

    I didnt read any of this article – its too long. But generally I approve of the idea of it. And by not reading something as potentialy thought provoking as this Ive saved time to spend on useful endevours such as, you know, reading fiction.

    Mr A Tick

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