Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Inequality 2: To Each According to his Needs...

When I was still a Marxist-socialist in the 80s as an undergrad student at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman campus, and later as a working professional, I was enamored by a number of beautiful quotes from Karl Marx.

One such quote, referring to social allocation of resources, was:
To each according to his needs,
From each according to his ability.
It was a powerful, dramatic and inspiring formulation for activists who were fighting for social equality, the eradication of mass poverty and exploitation of workers.

But I have left the Marxist and socialist philosophy almost 2 decades ago now. And more so in recent years when I embraced the free market, individual freedom, and limited government philosophies. Why?

      "To each according to his need".

Because need is unlimited, and that's where problems and social conflict arise.

Take healthcare. A couple with a terminally-ill child or spouse or parents, or someone who got lung cancer due to heavy smoking, or got liver cancer due to heavy drinking, or bad hypertension due to unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle, will demand that "health is a right, quality healthcare is a need". But if the disease will require very expensive medication and treatment costing xx thousands or million pesos, then the "each according to his need" formulation will go against nature. That we should not die early regardless of our biological, physical and economic conditions. That the state should use its coercive power and resources, to confiscate money left and right from the healthy and hard-working, so the sick and those irresponsible about their body will survive.

Inequality is necessary to allow people to excel and to penalize the lazy and irresponsible. If inequality is outlawed, then we can all demand that we should be equally rich as our wealthy neighbors and friends, even if we do not work as hard and as efficient as the wealthy guys. We can demand that the state should strengthen its income tax collection capacity, to confiscate as much income from the rich and hard-working people as possible, so that the state can redistribute that money to me and other less hard-working people.

The second line of the above formulation,

    "From each according to his ability."

If "need" will be unlimited and overstated, then "ability" will be limited and understated.

In a society characterized by socialized production and collective or state ownership of the means of production, one factory that produces manufactured and processed food has one of its important machines conked out. The machine mechanic may call in sick or pretend not to understand and repair a new machine breakdown. Remember, there is general equality of wages. The salary of the most unskilled or the most unproductive employee is not far from the salary of the most skilled employee. The factory boss, obviously with high salary because he is a party member or official, will call in the alternate mechanics.

The latter may be industrious initially because of possible promotion at least in position and prestige, but may soon realize that they will be called in everytime a machine conks out which sometimes requires overtime work or weekend work, with no corresponding increase in salary or bonus as inequality is frowned upon.

The alternate mechanics will soon adopt the attitude of the original mechanics. And soon, the factory will have diminishing food output; and soon, people will have fewer food supply and may face rationing of certain processed food.

In this case, there will be social equality. People will be equally poor and starved, except the (socialist or communist) party officials, of course.

That is the likely result of "From each according to his ability."

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