by Jay Johansen | Dec 12, 2015
When I was a kid in school, one of my teachers -- his name was Mr Blue -- was a communist. Well, actually, almost all of my teachers were socialists or communists. I mean that in the literal sense: they believed that communism or socialism was superior to capitalism.
Anyway, one day Mr Blue told the class that opponents of communism often say that under communism, people wouldn't work. If society or the government supplies your needs regardless of whether you work or not, so the argument goes, then people would just be lazy and not work. But, he replied, this isn't true. He would still come to work even if he didn't have to, because he sees his job as important and he gets satisfaction from doing it well.
There are at least two flaws to that argument.
First: Yes, I don't doubt that he would still come to work. Sometimes. I basically like my job. I'm sure I'd work even if I didn't have to to survive. But I've had plenty of days when I just didn't feel like working. I've had plenty of days when I would rather go out and do something fun, like go to an amusement park or whatever. I've had even more days when I would rather sit on the sofa and watch TV, or just stay in bed. If I knew that no matter what I did, no matter how much I goofed off on the job or didn't show up for work at all, I would still be paid (or however we're assuming people's needs are met in this communist utopia), would I still work? Yes, probably. Would I still show up every day and work all day? No way. And I doubt Mr Blue would either. I'm sure there are some people who love their jobs so much that they would work just as long and just as hard whether they had to or not. But very few.
Second: Yes, I don't doubt that people with jobs like teaching would still work, at least sometimes. Teaching is a comfortable job: indoors, no heavy lifting or other strenuous effort, fairly independent and self-directed, lots of time off, and at least potentially satisfying and rewarding. Yes, yes, I'm sure it's frustrating dealing with kids who don't want to learn and annoying bureaucrat administrators and all that, but compared to many other jobs, it's pretty rewarding. There are people who would and do teach classes of various kinds for free, just for the satisfaction of it, as a community service or as a hobby. But what about jobs that are not so rewarding? How many people would work as hamburger flippers at fast food places were it not for the money? How many would work on factory assembly lines, or collecting garbage? Every society has jobs that need to be done that are boring and/or unpleasant. In your communist utopies, someone will still have to collect the garbage. In a capitalist society, we get people to do these jobs by giving them money. Few enjoy doing the work. But they do enjoy the money they are paid to do it. If there is no reward for collecting garbage, who will do it? If you were assigned the job of garbage collector, and you knew that you would still be paid whether you showed up for work or not, how often would you show up for work?
You might, of course, say that we would be better off to work less. Of course if everyone works less, we would produce less "stuff", and we would all be poorer. You might say so be it, we would be better off to work less and accept that we will have fewer material goods, but have more time to enjoy life, spend with family, etc. But that's a different question. The argument that Mr Blue and other advocates of communism make is that people would work just as hard under communism as they do under capitalism. That statement is obviously, probably false.
© 2015 by Jay Johansen
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