Tracing the roots of progressive views on the duty to work – Part 2

This is the second part in my historical excursion tracing where progressive forces adopted the idea that it was fair and reasonable for individuals who sought income support from the state to contribute to the collective well-being through work if they could. As I noted in Part 1, the series could have easily been sub-titled: How the middle-class Left abandoned the class fundamentals, became obsessed with individualism, and steadily descended into political obscurity, so much so, that the parties they now dominate, are largely unelectable! Somewhere along the way in history, elements of the Left have departed from the collective vision that bound social classes with different interests and education levels into a ‘working class’ force. As identity politics has become a preoccupation of what were traditional working class parties, even the concept of the working class has been subjugated into a ‘social’ class (lowly educated with racist predilections if we consider the Brexit debate, for example) rather than an economic class. And that is why the Left is split and the traditional social democratic parties have become increasingly unable to win elections even though the conservative alternative have been terrible. And part of that new divide is over work – the lack of it, the duty to do it, the vast variations in quality, and all the rest. In Part 2, we see how the duty of work concept permeated progressive elements in the West and allowed the different social classes (in the C. Wright Mills meaning) on the progressive side to bind into a coherent political force. That coherence is now gone and the lower-income workers are in revolt.

I finished – Part 1 – discussing a seminar I went to during my postgraduate student days where two leading (and very well educated) Soviet economists were discussing their role in the – Gosplan (the State Planning Committee) in the U.S.S.R.

I mentioned that during the Q&A, I asked two questions, one relating to whether workers in Moscow were really better off than a worker in Melbourne – the intent being to probe the idea that being part of a ‘Socialist collective’ somehow eased the daily grind of getting up each day and working (especially in Winter!). I wanted to better understand the social norms (if any could be articulated) that bound that society together.

My second question related to the so-called ‘Parasite Laws’ that prevailed in the USSR and followed on from the Article 12 of the 1936 – Constitution (Fundamental Law) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

This Law went to the heart of the way the Soviet system conceived of the duty of work concept, which they had derived from Marx’s Gotha Program insights “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

The response from commentators and social media that followed that blog post was rather interesting.

All sorts of self-righteous, self-styled Leftists were out there in force claiming I was a disgrace for using that terminology and that I obviously was advocating that people who wanted to express their maverick intentions not to work but still eat should starve.

Others claimed they knew I was a Stalinist all along and that I had finally come out and disclosed that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and the Job Guarantee were hard right, authoritarian programs designed to restrict freedom of expression, freedom of everything really. Somehow, the absurdity of the conjunction between extreme Right and Stalin passed them by.

Then others, seemed to think it was their role to defend society from any person who would take us back to the Soviet gulags and thought police. They obviously thought they had a duty to eulogise about how free capitalism had made us all.

It was somewhat breathtaking, although I would acknowledge I have been in that state my whole career, given the nature of my work.

The vehemence of the resistance to an academic discussion where I simply went back in history and sought to trace a lineage of an idea that had been and remains very influential in our societies revealed deep insecurities.

But why the hostility – that is what academic researchers do – look into things.

There is a pattern on social media and it is pretty ugly.

When Thomas Fazi and I mentioned in our book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, September 2017) – that Germany recorded strong growth after Hitler took power – the social media galoots went crazy accusing us of being Nazis and/or Nazi sympathisers.

Our paragraph was just reporting an historically factual statement – good academic research practice.

Now when I mention the USSR, I become a Stalinist.

Confused is not the word. Nazi one minute, Authoritarian Leftist the next. Oh how I change!

The other point is that the black and white – Soviet and USA – type reasoning evades obvious nuances.

Some years ago, I was working for an international organisation in Central Asia. In my travels as part of that work, I arrived in Kazakhstan one cold morning and after leaving the airport in Almaty, I asked my driver what all the buildings that looked like tin sheds were that seemed quite odd out on the periphery of the urban settlement.

He said they were shanty accommodation built after the fall of the Soviet system as older workers who had worked all their lives for the system and had a state pension and subsidised rent in modest apartments had lost everything. Market-based rents were introduced and pensions scrapped as the system embraced the free market. He told me that the older workers hated the new system.


There is a lot of research that explores these grey areas of the collapse of the Soviet system. It is not, however, an area I conduct research in other than look out of car windows and observe things.

Now back to the “parasite” question!

My question obviously pre-dated the Internet and the Political Compass – which is a useful (though not perfect) site for understanding non-binary Left-Right classifications.

They explain their approach in this way:

Our essential point is that Left and Right, although far from obsolete, are essentially a measure of economics. As political establishments adopt either enthusiastically or reluctantly the prevailing economic orthodoxy – the neo-liberal strain of capitalism – the Left-Right division between mainstream parties becomes increasingly blurred. Instead, party differences tend to be more about identity issues. In the narrowing debate, our social scale is more crucial than ever.

The four-axis are Left (Collectivism) to Right (Neo-liberalism) on the horizontal plane, and, Authoritarian (Fascism) to Libertarian (Anarchism) on the vertical scale.

One of their questions under attitudes about the ‘economy’ is: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is a fundamentally good idea”, which I clearly indicated I strongly agreed with.

Another question is: “Those who are able to work, and refuse the opportunity, should not expect society’s support.” You can guess my response.

I took the test again today (it takes about 5 minutes) and my results were pleasing – I passed with Honours (-:

Here is my chart (you can see a history of my examination results – Here).

Stalin and the dominant ideology during the early years of the USSR is found out towards the far North-West quadrant – Political Compass Analysis. I am in the far South-West quadrant – ideologically in another world.

The point is that my question at that workshop long ago was motivated by my disdain for the concept of a parasite – yes, Tweet that!

I was not (and am not) an expert on the culture prevailing in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, when their Constitution was formulated. But I wanted to know whether the sense of collective responsibility was a social norm especially given the State guaranteed full employment or whether it was just mindless authoritarianism.

I also wanted to explore the extent to which citizens (the workers) had discretion of where they worked and when, as a way of teasing out the differences between our systems in the West, which are hardly exemplified by unlimited free choice.

The sort of question a research student and aspiring academic would ask.

In 1963, Joan Fiss published an article that I had read as a student – Freedom and Occupational Choice in the Soviet Union in the journal Social Research (Vol. 30, No.1, pp 53-76) – where she explored conceptions of freedoms, particularly in relation to the labour market.

Joan Fiss wrote:

The ultimate purpose of this essay is an attempt to suggest in concrete terms the need for rethinking about both the nature of totalitarianism in Russia, and even more, the West’s conception of freedom.

That is, nuance.

Moreover, the social media heroes whose Tweet fingers jump at every shadow, could not possibly believe that things in the Soviet Union were anything but terrible and that workers were whipped into submission by a tyrannical regime.

Research suggests otherwise, which is not to say that there were not human rights abuses. But then what is Black Lives Matter about?

Joan Foss citing the work of Arthur P. Mendel (1961) said that it was not an exaggeration to conclude that in the Soviet Union of the 1950s and early 1960s there was:

– freedom from exploitation, unemployment and poverty, from discrimination on account of sex, origin, nationality, or race. Every member of society is provided with equal opportunities for education and creative labor … Each is guaranteed an equal and free choice of occupation and profession with due regard to the interests of society … As less and less time is spent on material production, the individual is afforded ever greater opportunities to develop his abilities, gifts, and talents in the fields of production, science, engineering, literature, and the arts …

It was that conception that I was exploring when I asked the question at that workshop about the “Parasite Law”, which by then (early 1980s) had been purged from the legislation in the USSR.

Joan Fiss’s article explores the question in some detail.

The point is that there was some choice but in the context of “the interests of society”, which is also not an alien concept in our Western societies.

For the Soviet system, Joan Fiss wrote:

Living on unearned income is a crime in the Soviet Union … By requiring all to engage in socially useful labor, even those people with the necessary means cannot choose a vocation of idleness. This is a legitimate vocation from the point of view of the individual, although its social inconvenience is obvious.

Clearly, their conception of society came out of the Marxist critique of capital – the unfairness of capitalists who own the material means of production being able to take surplus value from the system when they added nothing productive to the commonwealth.

As I wrote in Part 1, Marx recognised there were categories of people who should be supported materially even though they could not work either through age (young/old) or health (physical or mental). There was no hint in these systems that the duty to work meant that anyone who didn’t, for whatever reason, didn’t eat.

They were trying to expunge the role of the capitalist who they considered was surplus to requirements (excuse the pun!).

Interestingly, the development of neoclassical marginal productivity theory in the second-half of the C19th was in response to the growing awareness among workers, particularly in Europe, of the unjust nature of surplus value appropriation.

John Bates Clark, who is best known for introducing marginal productivity theory (MPT), which claims that all inputs to production – labour, land, capital and entrepreneurship – earn what they contribute at the margin to production.

Such a system is thus inherently fair. This work was promoted heavily by industrialists because they were facing revolts from workers who considered profits to be highway robbery.

Events, such as the – 1848 Revolts and the Paris Commune 1871 – signalled a growing surge of Marxist inspired unrest that was threatening capitalist control of production and distribution.

MPT was developed as an antidote to this unrest and Bates Clark layered the fraught technical analysis with heavy doses of morality and ethical judgements about fairness.

Readers who desire more detail on that might like John Henry’s 1995 book – John Bates Clark. Contemporary Economists – published by Palgrave.

Of course, MPT was thoroughly discredited in the 1960s during the so-called – Cambridge Capital Controversies – but like many orthodox propositions that are simply wrong, they linger because they have ideological weight.

So what about those “Parasite Laws”?

In his 1963 book – Justice in the U.S.S.R: An Interpretation of Soviet Law (Harvard Press) – Harold Berman wrote this:

… “adult, able-bodied citizens who do not wish to perform a major constitutional duty – to work honestly according to their abilities – and who avoid socially useful work, derive unearned income from the exploitation of land plots, automobiles, or housing, or commit other antisocial acts which enable them to lead a parasitic way of life, shall be subject … to resettlement in specially designated localities for a period of from two to five years, with confiscation of the property acquired by non-labor means, and to obligatory enlistment in work at the place of resettlement.

This law, of course, excluded the usual non-workers – pensioners, the sick, children, those looking after children (which was considered non-work in that era – perceptions change).

While the rules relating to these laws evolved over the years, the Soviet system still believed it was a constitutional responsibility of all citizens to contribute to the collective output if they could and in return the State would ensure that their would always be opportunities available to facilitate that contribution (jobs).

There were debates about whether such an obligation was justifiable and whether it should be enforced, but, in general, the dual responsibilities of citizens to contribute and the state to make that contribution possible, were strongly held views in the Post World War 2 period.

Lawrence Becker provides an excellent discussion of these points in his 1980 journal article – The Obligation to Work (library subscription needed)- published in Ethics (Vol. 91, No. 1, pp.35-49).

But it is important for the purposes of this discussion to understand that this type of thinking was not just found in the Soviet world.

Now, don’t think that because I have so far discussed the Soviet conception of the duty of work and introduced readers to these ‘parasite laws’ that I support sending people off to gulags if they refuse to work.

Keep those twitchy Tweet fingers quiet.

Go back to my Political Compass classification to see how absurd that proposition would be.

Part of the logic of these work requirements related to the fact that societies were much closer to the edge of food shortages and other material deficits than they are now.

Manual work for many communities was the difference between a viable food harvest and the production of basic necessities and famine and deprivation.

So while we might – in a sanctimonious and judgemental way – moralise about the shocking lack of freedom in the Soviet system and abuse those who offer any nuance to that view – it is better to appreciate that nuance and history and learn from it.

And the problem of material shortage was not confined to planned economies despite what the free marketeers might have us believe.

The early days after the Second World War were harsh for most people.

And, while the language and style of the Soviet laws regarding the duty to work were distinctive, and remember language is inherently cultural, the fact is that during the Post World War 2 period, most Western governments invoked similar requirements as they rebuilt their nations after the War.

As I will explain in Part 3, they were built on notions such as the ‘work ethic’, collective responsibility, reciprocity, and justice ideals. All of these concepts are indelibly etched in Western thought and progressive thought, in particular.

And while Western nations do not often invoke gulags and work camps as a means of social control, these ‘responsibilities’ are, nonetheless, coercive and reinforce social conformity.

And they are still widely held today if the work of social psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists is anything to go by.


We will come back to that next time.

In closing today, I just want to say how sad I am to hear the news that my friend Nguyễn văn Tuấn (aka Tuấn) has died overnight in Auckland. He was a tireless advocate for a better world and saw in MMT some of the answers to achieving that goal. We will miss him a lot. A wonderful life and a wonderful person. RIPower.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2020 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved

This Post Has 40 Comments

  1. They say the next generation will always be better off than the next.

    Yet, the generation before me were better off with only one parent working. Nowadays even with two parents working and working multiple jobs isn’t enough.

    When you can control the narrative and pump out propaganda night after night on the TV and radio and decide what gets into the media via the institutional editors. It is quite amazing what you can achieve and really easy to brainwash the public.

  2. Bill,

    Why do you feel the need to publish the results of your Political Compass analysis?

    You say you are engaging in an intellectual enquiry into the duty to work.

    Where do the two mesh?

  3. Very sad to hear that Nguyễn văn Tuấn passed away.

    Great series of posts on the social perceptions on the right to work.

    Here, in Spain, our Social Democrat- Progressive Left coalition approved a minimum income (a trifling amount per month, BTW) which is means tested. Very far from the UBI Podemos once promised.

    It appears that the Government is now re-examining the program. It has been reported that they want to introduce some work requirements to avoid reproach from the EU countries who are “generously ” funding the Transfers within the Next Generation EU scheme (BTW a hard look at the numbers with a spreadsheet reveals that the transfer to countries like Spain and Italy over time net out to zero).

    The issue is that this minimum income is below the poverty threshold. This means that, if this work requirement is introduced, the State will be exploiting people at a miserable wage.

    We offered the JG program to Unidas Podemos, a living wage in exchange for work. They said people would not Understand the concept, that the social demand was for a UBI.

    Well, lo and behold it’s looking like what the people will get is very similar to the Mita system in the 17th century Viceroyalty of Peru: compulsory work For the State at below market wages.

  4. Anybody written anything anywhere about the “Distributive Justice” argument for free money already being spoken for with the Retirement Pension?

  5. Bill Burr would say: “how come you can’t ask questions?” Noam Chomsky would say the old anarcho-syndicalists thought wage labour is not any better than slavery.
    The lives that were destroyed by the Red Scare, by hard-right propaganda that imposes illegal sanctions on countries like Cuba and Venezuela, policies that kill so many vulnerable people in capitalist societies, … not to mention the incarceration rate in the US is comparable to the height of the gulags in the 1930s. No wonder most of the generation born before 1970 in Eastern Europe desire for some of the order and safety of the old communist system.
    Why not have that and have freedom of speech and the right to vote, too? Why is it always one or the other?

  6. I wasn’t surprised you experienced an online form of “two minute hate” for mentioning the Gotha, Gosplan and all that, Prof. Mitchell. I’ve seen that happening before.

    Like Pavlovian dogs who salivate once a bell rings even if no food is available, some go ballistic at the mere sight of a word. That Pavlovian dog comparison is fairly good, even if I say so myself.

    My sympathy for the loss of your friend.

  7. ‘That coherence is now gone and the lower-income workers are in revolt.’

    No sign of that in the UK except, minimally, via propagandist channels that have dupes them into supporting a thugish Party that has massaged and manipulated them to chanel there efforts in the wrong direction.

    In the UK there has been very little resistance to austerity, unaffordable housing, zero hours. And the so-called collapse of the Red Wall (which had collapsed by 2010 and which was resurrected by Corbyn in 2017) was based on myths about national resurgence and the vilest of bluster which these people swallowed like hot cakes. And even that ‘revolt’ was only small.

    So I wouldn’t call it a revolt at all more a minor flag waving exercise based on disinformation and socila media manipulated knee jerk.

    There has been no significant revolt by the low paid in the UK-unless I missed something.

  8. “There has been no significant revolt by the low paid in the UK-unless I missed something.”

    You may have missed them voting Tory. And that the Labour Party doesn’t seem to care.

    What does it need for politicians to dump their social fantasies and deliver what people are demanding? Flashing neon lights?

  9. Henry Rech asks: “Why do you feel the need to publish the results of your Political Compass analysis?”

    So that people like you won’t react like one of Pavlov’s dogs at the mere mention of ‘communism’ or ‘socialism’, during an examination of the issues at hand.

    Btw, The tragedy for the socialist revolutions in history is that they of necessity required the use of force to overcome the competitive greed, self-interest and self-aggrandisement of the reactionary forces arraigned against the revolutions.

    And so you have the Ayn Rand types who claim individualism is rationalism, when in fact individualism – in which “there is no such thing as society” – is *instinctive* IR-rationalism.

  10. Dear Simon Cohen (at 2020/08/11 at 9:09 pm)

    Significant revolts by the low-paid in the UK in recent years:

    1. Brexit

    2. December 2019 election abandoning Labour.

    There is no shortage of dissonance in those two recent events.

    best wishes

  11. Neil,

    Have you been able to find DustyEsky’s version of the Soviet National Anthem online? Still cannot.

    The Red Army Choir version is fantastic. I particularly like listening to it while I polish my pistol. But I have to take care that I don’t cause a discharge in a moment of heightened fervour!

    “So that people like you won’t react like one of Pavlov’s dogs at the mere mention of ‘communism’ or ‘socialism'”

    Not such a good choice of metaphor – tread carefully comrade – the gulag beckons. Pavlov was not, shall we say, a fan of the Stalinist regime and no doubt he would have trained his dogs to yelp and howl at the mention of the words socialism or communism.

    “The tragedy for the socialist revolutions in history is that they of necessity required the use of force to overcome the competitive greed, etc., etc., etc..

    Ah, yes the tragedy. But murder is always effective, well even final. Yes? No more dissenters to poison our society. Our father revolutionaries knew a thing or two.

  12. Both these blog posts are excellent and make vital points but I think a caveat should have been added and it is this:

    The Right (in the UK specifically) re-engineered the meaning of the word ‘parasite’ for their own ideological purposes presaging attacks on the ill and vulnerable and the unemployed as if THEY were the one’s that had dragged the economy down.

    This was a way of taking the spotlight off financilaisation , rentier extraction of land and housing, a low wage culture and deficit myths -it all worked ‘beatifully’ and is still in place as an ideological tool.

    This resulted in:

    1. The in work low paid attacking the unemployed/ill as ‘skivers’
    2. The in work poor got a condescending pat on the head from the ‘elite’ for ‘doing the right thing’ (as the greasy Cameron put it).
    3. This created a self-righteous ‘worker’ who felt they were morally superior to the unemployed but had no critical awareness of the system that was catheterising them. Workers in the ’30’s had this to a greater degree.
    4. Grievances and resentment were directed the wrong way.
    5. House-ownership became the defining sign of being an ‘approved’ worker – anyone in social housing was defined as a scrounger and those on benefits AND in social housing were scum.
    6. This gave the Right an army of poorly informed fodder for their misinformation cause.

    Given this- we now have to be careful how we use the word ‘parasite’ because, I’d argue, there is some justification in a rapacious, rentier society such as the UK AND in a context where socially useful jobs are in short supply to say ‘f*ck your job’ because:

    1. I;m not going to work on a low wage.
    2. That forces me into debt with the banks.
    3. That forces me to give 50-60% of my salary to a greasy landlord so their kids get a private education.
    4. That forces me into rolling a barely affordable millstone mortgage up the hill.

    Now let me qualify this before posters attack me for being a Leftie-metro-elite (i’m now retired from teaching, relatively poor and have done a lot of voluntary charity work). I’m quite happy to use the word ‘shirker’ or even ‘parasite’ if work was refused in the following context:

    1. We had a JG offering a liveable wage (without recourse to debt to survive) which allowed a socially inclusive life (as described in Bill’s excellent recent post on the JG).
    2. There was no landlordism extracting financial wealth so that an unreasonable proportion of earnings were part of a savage wealth transference system maintaining ‘baked in’ inequity.
    3. The jobs available had a high level of social value (I.e not an app-controlled system to get you running around on zero hours delivering groceries to the better off).

    In this context, I’d agree that a person who was able bodied and without disabilities was being ‘parasitic’. But we need to clarify this because those expressions are now being used as a political tool (‘weaponised’ to use the fashionable word) to marginalise those who are ill and others who won’t buckle down to a low quality jobs market whilst being siphoned to have a roof over their head.

    let’s be aware in which soil these words have been regrown.

  13. ‘You may have missed them voting Tory. And that the Labour Party doesn’t seem to care.’

    Neil – depends who you mean by ‘them.’ Many of the seats were lost by extraordinary small margins .

    We’ll have to disagree on this because I don’t think it was a significant ‘revolt’ nor is there unanimity about Brexit being a ‘working class revolt.’ Analysis has show that many ‘middle-class’ voted Brexit and amongst the older well -off in the South East.

    II don’t agree that the Labour Party didn’t care, it was, in the end, about 50 M.P’s around Corbyn who did care whilst the rest wanted a return to Blair 2.0 which they now have. Many of the Labour policies were excellent and some of the proposals to deal with land and housing highly imaginative. but that group were a rump of the Party.

    There was NEVER a chance of this succeeding of course. The Corbyn phenomenon aroused all the big guns of the media against it.

    I’m afraid painting Brexit as a salt-of-the-earth revolt of the exploited workers is risible. They were manipulated and duped to use the memes of their very exploiters (many of whom were part of the financialised establishment) in a context of dis- and misinformation – can that be a real revolt?

  14. IMHO, one of Bill’s most important recent posts. And Simon, I especially like your qualifications of the JG proposal: “1. We had a JG offering a liveable wage (without recourse to debt to survive) which allowed a socially inclusive life (as described in Bill’s excellent recent post on the JG). 2. There was no landlordism extracting financial wealth so that an unreasonable proportion of earnings were part of a savage wealth transference system maintaining ‘baked in’ inequity. 3. The jobs available had a high level of social value (I.e not an app-controlled system to get you running around on zero hours delivering groceries to the better off).” Right down the pipe. For those of you who have yet to read “Circle In The Darkness,” Dianna Johnstone’s recent memoir, it provides a perceptive personal take on many of the issues raised more objectively in “Reclaiming The State.” The conceptual congruence rises to the point that I have come to consider these two works as companion pieces. Accordingly, I recommend “Circle” ALMOST as much as I recommend Bellamy’s two incendiary novels from the First Gilded Age: “Looking Backward” and “Equality,” both free to read sequentially, as they must be read, on the net.

  15. ” And that the Labour Party doesn’t seem to care”

    Of course it doesn’t care; the Labour Party exists to *prevent* socialism, not to introduce it.

  16. Apparently, the professor not only figured out the real economy. He also figured out how to be far-right and far-left at the same time.

    My condolences for a friend of MMT.

    From my experience in a trade union, you can’t advocate for a system where some people do not have to work. I don’t think it is a culture we should aim to change either. Everyone must contribute.

    For the political compass, the horizontal is more meaningful than the vertical IMO. For some issues, authoritarian and libertarian is based on the different classes.

    If I say healthcare should be provided exclusively by market, that’s clearly authoritarian towards the proletarian because they are stuck with bad healthcare system. However, it is libertarian towards the insurance companies (bourgeoisie).

  17. “For the political compass, the horizontal is more meaningful than the vertical IMO”

    The vertical is about the social policy more than anything else. Do you get to tell people what to do, or do they decide for themselves.

    The modern left uses Scientism to try and justify its dictats to people. The intent is to use capitalism to exploit those who work for the lowest wages possible, then take much of it off the capitalists and hand it around to its supporters – who will then continue to vote for them and keep them in power. Then they get to play the social engineering games they want to play to re-order what people think.

    It’s an approach similar to the one adopted by China.

    It’s not just Corporatism we have to defeat. It’s Paternalism as well.

  18. @Neil

    You are right. I also got a libertarian leftist result when i filled out the test. IIRC a lot of questions are social questions.

    I think you are right on. I’d say the excuses are both scientism and economism. I think a lot of people just talk about equality to score points but never really commit themselves to fight for it.

    People are realizing that even higher education doesn’t even guarantee the basics now. The facade is now being ripped off slowly and exposing the system what it always has been: capitalism as analyzed by Marx, where all labor will be equally exploited.

    Sometimes I think about how much of an ignorant idiot i would have been if I didn’t get exploited the way i am now. Its dialectics isn’t it? The good and the bad exist together. What a wonderful world we live in.

  19. Dear Bill Mitchell:

    The ideas that you are exploring, apparently predate Marx, Marxism, and the Soviet system, early, or otherwise. See, for example:

    Baizhang Huaihai, “A day without work is a day without food.”

    Many centuries later, human beings still struggle over the ‘best’ way to organize societies, or any other large collective group, for that matter. Those are trivial observations, as it appears that human beings and human societies have not greatly changed over the centuries, from a social or even an individual perspective.

    In any case, where does one draw the line on what is considered parasitic and what is and what is not considered useful work? For example, is a rentier considered a parasite? Are financial speculators and the regulatory capture/moral hazard that they embrace parasitic?

  20. Bill, you seem pleased with your placement on the Political Compass. And maybe even quite pleased that you have been placed consistently over time in that rather extreme location on the chart? I wonder if most people are pleased with where that analysis places places them. Personally, I was happy enough with where I was placed (pretty much in the center of the south west quadrant or pretty close to Gandhi but a bit more ‘libertarian’ than he). I can live with being associated with Gandhi. I was quite pleased I was not in the vicinity of Stalin, Hitler, or Thatcher. And not significantly distressed that I was in the same quadrant as you. Although you might be 🙂

  21. I think the distinctions measured in the Political Compass have missed the point.

    Distinctions based on economic and political relations are soulless.

    Socialism/Capitalism may look different but they are actually the same. Either way, they always both end up at a place where the few dominate and oppress the many.

    The only distinction that matters is humanity/inhumanity and that amounts to a distinction between love/hate.

  22. Henry, my guess is that capitalism thrives in a situation where the distinction between love/hate, humanity/inhumanity is muted. As in almost complete indifference to the situation of others and whether that situation might be caused by capitalism itself. I would not apply the same criticism to socialism -or what I understand as socialism- since I am sure my understanding what it means is not the same as yours.

  23. Jerry,

    What is there to understand?

    All you have to do is examine the history books.

  24. Henry, I have been called a socialist for supporting US programs like Social Security and Medicare, and for supporting workers ability to form labor unions. And for advocating for a health care system much more like the Canadian system than what we have here now. And forget about me supporting a Job Guarantee- that makes me practically a communist here. Today I voted for a ‘socialist’ candidate named Bernie Sanders to be the Democratic Party candidate for President of the USA. A completely useless gesture since Biden will be the Democratic nominee, assuming he remains semi-functional by the general election. By American standards I am a ‘socialist’ and proud of it.

    But I doubt that is what you have been railing against. My guess is you do not agree that someone who was far left on the scale and also ‘libertarian’ could be called any form of ‘socialist’ and that you want to reserve that term for authoritarians like Stalin rather than someone like Bill Mitchell.

  25. Jerry,

    What I rail against is anyone who believes that the means justifies the end – socialist or capitalist.

    There are people who comment in this blog that use language straight out of the revolutionary’s handbook. Language which depersonalizes people (lumpenproletariat, petty bourgeois) and condones murder, arbitrary detention, torture , even genocide. They say they have learnt the lessons of history. But the language they use suggests they have learnt nothing and indulge themselves in a self deception. As far as I am concerned, it is the language of hate, it is an ideology of hate. I can understand the reason for their hate. What I cannot understand is the means by which they see the problems of humanity being solved. I can only say, in the old fashioned way, that two wrongs do not make a right. And this ideology forgets one simple thing, human nature. The human nature that sees the solution to the problems of the world is exactly the same human nature that caused the problems of the world. How can any lasting resolution/solution result. This is why the socialism of the 20th century failed and why it has morphed into fascism. Who knows where and how it will end, if it does at all. The many at large seem to be eternally incapable of relieving themselves of the oppression and domination of the few. Something has to give.

  26. I imagine I am exactly where Bill is on the compass and I too still think revisiting the grand experiment that was the USSR and learning from Gosplan, what worked, what did not, Is vital. We’ve thrown out the baby with the bathwater since 1991. We have failed to acknowledge all that was good about the Soviet times, along with all that was abhorrent. I would love to know more about the Soviet economy. The existence of a viable alternative up until 1989 certainly tempered western capitalism as its omnipresent threat meant inequality could not be allowed to become to extreme. The Soviet system for one, because of the recognition of value beyond market value, supported a vast array of musicians, dancers and performers who were magnificent technically and artistically, but of course constrained in the ideas they could explore by ideology. Nuance, as Bill says. All the Russians and Eastern Europeans I know who grew up pre 1990 all express nuanced views of life “back in the USSR. “I don’t know how people can call themselves collectivists who don’t recognize the duty to work and contribute to the collective. As a bookish introvert I could quite happily spend all day at home reading about politics and economics but I recognize that getting out and contributing to others through my work forces me to look beyond my own narrow interests and give back what others have given me. Challenging to my inner sloth, a little initial discomfort at having to draw myself away from this blog perhaps when heading out the door, but good for the soul afterwards. People largely need some structure, routine and social interaction to thrive. Why should working class people who produce real essential goods and services simply hand them over to a new class of people who want to pursue their hobbies in isolation in return for a cash handout? Find a way to turn that hobby into a useful community class or project that helps others too and get the JG to fund it.

  27. Does the lofty goal justify the questionable means used to achieve it? I assume that is your question. It is a difficult question for sure. Sometimes the answer is clearly no. It is not clear to me that it is always and forever no. I’m afraid this is more than I could hope to do justice to in a comment. Probably couldn’t in a book either. Good luck Henry!

  28. “The intent is to use capitalism to exploit those who work for the lowest wages possible, then take much of it off the capitalists and hand it around to its supporters – who will then continue to vote for them and keep them in power. Then they get to play the social engineering games they want to play to re-order what people think.”

    Ha Brilliant !

    Exactly what the SNP did to win power in Scotland and along the way they had to put faces on seats to win votes they would never win. Faces you know who are more liberal and right wing than the grass roots of the party who then ultimately try and take over the vision of the party.

    Which = no change the status quo. Social engineering with the game being Brussels will save the poor from the Tories. Voters of course lap it up like milk similar to a cat which has been locked outside for a few days. Millions are moved across the board like pawns.

  29. The Red Army Choir version is fantastic. I particularly like listening to it while I polish my pistol. But I have to take care that I don’t cause a discharge in a moment of heightened fervour!

    For some reason that reminded me of Stephen Paddock, although what triggered him was country music, not words.

  30. Jerry,

    Of course I got the bloody thing around the wrong way – I meant the end justifying the means.

    And what you explained that you stand for I would not call socialism or communism.

    I would call it decent and compassionate human behaviour.

    Socialism and communism have particular technical definitions.

    Good luck to you.

  31. Now that we have established that today we can produce all essential goods and services without maximum workforce, I look forward to Part 3 where I hope to see a resolution of the question: what to do about those who refuse the job guarantee.

    Your students are very lucky, Bill. This old one is now.

  32. @Carol Wilcox
    ” what to do about those who refuse the job guarantee.”

    I’m not sure about that word ‘refuse’. The need for a job goes beyond simply providing the goods and services a society requires. We need jobs to provide us with the intangibles as well, for feeling that we have contributed to the common good. A lot of volunteering that takes place now would fall into the category of a JG scheme. The only people who would refuse to participate would be those who don’t need the money.

  33. Jerry, There you go! I`m one square left and down from Gandhi. Whatever that makes me is what I am. I don`t worry about it but then again I don`t live in the U.S. I can say without a doubt though, I neither have the patience of Gandhi nor his lack of love for “modern” technology…LOL

  34. “Now that we have established that today we can produce all essential goods and services without maximum workforce”

    We established that a century ago. Hence why we have a Retirement Pension – with an “Active Dependency Ratio”.

    If that dependency ratio moves due to productivity improvements, then we just retire people earlier.

    “Distributive Justice” is already spoken for I’m afraid. At least if we want to continue providing people who have done a career a state pension.

  35. Just so people here know what type of people those who don’t want to work are, here’s an example:

    “I don’t agree that people should need to work to gain access to the necessities of life. Society prevents us from taking the necessities of life directly from nature: I can’t go off into the forest and build myself a hut, pull fish from the river and live an independent existence. The combined forces of the state and the market deny me this option. Access to land, water, plants and animals is restricted according to laws, mostly around property. Therefore I do believe, contrary to many, that society owes me (and everyone else) a living, as compensation for this.”

    This is the classic “land redistribution” argument. The one tested to destruction in Zimbabwe. The one mentioned in “Zimbabwe for hyperventilates 101” on this site. The one where land is distributed from people that farm productively to those who operate on a subsistence basis at best – and which creates hyperinflation.

    The reason you can’t forage off the land is because there are too many humans on the planet to allow that approach. You would have to return the population to pre-farming sizes.

    So yes you are dealing with clever people who believe the worlds owes them a living.

  36. Henry Rech wrote:

    “the competitive greed, etc., etc., etc..”

    …all the “etcs” signifying a reluctance to face the reality of the human condition, namely, the effects – in the individual – of the reptilian and mammalian brains on the cerebral (“thinking”) brain.

    But I take it we do agree on above poverty participation in the economy, for all peoples around the globe (in an absence of war)? And that that is the goal of socialism……?

  37. Neil,

    “…all the “etcs” signifying a reluctance to face the reality of the human condition…”

    Not at all. It was a statement, made in sarcasm, that what you reeled off was the standard line that would be expected.

    “……of the reptilian and mammalian brains… ”

    Have socialists evolved to the point that the primitive components of their brains have atrophied to the extent they have no effect?

    As I keep saying, capitalism, socialism, have a commonality, human nature.

    “But I take it we do agree on above poverty participation in the economy, for all peoples around the globe (in an absence of war)? And that that is the goal of socialism……?”

    It should be the goal of any society.

  38. So far as I personally am concerned, Part 2 vindicates in essence, and reinforces, all of the criticisms I levelled at Part 1.

    Together they comprise a piece of unadulterated propagandising for the writer’s own political ideology, masquerading as an academic thesis when it is in fact nothing of the kind. The fact that Bill is an academic (and, I repeat, highly distinguished as such *in regard to his own field*) does not confer upon everything he writes – no matter how nakedly polemical some of it (like these articles) may be – a mantle of olympian impartiality and disinterestedness. Nothing could be further from being the case.

    Any blogger is sole arbiter of the views he chooses to advance through the medium of his blog. The Net is replete with examples of every shade of opinion right across the spectrum from extreme left to extreme right. Any blog which propounds its writer’s own political beliefs invites a response from readers who don’t share them, or who actively contest them. BILL’S IS NO EXCEPTION.

  39. So sad to hear about Tuan’s sudden death. Vale Tuan you will be missed by more people than you probably realised.

    Simon and Neil your comments resonate with me very much. I believe that people shouldn’t be forced into jobs that they find meaningless and soul destroying just to survive. However if a JB is designed to give people choice, than I support it 100%.

  40. Have to disagree strongly that the soviet union of the 1970,s in anyway represents a progressive political economy is on any continuum with marx gotha proram that 6 decades after the elimination
    of the bourgeois that ussr society is a new born with the faults of the old on route to communism
    from socialism .As simplified by orwell written in the mid 40,s in animal farm way back in the twenties when one of humanities most terrible mass murderers stalin took control the history of the ussr was the opposite of progressive history.
    Not workers exploiting workers but a political bureaucratic dictatorial elite exploiting workers,
    corruption from local to national brutally suppressed any opposition.
    4 legs good 2 legs bad became 4 legs good 2 legs better.
    Not a question of nuance or throwing the baby out with the bath water or denying history but a question of judgement.

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