Thursday, December 20, 2018

Numbers don't matter, the system matters 1

Overpopulation is not a problem. Poverty is.

The Socialist Party’s criticism of the so-called ‘overpopulation problem’ is that plays into the hands of the ruling class who imposes demographic management of various peoples and those green activists who interpreting population growth cause of the environment crisis ignore the capitalist root of the problem and thus lets the system off the hook. Regardless of the economic system or social organisation, overpopulationists view the reason for much of human misery and suffering as too many people, and fear that if the poor grow wealthier richer, thus begin to consume more, the carrying capacity of the plant will be breached even further. Projecting the distribution flaws of capitalism onto those it most affects helps to defend the status quo and make the victims of inequality the scapegoats of their poverty and legitimate targets of population control. Yet it is the relatively rich developed countries that consume the most resources and energy but it is not their citizens who face having their numbers curbed. It is easier to construct a resentment of those who migrate or reproduce more often than others. The world of capitalism doesn’t make sense and neither do capitalist solutions. The argument that the planet is ‘overpopulated’ ignores the irrationality inherent within the capitalist economic system.

There is no real problem in a socialist society that has its resources rationally planned. Nor is it side-stepping the issue by stating the problem exists only for capitalist society and would not occur in socialism. The standard non-socialist explanation for world hunger is that there are too many people. In other words, that not enough food can be produced to feed the world's present population. This is just not true. Enough food (in terms of calories and proteins) is already being produced which, if evenly divided, could eliminate hunger and starvation tomorrow. In short, the problem is one of distribution or, rather, of maldistribution. World food production can also be increased well above its present level. Under capitalism, production is for sale on a market. Only those who can pay have their needs met, those who can't pay don't have theirs met. If you've got no money, or not enough money, you're not part of the market, and production ignores you.

The total land area of the planet is about 12 billion hectares, but only 1.3 billion hectares can currently be used as arable land. Even with a population of 10 billion, this would mean 0.13 hectares per person or something over a third of an acre. If farmed by means of intensive horticulture a plot this size could feed dozens. The average yield in England is about eight tonnes of wheat per hectare per year, enough to feed a couple of dozen people; so the 0.13 hectare per person available once global population settles down would be plenty to feed three or four. The conclusion of such calculations is inescapable: even without genetically-modified crops, the Earth can produce more than enough to feed likely future populations.

No doubt, it will be argued that food is not a finite resource but in regards to those the excessive consumption of both renewal and non-renewable resources and the release of waste that nature can’t absorb that currently go on are not just accidental but an inevitable result of capitalism’s very nature. Endless “growth” – and the growing consumption of nature- given materials this involves – is built into capitalism. However, this is not the growth of useful things as such but rather the growth of money-values.

Socialism is about eventually creating what some call a "steady-state economy" or "zero-growth". A situation where human needs are in balance with the resources needed to satisfy them. Such a society would already have decided on the most appropriate way to allocate resources to meet the needs of its members. This having been done, it would only need to go on repeating this continuously from production period to production period. Production would not be ever-increasing but would be stabilised at the level required to satisfy needs. All that would be produced would be products for consumption and the products needed to replace and repair the raw materials and instruments of production used up in producing these consumer goods. The point about such a situation is that there will no longer be any imperative need to develop productivity. In a stable society such as socialism, needs would most likely change relatively slowly. What it means is that we should construct permanent, durable means of production which you don’t constantly innovate. We would use these to produce durable equipment and machinery and durable consumer goods designed to last for a long time, designed for minimum maintenance and made from materials which if necessary can be re-cycled. In this way we would get a minimum loss of materials; once they’ve been extracted and processed they can be used over and over again. It also means that once you’ve achieved satisfactory levels of consumer goods, you don’t insist on producing more and more. Total social production could even be reduced. This will be the opposite of to-day. Society would move into a stable mode, a rhythm of daily production in line with daily needs with no significant growth which would reconcile two great needs, the need to live in material well being whilst looking after the planet.

On scarcity, it's the same. We deny there will be a problem. Well, not the degree that's being claimed by environmentalist critics.

First, we have to define what scarcity is. Orthodox economics argue it is limited supply - versus- boundless demand. Our wants are essentially “infinite” and the resources to meet them, limited, claim the economists. They claim that without the guidance of prices socialism would sink into inefficiency. According to the argument, scarcity is an unavoidable fact of life. And that’s what the text-books describe economics as - the allocation of scarce resources.

However, outside the class-room and in the real world, abundance is not a situation where an infinite amount of every good could be produced. Similarly, scarcity is not the situation which exists in the absence of this impossible total or sheer abundance. Abundance is a situation where productive resources are sufficient to produce enough wealth to satisfy human needs, while scarcity is a situation where productive resources are insufficient for this purpose. Abundance is a relationship between supply and demand, where the former exceeds the latter. Achieving abundance can be understood as the maintenance of an adequate buffer of stock in light of possible future demand. The relative abundance or scarcity of a good would be indicated by how easy or difficult it was to maintain such an adequate buffer stock in the face of a demand trend (upward, static, or downward). It will thus be possible to choose how to combine different factors for production, and whether to use one rather than another, on the basis of their relative abundance/scarcity.

How do we tell when something is becoming scarce? We use the tools and systems that capitalism bequeaths us, which will be suitably modified and adapted and transformed for the new conditions. There are stock or inventory control systems and logistics. The key to good stock management is the stock turnover rate – how rapidly stock is removed from the shelves – and the point at which it may need to be re-ordered. So its a matter of simply monitoring the shelves. The maintenance of surplus stocks would provide a buffer against unforeseen fluctuations in demand.

In a particular situation of actual physical shortage we can use substitution and by what's described as the law of the minimum - you economise most on those factors of production that are relatively scarcest.

If people over-consume then communism cannot possibly work. Humans behave differently depending upon the conditions that they live in. Human behaviour reflects society. In capitalism, people's needs are not met and people feel insecure. People tend to acquire and hoard goods because possession provides some security. People have a tendency to distrust others because the world is such a rat-race.

Under capitalism, there is a very large industry devoted to creating needs. Capitalism requires consumption, whether it improves our lives or not, and drives us to consume up to, and past, our ability to pay for that consumption. In a system of capitalist competition, there is a built-in tendency to stimulate demand to a maximum extent. Firms, for example, need to persuade customers to buy their products or they go out of business. They would not otherwise spend the vast amounts they do spend on advertising.

There is also in a capitalist society a tendency for individuals to seek to validate their sense of worth through the accumulation of possessions. When the wealth of the ruling class so preoccupies the minds of its members, such a notion of status will be deep-rooted within workers. It is this which helps to underpin the myth of infinite demand. It does not matter how modest one's real needs may be or how easily they may be met; capitalism's "consumer culture" leads one to want more than one may materially need since what the individual desires is to enhance his or her status within this hierarchal culture of consumerism and this is dependent upon acquiring more than others have got. But since others desire the same thing, the economic inequality inherent in a system of competitive capitalism must inevitably generate a pervasive sense of relative deprivation. What this amounts to are a kind of institutionalised envy and alienated capitalism.

In socialism, status based upon the material wealth would be a meaningless concept. The notion of status based upon the conspicuous consumption of wealth would be devoid of meaning because individuals would stand in equal relation to the means of production and have free access to goods and services. Why take more than you need when you can freely take what you need? In socialism, the only way in which individuals can command the esteem of others is through their contribution to society.

Work in a socialist society could only be voluntary since there would be no group in a position to force people to work against their will. This will work to ensure that a socialist society is run on the basis of democratic consensus. The sense of mutual obligations and of universal interdependency would influence perceptions and affect their behaviour.

No comments: