Democratic Socialism would be an improvement over Capitalism/Social Democracy
Very simply, my opponent will need to argue that either/both capitalism and/or modern social democracy is superior or prefereable to democratic socialism. The definitions below are guidelines - I understand that in any debate, the boundaries between concepts are liable to shift. This debate may freely range between political, economic and social issues.
Capitalism - a socio-economic system in which the primary organisation of the economy is based upon free (or regulated) trade, necessitating private ownership (including the means of production) and property rights. 'Pure' capitalism or anarcho-capitalism would involve the barest minimum of interference from the state (if any) in economic matters. Modern liberal democracies, even those with considerable state interference, will be considered capitalist for the purposes of this debate - the most state-oriented by also be regarded as social democracies. There are no social democracies which are not also capitalistic.
A capitalist society which, due to the worker's movement, has madeconsiderable concessions to socialist demands. This may include state provision of a number of services (healthcare, education and so on), as well as some significant redistribution of wealth through more progressive taxation. The scandinavian countries offer the best modern examples of social democracy.
There are no existing democratic socialist countries. Democratic socialism would involve a political system of direct, rather than representative democracy, and collective ownership of the means of production, including all factories, power plants and natural resources. Ideally, democratic socialism would be global in scope, although it could also (albeit with more difficulty), in one country of sufficient size, or in multiple countries bound together in a union, such as the EU. All major decisions about how resources are to be utilised would be decided using democratic machinisms (voting) - wealth would be more equitably distributed than in any present arrangement.
Including state or revolutionary communism, we can delimit at least three different main varieties of socialism. State or revolutionary communism advocates the forceful seizure of power via the revolutionary action of the working class and its allies, generally led by a vanguard party which assumes governance in the aftermath. Social democracy, the position advocated by Con, recommends pursuing the interests of workers within the capitalist framework itself with a program of gradual reforms (minimum wages, healthcare, education, pensions, anti-discrimination laws, progressive taxation and so on). One important historical feature of social democracy is that it has, by the present day, all but entirely disregarded the final aim of socialism, i.e., a socialist society.
By the goal of a "socialist society" I mean a society in which capitalism is abolished in favour of a planned economy based on the collective ownership of the means of production (factories, power plants, mines, natural resources). Democratic socialism, which I am advocating here, cuts a middle ground between the two extremes of state socialism and social democracy. It denies the validity of the authoritarian tendencies of state communism whilst keeping firmly in mind the final aim of socialism " a socialist society.
Here are the basic tenets of democratic socialism as I advocate it:
1.Direct democracy " direct democracy is the antidote to the authoritarianism of state communism, as well as the banal and ineffective pseudo-democracy of present parliamentary systems. Direct democracy entails the direct operation of power by the people " officials and administrators of the general will are mandated rather than "empowered", making only the decisions they are permitted to by the electorate. Direct democracy also entails far greater policy making by the people themselves " all major decisions would be made by referendum. Direct democracy would exist at both the local, national and, ideally, international levels. The rest of democratic socialism stems, in essence, from the mass institution of direct democracy.
2.Direct democratic control over the economy " in principle, it should be possible to have a directly democratic capitalist society (modern day Switzerland approximates this, although its democracy is far more limited and parliamentary that what I am advocating). If direct democracy is taken to its logical conclusion, however, then I believe it must encompass both the political and economic spheres " the people should have democratic control over the production and allocation of goods and services. Without this socialist step, direct democracy will never truly come about " a liberal economy is inherently undemocratic, since it involves an enormous part of social life operating as the result of millions of individual decisions, rather than as the conscious application of a democratic consensus.
3.A socialist economy " democratic control over the economy would, I believe, lead to a socialist economy, since the majority of people will always vote in their own interests if empowered to do so. This is likely to mean the collectivization of the means of production and a planned economy based upon the rational production and allocation of goods on the basis of serving social needs. Equality will be vastly improved over present arrangements. Remuneration, as I would recommend it, would be based on the "parecon" model of participatory economics, wherein workers are compensated on the basis of effort, time worked, and the onerousness of the job.
I will now present the basic co-ordinates of this the socialist critique of capitalism, along with the relation of that critique to both democratic socialism and social democracy:
1.Marx"s labour theory of value " Marx held that the source of all wealth and value is labour, that is, the toil of the worker. In contrast to the still-dominant neo-classical vision of value, which holds that value is based upon subjective evaluations of the desirability of commodities, Marx held that labour was the primary factor that ultimately accounted for prices (supply and demand simply caused prices to oscillate around a central value based upon labour times). If all value is produced by labour, it follows that all of society"s wealth is produced by working people. Social wealth is produced by the workers and then divided unjustly by the capitalist system.
2.Marx"s theory of exploitation " stemming from the labour theory of value, Marx"s theory of exploitation holds that profit emerges from the difference between the value of the product that the worker produces, and the value of his wages. The worker may spend four hours working to produce enough value to produce his wages, then a further four hours working to produce the capitalist"s profit. The worker agrees to do this because he has no other choice " capitalists own the means of production and the worker can only use those tools and machines with the capitalists consent, which requires the production of profit (surplus value) by the worker. All profits thus emerge from the exploitation of workers. The key point in exploitation is that profit or "the surplus" is appropriated not by the workers themselves but by capitalists. While exploitation is still present in social democratic society, which operates in accordance with the basic laws of capitalism, a democratic socialist society is free from exploitation. The workers themselves appropriate whatever value they produce above and beyond their salaries and can democratically select whether to increase their salaries or to reinvest and grow their productive ventures.
3.Inequality " capitalist societies produce enormous inequalities as a natural outcome of the laws of capital accumulation. Monopoly or oligopoly is the natural outcome. Cyclical crises maintain a permanent underclass of the unemployed which is endemic to capitalism and completely unnecessary. Inequality and unemployment are primary sources of social conflict and produce a variety of malignant social effects. Social democracy can partly ameliorate the problem of inequality with progressive taxation and welfare. Democratic socialism all but eradicates it.
4.The erosion of democracy " capitalism is inherently anti-democratic. Unplanned economies, while flexible and prone to incredible spurts of growth, are appallingly unstable, as the recent recession made clear. Under capitalism, single individuals and small groups can make decisions about what is to be done with considerable portions to total national wealth and income, wealth and income which is produced entirely by the workers themselves. While capitalist decisions can result in faster growth than in planned economies (due to the higher level of worker exploitation), they also use resources in ways in which society as a whole, were it given the chance to voice its opinion, would never condone. Billions are spent on economically "efficient" but socially irrelevant projects while basic needs go unmet. Social democracy cannot get around this problem, since it relies on the capitalist system to be successful. Only rich, capitalist societies can get away with significant social democratic reforms, which means, in essence, that only non-democratic societies can get away with it. Under a system of democratic socialism, all resources will be used for the rational improvement of social and material life in a manner that satisfies the needs, wants and opinions of the largest possible number of people.
I"ll leave it there for now and let Con respond. I look forward to elaborating on all of these points later in the debate.
Socialism at its core, is a economic system that favors an even distribution of wealth among those whose labors provide for the value of the product they produced. As my opponent said, there are three main types of socialism. The first is revolutionary communism which, in principle, is the system that the Soviet Union was created to be although it soon gave way to corruption, greed, and its eventual collapse. It essentially calls for the working class to rise up in revolution against the powerful and set up a system of socialism where there is collective ownership of all wealth and property and the public good supersedes the rights of the individual. Second is democratic socialism which I would argue is the purest for of socialism as it eliminates capitalism entirely while still ensuring that the voice of the society as a whole is listened to at all times. The third is social democracy which I will elaborate more on a little further on. On the other hand, you have pure capitalism that calls for a laissez faire governmental role in the economy and an economy that is driven by consumers and markets.
Each of the extremes, unfettered capitalism and revolutionary communism has flaws. First, revolutionary communism is only achieved through violent uprisings that lead to instability and class warfare that have the effect of alienating instead of uniting the various classes. Also, a purely communist society is virtually impossible since greed is bound to emerge as it is simply human nature to seek self-betterment. Next, pure capitalism leads to the unfair exploitation of workers whose efforts essentially create the value of their products. In addition to this, it leads to the unfair distribution of income among workers and management. Finally, it is a very unstable system that leads to a cycle of periods of rampant growth followed by recessions and in more extreme cases depressions.
Over time, all capitalist countries have moved slowly away from pure capitalism to a system where the government plays some role in regulating the economy. At the same time, a pure system of socialism, or in other words the democratic socialism that you are advocating, is not seen anywhere in the world at the time and has not been seen before. The reason for this is simple, both of these systems have clear benefits and clear problems. Capitalism as I explained earlier brings about far greater economic and productivity growth than in a socialist economy and is much more efficient and natural, but at the same time socialism socialism is far more stable and distributes income far more fairly than capitalism. Both of these systems have their flaws and benefits, which is why I believe Social Democracy is a good hybrid that includes portions of both these systems and is able to deliver the benefits of both in moderation and balance without any flaws as large as those in both socialism and capitalism.
At its core, Social Democracy retains a capitalist economic system. However, the government regulates the economy in the form of minimum wage laws, financial oversight and regulation, consumer protection, pro-union laws, and environmental protection. These regulations strike a balance between business, the environment, consumers, and the workers to provide a free market system that does not harm the environment, is fair to consumers, pays workers fair wages, and still provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs and innovators to succeed and make a profit.
In addition to this, the government creates social programs that ensure a basic standard of living for all people in the form of public health care, education, housing, pensions, unemployment benefits, and other programs that prevent anyone from going without the necessities of life. This not only creates a safety net that does not let anyone fall through the cracks, it often provides a boost so that all people have the ability to work hard, get a good education, and advance their standards of living and socio-economic status.
The benefit of this system is that it combines the good things from both socialism and capitalism into one economic model where there is an opportunity to succeed and rise above but where no one can fall into poverty. It is a system where the workers receive fair pay but those who take risks and start their own businesses can strike a profit at the same time. It is a system where economic and productivity growth is much greater than in a planned economy but where the risk of financial crisis that comes with capitalism is minimal due to strong government regulation and oversight. There are still ups and downs but the ups are far more restrained and the downs far shorter and smaller than in a purely capitalist society.
I will now leave it to my opponent to begin debating between the systems we have now laid out as well as the benefits of both.
Thanks to Con for elaborating on the notion of social democracy and giving an account of some of its strengths over democratic socialism – I will now present a more detailed critique of social democracy with a view to demonstrating the superiority of democratic socialism.
The issue of democracy – Social democratic countries tend to mirror the institutional structures of liberal democratic countries, of which they may be considered a sub-section. This entails a parliamentary system wherein MP’s are elected from constituencies to seats in parliament, the party with the largest number of seats gaining power over the country. Aside from the the blatantly undemocratic nature of certain country’s electoral systems (where number of votes routinely fails to translate into number of seats), the combination of capitalist economics with representative democracy is notorious for its capacity for corruption and its tendency to support and retain policies which benefit the capitalist class over the workers.
In the U.S.the collaborative nature of big business and government is completely undemocratic. In all countries the power of business and capital exerts a powerful force upon politicians who have no legal obligation to fulfill the wishes of their constituents. Because business and corporations are private entities, the policies they push (with great economic force) rarely have the interests of the working class in mind. The lobbying power of big business is an insurmountable problem for both capitalism and social democracy. When the working class unites to a sufficient degree to make real change in favour of the interests of workers, the inherent antagonism of capitalist economic systems to pro-worker reforms can result in economic stagnation or a lack of competitiveness, as happened in the 1970’s. The result of this is a stong anti-socialist response from the political right, as occurred during the Reagan and Thatcher revolutions of the 1980’s. The forces of the right will always assert their power at the first opportunity; moreover, their power is always considerable because of the concentration of wealth (and therefore power) inherent in capitalism. Such policy backpeddling retards the progress made by social democratic policies, often for decades.
The kinds of institutions which could really get the ball rolling on economic democracy are practically impossible to implement on a large scale under any form of capitalism, namely, industrial democracy or worker-owned firms. While there are examples of such firms in existence, they are in a small minority due to the tendency of market forces to either render them uncompetetive or to force them to run their business as though it were being run by a single capitalist for profit, and not by a group of workers to produce a sustainable livelihood. Which ever way you look at it, social democracy fails to put power where it belongs: in the hands of the people. It fails to do this because it insists on making an enormous sector of social life, the economy, largely inaccessible to democratic reform.
Inequality and Exploitation
Both are are exacerbated by it social democracy. Inequality is presently at a level hitherto known only under autocratic, monarchical and pre-democratic regimes. While it can be forcibly argued that the steep rise in inequality over the past several decades has been due to the imposition of neo-liberal government policies, and not social democracy itself (which has always pursued equality as a central aim), we must not forget that neo-liberalism is a political response, often supported by large parts of the population, to the stagnation and lack of competitiveness associated with social democratic reform. By refusing to take a firm anti-capitalist stance, social democracy agrees to play by the enemy’s rules, rules under which it suffers the severe handicap of having to make good on its redistributive promises. The poor in advanced industrial societies now live lives that bare little resemblance to those lived by the rich, the result being growing social strife, the demonization of the working class, riots, virtual apartheids and so on.
Exploitation does not decrease under social democracy, since the wave of capitalist productivity it rides upon is predicated by that very exploitation. While social democracy does attempt to give some of this exploited value back to the workers in the form of minimum wages, pensions and benefits, it consistently fails to do so in a way which keeps any kind of pace with productivity. Exploitation, therefore, defined as the difference between the value the workers produce and the value of their compensation, increases as does the productivity of capitalism. When we look at, for example, rising wages incertain developed countries over certain periods, what we are seeing is the absolute bare minimum of worker-created value that social democracy is able to pry from the capitalist class; even though this value increases in absolute terms (it would be patently absurd if it did not), it represents an increasingly small slice of an increasingly large pie. If we agree that people’s lives should be improved in proportion to the advances made by society as a whole, such an unequal outcome, not at all representative of where wealth actually comes from, should be considered unacceptable.
The reason that this state of affairs is not considered unnacceptable is because modern social democrats, like the populations of advanced industrial nations, have been convinced by the propaganda of the capitalist class that the only way to ensure steadily improving material standards of living (as though this were the be all and end all of existence to begin with) is to sacrifice all power and nearly all wealth to an elite minority. Democratic socialism refutes this defeatist attitude and makes the claim that only the people themselves have the right to decide where and when, and to what degree, growth, that is, increased productivity, should be pursued as a national goal. Sustainability, security and community should be viable democratic alternatives, but both capitalism and social democracy strip these choices away by demanding constant, unconstrained growth, vulnerability to crisis and the steady destruction of community life by economic segregation and a parasitic, morally bankrupt culture of consumerism and spectacle.
Con claims that ‘Social Democracy is a good hybrid that includes portions of both these systems and is able to deliver the benefits of both in moderation and balance’. In reality, social democracy, far from delivering the benefits of both systems, retains the majority of their flaws in an awkward and unsustainable mix: inequality, disenfranchisement, inefficiency, corruption, economic crisis, political polarisation, exploitation and cultural uniformity (consumerism). He claims, approvingly, that despite its conscience social democracy ‘still provide an opportunity for entrepreneurs and innovators to succeed and make a profit’. Why does this need to be retained? ‘Making a profit’ is synonymous with exploitation – the only upside is potential (not guaranteed) economic growth, which can be pursued more fairly and sustainably by a democratic electorate. Innovation does not require financial motivation – it requires a love of one’s craft, the desire to get better at it and, perhaps most importantly of all, financial security to begin with! No system is better placed that deomcratic socialism to meet these conditions; there is no reason to think that innovation would be reduced under the system I am advocating, leaving the notion of ‘rewarding entrepreneurialism’ with anything other than well-deserved respect and social status pointless and even counter-productive.
I would like to begin by bringing up a few issues with the Direct Democracy system that he is proposing. First, this system would be incredibly inefficient. In Switzerland, referendums and initiatives are voted on by the people but only when the proposals receive a certain number of signatures. To mandate that every major issue be voted on by the people would require nearly weekly referendums which would not only cost large amounts of money but would also presumably have low turnout meaning that the votes would not be true representations of popular opinion. This directly contradicts your assumption that socialism would be a natural result if direct democracy. If a mandatory voting system were implemented it would be very harmful to the economy. To require every citizen to go and vote once a week or so and take away a half an hour to an hour of their day would reduce either economic output significantly on the days where there were referendums.
In addition to this, you have not clarified what would constitute a major issue that warrants an referendum. How would it be decided when a referendum would be held? If it were decided the same way as in Switzerland than I fear there would be significant delays from when an initiative is first introduced and when it receives the number of signatures necessary and it can be voted on. Take the issue of a natural disaster. If a hurricane were to strike somewhere on the East Coast the aid would be needed as quickly as possible but while I have no doubt that the initiative would receive the number of signatures needed quickly, it would still require a referendum to be scheduled and then carried out. This would take significantly longer than a quick vote in Congress, whether it was already in session or an emergency one was called. On the other hand, if you leave te responsibility to the elected leaders, they would presumably rarely call referendums because they get more power and influence if they do not.
Lastly, I would argue that in the planned economy you are proposing, it would be necessary to make many quick decisions that simply do not have time to be voted on. If this happens however, you no longer have the people voting on these issues and therefore, it is unlikely that a socialist society would ever emerge. But if you give the people the power to make all economic decisions it would be inefficient and the economy would probably not last long.
My next area of disagreement is you assessment that if you institute a system of pure Direct Democracy, then socialism is the natural outcome. You are assuming that the only issue people will vote on is their immediate well-being. You are ignoring the other factors that would likely affect the votes of each person. I suspect that many would decide to keep a capitalist system with more regulation once they see the inefficiencies of a planned economy. They would opt for growth, productivity, and an opportunity to rise up through the ranks in the future over a system where there is less growth, more inefficiency, but an equal distribution of less. An additional issue is the possibility of each person voting with only themselves in mind, a certain group that constitutes a majority would decide to group together and vote in their collective favor by harming the minority.
I would lastly like to point out that while my opponent made a couple criticisms about social democracy rarely lasting long due to conservatives waiting for the right moments to role back the programs that were central to social democracy's success. While I am not going to deny that this does happen, I would remind my opponent that we are debating which system is best, not which system is prone to negative opinions. This being said, the same could potentially happen to democratic socialism as I doubt it would be popular to force people to the polls as frequently as would be necessary. In addition to this, planned economies are inherently inefficient and in this case would likely lose popularity as growth and productivity growth stagnate, even if wage distribution is fair.
Those are the main problems with the system of Direct Democracy that my opponent is proposing but I would now like to point out some flaws with democratic socialism assuming that all else works and that people vote in their own interests thus leading to the establishment of a socialist economy. First, a planned economy is much less efficient than a capitalist one. Thanks to the law of supply and demand, capitalist economies effectively distribute resources and set prices in a natural way that brings about economic growth far better than any planned economy could hope to. When regulated effectively, this growth can be channeled into the creation wage and job growth also. However, when a government takes control of the economy and you are left with a planned economy, that level of efficiency can no longer exist and there is no longer balance.
Here is an example of how a planned economy run by the people could have a negative impact on overall growth. Let's say that when all costs are added up for a farmer, including salaries, fuel, seeds, etc., it costs $10 to produce a bushel of wheat. In a capitalist economy a farmer would sell his wheat for that price because when you have competition among all the wheat farmers and the going price of wheat is $10, each farmer will produce just enough wheat so that the average cost is $10 and once that is hit, they will stop because from then on they would just lose money. If a farmer were to raise their price, no one would buy their wheat but if they were to lower their price they would lose money. Therefore, the only option is to sell the wheat for $10, and everything works out fine.
This is an example of how a market effectively sets the amount of wheat produced and at what price. The problem is, in your system, the people would have control of what price the wheat would be sold at. It is logical to assume that since each person would vote in their own interest, they would want the price to be lower than $10, so let's say that instead of $10 they set the price at $8. Now, the farmer would have two options. One is to simply leave the industry. The other is to keep farming and go into bankruptcy since they would no longer receive enough money to make up for what they spent. While this is a fictitious and simplified example, it illustrates how a planned economy is ineffective at distributing resources and setting prices and would likely upset the balance achieved through the capitalist system at the center of social democracy.
One of the biggest problems with democratic socialism is that over the long term it can actually hurt those that it intends to help. While a planned economy may be able to distribute income evenly, the economic and productivity growth is much smaller. This means that while each worker is guaranteed to get their fair share of the earnings, the earnings they will receive are not as large. On the other hand, moderate exploitation can be found in a social democratic economy, but thanks to the efficiency of the capitalist system and the incentive for innovation that comes with the possibility of bettering oneself, economic and productivity growth is much higher. When unions are in place to bargain collectively for a fair share of those earnings, the workers actually gain more money each year than in a democratic socialist economy. Due to the fact that I am low on characters I can't elaborate much on this, but my main point that I want to get accross is that in social democracy, unions can ensure that productivity is even with wages. Since productivity growth is greater in capitalism, the wage growth is greater. Eventually, SD wages surpass those in a planned econ
Thanks to Con for a great critique in the last round – I appreciate the space constraints and will refrain from further criticism of social democracy until he has made his defence. For this round I will simply respond to Con’s critiques of democratic socialism.
Issues around direct democracy
Con claims that getting people to vote in regular referenda would be economically inefficient, time-consuming and suffer low turnouts; this analysis betrays two harmful attitudes. Firstly there is the underestimation of people’s desire to take matters into their own hands if given the chance. Voter turnout is low in modern Britain not because voting is a chore but because we do not feel like we have real power. Give the people power and they will use it. Ask yourself: is there any major issue affecting your life which you would refrain from voting on if voting was an option? Secondly, Con implies that economic efficiency should trump democracy; this amounts to an endorsement of the socialist position that high levels of capitalist productivity are predicated upon the people being denied power. Do we really want to give up control of our lives to productivity?
Con asks what would count as an important issue. This too would be up to the people to decide – a direct democracy in which the rules of democratic practice are not themsleves arrived at by popular consent is no democracy at all. It is highly unlikely that people would insist upon something as time-sensitive as disaster relief to be tied up in lengthy voting sessions. More likely would be that people would vote upon the amount of money generally to be put aside for such relief, and on whom they would like to have the kind of snap decision making power necessary for such an issue. Otherwise, what constitutes a major issue is up to the people.
Con claims that minorities may be poorly treated by empowered majorities. Firstly, this is infinitely superior to the current system, in which elite minorities hold the majority to ransom. As far as the sorts of injuries which could be inflicted on minorites, however, I think there are relatively few. Economic injuries would be highly unlikely in a society in which equality and fairness are going to be the watchwords of an empowered working class. A more serious possiblity is social injustice, but let’s think about it. Take gay marriage, for example. Generally speaking, by the time a social issue such as this has become a political hot topic and a referendum is pushed for, most people have come around to it as part of the natural tendency for stable societies to liberalise. Since 2010, for instance, over fifty percent of Americans believe that gay marriage should be legalised, a clear majority. If this were put to the vote, discrimination against gays (a minority) would suffer a serious blow. Unfortunately, Americans do not live in a direct democracy.
This is the area within which, admittedly, I have the most to prove. Social systems are, ultimately, measured by their consequences. Since democratic socialism has never existed, history provides us with few lessons. The planned economy of the U.S.S.R. was extremely efficient for a long time, but a combination of internal and external economic and political factors rendered it non-viable in the long run. What follows, then, is speculation. My arguments here will be based upon a reading of Marxian economics as against the standard neo-classical and Austrian models.
Firstly, let’s try to define ‘efficiency’. In theory, what this word should mean is ‘maximal production of goods’, where ‘goods’ refers to anything which is benificial to individuals and to society at large. Bourgoise economists tends to use the word efficiency to mean nothing other than growth in general, that is, the fastest possible production of commodities given current technology and labour skill. The most ‘efficient’ society possible, under this conception, would be a slave-owning society, that is, a society in which as much of social output as possible is channelled back into increased production and not ‘wasted’ on the wages (material well-being) of labour. Every concession capital makes to labour decreases efficiency is the sense Con is using the word. Understandably, then, capitalists regard unregulated free markets as the most ‘efficient’ and planned economies, which waste investment capital on worker’s material well-being, as ‘inefficient’.
Con’s argument is based on the erroneous assumption that one of the main objective of economic planning is to take pricing out of the hands of the market and to put it in the hands of the planners. In a planned economy, however, there are no prices: prices are only required when the economy functions through buying and selling – when production is planned, price is irrelevent. Now, of course some things cost more than others to produce – but here we are talking about value, not price. Prices are the result of individual producers and sellers attempting to price goods so as to make a profit – values are objective – they represent the amount of human labour that has gone into the production of a good. The value of something is how much human labour it takes to make it.
Let’s look at Con’s farmer example. Firstly, he wouldn’t sell his wheat for $10 if that’s what it cost him to make it – he’d sell it for the highest profit the market would allow, let’s say $12. How would this work under socialism? Firstly, what people would be voting on would not be the price of wheat, since they would not be ‘buyers’. They would vote on the proportion of total productive capacity to be devoted to the production of wheat. In balance with the rest of the economy, sufficient resources would then be dsitributed towards that goal, if possible. The value of each bushel, that is, the amount of labour it took to produce it, would be known as a result of the production process itself. Distribution would then be handled in one of two ways – either the agreed upon quantity of wheat would be distributed evenly amongst the population, or workers would receive labour tokens as ‘wages’ which they would exchange at storehouses for wheat and other goods. This would not, however, be an exchange in the typical sense: it would simply be the worker confirming that he had done x amount of labour, and receiving an equal amount of value (labour embodied in the commodity he wishes to consume) back in return.
Now, as for the question of absolute productivity, I do not have an easy answer. Productivity is the result of one thing and one thing only: work. In a democratic society it should be up to people themselves to balance the two priorities of leisure/comfort and labour in the interests of themselves and society at large. Any socialist society would need to trade with other countries, meaning that at least some of its output would have to be produced for exchange rather than for use. This means that the maximum possible level of leisure that could be afforded would be that which still allowed sufficient exports to be produced to remain stable. In a competitive capitalist global system, of course, stability means growth, and it is here that my opponent is at his strongest. Ultimately, my position is that the compromise between growth and stability/leisure/comfort/well-being should be made by the people themselves. The position of a socialist society is analagous to the position of a worker-owned firm under capitalism. In theory, the workers have the option to pay themselves high salaries and only work two days a week; in reality, they all agree that this is simply not viable in a competitive marketplace. There are many successful worker-owned firms, however, and so we should not think that a balance cannot be struck. For Con, social democracy is this balance. For me it does not go far enough - we will never know what the most 'efficient' balance of work and leisure/comfort will be unless we can decide for ourselves.
The first point my opponent brought up was the problem of corruption and the undue influence of the wealthy that is often found in representative democracies. I am in full agreement with him that this is a serious threat to democracy and equality but my opinion differs from his on how we can fix it. He believes that the best way to rid corruption from the electoral process is through direct democracy. The benefit of this is that it gives absolute and total authority to the people. The problem is that it could be somewhat inefficient to require a referendum on all issues that are deemed major by the people.
Instead of this, I would argue that the best way to stop corruption is to keep representative democracy in place but ensure that elected officials act on behalf of their constituents. The best way to both eliminate corruption and to ensure that the representatives are carrying out their constituents' wishes is to introduce publicly funded campaigns so that each candidate receives an adequate amount of money to try to convince voters that they are best suited to hold the posit they are running for without relying on wealthy donors who often influence policy in their favor. This way, officeholders will only be influenced by the people who elect them and will be able to enact popular reforms despite opposition from the wealthy. One other benefit to this system is that it gives the people more ability in influencing their representative while still giving power to elected officials who tend to have a better understanding of the issues than the general public.
My opponent claims that inequality and exploitation are exacerbated by social democracy and that wages do not keep pace with productivity in this system. None of these claims are true. First, inequality and exploitation are actually drastically reduced by social democracy when compared to capitalism. Second, as was seen during the 1950-1970s in the US, wage growth was almost identical to productivity growth. Pro also claimed that social democracy actually keeps the flaws of capitalism. This is true in some sense, as social democracy does keep most of the flaws. But the benefit to social democracy is that it dramatically reduces all of these things. It reduces inequality, exploitation, pollution, corruption, and economic volatility, while still leaving room for the benefits of capitalism: rapid growth in productivity, efficiency, innovation, entrepreneurship.
Next I would like to address several of the rebuttals made by my opponent in response to my criticisms. First, on the issue of direct democracy, I agree that low turnout is often due to the feeling that we have little influence, but I think that this is more due to the fact that we don't think our one vote will actually count and less due to the fact that we are simply electing representatives and not actually voting on policy. Second, while I do not think that economic efficiency should trump democracy, I do think that there should be a balance between the two.
On the issue of minorities, your different arguments are a bit conflicting. On the one hand you say that the system works simply because each person is going to vote in their own interests and on the other hand you are saying that a majority would not gang up on the minority for their own benefit because of a devotion to equality. Which one is it, a devotion to equality or each person voting in their own interests, that helps achieve an egalitarian society? And if it is the latter, what is to stop this situation from occurring?
On the issue of efficiency, I am not going to argue for slavery or the suppression of workers wages for maximum efficiency. Instead, I will be arguing as I have throughout this debate for balance. In the case, I believe there should be a balance between wage equality and efficiency that leads to growth. In my opinion, this balance can best be achieved in social democracy, which retains the efficiency that markets provide while allowing workers to join unions that help them reap their fair share of the earnings.
Finally, my opponent did not address my concern that while democratic socialism may be best for the workers in the short term, it can actually be harmful in the long term. This is because productivity growth would likely be greater in a social democracy than a democratic socialist economy. The reason for this is that there is greater efficiency due to relatively free markets and there is more innovation and entrepreneurship due to the possibility of bettering one's standards of living. When wages stay on pace with productivity as they would in a social democracy where unions hold bargaining power for the workers, wage growth for the workers would actually be greater in social democracy than democratic socialism. If this trend remains for an extended period of time, the wages for those at the bottom would end up passing those of workers in democratic socialism. Therefore, while democratic socialism may be best for workers in the short term, a regulated capitalist system can provide higher wage growth as well as an opportunity for upward mobility unlike what is seen in democratic socialism.
For this last round I’ll begin by tackling Con’s points in round 4 before making my final plea!
Con attacks direct democracy on the basis of its inefficiency – the example of Switzerlandshould be enough to refute this, but even if direct democracy did hurt efficiency, it would still solve the problem of courruption in an extremely effective manner. To argue that this would not be desireable is to imply that efficiency requires a certain degree of corruption, an observation that should make us question our allegiance to efficiency.
Con suggests an alternative method of tackling corruption, namely, publically funded campaigns. Firstly, I am not sure that I have argued explicitly that the problem with liberal democracy is ‘corruption’, that is, elected officials not doing what they say they will or enriching themselves at public expense. David Cameron’s Conservative government in the UK has done more or less what it said it would – conduct wide-spread austerity. The problem, under capitalism and social democracy (regulated capitalism) is that the range of promises it is possible for a politician to make is already almost entirely dictated by market conditions and the power of big business. It was not the ‘corrupt’ mentality of Tony Blair that set New Labour down its right-wing path and corruption is not fuelling Cameron’s war against the working class; both were conditioned by the economic laws of capitalism itself.
A serious issue with publically funded campaigns is the question of who gets funded. Is every single political party, even those with only 1 member, going to get the same amount? This would quickly bankrupt the treasury. The only option would be to give out funds on the basis of electoral support, which would be an enormous handicap to smaller parties. More equal campaign funding would also have no effect on the policies of governments once elected – they would be under no firmer mandate to enact the will of the electorate than before. Only direct democracy ensures that the people have a voice in parliament. A more constructive measure in the short term, however, would be proportional representation in the UK, making parliament less of a binary war and more of an accurate representation of national opinion.
Con denies that inequality and exploitation increase under social democracy relative to capitalism – this is, of course, formally true. But there are no free market capitalist societies – all forms of capitalism eventually become social democracies; it is probably the case that social democracy is the only thing which keeps capitalism alive in the long run. Inequality and exploitation are thus at the maximum possible levels under social democracy, given historical conditions and a set degree of working-class resistance. While Con is correct to point out that wages kept pace with productivity in the mid-20th century, this proved unsustainable given the demands of capital accumulation and the increasing globalisation of the economy. Today, equality has taken a complete back-seat to growth, as it always has (the fifties and sixties were the unique combination of a giant economic boom, post-war reconstruction in europe, U.S. hegemony and control of the gold supply and the ascendency of the left following the great depression and war). Exploitation is by definition larger than ever – less of the value that workers produce is given back to them that at any other time since the industrial revolution.
Con is right to say that part of why we feel politically apathetic is because we don’t think our vote will count – but why do we feel this way? We know that our vote will count, in the formal sense. We feel apathetic because the range of choice we have between parties is no pitifully small – all capitalist and social democratic parties tailor their policies towards growth and productivity, making only the smallest concessions to democracy and equality. A balance absolutely needs to be struck between growth and leisure or consumption, but I see absolutely no reason why democracy should be in any way hamstrung by the needs of capital accumulation.If growth asserts itself as an objective necessity, a democratically empowered electorate should be the agent of political power that responds to that necessity. If democracy really is antithetical to growth, then we should recognise that growth alienates us from control over our lives and choose democracy instead.
On minorities: equality is, by definition, in most people’s interests. Inequality can only possibly be in the interests of a small minority, the minority on the winning side of inequality. If everybody votes in their own interests and has their votes genuinely taken into account by a directly democratic system, there is very little chance, at least in the sphere of economics, that any minority would be harmed. For instance, if people are to vote on a national minimum wage increase, this increase will go to the minority as well as to the majority. If, due to growth constraints, people vote for an increase in the working week, again, the minority is affected in equal measure as the majority.
I appreciate that both Con and myself see the necessity of balancing growth and wages/consumption. Con sees this balance as being best achieved by social democracy, which retains the efficiency of markets whilst making some concessions to the working class and its demands. My issue with this is that, first and foremost, the responsibility for negotiating this balance does not lie with the people, as I have repeatedly emphasized. Instead, it lies with governments who’s policies will forever be geared towards tipping this balance in favour of growth. This is not because they are evil, but because the capitalist class, to which the political class acts as a kind of diplomatic arm, continues to dictate the direction in which societies must move.
A democratic socialist economy is absolutely capable of being efficient – a society is, afterall, the sum of its parts. Both capitalist and socialist economies are made up of people working. Short of increasing exploitation, there is no particular reason to assume that a capitalist society will be more efficient that a democratic socialist one. The only advantage capitalist economies have over socialist economies in terms of efficiency is that they are willing to force workers to work harder for less money.
The role of incentives and entrepreneurialism is seriously exaggerated by liberal and bourgoise discourse. Conscious planning by an empowered electorate rests on the same limited material basis as the anarchy of production under capitalism – technological and organizational horizons of knowledge combined with the demand for a particular level of wages and consumption on the part of workers. People will only work so hard, and can only produce so much with given technology and organisational structures.
Social scientists have long been telling us that the way to break down these barriers (to get people to work harder, to improve technology, and to streamline organisational structures) is absolutely not economic incentivisation. The main reason people work is to live and to get better at things. Once workers are guaranteed a job and a living wage, as they would be under socialism, they will have the time and the inclination to excel. All an economy needs is hard-working people who are good at things; capitalism and social democracy aim to achieve this by forcing people to work with the threat of unemployment and poverty, and by setting carrots of money on sticks out of reach of the majority of the population. This is not the way to produce happy, empowered and productive workers who enjoy their labour and desire to do more of it. Put people in control of their labour and their society, as a democratic socialist society would do, and you will get the most out of people that it is materially possible to get.
Thanks to Con for a fantastic debate; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself!