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OK. Been doing a little thinking on this one. What Marx proposed was that the capitalist model expropriated wealth from the people producing it. That the employer and investor made far more out of the deal than the guy doing the job. And that where possible, the capitalist will minimise his labour costs rather than even slightly reduce his own profits: those philanthropic capitalists will mechanise, rationalise, outsource, whatever, with the precise intention of minimising labour costs, and we see the culmination of this today.
The now-deleted Clause IV of the Labour Party, drafted by Sidney Webb in 1918 embodies Marx’s thinking:
<i>To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.</i>
But it’s flawed. Because that broad-brush ‘common ownership’ automatically ties government into ‘production, distribution, and exchange’. And puts it in a position where government takes control of those. ‘The best obtainable’, while it takes account of limited options, is a cop-out, and allows for a degree of compromise which is fatal to the project. And the ‘best obtainable’,again, was felt to be <i>nationalisation</i> – which <i>inevitably</i> led to State capitalism, in which the expropriation of the workers by a higher authority continued, and in the Soviet Union, increased. (Marx’s huge mistake was in having anything at all to do with Lenin.)
It’s hard to see the way out, today. Still harder to imagine how change may be effective, given that capitalism has gone global, the population is exploding (cheap labour!) and that ever craftier ways of transferring wealth from the many to the few are invented daily in the City, and Panama… Let’s rephrase Clause IV a bit at this point, to read:
<i>To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the <b>equal</b> ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange</i> – making no reference to administration and control, which may safely be given a clause on its own. Something like, maybe:
<i> To secure a national administrative structure specifically designed to implement Clause IV and not interfere in its practical application, while providing for the basic needs of the community at large. </i>
Cue industrial (agricultural, even financial) co-operatives, workers automatically holding shares in these, and remunerated by an agreed percentage of profits. At the point when government wakes up to what is going on, and starts representing the people, cue a single-algorithm tax system on all earners. Instead of tax bands, if x is your annual income then t = f(x) = your tax. Here the function f could be a logistic equation, for instance, in which t as a proportion of x rises smoothly from lower to higher incomes, and then flatlines at a given level. (I have no idea why the traditional tax shambles has lasted for so long and why regular tweaking by every chancellor since, ooohh, Henry VIII, hasn’t rationalised it yet) Cue a sharply reduced management cohort: management efficiency will be increased by recruitment from the productive workforce and company-specific training. And reduced management costs since the worker-shareholders will be determining pay. Cue all sorts of benefits.