Monday, June 19, 2006

Economic Democracy

Socialism: Preface2 in paragraph PG.15
Capitalist society is the realization of what we should call economic democracy, had not the term—according I believe, to the terminology of Lord Passfield and Mrs. Webb—come into use and been applied exclusively to a system in which the workers, as producers, and not the consumers themselves, would decide what was to be produced and how. This state of affairs would be as little democratic as, say, a political constitution under which the government officials and not the whole people decided how the state was to be governed—surely the opposite of what we are accustomed to call democracy. When we call a capitalist society a consumers' democracy we mean that the power to dispose of the means of production, which belongs to the entrepreneurs and capitalists, can only be acquired by means of the consumers' ballot, held daily in the market-place. Every child who prefers one toy to another puts its voting paper in the ballot-box, which eventually decides who shall be elected captain of industry. True, there is no equality of vote in this democracy; some have plural votes. But the greater voting power which the disposal of a greater income implies can only be acquired and maintained by the test of election. That the consumption of the rich weighs more heavily in the balance than the consumption of the poor—though there is a strong tendency to overestimate considerably the amount consumed by the well-to-do classes in proportion to the consumption of the masses—is in itself an 'election result', since in a capitalist society wealth can be acquired and maintained only by a response corresponding to the consumers' requirements. Thus the wealth of successful business men is always the result of a consumers' plebiscite, and, once acquired, this wealth can be retained only if it is employed in the way regarded by consumers as most beneficial to them. The average man is both better informed and less corruptible in the decisions he makes as a consumer than as a voter at political elections. There are said to be voters who, faced with a decision between Free Trade and Protection, the Gold Standard and Inflation, are unable to keep in view all that their decision implies. The buyer who has to choose between different sorts of beer or makes of chocolate has certainly an easier job of it.