(This is not a prescription for fixing unfixable communism. It is a set of ideas for improving our current economic system.)
“From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”
Oh, how attractive that quote is. For decades it bothered me that Marx’s famous communist prescription about how things ought to be simply did not work. Anywhere. Was it a fault in the human condition? Were we simply too selfish to be asked to work, and to give to others what they need? No, we very often vote to tax ourselves, which clearly means that we are willing to give up some of what we make and earn. And many of us give generously to charities, local schools, and people we know–either personally or online–who have hit unforeseeable hard times.
The problem lies not with us, but with Marx.
He was on the right track, but he fell tragically short of getting it right. Let’s add a few words–words that Mr. Marx might have had in mind, but did not include. “From each according to the best of his abilities, to each according to his needs–not wants.” Don’t those four words make a fundamental and game-changing difference? People who are able are asked not merely to show up and work, they are asked to do their best work. And not just show up and try. People who are in need would know that if doing their best cannot satisfy their needs, that while those needs can indeed be met by others, they cannot ask for their wants to be supplied. Only their needs.
Let’s introduce the Can’t vs. Won’t concept.
If people cannot do something, like meet their own needs even after doing their best, that is entirely different from not being willing to do their best–while still relying on others to come through for them. In other words, they would be asking others to come through for them, while they did less than they were capable of on their own behalf. And as my sons might ask, “What’s up with that?”
Now let’s look at Needs vs. Wants.
Needs can include personal goods and services like nutritious food, serviceable clothing, adequate shelter, education that sets up students for success in the modern world, and competent healthcare, along with societal goods and services like roads, defense, and police protection and fire mitigation and response. Wants start with things like potato chips and soda, entertainment, recreation, and smartphones. (I’d be happy to include a talk/text flip phone in with needs.) Given that everyone has needs, even if “only” for the overall needs like national defense, local roads and sewers, and police and fire protection, everyone should step up and do their best.
If both parts of the Marx’s modified vision were met, wouldn’t we have great surpluses? Imagine the overwhelming abundance if those with abilities produced at their best, and those whose needs were being met by others would be content with only what they actually needed, and not what they simply wanted? Think about the advances in medicine, education, the arts, transportation and life-improving technology that would be created with that abundance. Many of the “extras” should properly be reserved for those producing that abundance, both as an incentive to continue producing and as a motivation to others. In the end, the people at the middle and the bottom would have more than ever–not just more than they would have had, but more than ever in history. And the people at the top would have more to give.
Remember: This is not at all designed to be a utopian post. The keys here are:
- Best vs. Showing up and trying
- Can’t vs. Won’t
- Needs vs. Wants
Where do you stand? Do you agree that Karl (and Freddy Engels) needs an update?
Will Luden, writing from my home office at 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.