Hello everyone! This is my first post here… and I’m starting off with a huge question.
I recently read the article by Robin Cox called The "Economic Calculation" controversy: unravelling of a myth (http://www.cvoice.org/cv3cox.htm). Overall I found the article convincing, and it laid to rest various scepticisms I'd had about a moneyless (and free access) system, but there were still a couple things that remained problematic for me. (They are explained below.)
I would prefer to live in a moneyless system, but as long as these problems remain unsolved I don't think such a system is viable. That does NOT mean I think we need markets or wages or even a single unit for accounting. Each good can have multiple prices according to the labor time, environmental harms, and non/semi-renewable resource usage associated with that product. We could have non-circulating credits for labor time and also for various environmental harms we want to limit (like greenhouse gas credits) and also for non- or semi-renewable resources (biodiversity impact credits). These credits can be distributed according to need (about equally but with more for those with greater need). This would not be buying/selling or exchange, the credits would just be subtracted from each person's account (I guess electronically).
The benefit of this is that it places limits on our consumption and thus require that we prioritize what to consume, which would then automatically signal information about what our consumption/production priorities are, without needing to have various meetings to communicate our priorities.
In any case, like I said I would prefer a moneyless system so I'm posting this not to try to shoot down your ideas but because I'm hoping you know how to solve this problem.
The Problems Explained...
Critics, and also supportive sceptics, of a moneyless and free access system have said that in such a system we won’t be able to decide how to allocate resources necessary for production (raw materials, such as steel, and intermediate goods, such as microchips).
For example, if producing a month’s supply of thing X for our community takes 200 units of chlorine, and producing a month’s supply of thing Y requires 100 units of chlorine, but we only have 200 units of chlorine per month available (due to our democratic decision to limit harsh chemicals), how will we decide what to produce? Should we produce half a month’s supply of X so we can produce an entire month’s supply of Y? Should we not produce any Y so we can produce the entire month’s supply of X? Or some other combination?
The solution usually given is that we will make these decisions through meetings where we will discuss, debate, and decide our consumption priorities, using something roughly like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Basic survival needs like food, shelter, and medicine will take top of the list priority. Trivial luxuries will be at the bottom of the list.
I agree with this solution in principal but I don’t think it solves the problem adequately – for a few reasons:
1. Cases involving goods of equal priority. Continuing with the example where the available supply of chlorine falls short of the demand for it, If thing X is of very high priority and thing Y is of very low priority, then we can produce the full amount of thing X and reduce the production of thing Y. But what if both are of the same priority? What if they both rank at level 15 (out of a possible 30 priority levels)? We will need to have a meeting to decide which is of the two is of slightly higher priority. If we decide X is of higher priority we can’t just stick X in level 14 because we already decided it was less important than goods in that level. And we can’t stick Y in level 16 for the opposite reason. So we have to create a new priority level, which means we now have 31 priority levels. But eventually the same problem will come up again with another two goods and we will need to have another meeting and will then have 32 priority levels. This process can go on indefinitely, every time two goods of equal priority come into conflict.
2. Even when goods are not of equal priority we still don’t know to what extent to reduce production of each good. Knowing that X is of a higher priority than Y tells us that we rather reduce production of Y than of X. But it doesn’t tell us to what extent we are willing to sacrifice Y to get X. Are we willing to have no Y whatsoever so we can have a full supply of X? Or would we rather have a half supply of Y which still leaves us with a three-quarters supply of X? There are many other possible options. Which to choose? You might say that these decisions would be made at meetings, but with all the fluctuations of supply and demand that might occur from day to day for all the myriad of goods and their inputs, this would require more meetings than most would be willing to tolerate.
3. A good in a low priority category should not necessarily, in each case, be sacrificed to produce a good in a high priority category. For example, the need for food is obviously in a tie with various other needs for being of the utmost priority. But not all food deserves to be on such a high level – i.e. potato chips. And even a food staple, such as bread, is not in itself absolutely essential, as long as alternatives are available. If there is no bread I can have potatoes, corn tortillas, rice. Now let’s imagine a scenario where we have a demand for both bread and beer, but not enough wheat to fully meet the demand for both. In fact, to totally meet the demand for bread we will have to fall short of our beer demand by 70%. If we were using a priority ranking system, staple food is in the highest priority category and beer is probably at least halfway down, so indeed we would produce only 30% of our desired amount of beer but plenty of bread. But wouldn’t it make more sense to reduce the production of bread somewhat so that more beer could be made? After all, there are other food options besides bread. (There are also other alcohol options besides beer, so perhaps this wasn’t the best example, but if you use your imagination you can think of other examples where it doesn’t make sense to drastically reduce a low priority good to meet production for a “high priority” good. I’ll give another example: not enough rubber to meet the demand for both raincoats and dildos. Protection from the rain is more important than a masturbation tool, but there is also the option of the umbrella which needs no rubber. And maybe half the people who want raincoats already have one that works fine, but it looks shabby so they want a new one. In that case the need is not for protection from the rain (a high priority) but fashion (a priority which is not necessarily of more or even equal importance to masturbation). Again, you might say common sense will solve this issue, but whose common sense? For the decision to be democratic, we will require meetings for our collective common sense to be put to use. But with such issues coming up frequently, it would require frequent meetings.
4. Different people have different desires/priorities. For most people thing Y might be at a level 20 priority (out of, say, 30 priority levels) and thing X at a level 5. But for some people it might be the exact reverse. Such people would not be happy with the decision to produce lots of X and very little Y. Of course as in any democratic decision not everyone will be happy with the outcome. But we should at least hope that what little of Y is produced goes to those who most desire it. In a free/open access system, how can this be assured? Unless we think of some way to make it otherwise, what will happen is that people will get things on a first come first serve basis. If I do not have to limit my consumption, that means I don’t need to prioritize what I consume, either, and therefore I might consume Y even though it’s at a level 20 priority for me. My neighbour for who Y is at a level 5 priority happens to get to the distribution outlet later than me and by then there is no more Y left. I suppose we could reserve scarce goods for those who most wanted them, but how would this be determined?
Now the purpose of bringing this up isn’t to conclude that a moneyless system of free/open access is impossible. It’s to ask if you can think of any solution(s). I imagine the solution may be an extension of the solution which is usually given, mentioned above, that we will know how to allocate scarce resources because we will set our consumption priorities through a democratic process. Although such a simple answer is insufficient, I believe it can be the basis or nucleus of an adequate answer. Then again, maybe the solution is to be found in something else entirely (but something that, of course, does not resort to either authority or wages).
Thank you everyone I hope we can figure this out!