Responsibility and Initiative in Communal Concerns   Leave a comment

This is a series based on Ludwig von Mises’ essay “Economic Calculation” I’m only hitting what I think are the highlights and suggest you look the essay up to read it in full if you’re curious. Lela

Image result for image of the failure of socialist businessesMost socialists ignore this or they believe they can remedy it by setting up pretend business structures. They still don’t own the means of production, but occasionally enterprises have flourished under their control, so they see this as proof that if society owned the means of production, there would be no issues over the lack of ownership.

Mises acknowledged that there are two different kinds of business. Most small companies are run by proprietors or small boards of directors who all have direct interest in the company. They may be corporations, but they act like small businesses. Think Hobby Lobby or Chik-fil-A.

Then there are the large scale corporations where only a fraction of the shareholders have any direct control of the firm. The firm’s control is in the hands of people who don’t own it and are sometimes at variance to the people who own stock in the company. Sometimes the management follows a course that injures the shareholders. Why? Because their agenda for the company is their own best interest rather than the shareholders.

The same holds true for banks and large financial institutions. It’s best not to trifle with the public’s interests because sooner or later, it will come back on you, the manager, and end up harming you in the long run.

Image result for image of the failure of socialist businessesBut when an industry is nationalized, this motive disappears because private individuals no longer have material interests in the enterprise they are employed by. By Mises’ era there were already decades of evidence on State and socialist endeavors. There were no internal pressure to reform or improve products and socialist enterprises had no incentive to adapt to changing conditions of demand. Companies grow moribund. Managers lose interest in doing great work, because they get paid the same whether they do pedestrian work or excellent work. It doesn’t matter, so they don’t care.

If the managers of these enterprises were interested in the yield, it was thought they would be in a position comparable to that of the manager of large-scale companies. This is a fatal error. The managers of large-scale companies are bound up with the interests of the businesses they administer in an entirely different way from what could be the case in public concerns. They are either already owners of a not inconsiderable fraction of the share capital, or hope to become so in due course. Further, they are in a position to obtain profits by stock exchange speculation in the company’s shares. They have the prospect of bequeathing their positions to, or at least securing part of their influence for, their heirs.

This ignores the obvious fact that most people are diligent, enthusiastic and hard working only when it benefits them. Socialists believe they can construct a socialist commonwealth on the basis of the Categorical Imperative alone. How lightly it is their wont to proceed in this way is best shown by Kautsky when he says, “If socialism is a social necessity, then it would be human nature and not socialism which would have to readjust itself, if ever the two clashed.”

But let’s say we live in Utopia and that people really will exert the same zeal for the collective as they do for themselves and those they love. We’re still faced with the problem that the lack of economic calculation means that individuals can’t ascertain how well they’re actually doing in their jobs.

Bureaucracies typically lack initiative. We know that. Government agencies spend a lot of money trying to remedy this by organizational changes. It almost always fails.

Socialists resist placing their ventures entirely in the hands of a single person, because they suspect he’ll permit errors that damage the community, so instead they rely on committees. But committees rarely introduce bold innovations.

One cannot transfer free disposal of the factors of production to an employee, however high his rank, and this becomes even less possible, the more strongly he is materially interested in the successful performance of his duties; for in practice the property-less manager can only be held morally responsible for losses incurred.

The property owner himself bears responsibility. He must primarily feel the loss arising from unwise business practices. This difference in the sense of ownership is a characteristic difference between market-based and socialist production.

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