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Paul Auerbach’s Socialist Optimism offers an alternative political economy for the twenty-first century. Present-day capitalism has generated growing inequality of income and wealth, persistent high levels of unemployment and ever-diminishing prospects for young people. But in the absence of a positive vision of how society and the economy might develop in the future, the present trajectory of capitalism will never be derailed, no matter how acute the critique of present-day developments.


The detailed blueprint presented here focuses upon the education and upbringing of children in the context of social equality and household security. It yields a well-defined path to human development and liberation, as well as democratic control of working life and public affairs. Socialism as human development gives a unity and direction to progressive policies that are otherwise seen to be a form of pragmatic tinkering in the context of a pervasive capitalist reality.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
We live in dispiriting, pessimistic, cynical times. Present-day capitalism has generated a level of instability and dysfunction not seen since the interwar period of the twentieth century, with growing inequality of income and wealth, persistent high levels of unemployment and ever-diminishing prospects for young people. Political activity is widely perceived to be a game performed by an elite for its own benefit.
Paul Auerbach

Socialism and Central Planning

Frontmatter

1. Planning and Spontaneous Order

Abstract
Two grand conceptions have emerged in Europe on how to organise society on a secular basis. In the early modern period, a conscious moulding of society and its institutions was seen as a logical extrapolation from the way rational human beings ordered their lives. In a later view, society was seen to behave as a natural system capable of self-regulation. In this chapter, these approaches — planning and its antipode, spontaneous order — will first be introduced. The remaining sections and much of the discussion in Part I will address the false presumption that these two notions are not only competing, but mutually incompatible.
Paul Auerbach

2. The Giant Firm and the Plan

Abstract
State intervention in a range of public policy measures was well established by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The transmutation of this practice into the idea that it would be possible to direct whole economies by way of a central plan emerged from the concrete experience of modernity in a host of spheres. The driving force of this modernity and the major factor compelling attention and explanation in this period was the emergence of giant capitalist firms, because they changed the way people lived.
Paul Auerbach

3. Technocratic Planning and the Emergence of a Socialist Orthodoxy

Abstract
The world of the late nineteenth century was one of continuous innovation and novelty that impinged, for better or ill, on the life of every inhabitant of the rich nations, and on a large part of those living in colonies or subject to the political and economic hegemony of the great powers. Novelties from the commercial sector transformed consumption, work and travel patterns, while weaponry emerging from the new technologies would bring misery and death to millions from August 1914, as it had already for many in colonial nations and subject areas. The ideology of liberalism, emanating most powerfully from the British Empire, saw the world through an unchanged vision of entrepreneurs, competition and free trade.
Paul Auerbach

4. Socialist Theory and Practice

Abstract
Decades of debate and discussion on the nature of socialism reach a moment of truth in the period after 1917. The Bolshevik Revolution took place in what was, in terms of both area and population, decisively the largest nation in Europe. But it was a distant land for the bulk of West Europeans, and was too poor and backward to be an appropriate venue for a Marxian transition to communism. Nevertheless, the existence of this gigantic ‘workers’ state’, in the context of the troubled postwar economic and political situation, profoundly affected the political and intellectual atmosphere in the West: a socialist transformation of the society and economy was no longer an abstract consideration.
Paul Auerbach

5. Ironies of History: Markets, Planning and Competition

Abstract
After the Second World War, planning — in gradations from Keynesian macroeconomic policies to Soviet central planning — emerged as a functioning alternative and rival, in both the political and the intellectual sphere, to free-market regulation. Political and economic radicalism in the Western capitalist world became identified with those who, even when they were critical of real existing socialism, did so in a manner that did as little damage as possible to the inherent logic and efficacy of a centrally planned organisation of the economy. These radical critics included communists, but also others who were actively hostile to the political regimes in countries dominated by the Communist Party, such as Trotskyists. The intellectual ballast for these critics of capitalism came first from the perceived economic achievements of the centrally planned economies; this line gradually faded, most especially in the rich world, with postwar capitalism’s success in maintaining relatively full employment and growth. An indication, however, of the continuing importance of the demonstration effect of these substantive examples of central planning is the collapse of this radical critique incumbent on the events of 1989 to 1991.
Paul Auerbach

Human and Economic Development

Frontmatter

6. Education and Economic Growth: The Statistical and Historical Record

Abstract
A vast statistical literature lays claim to the notion that enhanced education can boost the incomes of individuals and of whole economies. A straightforward argument could be developed here using this received wisdom: the positive relationship between education (and not, as previously, planning and centralisation) and economic success in modern capitalist societies can be redirected for socialist purposes. But no such simple story is readily available. The lines of causation between education and economic advance at the social level are murkier and more complex than any confident reporting of significant statistical results might indicate: aggregative statistical procedures may not be an appropriate vehicle for reporting on this relationship in other than a generalised way. The reasons for these difficulties should not surprise us — education is deeply embedded in the fundamental structures of society; its nature and role raise issues of a basic kind concerning human development and even personality formation.
Paul Auerbach

7. Education as a Social Process

Abstract
The individual components of the link between education and economic growth will be considered — and deconstructed — here and in the following chapters. This chapter deals with formal education, which poses difficulties for analysts of capitalism because labour has traditionally been viewed as a relatively undifferentiated (and presumably uneducated) entity whose services can be bought and sold on the marketplace. For defenders of capitalism, the ending of the supposedly mutual obligations of lord and serf of the medieval era initiated an era of freedom for labour, while for Marxists, a period of continued exploitation under a new guise emerged.
Paul Auerbach

8. The Working and Living Environment

Abstract
In Chapters 6 and 7, we found ourselves with a narrative in which formal education facilitates economic development. In Part III, it simultaneously acts as a vehicle for personal realisation, the expansion of democratic participation and control of decisions in the modern world. But a narrative based exclusively on formal education would be overly simplistic, with an implicit acceptance of a hierarchy of learning ‘between the mode of transmission [of knowledge] in a technical society, with its schools, and an indigenous one, where cultural transmission is in the context of action’.1
Paul Auerbach

9. The US as Exemplar and Paradigm

Abstract
For much of the twentieth century, the US was a standard of the good life, for perfectly explicable reasons. In a war-torn, class-ridden, poverty-stricken and undemocratic world, America was distinctive for peace, class mobility, wealth and the absence of mass terror. This transcendent position reached its height in the period immediately after the Second World War. The vibrant role of the US in the interwar period in the forms of culture characteristic of the twentieth century — cinema, popular music and jazz — was now supplemented by overwhelming military, political and economic predominance.
Paul Auerbach

10. Economic Growth and Inequality

Abstract
Economic growth emerged in the second half of the twentieth century as the dominant justification for economic policy and, to a great extent, for social action in general. Growth, it was claimed, would obviate, or at least mitigate, sources of conflict in society and generate the resources for doing good things such as alleviating inequality. But does economic growth, as conventionally measured, truly reflect the increased capacity of a society to pursue its desired tasks? There are good reasons to believe that it does not. True economic development is an extended process, one that is only reflected in growth statistics with a long lag, if at all. Inequality, furthermore, is not a problem that we can put off dealing with until we can afford to do so, since it impinges upon the very process of economic development that is the source of increased economic capacity. Lastly, we may ask whether we have let the tail wag the dog — growth was supposed to expand the range of societal choices, but are the exigencies of growth now being used as excuses to dictate social outcomes?
Paul Auerbach

Socialism and Human Possibilities

Frontmatter

11. Education in a Free Society

Abstract
Education is not an independent variable in an economic growth equation. In its broadest sense, it is a fundamental aspect of, and prerequisite for, human existence. Even if we are not blank slates, our functioning as human beings is deeply conditioned by what is consciously and unconsciously passed on to us: we are shaped by the actions, attitudes and behaviour of others and the environmental context in which these interactions take place, most especially in the first years of life. No more fundamental question about society can be asked than how we are to be educated.
Paul Auerbach

12. Equality and Democratic Control

Abstract
The long-term socialist strategy proposed here is explicit in having a trajectory in the direction of human development, equality and democratic control that is not easily deflected by the vagaries of the marketplace. It is thus in stark contrast to the disingenuous claims of free market liberals that, for instance, policies of privatisation of public services are mere responses to the demands of a spontaneous order. It is also at variance with the policy prescriptions of American-style liberals and social democrats, who, especially in recent years, at best offer an amelioration and mitigation of the worst effects of an increasingly competitive environment, and at worst pursue policies of accommodation to these realities that differ little from those of the free-marketers.
Paul Auerbach

Conclusion

Abstract
What is in a name? Some may argue with the use of the word ‘socialism’ to describe the ideas and policies adopted in the past chapters. From one perspective, there is little here of true socialism, with the notions presented here lacking many of its essential requisites: the abolition of private property — nationalisation or cooperative ownership of the means of production; a central plan for the coordination of economic activities; the elimination of money, finance and financial instruments as key allocative and distributive mechanisms in the economy.
Paul Auerbach

Backmatter

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