Monday, 13 June 2011

Who will clean the toilets in the socialist utopia?

Pat Kenny had an interesting discussion today on his radio show about Marxism. The SWP's Kieren Allen argued in favour of socialism and economist Jim Power spoke against it.

Both made some good points, Allen said that workers should have more input into how their workplaces are run, in fact from what I gather he would say workers should control the businesses or organisations they work for in conjunction with the state.

It's hard to argue with people having more of a say in how their workplaces are run and if it can work in practice then there is no reason it should not be encouraged.

Jim Power's main argument is that people are motivated by self-interest and that is what drives innovation and progress in society. Socialism would remove this outlet and leave everyone poor, he argued.

He mentioned medical developments as an example of this incentive at work. He could have picked better ones to prove his points however, as far as I know the people who came up with vaccines for killer diseases weren't doing it for the money, but to save lives.

The amount of money spent on cures for baldness, cosmetic surgery, obesity and other symptoms of consumerism and vanity, while a million people die of malaria every year, also suggests that pure capitalism is not the best system to rule the medical world.

Capitalists argue that people are motivated by self-interest while socialists argue that people are motivated by the common good. The truth lies somewhere in between – people are motivated by both self-interest and improving the lot of humankind.

The whole point of socialism is to create a society of equals, but if not all roles in society are equal, how can this be?

One question I would have of socialists is who would do the nasty jobs if their preferred system was in place? Who, for example, would clean the toilets in a socialist utopia?

Hollywood may have led us to believe that things will work out fine if people follow their dreams, but in reality this does not happen for everyone. There are winners and losers in capitalism, but in socialism everyone is meant to be a winner.

Let's say, under socialism, you had a large state-run enterprise with thousands of employees. The workers control the company, but who gets the dirty but vital jobs needed to keep the business working?

If no one wants to clean the toilets for example, how do you incentivise people to do this job apart from appealing to their better natures. Pay them extra, give them less hours?

This issue may seem like a minor one in the grand scheme of political economy and human development, but if socialism can't ensure equality in all aspects of life then it won't be able to do what it is meant to.


  1. Scríobh Jerome K Jerome aor spéisiúil ar seo:

    Ach sílim dá mbeadh a leithéid de shochaí ann go mbeadh ar dhaoine babhtáil chun na jabanna gránna a dhéanamh. Radharc cumhachtach faoi san scannán Ghandhi.

  2. Smaoineamh maith Dennis ach nach bhfuil Terminator, I Robot srl feicthe agat!

  3. Bheadh an scéal ina chac ceart dá mbeadh muirthéacht na róbat glantacháin ann..

    Bhí gearrscéal - nó mír in úrscéal, ní cuimhin, ag Asimov faoin deighilt amach a rinneadh ar an dream a rinne cúram den séarachas. Agus a éirí amach ina aghaidh sin.

  4. Ideally, you would get people not to make a mess in the first place or feel obliged to clean up after themselves. The Simpsons episode where Homer runs for public office on the "Can't someone else do it?" ticket sums it up really. (James)

  5. Great post, I agree with you completely.