Posted on May 01, 2012
Back in the 1970's things were just a little different. We wrote letters (as opposed to email or text). We wore long socks with shorts. And our parents thought that free love and rock 'n roll were signs of the imminent demise of civilisation. As they knew it. Perhaps they were right.
Personally we believed that the statement attributed to Karl Marx "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" pretty much described utopia. We can recall others who moved in similar circles who ended up Reserve Bank economists and industrialists. Even Mayors and bus drivers. But we were all wrong.
Over the years we put our collective heads down, read Ayn Rand and the Tom Peters, built businesses, contributed in many and varied different ways to society, and thought little more about Marx.
But recently we had cause to examine the mirror, and reflect on Marx's best known statement. Actually it was not dreamed up by Marx at all. It seems that it has been around a lot longer , and is more properly attributed to Louis Blanc, a French socialist who first used it in 1839 in "The organization of work".
In our contemporary society, there are vast numbers of people who do contribute in proportion to their ability. Our progressive tax system ensures that we contribute (in a financial sense anyway) more, the more "ability" we have. To pay at least. Perhaps that ability is more properly described as an ability to earn, rather than an intellectual ability. And there are anomalies - in particular those who make significant contributions, but society does not recognise it in monetary terms. We can all name occupational groups who contribute immensely in different ways to society, but are not rewarded for that contribution in a monetary sense. Conversely, it could be said that there are those who are rewarded far too much for the minimal contribution they make. But that is another story.
More to the point, there are those who have ability, but choose not to contribute. Perhaps we can live with that selfish attitude - but it becomes hard to accept when individuals have the ability to contribute- and choose not to - but then want to take as if they have a need.
So, the contribution side of Marx's statement sits reasonably well, albeit with anomalies and those who just choose not to contribute. What rankles most is that the "need" side of the statement, in our contemporary society has ballooned out of control. Not only do many have a "want" that they have somehow morphed into a "need", but they have convinced or deluded themselves that they should be looked after ( "to each according to his need" ) whilst they conveniently ignore the contribution ("from each according to his ability")
We have over the past 40 years nurtured and encouraged a culture of entitlement.
I, and I venture to suggest many of my erstwhile boomer fraternity, still connect with our youthful Marxist leanings. We contribute what our ability allows us. We take what we truly need.
But over the years we have , sometimes unwittingly, encouraged generations who have turned Marx on his head. They contribute as little as they possibly can, whilst taking whatever they want. And feeling an entitlement to it.
Perhaps the time has come for a Marxist revolution?
A revolution against the culture of entitlement.