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Interviews Post-Capitalist Vision

Paul Cockshott Interview on Towards a New Socialism – Part 3 – Differential Pay & Worker Self-Management

Editor’s note: discussion topics include how to handle differential pay in the Towards a New Socialism model (TNS), and whether TNS can fulfill aspirations for worker self-management.

[After The Oligarchy] Hello everybody, this is After the Oligarchy speaking to Dr. Paul Cockshott again. Paul Cockshott is a computer engineer working on computer design and teaching computer science at universities in Scotland. Named on 52 patents, his research covers robotics, computer parallelism, 3D TV, foundations of computability, and data compression. His books include Towards a New Socialism, How the World Works, Classical Econophysics, and Computation and Its Limits.

Today’s conversation is in association with meta: the Centre for Post-Capitalist Civilization. This is the third in a series of interviews with Dr. Cockshott about Towards a New Socialism. Watch the first and second interview if you haven’t already.

In Towards a New Socialism, published by Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell in 1993, the authors present a bold vision of a democratically planned economy using computerized labour time. In this interview we’ll be discussing some more advanced questions about that model, so I recommend you read the book to really understand what we’re talking about.

You can watch some excellent videos on Dr. Cockshott’s YouTube channel.

Dr. Paul Cockshott thank you very much for joining me again.

[Paul Cockshott] Hi.

[AO] Let’s start off with a question about standardized pay grades. So, in Towards a New Socialism you write that ‘the planners would know for instance that a given project requiring 1000 person hours of average labour would only require, say, 800 person hours of grade a labour’ – how would the planners figure this out?

The context for people watching is that in TNS people are paid according to the number of hours that they work. But it’s the idea that there might be pay grades according to how strenuously people want to work, and there might be, say, tier A, tier B, and tier C. So, how would the planners figure out these pay grades?

[PC] It has to be done in terms of physical or realized productivity of individual people. Some people can just work faster than others. However, this is not a property of a trade or profession. It’s not that some trades or professions are higher grade than others, it’s a difference in productivity within any trade. Some people are just faster workers in a trade.

Now, for planning purposes it’s unlikely this would be relevant except in very special circumstances, where for some reason the number of people that could be employed on the project was limited and the project was of high priority and therefore within each trade that was going to be involved they might want to have the best workers working on it. If it was some project of major national importance and you couldn’t just assign more workers to it, then under those circumstances, and they’re very limited circumstances, it might be worth planners knowing these things.

But they would be exceptional really, because in most circumstances, within any work team, you’ll get some people who are more productive and some people who are less productive. And Marx says that once you get around twelve – I think he says it is – in a work team the difference is evened out and work teams above a certain size all count just as average labour. So for it to be significant you’re talking about a circumstance where you you’ve got a small number of people where they can’t add more to them and they need to be highly productive. Like astronauts going to the moon or something like that.

[AO] Is there not another dimension as well to this, in terms of motivational efficiency? There’s a discussion in the book that perhaps it might be required to pay people slightly differently depending on how hard they want to work.

Well it depends on what the method of pay or measuring work is. If you are in some branch of labour where the work can be physically measured in some way, and you can then establish a norm what the average is, then people would get paid more if they exceed the norm, paid less if they fall short of the norm. And this this was standard practice in socialist countries where they had what they called payment according to labour.

I mean I was surprised, I remember, in the late 70s, early 80s, to be visiting Bulgaria and finding that university lecturers were paid according to norms where they got a higher rate of pay according to how many pages of lecture notes they prepared and things like that. Areas which here are not graded in terms of productivity can be graded in terms of productivity, which is not the same thing as what’s done here where people are paid for seniority, prestige, etc.

It was based on actual measured outputs so if it’s reckoned that in a 40-hour week someone can, the average person can, do a certain amount, if somebody is able to do 10 percent more than that in a 40-hour week and another person 10 percent less, then provided across the work team averages out there’s no reason why the person who’s more productive can’t be credited with more and the person who’s less productive can’t be credited with less.

But since what you are trying to measure is two objective things, actual productivity and human time, you have to have a proper conservation principle of human time. You can’t start paying more than the actual number of hours that everyone worked. And since it’s a relative measure of productivity in a particular trade, in a particular branch of that trade, then it has to be something that’s decided by the people collectively in the group that are undertaking the task. that some people are doing more than their fair share and should be rewarded.

But that does depend on it being agreed collectively. And it does depend on the average adding up because you can’t have a situation where your calculation becomes detached from reality. You don’t want to have an inflation of the notional labour credit so that more labour credits are being handed out than actual hours that are working being worked.

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Interviews Post-Capitalist Vision

Paul Cockshott Interview on Towards a New Socialism – Part 2 – Socialism & Technologies, Second Hand Goods, Research

Editor’s note: discussion topics include the relevance (or non-relevance) of 3-D printing, the internet of things, recommender systems, neural networks, and quantum computing, to socialism and the Towards a New Socialism model (TNS) in particular, handling second-hand goods in TNS, the number of commodities in a modern, advanced, capitalist economy, basic research and labour time in TNS.

After the Oligarchy: Hi everybody this is After the Oligarchy speaking to Dr. Paul Cockshott again. I’m going to read out his bio from his book How the World Works which is a very good book on historical materialism: Paul Cockshott is a computer engineer working on computer design and teaching computer science at universities in Scotland. Named on 52 patents his research covers robotics computer parallelism, 3D TV, foundations of computability, and data compression. His books include Towards a New Socialism Classical Econophysics and Computation and its Limits. And of course How the World Works.

This is the second in a series of interviews with Dr. Cockshott about Towards a New Socialism written by Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell, published in 1993. If you haven’t watched that first interview yet check it out. In Towards a New Socialism the authors present a bold vision of a democratically planned economy using computerized labour time. In this interview we’ll be discussing some more advanced questions about that model, so I recommend that you read the book to really understand what we’re talking about.

You can also watch some excellent videos on Dr. Cockshott’s YouTube channel, link to that and his website in the description below. Dr. Paul Cockshott, thanks for joining me again.

Paul Cockshott: Hi.

AO: I just want to, actually, say something that I found out in the meantime about this book How the World Works, that you don’t actually make any money from it because you chose to lower the price to make it more accessible.

PC: Yes.

AO: I just thought that that’s very impressive and interesting. But actually on that note I should also mention that you do have a Patreon, so if people want to support your work, given that, for example, you’re not making money from How the World Works, they can go to your Patreon and become a subscriber.

And last time we didn’t have a copy so here’s Towards a New Socialism, it’s still in print but you can actually get a free PDF version which I’ll put in the description as well.

So with all of that out of the way I’d like to begin with a set of questions about the relevance of various technologies to Towards a New Socialism.

1 – We’ll begin first with micro-production. What is the relevance of micro-production, e.g. 3D printing, to Towards a New Socialism?

I know that nowadays a lot is made of this. There is also small-scale silicon wafer manufacture, for example, I’m just wondering do you think there’s any particular relevance that this has to Towards a New Socialism?

PC: It’s mainly useful for making prototypes. I can’t see it being used for the bulk of goods which people make use of in their home or make use of in industry. But making prototypes, possibly artwork, stuff like that, yes. I mean, the only instance where I think 3D printing techniques are likely to be useful, maybe, is possibly in the construction industry.

You have to think of what is the nature of these 3D printing techniques at a deep level. Go back to when the printing press was invented. Why was that so much of an improvement in productivity? It’s because it transferred information onto the product in parallel. The whole printing head of Gutenberg’s press came down and formed all the letters at once, and that was the essential feature of printing which made it far better than handwriting. In fact, all the letters were done in parallel and that was a general feature of printing presses, that they did things in parallel.

Now there’s a set of technologies which have had a big impact on the world, and the technologies which have been particularly effective and have had huge improvements in productivity have been ones which harness parallelism. The printing press was the first of those.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, two other techniques came about that were significant. One of them, obviously, was the parallelization of spinning in a spinning mill where there’d be hundreds of spindles looked after by each worker instead of one spindle per worker.

The other less obvious to people, perhaps, was the mass production of cast iron goods. If you go to Edinburgh or Dublin you will see railings around buildings which are cast iron railings. You’ll see balconies on buildings which will have cast iron railings. This was an invention of the late 18th century which enabled complex iron objects to be made in a single action by pouring molten iron. The single action was brought about by the fact you had a mould and the mould transferred information onto the product to all points on the product at once. So, it had a big impact also in domestic production, for instance, cast iron stoves and things like that, far higher productivity than a smith using a hammer to carefully beat something out.

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Interviews Post-Capitalist Vision

Paul Cockshott Interview on Towards a New Socialism – Part 1 – Planning, Self-Employment, IP, Media, Privacy, Transition

Editor’s note: discussion topics include the motivation for economic planning versus market socialism, self-employment in the Towards A New Socialism model (TNS), intellectual property in TNS, independence of media in TNS, efficiency in TNS, labour credits and privacy in TNS, the weaknesses of TNS, how not to implement TNS in a socialist transition, and a hypothetical TNS research programme.

[After the Oligarchy] I’m talking to Paul Cockshott today. I’m just going to read his bio from a book How the World Works which I’m reading at the moment (which is very good): Paul Cockshott is a computer engineer working on computer design and teaching computer science at universities in Scotland. Named on 52 patents, his research covers robotics, computer parallelism, 3D TV, foundations of computability, and data compression. His books include Towards a New Socialism, Classical Econophysics, and Computation and its Limits.

Today we’re going to be talking about the book Towards a New Socialism written by Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell, published in 1993. There the authors present a bold vision of a democratically planned economy using computerized labour time. In this interview we’ll be discussing some more advanced questions about that model so I recommend that you read the book to really understand what we’re talking about.

You can also watch some excellent videos on Dr. Cockshott’s YouTube channel, here is a link to that, and his website and blog.

[Paul Cockshott] Just seeing if I had a copy of the book but I don’t seem to have one. I can’t wave one around here …

[AO] I have one actually … do I? Yeah I have one here so it’s all right. Look there it is!   

Dr. Paul Cockshott thank you very much for joining me.

1 – So we’ll begin with the first question, a more general one. Some advocates of market socialism say that ‘central planning is a solution looking for a problem’. How would you answer in response to an advocate of the most sophisticated and radical kinds of market socialism? A critic might say something like ‘well, yes, there can be direct state provision of all necessities and control key sectors, but once working-class incomes are substantially increased due to worker self-management of firms, suppression of rentiers, plus state regulation of the market, a Job Guarantee, and so forth, there’s no need to have a society which uses central computerized planning and labour time. How would you respond to that?

[PC] Well my feeling is that whilst a Yugoslav-type system would be a considerable advance for most people, the Yugoslav economy – which is the historical example we’ve got of such a model – had a series of contradictions which developed over time. One of them was that because it is a market system the market does not regulate total demand for labour to be equal to the number of people wanting to work and there was an unemployment problem in Yugoslavia because of that. There was never an unemployment problem in the Soviet Union, for example. And the solution to it during the 1960s and 70s was emigration to Germany so it can’t be said to have really solved the problem of providing full employment for everyone.

Now the second point is that over time you also got the build-up of increasing regional disparities. These regional disparities became so intense that the conflicts associated with them eventually led to the breakup of the state. And the problem is that market economies tend to lead to uneven development – geographically uneven development – and the state can survive if it’s a strong centralized state that holds the country together and is not threatened but it certainly proved to be a critical failure in the Yugoslav example.

More generally if you say there’s going to be a job guarantee what does that job guarantee mean? How is the job guarantee going to be met? Is it going to be met by the state expanding employment in state industries? In which case you have the progressive replacement of a cooperative sector with a state sector.

The next issue is how does such a market socialist system adapt to externally imposed imperatives? Now, historically, the externally imposed imperatives have been to industrialize as rapidly as possible, for example, but at the moment the externally imposed imperatives are to transform the whole economy within a very short time from one based on fossil fuels to one based on non-fossil fuels. Now that is an in-kind constraint. It’s a physical constraint. It’s not a constraint that is readily addressed by market means. Any attempt to address it by market means is an indirect dressing up of state planning via market incentives. The state plans to do something and has rather inefficiently to try to create a set of market incentives which realize the plan.

Now we know that for the last couple of decades, states have formally been agreeing to reduce carbon output. And following the neoliberal doctrine that everything has got to be done by market incentives, attempts have been made to do this by market incentives. And in general the performance has not been good