Instead of individual capitalists deciding what to produce in their endlessly varied, constantly competing private businesses, “without any democratic input from the rest of society,” control over industry and decisions about what to produce would reside in state planning agencies. And imagine their decisions perfectly, if improbably, reflect the actual democratic will of workers, whether in the nation; or a state, like Ohio or Utah; or a metropolitan area, like Maricopa County or Oklahoma City.
Popular control is finally realized! So: How popular is Islam? How many Muslim prayer rugs would the democratic majority of workers vote to produce? How many Korans? How many head scarves? How much halal meat would be slaughtered? What share of construction materials would a majority of workers apportion to new mosques?
Readers respond: Would democratic socialism really threaten minorities?
Under capitalism, the mere existence of buyers reliably gives rise to suppliers. Relying instead on democratic decisions would pose a big risk for Muslims. And Sikhs. And Hindus. And Jews. And maybe even Catholics.
Right now, under capitalism, vegetarians and vegans have more options every year. But there aren’t very many of them. Five percent of Americans are vegetarians. Three percent are vegans. Would “the workers” find a societal need to produce vegan meat or milk substitutes? No one knows the answer.
How important would worker majorities consider hair products for African Americans? What if a majority of workers decided that only English-language commercial reading material should be printed in the United States? Would planning bodies decide for or against allocating materials for sex toys? Or binders for trans men? Or sexually explicit artwork?
The birth-control pill has “massive public implications.” And remember, “Only when the private decisions that have massive public implications are subjected to popular control will we have a democratic society.”
Is Trump ending free birth control?
So, young leftists: Would you prefer a socialist society in which birth control is available if, and only if, a majority of workers exercising their democratic control assents? Or would you prefer a society in which private businesses can produce birth control, per their preference, in part because individuals possess economic rights as producers and consumers, the preferences of a majority of people around them be damned?
If contraception at every CVS and Walgreens sounds better than “popular control,” you may be a laissez-faire capitalist, or at least recognize why democratic socialism can be a nightmare for many sorts of people.
As the economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek put it, “Our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact that, if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes, we can turn to another.” But, he added, “if we face a monopolist we are at his absolute mercy.” Socialists are attuned to the ways individuals are vulnerable in capitalism but blind to ways that it frees us from the preferences of the majority. Nearly all of us would hate abiding by the will of the majority on some matters.