Modes of Distribution
[Notes on Economy] [RU]

The Modes of Distribution

The fundamental internal contradiction of any economy is that between the level of production and the demand. Human needs will always take the lead over productive forces; this is a fundamental economic law, indicating that there is no final point in economic development, and there will always be something to yet achieve. But the products rarely reach the consumer in an immediate manner; the social wealth must first be somehow distributed among the supposed consumers, and the modes of distribution differ in different epochs.

Direct seizure is the simplest mechanism of distribution: as soon as one can get something, one immediately consumes it, with no regard for the needs of the others and the society as a whole. This way of distribution is akin to the behavior of lower animals, with their primitive metabolism. With humans, this type of behavior can be observed in little children, and normally it is forced out during the process of socialization. However, the traces of such suppressed behavior can easily be found in many acts of the adults, especially in those whom we identify as asocial, criminal, or mentally insane.

Already in higher animals, one can observe a different type of behavior, when the available goods get distributed according to the positions of the individuals in a dominance structure. Basically, this type of distribution is very like simple seizure, but the individuals that win a higher rank can seize what the others have got. This implies a significant degree of collective behavior with functional differentiation; the income of the group is considered as an outcome of common effort rather than individual achievement, and hence the gain belongs to the whole group and must be distributed according to the roles of its members. In the animal communities, the rank of its members is often determined by their physical strength, which, at this level, is closely related to the vitally important ability of procuring food. The dominance structure is often established through exercising force on the individuals of a lower rank, up to killing them.

On a higher level, various forms of social behavior become built into the organism through instincts or conditioning, which may look like inherent sociality. Thus, a domestic cat may occasionally bring kittens from the street to give them some food, or steal a pack of butter from the neighbors (or just kill a mouse) and bring it to its human mates... Such social behavior is does not need to be forced, the interests of the group are already imprinted in the animal as organic needs.

In the history of the humanity, one can observe similar stages, albeit on a qualitatively different basis. Since animals do not really produce any goods, but rather procure them, the positions in any dominance structure refer to the organization of the group's way of living rather than to an inner subdivision. The hierarchy is essentially movable, depending on the actual physical condition of the members of the group. The roles do not belong to individuals; on the contrary, individuals belong to the structure. In the human society, one finds stable social positions determined by the objective development of the mode of production and the corresponding socioeconomic organization. As a result, the role of biological factors (and individual qualities in general) in establishing one's obligations and privileges is negligible, and one's share of the gross public wealth produced is entirely determined by the social premises.

The humanity starts where the animal evolution finds its apex, and the innate sociality of behavior is an ab initio condition for humans. Still, there are different types of social behavior, depending on the way they are induced in an individual by the society.

Every economy develops following the same global stages, socioeconomic formations, and every socioeconomic formation is characterized by the dominant mode of production and the corresponding mode of consumption. The inherent mode of distribution links production to consumption, while the mode of cooperation describes the way of aggregating distributed resources in a new production cycle:

The mode of distribution is a specific aspect of the socioeconomic formation, and it must be considered within the overall framework of economic development. In particular, the forms of distribution depend on the current production level and they cannot be changed at will, without changing the mode of production and the mode of consumption, in accordance with the achieved efficiency of production.

The economy of the primitive communal system is characterized by very low efficiency and the scarcity of resources. In such societies, distribution can be nothing but "pragmatic", that is, the available goods have to be distributed in a way so as to allow the whole community to survive, and the supplies need not be spent on those individuals who cannot be or become useful for communal survival. In the XX century, this kind of distribution has been revived, during the two world wars and numerous minor wars, in the concept of triage. With the normal economic mechanisms suppressed by the catastrophic events, the mode of distribution had to degrade down to the primitive forms, in a modernized implementation. Afterwards, the American ideologists have extrapolated this principle to economy in general.

The stage of socioeconomic development following the primitive communal system is known as civilization. In the societies of that level, consumption is mediated by property, and the distribution of public wealth takes the form of appropriation. The efficiency of production is high enough, to satisfy the minimal biological needs of the population, but too low to ensure social equality.

The history of civilization knows three major socioeconomic formations: slavery, feudalism and capitalism. Each stage has its own modes of distribution, but their difference mainly refers to the possible implementation of the same mechanism of appropriation, and all the forms of civilized society have much in common. Thus, appropriation implies that some part of society will inevitably be in a preferable position and appropriate more public wealth than those who produce it. As a result, the rich can control the poor, while the poor have to obey the laws imposed from above. A smaller part of society exploits the working masses in its own interest, suppressing their will.

The three exploitative formations differ in the specific forms of social inequality, as determined by the relation of various social groups to property. Thus, slaves generally do not have any property at all (being themselves considered as property), while all the goods they produce are appropriated by the slave owners; that is, at this stage, the society is explicitly split into two major parts (classes) one of which can have property and the other cannot. Under feudalism, all the members of society can have property within socially prescribed limits, but the productive layers of the society are still explicitly compelled to feed the lords and clerics, while not necessarily being their property. It is only under capitalism, that appropriation acquires true universality, and everybody may have all kinds of property without any formal obligation to give it away to anybody.

Of course, pure abstractions do not exist in reality, and history is no exception. One can readily find the relics of feudalism, slavery, and even the primitive communal system in the capitalist economy, as its lower-lying levels. For instance, most governmental regulation violates the purity of the market economy, introducing some non-economic leverage (usually of a feudal character). Similarly, many manifestations of the "shadow economy" (which may overweigh the legal economy in some countries) resemble slavery. Communal organization has its own niche in capitalist economy, being represented by numerous self-regulating (formal or informal) associations, acting as a collective owner on the market.

The principal law of distribution on the level of civilization is that the portion of the common wealth that can be appropriated by a person or a social group (and hence the human rights) is proportional to the mass of property already accumulated by that person or group. Those who have no property have no civil rights; this was an explicit rule of slavery, but it still works as a dynamic principle under capitalism.

However, economic and social development never stops. Civilization was a dialectical negation of the communal economy, and, logically, it must be negated by some higher economic organization.

The post-civilization stage of human development will have its own economic mechanisms. This level is to overcome the exploitative character of the appropriation based economy. As the negation of negation, it will reproduce some traits of the primitive communal system, though in a transformed way, retaining the achievements of civilization. Today, it is difficult to imagine the future modes of distribution. Quite probably, the very opposition of production and consumption will eventually be removed, and there will be no need in a special distribution system, as well as in the social regulation of cooperation. This will be somewhat like direct supply on demand, within the socially determined limits of reasonable consumption, which assumes both a very high efficiency of production and a highly developed culture of consumption. The discrepancy between people's needs and the possibilities of their satisfaction is to become but transitory, and all the needs (including those beyond the average living standards) shall be satisfied in due time. This also applies to the products that are essentially unique or activities requiring immensely large resources; a well coordinated economic system can even afford itself being wasteful.

Theoretically, that high level of development can only be achieved on the stages following the post-civilization phase. The latter still belongs to the economy of distinctions and inherent limitations; it will require certain mechanisms of coping with the inevitable lack of resources and the impossibility of satisfying any demand at all. This new mode of distribution cannot depend on cultural prescriptions (like in communal economy), nor on private control (like in civilization). The formal application of hierarchical logic predicts that the regulation of economic processes in post-civilization will follow the directions of their objective development. Obviously, this implies a mature human reason ready to consciously construct the future rather than merely wait for it. The capitalist society is yet far from any reason at all.

Well, let us consider our attempts to predict the features of the future economic organization as a mental experiment, a logical game. Take the already mentioned system of triage reviving certain elements of the primitive communal system in the extreme conditions, when the availability of some product is deeply below the limit of social sufficiency. The traditional theory of triage prescribes concentrating the available resources on what seems more promising than the rest for efficient operation, or achieving some social goals. It is considered as entirely useless to spend precious supplies on those who are not going to "make it" anyway. Yes, sometimes, expenses cannot be formally justified; but such cases must be treated as exceptions, never undermining the general rule. The idea of triage is often illustrated with the bell shaped Gauss curve, with the central maximum placed in the point of optimal expense, and the dispersion (width) of the distribution related to the amount of supplies available.

This scheme is utterly inapplicable to the universal economy of the distant future, where the efficiency of production is high enough to satisfy all the reasonable demand and it is the distribution of the excess (that is, satisfying requests beyond the average level) that is concerned. However, already in post-civilization, an entirely different logic reigns. The economy is already strong enough to support the basic activities, and it would be much more valuable for the society to concentrate on the problematic areas, where one might find an unexpected solution that could revolutionize the cultural development. It is well known that the brightest discoveries normally come from the domains, where any research seems utterly impractical and meaningless; the people working in such areas must be advanced well beyond the present level and they are the most likely to fail to survive in a critical situation requiring a more primitive behavior. That is, the strategy of the post-civilized mode of distribution would rather be a kind of "inverted triage", concentrating additional resources in the wings of the distribution, albeit lowering the average social consumption level in favor of the possible future breakthrough.

[Notes on Economy] [Unism]