The Economic System as an End or as a Means and the Future of Socialism and Capitalism: An Evolutionary Viewpoint

Alberto Chilosi
2003 Social Science Research Network  
After the demise of "real" socialism and the decline of "western" socialism, socialism can be salvaged as a social preference system oriented towards equality and social justice, to be implemented without systemic constraints in the organizational and institutional sense. At the same time there is a case for maintaining an institutional framework allowing different forms of economic organization, capitalist and noncapitalist, to compete on equal footing, in an evolutionary perspective, thus
more » ... rspective, thus allowing the second to develop if proven efficient. Another way for a spontaneous extension of the domain of socialism could derive from the socialization of consumption, if the consumption of public goods continues to make up a growing component of real consumption. JEL Classification number: P50 1 I am grateful to Domenico Mario Nuti for useful comments and suggestions. Needless to say, I am the only one to blame for its present contents. Chilosi The economic system as an end or as a means 2 The Economic System as an End or as a Means. A criterion for the choice between different (economic, political or social) systems may be based on the capability of a system to pursue the ends that correspond to one's interests and values (this means to one's system of preferences over alternative social states). The adoption of specific varieties of the institutions that make up a system can be calibrated to the pursuit of those aims, given the initial historical and institutional set-up. Thus, the system and the institutions that make it up and qualify its specific variety can be seen as a means, an empirically adaptable instrument rather than an end in itself. An alternative viewpoint attributes an intrinsic value to the choice of a system as such. The choice of the system becomes a choice of intrinsic, epochal or ethical value, a choice of civilization, independently of the effective results that in the immediate or in the middle run (historically speaking) such a choice brings about. This remark applies both to economic and political systems. For instance, the second viewpoint is often applied to parliamentary democracy, seen as a value in itself rather than, à la Churchill, as the least obnoxious political system that has been invented up to now, as it renders relatively more probable social states that are higher valued relatively to widely (albeit not unanimously) shared social values. The Fetishism of Systems The fetishism of socialism or capitalism thus leads to the persuasion that the choice of a system has an intrinsic salvific or thaumaturgic value, for two possible reasons. The first is the millenarian viewpoint, of the realization of the ultimate bliss in an indefinite future, which sometimes is perceived as imminent, the second is the ethical viewpoint. Historically the first viewpoint applied in particular to socialism. The millenarian force of "real" socialism lied in the official doctrine that the system was a transition towards a qualitatively superior stage, where the intrinsic imperfections of the intermediate stage would be overcome. This was supposed to apply in particular to the limitation of resources in relation to needs, thus nullifying the relevance of the distributional issue. It is more difficult, even if not impossible, to attribute millenarian properties to an existing and well experienced system, whose characteristics are well known and there to be seen, that has already fulfilled its potentialities and manifested its intrinsic flaws and imperfections. In the case of transition economies the starting point is characterized by a much lower level of living standards than in the advanced
doi:10.2139/ssrn.372182 fatcat:ilnagrp6rbh4vi3nkucvsd4mnu