Thursday, February 9, 2012

Work for Profit or for Propaganda

In 1922 Ludwig von Mises wrote his monumental Socialism, one of the first full sociological treatments of socialism as an economic system. In his treatise, he notes that one major challenge for any system without private ownership of the means of production is the incentive problem. In socialism people are unable to work for profit or any wage with an organic link to their productivity.

Socialists took to arguing that in a communist society, people would work anyway for the mere joy of labor. Mises explains the problems of relying on the "joy of labor" as a motivating device and than explains the crux of the stimulus to labor.
It is the duty of the citizen of the socialist commonwealth to work for the community according to his powers and his ability: in return he has a claim against the community for a share in the social dividend. He who unjustifiably omits to perform his duty will be recalled to obedience by the usual methods of state coercion. The economic administration would exercise so great a power over individual citizens that it is inconceivable that anyone could permanently withstand it.
One way the Soviet state sought to mitigate the incentive problem is through propaganda. Part of its propaganda program was publishing and broadly displaying varying posters encouraging diligence in working for the state. Below are a couple of my favorites, along with their captions translated into English.

Note the seriously stern faces on those accosting the worker who looks ashamed at not giving it his all.

Here is another:


I cannot help noticing the blatant symbolic message: You are a worker bee in the massive Soviet Hive.

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