Vygotskian Writings Теоретическая психология Выготскианские тексты

Is a rational socio-economic system possible?

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Is a rational socio-economic system possible?

In 1922 Max Weber (1964) claimed the bureaucracy to be, according to all experience, the most rational form of domination for both the master and those mastered; the “bureaucra­tization” or “dilettantization” of manage­ment Weber considered to be the only alternatives to choose from, bureau­cra­cy having the overwhelming superiority the source of which is professio­nal competence made completely indispensable by modern technology ap­plied in the production of goods and by economy as a whole, irrespective of the fact whether it is organized in the capitalist or socialist manner; this lat­ter solution, Weber went on, would imply an enormous increase in professio­nal bureaucracy if it should aspire at the same technical performance.

Today we can infer from the experience accumulated since 1922 that the “socialist solution” did imply an enormous increase in bureaucracy. No one would, however, associate this tendency with the most rational form and with the performances of modern technology. Quite the contrary.

What has happened?

At around the same time as Weber made his statement, Schumpeter (1971) pointed out that capitalism was transforming so obviously into so­me­thing else that he considered not the fact itself, merely its interpretation to be a point of contention: whether what capitalism transformed into after World War I and the ensuing revolutions and counter-revolutions was socia­lism or not Schumpeter considered only a matter of taste and terminology (pp. 41-43).

In my earlier investigations (Garai, 1987a) I was led to the conclusion that the essence of this transformation is: the 19th century classic capitalist socio-economic system produced the material factors it depended on and made itself independent of the human phenomena which had not been produced by it. On the other hand, from the turn of the century onwards running the socio-economic sys­tem was no longer in­de­pendent of the faculties and needs effective in the popu­lation and, consequently, it faced the necessity of manufacturing also its own human condi­tions.

The case of the economic rationality itself

Is man reasonable? Are his economic preferences reasonable?

It is obvious that when playing, one does not choose an option which requires the smallest possible effort or promises the largest possible amount of useful products, hence his activity cannot be qualified economically reasonable. The same must be true to the case when he wants to make A happy or to alleviate the misery of B, so he presents A or helps B not with goods of lowest possible value and not requires the highest possible price for it (he may even actively avoid situations in which the beneficiary wishes to pay for the gift or help). It hardly needs any explanation how economically irrational the behaviour reported in growing number as vandalism is: when one destroys material values without using the destroyed structures as base materials for constructing new goods and without facing the necessity of destroying them as obstacles to his endeavour or as amplifiers of concurrent endeavours. The purely economic irrationality of continuing wars when stalemated, of running embargo lists, etc., go beyond the everyday “pathology” of any individual behavior.

May the psychologist faced with cases like these assume that man by force of his rational nature adopts this kind of behavior only as a roundabout way through the mediation of which the final output will of higher value than the total input? Behaviourist psychology did try to put the matter in these terms. By contrast, cognitive psychology describes man not so much as a rational but as a rationalizing being: not one who creates by all means larger output from smaller input, but who will subsequently consider what he has produced more valuable than the price he paid was.

Anyhow, rationalizing practices are promoted by the fact that in ma­ny cases input and output cannot be unambiguously correlated. The extent of individual effort and that of the satisfaction of a need are subjective di­men­sions, one can easily establish between them the relation to his taste. If we want to judge objectively the rationality of this relation we encounter ques­tions hard to tackle. It is obviously reasonable to increase threefold the work done if it results in a fourfold increasing of produced goods; and it is ob­vious­ly unreasonable to accomplish this multiplication of work if it results on­ly in a twofold multiplication of the pay. But does the unreasonability of this lat­ter feature get changed if getting at all involved in a job implies such a social devaluation that is independent from the exact quantity of that work done?

The computation of marginal cost and profit seems to provide an answer, but only at the expense of giving up all normative considerations on the economic rationality and regarding the choice of each particular individual as reasonable: one who is willing to spend some marginal cost in hope of certain marginal profit is seen as rational, whether he measures his cost and profit by the volume of goods, that of money, the length of time spent on the activity or that of run in a social evaluation hierarchy. And one who is unwilling to do so is also reasonable from his point of view.

In order to judge the rationality of this very viewpoint, one would first of all need an objective measure against which the decisions of individuals concerning marginal cost and profit could be compared to define, e. g., what is the real extent of the extra cost or the extra profit that corresponds to a given surplus of a given activity.

Such an objective measure would be all the more necessary as both be­haviourist psycho­logy in positing rational behavior and cognitive psycho­lo­gy in positing rationalizing practices start from one and the same attitude in people. It goes (without any obligatory awareness of it) something like this: “I’d be a crazy fool if I did an activity that I feel more burdensome than pro­fitable”. From this point onward one may reason alternatively. For a be­ha­viourist-type thinking: as I am no fool, given a burdensome activity I refu­se to go on with it. And for a cognitivist-type thinking: as I am pursuing an ac­tivity, I won’t feel it that burdensome in order not to take myself for a fool.

Is there really an objective measure the application of which might decide in each particular case whether I really feel a certain activity burdensome or I actually take pleasure in another?

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