The specific human basic need and economic rationality
Let us take an infinitely schematized example to illustrate the above argument. When applying this example I claim by no means, of course, to demonstrate how the psycho-economic processes it is referred to run their course. It is only meant to illustrate at an abstract level the relation in that the attainment of the goal of enlarged reproduction results in a product to which the taboo fixing the old relations of distributions refers ambiguously, and this is what arouses the new tension that is, in turn, reduced when one makes the situation unambiguous again by setting a new goal.
Let us assume that at the end of a production cycle the product worth $100 is distributed between the capitalist and two workers so that the former gets $80, the latter $10 each. If this state of affaires prevails for a longer period of time over several cycles, then it will appear to both parties to belong to the normal, natural order of things that |1| 80% of the product is taboo for the workers and 20% for the capitalist; and |2| a capitalist’s allowance is 8 times as much as a worker’s. These two “rules of game” are, in fact, the formulation of one and the same rule in two sets of terms: that of the taboo and that of the allowance. If this arrangement of distribution gives room for the enlargement of production, this latter’s dimensions will, however, remain for some time below the threshold value which is indispensable for the change to be perceived. So the change may remain unnoticed, for example, when the capitalist employed twice as many workers producing by means of proportionately enlarged material conditions of production $200. Then, according to one interpretation of distribution order, 20% of this remains taboo for the capitalist and the residue of $160 he will claim as his normal allowance. The workers, on the other hand, will continue to observe it as a natural way of distribution that they are allowed 8 times less than the capitalist is. Under the new circumstances this rate is established when they regard the $130 remaining after the deduction of their slightly less than $17 each as taboo for them. Thus, in this schematized example one party claims nearly $30 more as his allowance than what the other party regards as taboo for him. Before either side notices that things have changed.
When the actors of production do realize the change, they will set new goals to their activities in the gap between taboo and allowance: either one will set for his activity the goal to prevent the change for it is disadvantageous; or else he will set the goal to promote the change actively for it is favourable. The hypothesis of the specific human basic need spells out that it is the SHBN that drives people, according to its purely formal relations and not one determined by the required materials, to such setting goals, as well as to attaining them.
Now, what determines whether one sets as his goal the prevention or promotion of the perceived change? It seems to be only too obvious that his interests must be decisive, and those from a Marxian position may precise that the relevant interests of individuals are determined by the class they belong to: whether they belong to the class for which the change is favourable or to the one for which it is disadvantageous.
Considering the desirability of change in terms of class interests, the following inferences can be drawn from the above example: If the status quo ensures that 80% of the output be the allowance of the capitalist but the on-going change threatens that nearly $30 of the amount calculated may be distributed among the workers, then this will make the workers interested in the change and the capitalist counter-interested.
The same conception may, however, be applied to the same case in an opposite way: If the state of affairs only places for the workers the eightfold of their wage under taboo and the on-going change threatens that the capitalist may increase his income calculated accordingly by some $30 to the detriment of the workers, then this will make the capitalist interested in the change and the workers counter-interested.
In addition to the instances schematized above in which one of two antagonistic social categories, animated by one and the same ideology, is interested and the other is counter-interested in some change, the history produces from time to time its inverse: those categories, animated by antagonistic ideologies, manifest themselves as equally interested or equally counter-interested in the outlined change. This latter was the case, e. g., in the inter-war period when both the communist and the fascist ideologies animated movements for the radical transformation of society. It is only too probable that in the actual history of socialist countries their utmost rigidity may be understood if we take into consideration that opposed in them to each other social categories animated by opposed to each other ideologies may equally turned against social changes.
In other writings (Garai 1985, 1985a) I discussed some observations stating that the inner tension of the Lewinian form when one tries to get the set goal and the reality closer to each other may be reduced either by a rational practice that brings reality closer to the set goal or by rationalizing practices of bringing the set goal closer to reality. And it has turned out now that the tension of this other form of proceeding from the attained goal toward setting a new one may equally be reduced either by a goal of promoting or by that of reversing those changes already set off.
This doubles the dilemmas of SHBN. Can it be decided which tendency represents rational practice and which represents rationalizing practices? As long as operationalizing a Yes answer has not been achieved, we can assert that the SHBN as an anthropolical fact does not seem to drive more to a rational behaviour than to a rationalizing cognition.
Hence, no economic system can count on rationality as given anthropologically and if it needs such a human condition for its operation, it must produce it by a planed intervention in spontaneous behavioural processes.