The causes of our national maladies are essentially economic

CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK

IF this is our aim – and I am sure that all of us .will readily declare and proclaim that it is – then there is only one path of socio-economic policy open to us: it is socialism.

In Nigeria, however, like in other parts of the world, socialism is a much misunderstood, much misrepresented, and much dreaded socio-economic philosophy.

We have heard it said in responsible and weighty quarters that socialism is a dangerous and pernicious foreign doctrine and ideology which must not be allowed entry into, let alone foothold in Nigeria, or in any part of Africa for that matter. Many professed Nigerian socialists have made the issue worse confounded. by regarding hatred of the affluent, expropriation of the rich, violence, extreme sourness in social life, eccentricity in dress and appearance, and authoritarianism in government as inseparable to the introduction and practice of socialism. Others who have deep-seated prejudices against socialism, but who cannot afford to ignore public demand for it, have adopted the ambivalent approach that whilst what they call the European type of socialism is a foreign philosophy, there is a kind of socialism which is native and indigenous to Africa.

This is the so-called African socialism which, according to them, is more suited to Africa than the so-called Russian or Chinese socialism. There are those who dread socialism because they equate it with chaos, widespread killings, collapse of the major and strategic sectors of the economy, economic retrogression and stagnation, and general poverty.

When a term becomes so misunderstood, so deliberately misrepresented, confused, and confounded, and so ignorantly dreaded as socialism is, there is an urgent need, in the face of the declaration that it is the only path to the prosperity and social well being of the entire people of Nigeria without discrimination, for a clear theoretical definition of the term, as well as of an equally clear description and explanation of its practical contents.

Socialism is a normative social science. It sets the standards of human ends and social objectives which economic forces must serve, and prescribes the methods by which these forces may be controlled, directed, and channeled for the attainment of the declared ends and objectives. It is unlike economics which, inspite of the long and strenuous advocacy of A.C. Pigou, does not concern itself with social norms or human welfare. According to Lord Robbins, in a famous definition which is now generally regarded as the most scientific, ‘economics is the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses’. Hence prostitution, burglary, unemployment, warfare, for instance, are proper subjects for economic study.

In other words, in an effort to satisfy infinite ends with scarce means which have alternative uses, no morality or sense of justice or equity is allowed to enter into consideration. The overriding aim is to secure the best possible means and to maximise the utility of such means for the immediate and pressing wants. In the process of doing this, two distinct groups of agents are to be discerned: the producers and the consumers. In a planned economy and as a matter of common sense, the interests of these two should harmonise and be absolutely complementary. But in an unplanned capitalist economy, their interests are always at wide variance and in violent conflict. The consumer cannot always get what he wants in the right quantity or quality, simply because the producer is not always producing what the former wants in the proper quantity or quality. Besides, there is a constant fluctuation in the marginal utility of available goods both to the consumer and the producer, who very often interchange positions during the conduct of a variety of transactions which take place in a modern economy. Furthermore, the conflict between the producer and consumer is often intensified by the fact that the consumer is always anxious to buy from the cheapest possible market, whilst the producer is always keen on selling in the dearest possible market – the aim in the one case being to maximise the utility of the chosen means for the satisfaction of given wants, and in the other to maximise the utility of the chosen factors of production for the purpose of earning the largest possible profit.

The umpire who presides over and adjudicates in this perpetual contlict is the price mechanism, otherwise known as the forces of supply and demand. We all know that this umpire has no regard for justice or equity, nor consideration for the social well-being of the individual members of society. Under its auspices, abundance is punished; scarcity is rewarded; all agents of production are treated with equal difference or indifference as the case may be, even though some are human beings and others are just gross material resources;

and those who contribute very little to the aggregate national wealth more often than not get the lion’s share in the course of distribution, whilst those who contribute the most may get nothing at all or comparatively very little for their efforts. Again, under its auspices, greed and naked self-interest are allowed to flourish, breeding in their wake permanent unemployment, or what is euphemistically called ‘minimum reserve of labour “ as well as the co-existence of extremes of wealth and poverty which, in their turn, breed discord, strife, violence and revolution.

CONTINUES NEXT WEEK

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