Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Towards a Justification of Social Ownership: A Comparison of the Property Rights, Social Choice and Economic Justice Approach

Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Towards a Justification of Social Ownership: A Comparison of the Property Rights, Social Choice and Economic Justice Approach

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

Social ownership has always been a permanent source of debate. Most authors now argue that it has shown its inefficiencies and that it would be better off banned. Several privatization strategies are devised that leave no room for social ownership.

We will once more review the issue. We will not focus on the traditional approach, but lead the discussion into some new, hopefully fruitful, direction.

We will first look into Yugoslav theory and practice in search of a definition of social ownership. At the same time, we will explore how the same basic institution works under different organizational and political arrangements.

The Yugoslav category of social ownership has been extensively studied by property rights economics. In the early seventies, Furubotn and Pejovich developed arguments about the intrinsic deficiencies and difficulties of the self-managed economy.

Next, we would like to analyze an approach based on welfare economics and social choice theory. Roemer introduces axioms to define social ownership and studies its ethical implications.

Finally we will review theories of justice developed by Rawls and Pazner. We will then try to derive a justification for social ownership as a morally desirable institution.

We hope, at least, to enrich the traditional discussion on social ownership with this viewpoint.

II. Social Ownership

We will first review the Yugoslav experience briefly in order to clarify the idea of social ownership.

According to the Yugoslav constitution of 1974, social property is a special form of collective property of the means of production and of other resources in such a way that they belong to the community and not to one collective, group or individual. However, it has been equally maintained that no individual could claim the title of owner or alienate those means. Thus, in theory everybody and nobody owned them (Mali Leksikon Samopravljaca, 1972, p. 6; Strahinjic, 1980, p. 45; Ustav, 1974, art 12, pp. 129-31). Users were expected at least to preserve the value of the means of production. Workers' collectives may only use, control, manage and create an income-stream from them.

Of course, just one basic institutional characteristic of the Yugoslav system has been isolated. It is clear that the whole legal and institutional surrounding will determine how the economy really works. Economic policy will greatly influence the performance of the institution of social property. Though we plead for an unconditional (but argued) introduction of social ownership, its interaction with the economic system and policy has to be carefully studied. The precise legal and actual form of social ownership should be adapted to the surrounding circumstances.

To substantiate this point, we will summarize the experience of three periods of the Yugoslav economy, all three characterized by the basic institution of social ownership. The first period (1953-1960) can be labelled as an investment led socialist market economy. The central authorities made the decisive macro-economic decisions -- such as the rate of investment (resources are pooled in a federal central investment fund), its allocation to major sectors or regions, the distribution of income, and the level of exports and imports. The system performed surprisingly well (Lydall, 1984, p. 74).(1) In this period the Yugoslav economy grew at the highest rate of its history. Why was it then dropped? "The system is vulnerable to important behavioral and political problems. The use of instruments that support the objectives of the visible hand system's planners affects the interests of various firms and groups in a discriminatory fashion (Ben-ner and Neuberger, 1990, pp. 770-71). There were also theoretical and practical problems in the co-ordination between the macro-level and the micro-level. Most of all, producers did not take the decisions on the division and use of the surplus value (e. …

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