Front Page Titles (by Subject) 3: Changes in Demand - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
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3: Changes in Demand - Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis 
Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane, Foreword by F.A. Hayek (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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Changes in Demand
It follows from the principles which the socialist community must necessarily observe in the distribution of consumption goods, that alterations of demand cannot be allowed free play. If economic calculation and therewith even an approximate ascertainment of the costs of production were possible, then within the limits of the total consumption-units assigned to him, each individual citizen could be allowed to demand what he liked; each would choose what was agreeable to him. It would indeed be possible that as a result of malicious intent on the part of the directors of production certain commodities might be priced higher than they need be. Either they might be made to bear too high a proportion of overhead costs, or they might be made dearer by uneconomic methods of production; and the citizens who suffered would have no defence, except political agitation, against the government. So long as they remained in the minority they themselves would not be able either to rectify the accounts or to improve the methods of production. But at any rate the fact that at least the greater number of the factors concerned could be measured and that, as a result of this, the whole question could be relatively clearly put, would be some support for their point of view.
Since, under Socialism, no such calculations are possible, all such questions of demand must necessarily be left to the government. The citizens as a whole will have the same influence on them as on other acts of government. The individual will exercise this influence only in so far as he contributes to the general will. The minority will have to bow to the will of the majority. The system of proportional representation, which by its very nature is suitable only for elections and can never be used for decisions with regard to particular acts, will not protect them.
The general will, i.e. the will of those who happen to be in power, will take over those functions which in a free economic system are discharged by demand. Not individuals but the government would decide which needs are the most urgent and must therefore be satisfied first.
For this reason demand will be much more uniform, much less changeable than under Capitalism. The forces which under Capitalism are continually bringing about alterations in demand will be lacking under Socialism. How will innovations, ideas deviating from those traditionally accepted, obtain recognition? How will innovators succeed in getting inert masses out of the rut? Will the majority be willing to forsake the well beloved customs of their forefathers for something better, which is yet unknown to them? Under Capitalism where each individual within the limits of his means can decide what he is to consume, it is sufficient for one individual, or a few, to be brought to recognize that the new methods satisfy their needs better than the old. Others will gradually follow their example. This progressive adoption of new modes of satisfaction is especially facilitated by the fact that incomes are not equal. The rich adopt novelties and become accustomed to their use. This sets a fashion which others imitate. Once the richer classes have adopted a certain way of living, producers have an incentive to improve the methods of manufacture so that soon it is possible for the poorer classes to follow suit. Thus luxury furthers progress. Innovation “is the whim of an élite before it becomes a need of the public. The luxury of today is the necessity of tomorrow.”87 Luxury is the roadmaker of progress: it develops latent needs and makes people discontented. In so far as they think consistently, moralists who condemn luxury must recommend the comparatively desireless existence of the wild life roaming in the woods as the ultimate ideal of civilized life.
[87. ]Tarde, Die Sozialen Gesetze, German translation by Hammer (Leipzig, 1908), p. 99. Also the numerous examples in Roscher, Ansichten der Volkswirtschaft vom geschichtlichen Standpunkt, 3rd ed. (Leipzig, 1878), Vol. I, pp. 112 ff. Publisher’s Note: The Tarde book in English is Social Laws. Translated by Howard C. Warren, with preface by James Mark Baldwin (New York: Macmillan, 1899).