Social-democratic views on the general interest

First insertion on Heterodox Gazette Sam de Wolff: 11 march 2015

E.A. Bakkum is a blogger for the Sociaal Consultatiekantoor. He loves to reflect on the labour movement.

The democracy can only prosper, when the state succeeds in translating the needs of the citizens into a good policy. In a previous column it is explained that during this translation the state applies its own ethics. That ethics obtains its form in the political struggle between the various political movements. The present column elaborates on this argument with some insights of the political scientist Lambert J. Giebels, like pluralism. Next views on state ethics are presented of several social-democratic thinkers from the social-democratic history, namely Curt Geyer, Willem Bonger, Eduard van Cleeff, Erhard Eppler, Thijs Wöltgens, Jos de Beus en Monika Sie Dhian Ho.

The starting point of the theory is that the state (represented by the government) formulates certain economic policy goals. Goals can merely be put forward, when the desired development is known. The desires can be portrayed in a mathematical manner by means of the so-called social welfare function). She has the form

(1)     W = W(u1, ..., uN)

In the formula 1 it is assumed, that the size of the population is N. Each citizen n has his individual utility function un, with n = 1, ..., N. The value of un is obviously determined by the social situation of the concerned individual. Moreover, the formula 1 supposes, that the separate utilities un can mutually be weighed in such a manner, that they result in the collective utility function W. Many economists from the presently common economic doctrine deny, that interpersonal utility comparisons would be possible. Economists especially dislike, that an interpersonal comparison requires the application of morals (ethics, meaning, or norm of law). They are not fond of the normative debate. Nonetheless, in the daily reality politics must continously make such judgements. Our society could not exist without interpersonal comparisons.

The private market can partly satisfy the needs un. However, another part concerns public goods and services, which require the intervention by the state. The common view on the function W is that she is translated and made concrete by a democratically elected parliament and its government, which in this manner express the collective will of the voters. Then the government develops its policy by means of a proper function U. It will try to maximize the value of U, because the ultimate social goal is the largest possible welfare for all (the general interest). Since U represents that policy goal, she is also called the target function. On the other hand, the collective will can rarely be measured in a complete and accurate manner, with as a consequence that the government and its advisors must apply their own preferences. In its most paternalistic interpretation U represents the utility function of the planning agency.

The function U has the form

(2)     U = U(q1, ..., qM)

In the formula 2 it is assumed, that the economy can produce M different goods. The central agency decides the quantity qm of the good m, that is required in order to satisfy the needs of the people. Experts can, as an autocracy, use their authority to formulate overall the state targets (W → U). Then the legitimacy is derived from the autocratic authority of the professional scientist, who is expected to possess a certain objectivity. Thus the state autocracy can propose useful suggestions, which however require a democratic confirmation.

Therefore the chosen goals finally mirror the morals of the administration. They are a political creed, which is indispensable, because man can merely survive with a certain order and hold. Its practical rightness is always controversial, because the ethical rules actually mask the lack of sufficient knowledge. Until now there is not yet a universal, globally applicable, optimal formulation of state ethics. In fact the institutional structure of the state depends intimately on the national culture. Thus the transformation W → U is always determined by the network of information channels, which on historical and cultural grounds fits best with the preferences of the nation1.


There are roughly two philosophical views on the formation of the state, namely the liberal and communitarian ones. In the liberal view the natural state consists of individuals, who live in isolation and autonomously. At a certain moment they decide voluntarily to establish an administration, and they seal this agreement by signing a social contract. This abstraction is originally formulated by Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. The simplest version of the liberal theory originates from the extremely libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick, who rejects any exertion of coercion by the state. Moreover he states, that individuals must keep the right to exit the state. A more moderate version is the network theory of the Dutch economist Paul Frijters. Both Nozick and Frijters assume, that their abstraction has a fair resemblance to reality.

Picture of poster PvdA
Figure 1: Poster PvdA (Drees)

The philosopher John Rawls also bases his theory on isolated individuals. However, he uses that state as a thought experiment, which does not pretend to describe reality. His starting point can best be understood by considering the models, that are popular in the analysis of social welfare. In the utilitarian view simply W(u) = Σn=1N αn × un must be maximized. Here the αn are weighing factors, which possibly may equal 1. In this option the cardinality is interpersonal. Note, that here the social welfare would even rise, when the poor would lose, as long as at least the rich would be (over-)compensated for the loss.

This injustice can be eliminated by the demand of an egalitarian distribution, where one has un = β (constant) for all n. Then the total welfare is W(u) = n×β, and this can no longer be improved by a redistribution of incomes or goods. However, the most popular demand for distribution (right or not) is the maximin principle, which is based on the argument of Rawls. The maximin principle states, that the smallest occurring utility value un must be maximized. Mathematically formulated: maximize W(u) = minn un. Rawls imagines, that in the natural state each isolated individual will prefer the maximin W-function, because in the natural state nobody knows in advance the wealth, that he will possess in the true society.

At first sight the principle of Rawls has an egalitarian effect. However, it is actually a political compromise, because no upper limit is placed on the utility value2. Against this liberal view the communitarians place their view, where the state originates from a historical process, a natural state, where the people already live in the extended family or tribe. Therefore the individuals do not need to make a conscious choice to join their group, and no contract is signed. The rules have developed historically as a system, that turns out to work well. Therefore the rules are more an ethics or morals than a formal law. Thus the state emerges, as soon as the tribe permanently appropriates a certain territory. Many Dutch political philosophers adhere to the communitarian view, although they recognize that the liberal abstraction sometimes provides for useful complementary insights.

A fascinating question is how the political scientists and political writers view the philosophical ideas, and notably how they want to define the morals of the general interest. Your columnist restricts himself to the political thinkers from the social-democratic current, because he is most at home there. Besides, that limitation helps to keep the amount of publications digestable. First the political scientist Lambert J. Giebels will be consulted, Next seven political authors are presented, both Dutchmen and Germans, namely Curt T. Geyer, Willem A. Bonger, Eduard van Cleeff, Erhard Eppler, Thijs Wöltgens, Jos de Beus and Monika Sie Dhian Ho. This choice turns out to give an interesting illustration of the development of the social-democratic views about the general interest, during the twentieth century. In particular five aspects of their argument are highlighted, which incidentally are mutually interwoven.

Development of the democratic thought

In Ontwikkeling van het democratische denken L.J. Giebels presents a historical survey of the political philosophy3. His interest concerns in particular the democratic procedure, that brings about the transformation W → U. The morals are addressed merely superficially. According to Giebels there is a continuous tension between the participation of the citizens and the delegation to the leaders. All in all he is not impressed by the contract theories of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Their merit is mainly, that for the first time a proposal is made of a collective contract between the citizens (and not with the ruler). Therefore the people themselves acquire the power of the sovereign. Incidentally, merely Rousseau believes that this is a reality, whereas Hobbes and Locke use it as an imagined construction. Thus the state becomes the executive of the will of all (albeit that Hobbes accepts any state, as long as it offers protection).

The contract theories are based on natural rights, rationalism and individualism. Thus they aim to explain the emergence of the (liberal) civil rights, and the census democracy of the propertied classes. The civil rights are a form of delegation (see p.193). They do not yet guarantee, that everybody has indeed access to the rights. Therefore the equality of all citizens is still absent. Partly thanks to the fierce criticism by Karl Marx, later a number of social rights have been added. They create the material conditions for the liberal freedom rights, and thus allow for a universal participation. Here a weakness of the contract theories becomes apparent. For, it is hard to imagine, that atomistic individuals in a state of nature will develop the idea to establish a collective contract for mutual care.

The introduction of the universal suffrage does not imply, that everybody immediately participates in the democratic decisions (W → U). In a modern society the division of labour is unavoidable. Therefore the citizens delegate this responsibility to the political leaders, in whom they trust. The execution of decisions is of course also delegated, to the administrative apparatus. Besides, it is perhaps inherent in human nature to delegate. According to the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter the group interests are controversial to such an extent, that they can not be aggregated into a common will of the people. In other words, the maximization of W could not of itself yield a stable society. In fact Schumpeter denies, that each citizen formulates his own political goals (p.210). The democratic election is a reaction to the offer (p.300). In his view the political system must necessarily be pluralistic (p.209).

Flow scheme of pluralism
Figure 2: Communication flows in
   U(k) = target function; L(k) = leader k;
   W = choice function of voters

Thus Schumpeter sketches the picture of a number of political leaders, who lead their party organizations in the struggle for the approval of the voters. The political scientist Robert Dahl has elaborated on this theory. Merely a tiny group of citizens is politically active. This group generates the individuals with a will to power, and a vision, including morals or ethics. Each searcher for power will naturally formulate his own "will of the people" U in such a manner, that it will seduce various interest groups to support just him. The voter does not receive a contract, but the request to trust the leader. Next the competition between the searchers for power determines, who in the end will conquer the state power, and can realize his general will U (p.228). That is a picture, that disillusions somewhat, but seems credible. Dahl calls this system a polyarchy4. The leader can be an individual, but perhaps also a clique (p.291). In that case the polyarchy is not very meritocratic.

In this model the parliament is the link between participation and delegation. It depends for its information on the signals from society (p.293). Perhaps for this reason Giebels pays much attention to the rise of the New Left during the second half of the sixties of the last century. Namely, the New Left resist against pluralism, and strive for a democracy of participation and action (p.215). The individual citizen must become aware of his capabilities, that is to say, he must increase his autonomy. In short, the participation must become massive. This requires a simultaneous change of the citizens and society. Therefore the New Left prefer the conflict with the incumbent leaders. However, New Left dwindles already in 1970. In 1987 Giebels still refuses to call the experiment a failure. In any case, he states that the institutionalization of participation and consultation is an achievement of New Left.

All in all Ontwikkeling van het democratische denken presents a new perspective on the transformation W → U. When this transformation indeed occurs, then she is executed by the parliament. However, it seems more likely, that there are K party leaders, each with his own target function U(k) (where k=1, ..., K). Subsequently, each citizen n chooses the U(k), that maximizes his own utility function un! Moreover, his choice is a reaction, because U → W is mainly a test in retrospect. The leaders become elected when they convince the majority, and therefore can ignore the interests of the minority. Therefore a government will commonly develop a biassed policy. The figure 2 tries to illustrate this interaction in a graphical manner.

Curt T. Geyer

This paragraph analyzes the view of the German social-democrat Curt T. Geyer in his book Führer und Masse in der Demokratie5. Its analysis must evidently take into account the then circumstances. In Germany the universal suffrage had only been introduced in 1920, so six years before the publication of the book. Then the political parties are all assiduously searching for a satisfactory way to implement the democratic principles. Geyer advocates the then unusual standpoint, that the democratic state is placed above the class struggle, because it represents the will of the people. People appreciate the embodiment of the collective spirit in the person of a leader. The leader propagates the political course, and tries to acquire the democratic majority by means of conviction. The introduction of the universal suffrage has shifted the political activities from the propaganda actions towards the realization of policies, based on scientific insights.

The masses demand the elimination of their discontent. Geyer believes, just like Schumpeter, that the leader develops an ideal, together with his party, hoping that the masses will recognize it as a truism. The voters have irrational expectations, and the leader translates these into a rational program. He competes with the members of other parties, both by developing his own goals and by exerting criticism. At the same time he tries to form coalitions with interest groups, such as trade unions. In that process a good leader will maintain his own principles (morals). In parliament the parties fight over the reforms of society and her institutions. According to Geyer, the government is more than merely an executive body, and if need be it can even become the bearer of the popular will. Thanks to the mutual competition and the alertness of the media the political fossilization is prevented. In short, Geyer develops a theory of pluralism, simultaneously with Schumpeter.

Willem A. Bonger

In 1934 the social-democrat Willem A.Bonger has published the study Problemen der democratie6. Then the Netherlands have the universal suffrage for already seventeen years, and still the politicians discuss her implementation. In his book Bonger notably distinguishes the democracy and the autocracy, and states that the reality lies somewhere between these two extremes. Democratic behaviour is part of human nature (see p.49). However, in larger collectives the division of labour is desirable, and then the democracy becomes representative. The democratic contest is delegated to a leading group, because most people are not interested in politics7. The democracy is characterized first of all by freedom. It is supplemented by equality, namely the absence of privileges. Therefore the democratic leaders must always be aware of the rights of others.

Bonger calls the democracy with universal suffrage civil-proletarian. The input of the proletariat reinforces the call for equality. Nevertheless, Bonger also believes, that the collective will must be formulated by a small elite (p.72). Due to the lack of interest of the common citizens, the political parties are indispensable for supplying capable leaders. In that way the democracy always chooses an able elite. According to Bonger the large parties are obliged to participate in government, because otherwise the social stability is in danger. Incidentally, the result of the election is mainly a verdict about the performance of the parties in the preceding period. The democracy is reactive (p.100). In chaotic times sometimes political perseverance is required, and then the leaders appropriate additional power. This makes the system more autocratic. In the long run this degradation of the inclusion causes a falling quality of the rule (p.110 and further).

Bonger believes that the common citizens distinguish clearly between demagogic and unselfish leaders. But otherwise he has a profound aversion of direct democracy. Namely, common citizens do not feel responsible to anybody8. Even within the party organization the tasks must be rigorously delegated. He writes with regard to the party congress, yet formally the highest authority within the party, (p.139): "On congresses the broad lines must be determined, they should be a political demonstration in the sight of the whole Dutch nation". More generally (p.148): "The masses will be the driving force, not more, and they, in collaboration with the various agencies, will in the last resort control what happens". Bonger probably uses these bold statements to counterbalance marxism, which on purpose somewhat glorifies the conscience of the workers.

Thus the reader sees that the view of Bonger is also in complete agreement with the theory of political pluralism. In his view, the participation and the personal autonomy fare rather badly.

Eduard van Cleeff

Eduard van Cleeff is mainly known as the author of Sociaaleconomische ordening from 19399. Strictly speaking Van Cleeff is a christian-democrat, and not a social-democrat. Yet his ideas deserve attention here, because he has always cooperated intensely with social-democratic groups. The book of Van Cleeff is extremely moralistic: his goal is the Kingdom of God. The state must be harmonic, and develop in a cumulative manner. That is to say, the traditional ranks and classes must be conserved as long as is necessary. Since many people do not feel at home in such a conservative state, the people must be the subject of a maximal formation by the state. The coercion by the state must remain minimal (see p.16). The reader may recognize that this system resembles an autocracy, and indeed Van Cleeff uses the name aristo-democracy for it10.

Picture of poster D'66
Figure 3: Poster D'66 (van Mierlo)

Another significant difference with the preceding authors is, that in the long run Van Cleeff wants to allow only collective property. This intervention is necessary in order to eliminate the chaos of the capitalistic production, and to establish order in society. It is obvious that this creates an omnipotent state, and this requires a strong leadership, with a morality that is beyond any discussion. The general interest does not follow from the will of all, but from Gods will. The ethics of the state resembles the theory of Rawls, that is to say, the most urgent needs are satisfied first (p.34). The headwords are security of existence, functional organization, planning, and the leadership principle (p.49). The state can moderate its concentration of power somewhat by applying the principle of subsidiarity.

Incidentally, as a protestant Van Cleeff values individualism. Each individual has a right to some autonomy, or in the words of Van Cleeff "the right to realize the law of his own being" (p.264). Individuals are even directly responsible to God. Several pages further (p.271): "Religiously speaking: the really-true new order requires the converted, the reborn, the new man". Henceforth society, including the industry, must be based on the service motive (p.267). The reader may notice, that finally the citizen has little to choose. The state manages society by collectively planned activities. The income distribution is grounded on the principle, that society is one large family (p.290). Therefore the income differences can be significant, in accordance with the various classes (p.300).

Henceforth property is managed by autonomous bodies, that are controlled by the state (p.340). It may be clear by now, that Van Cleeff advocates a utopic corporatism, and even defines its organization in detail. The formation of classes (p.363 and further) undermines the social inclusion. It is true that the system allows for democratic elections, but due to the liberal-christian ethics of the state these can hardly be called pluralistic. The good life is dictated, so that the system can not even satisfy the demands of communitarism. There is offered just a single target function U, the function of God. It is obvious that such a state can be maintained merely by coercion. However, since Van Cleeff disapproves of coercion, your columnist believes that his system is intrinsically incoherent. Perhaps the reader may now understand better, why this column is essentially confined to thinkers of a social-democratic origin.

Erhard Eppler

The paragraphs about Geyer and Bonger show that after the introduction of the universal suffrage the social-democracy quickly evolves into a pragmatic movement. After the Second Worldwar the social-democrats abjure the planning at the micro-level, with the exception of individuals such as Bas van den Tempel, and they propagate macro-economic planning. Moreover, the institutions of social security are completed. When at the start of the sixties this approach also reaches its limits, the social-democrats turn their attention to the expansion of the public goods and services, including offers of culture, such as libraries and theaters, and sport facilities such as swimming pools. A few years later the New Left emerge, which within the social-democracy results in a futile revival of the traditional socialistic paradigm. Within the SPD the youth section Jusos propagates the old stamokap dogma, as a reaction to the Ostpolitik.

In this period the German poltician Erhard Eppler publishes his volume Maßstäbe für eine humane Gesellschaft11. Here he concludes, that the growth of the material welfare becomes less important than the rise of the quality of life. Henceforth a selective and durable growth is needed (see p.36, p.54). In 1973 the Organization of economic cooperation and development (in short OECD) has formulated a list of indicators, which allow to measure the aspects of the quality of life. Among these aspects are the human formation, autonomy, and participation. Together they contribute to an improvement of the individual and collective well-being (happiness, satisfaction). This obviously requires a weighing of the various aspects, and that is the task of the politicians. The reader may observe that here politics attemps to interpret the social welfare function W in a scientific manner.

Remarkable is also, that according to Eppler the democracy is an essential part of the quality of life. That is to say, the participation in the policy of well-being itself is a part of the quality of life (p.46 and further). Furthermore, Eppler concludes that the modern society has become pluralistic. There is no ideology-free space left, and value judgements are inevitable. The state must not become the play-thing of group interests. In pluralism, the choice of policy obviously also requires pragmatism. But in the end the state is responsible for the general interest. The expectation of Eppler, that the state will continue to expand, because well-being is a typically public good, is striking (p.26, p.55). So the share of the state in the function W increases, where naturally the state ethics must not be forced on the citizens in a dogmatic manner (p.30, p.64).

The increased attention for well-being in the function W is undeniably an achievement of the sixties. The call for more durability implies that henceforth the interests of future generations are explicitely taken into account in W. In part thanks to New Left the citizens get more opportunities for participation. That restricts the delegation of the old pluralism, and results in a balance of powers (p.78; see also Giebels). At the same time, there is a revaluation of state ethics.

Thijs A.M. Wöltgens

Since the seventies the political climate starts to change drastically. The expanding interference of the state slows down the economic growth, and therefore becomes more difficult to finance. The voters are displeased with the quality of the public services and facilities, and prefer parties with a liberal program. This political break is, somewhat confusingly, called neoliberalism. The support for the social-democratic ideal dwindles. In 1992 Thijs Wöltgens writes the essay Lof van de politiek12. Wöltgens calls the politicians moral entrepreneurs (see p.72). They are continuously searching for a balance between their moral authority and the political support of the people (p.22, p.73). The attempt to convince is preferred over coercion (p.34). Ethics is transferred in the formation, but also in education and the media. Thus shared morals are formed, in spite of pluralism.

Wöltgens believes that in case of a low turn-out in elections the state does not necessarily lose its legitimacy. For, perhaps the citizens are simply satisfied with the prevailing situation. A conscious choice is made not to vote (p.69). Incidentally, voting may be participation, but it is a rather passive form (p.58). However, the situation becomes troublesome, when some groups (notably the poor) no longer have their own promotion of interest. Such non-organized interests must be protected by attending to the general interest (p.42). Moreover, politics must strenghten these groups in their participation. Politics will commonly interfere as soon as the technocracy (the executive apparatus) fails to attend to the general interest. Sometimes it suffices, when politics mediates, and advances a certain moral behaviour. But situations will always remain, where the government must ask for the confidence, that allows it to intervene (paternalism, p.66).

The reader may observe that Wöltgens roughly embraces the common political philosophy. Furthermore, he largely agrees with the views of Eppler, such as concerning the durability, the selective growth, the equality of incomes, and the appreciation for science. But he also acknowledges the changing spirit of the time. He states that New Left exaggerated the importance of politics (p.50). The state has become over-burdened by the process of politicization. In 1992 the operation of markets and the civil society again take over tasks of the state. The state shrinks, as well as the political parties. Henceforth politics improves the welfare function W from a distance, and Wöltgens is pleased with this. For, thus the participation increases, and often the market does wonders (p.57). Actually, the politicians must make themselves dispensable (p.54). Thus, after New Left Wöltgens searches for a new balance. Henceforth politics must serve the individual autonomy (p.90).

Jos de Beus

Picture of poster PvdA
Figure 4: Poster PvdA (Kok)

Shortly after Lof van de politiek, the book Economische gelijkheid en het goede leven by Jos de Beus appears. De Beus has social-democratic sympathies, but sometimes switches to the christian-democrats13. This book mainly studies the philosophy of equality, and merely indirectly addresses the "good" life (the welfare function W). Nevertheless, his arguments deserve a place here, because it reveals something of the political dynamics in the functions W and U. De Beus analyzes the "good" life with three perspectives: the effectiveness, the virtue, and the individual value. They correspond with three interests, respectively the absolute, the general, and the personal.

De Beus distinguishes between three philosophies of equality: procedural equality, resource equality, and friendly equality (see chapter VII). Procedural equality strives for the operation of markets, complemented with a minimal social security. The classical example is found in the United States of America. Resource equality wants to create equal opportunities, and forces the citizens to educate themselves and to work. Here the Scandinavian states are the example. Friendly equality wants to supply all citizens with such an income, that each personality can unfold freely. In fact this is a plea for an unconditional basis income. This situation is approximated somewhat in the Netherlands during the seventies.

De Beus evidently concludes, just like Wöltgens, that the then Dutch friendly equality did not last for long. During the nineties the electorat is not in favour of levelling, although objectively the inequality may perhaps be too large. That is at least the opinion of De Beus (p.11). He believes that the electoral majority started to become irritated about the growing number of inactive people (p.175). She had lost confidence in friendly egalitarianism, because she became disappointed in its reality. There is a general feeling, that inactivity is a moral problem, and not an economical problem. It is neither effective, nor virtuous. De Beus expects that the Dutch system will finally end in an intermediate form between procedural and resource egalitarianism.

De Beus also concludes, that precisely the poorest people have few means to propagate their interests (p.27). Although he is convinced that equality is a general interest, he rejects its coerced realization by the state. Unfortunately, she does not fit well with the individualistic-libertarian life cycle of globalization, which leaves little room for moral resources (p.35, p.54). This illustrates, that experiences and the dynamics of social groups lead to changes in the welfare function W and in the various political target functions U(k).

Monika Sie Dhian Ho

In view of the identity crisis of the social-democracy it will not surprise, that the Partij van de Arbeid ordered its scientific bureau to re-evaluate the ethical ideas. The project lead in 2013 to the publication of Van waarde by Monika Sie Dhian Ho14. She identifies four core values of the PvdA, namely existential security, decent work, cohesion and emancipation (see p.14). Together they increase the individual autonomy (among others p.78). However, at the moment these values are contested. The political parties do no longer perform their pivotal function between participation and delegation in a satisfactory manner. There is a need for a revival of the public debate. Sie Dhian Ho (just like Wöltgens and De Beus) concludes with regret that precisely the socio-economically vulnerable people are difficult to mobilize.

The political parties must find the solution for the social dwindling by forming new coalitions with the trade unions and with congenial parties (p.48). Other movements of citizens and workers can also reprimand the industry and commerce for its undesirable excesses. They must demand, that the entrepreneurial morals pay more attention to labour satisfaction (p.68). Such an activism can only be expected from autonomous people. Therefore a high priority must be given to human formation, such as in education (p.78). Moreover, individuals must be stimulated to join various interest groups. Groups can strengthen the autonomy of their members, and help them to find meaning (morals). The state itself becomes a roof, that offers everybody a home (p.97). When this does not happen, then the chance of a return to the class society becomes real (p.103).

In short, Sie Dhian Ho advises the political parties to review their target function U in a critical manner (p.107). The guarantee of the individual autonomy and pluralism are essential. Here she is undoubtedly right. But success is not guaranteed by her recommendations either.


None of the social-democratic thinkers refer to contract theories. Nor do they support the network theories of Frijters, where the state emerges from the condensation of atomistic groups into a nation. They prefer the pluralism theory of Schumpeter, where the political leaders compete on the historically grown market of voters in order to conquer the democratic majority. The voters marginally contribute to the political contents, and they prefer to make the leaders accountable in retrospect. The democratic choice is more U → W (delegation, testing) than W → U (participation, synthesis). The K-game of Ganßmann is abolished at an early stage, already by Geyer (1926) and Bonger (1934). Its revival under New Left (1966) is a degeneration, which is not serious. In short, the picture of this column tends to deviate from the presentation in previous columns.

Since New Left the call for strong leaders has undeniably diminished. Perhaps now there is a tendency to form collectives of leaders. The target functions U have begun to include future generations. During the sixties the state appropriates an increasing part of U. However, this trend shoots through, and it finally turns out to affect growth. New Left has politicized too many social domains, and thus disencourages participation. Therefore during the eighties the state reduces its activities. The political parties become less important, also for their leaders. Unfortunately the new course threatens to undermine the social equality, at least in the near future. And that frustrates the so much desired determination of the general interest by means of the process W → U (participation). According to many people the individual autonomy remains so much below a just level, that the social well-being suffers from it.

In this column the social-democracy shows something of her ethics. In the end Sie Ghian Ho argues clearly, that the political ideal is the individual unfolding within a harmonious society. Here a dilemma occurs, because her morals are difficult to reconcile with the spirit of private enterprise. And according to the German economist Wagener, morals that do not cherish their entrepreneurs, have no future15. Indeed, the rise of the social-democracy is accompanied by a search for the realization of socially responsible business. It is acknowledged that the realization (target function U) has its limits. Incidentally, the globalization does not create a favourable environment. The consequence is that at the moment the social-democracy has reached an electoral trough. Her story is not convincing. This fate is shared with her institutional base, namely the trade unions and the cooperations.

  1. This connection is documented well in the theory of organizations and management. There the insights are coupled to the name of the well-known mathematical economist Kenneth J. Arrow. See p.363 in Industrial organization in context (2010, Oxford University Press) by S. Martin. (back)
  2. Many social-democrats appreciate the principle of Rawls, because of its attempt to reconcile interests. Nonetheless it has problematic aspects. For instance, liberal and conservative thinkers argue, that the principle of Rawls pleads in favour of the existence of the super-rich. For, the super-rich can save a lot, and they invest their savings in the economy. That furthers economic growth, so that in the future the poor also benefit. A variant of this argument states, that exorbitant incomes are an incitation to work hard, and society benefits from this behaviour. Sometimes it is added, that finally the consumption of the rich will be the income of the poor (trickle down). Due to such arguments the principle is not truly satisfactory. (back)
  3. See Ontwikkeling van het democratisch denken (1987, Bres B.V.) by L.J. Giebels. The book was bought from rest stocks at the now unfortunately bankrupt chain De Slegte. Incidentally, how does the present youth acquire its books? Your columnist read the book twenty years ago, and was quite affected, for instance emotionally tied to the philosophical School of Francfurt (Marcuse) and to New Left. Giebels is a versatile person. He represented the PvdA in parliament, and then became a teacher in law at the university. He has contributed among others to the book De formatiedagboeken van Beel (1994, SDU uitgeverij). (back)
  4. The expression polyarchy is a variant of the concept oligarchy. The oligarchy is an exclusive rule by privileged classes. It deserves mentioning, that the preceding columns have used the word plutocracy, following Heiner Ganßmann. Apparently Ganßmann believes, that such an exclusive government is necessarily grounded in monopoly-capital. That idea is doubtful. For instance, China is ruled by the Maoist Party, which at least originally had merely a military and political power. Furthermore, note that the situation in China contradicts the pluralism-theory of Schumpeter and Dahl. It is interesting, that Dahl uses the concept inclusion, just like Acemoglu and Robinson. (back)
  5. See Führer und Masse in der Demokratie (1926, Verlag J.H.W. Dietz Nachf.) by C.T. Geyer. Geyer is a German politician, who in his early years changes several times between the SPD and the KPD. Since 1922 he is definitely a social-democrat. He works mainly as a journalist and writer. In 1933 he flees to Czechoslovakia, and later to France and finally Great Britain. There he takes on the English nationality. The consulted book is inspired by Psychologie van het socialisme by the Belgian social-democrat Hendrik de Man. Incidentally, this also holds for Willem Bonger and Ed. van Cleeff (see the rest of the column). The book of De Man is interesting as well, but less useful for the present column, because it is mainly a breakaway from orthodox marxism. (back)
  6. See Problemen der democratie, Een sociologische en psychologische studie (1934, P. Noordhoff N.V.) by W.A. Bonger. Bonger belongs to the second generation of politicians within the SDAP. He originates from bourgeois and academic circles. Since 1916 he leads De Socialistische Gids, as the editorial secretary. In 1922 he is appointed as a professor in sociology and criminology at the university of Amsterdam. However, his emotional manner of polemizing and his admiration for historical materialism weaken his position in the now moderate SDAP. In 1938 he is dismissed as the editor of the scientific party magazine. In 1940 he kills himself when the German army invades the Netherlands, and drags his wife along with him. (back)
  7. On p.34 of Problemen der democratie there is an anecdotic footnote: "Since Kretschmer, and already before him various French authors, have pointed out the relation between physical build and character, here also a paragraph about physical build and democracy would be justified". Perhaps here Bonger's profession as criminologist plays a role. Elsewhere, on p.98-99 he states: "Just compare the numbers of those, who visit sport's events with those, who for instance subscribe to the People's universities (in Amsterdam less than 1% of the population!) ... The percentage that is capable to successfully complete more than primary education is not even 15, merely a few percent are capable to complete secondary education. ... Man does not judge by himself, but he is wise enough to be led by those, who know more, and in whom he trusts". (back)
  8. On p.123 of Problemen der democratie Bonger qualifies the North-American system of the election of officials (judges, mayors, etcetera) as absurd: "A system, that has the consequence that the party, that comes into power, also holds an election for offices. There exists no better method for appointing uncapable and corrupt officials". On p.149 he writes: "The SDAP can certainly use another hundred thousand [members], but yet it would be much more useful for her when several hundred first class [intellectuals] would join her". (back)
  9. See Sociaaleconomische ordening: een ideologisch-sociologische beschouwing van religieus standpunt (1947, Van Loghum Slaterus Uitgeversmaatschappij N.V.; een herdruk) by Ed. van Cleeff. Van Cleeff at first joins the SDAP, and contributes to the Plan van de Arbeid. However, it irritates him, that the plan is not elaborated at the micro-economic level. This motivates him to leave the SDAP. In his book he is very critical about the SDAP (p.151): "In political, economical and cultural respect this, incidentally also morally already unacceptable, [marxist] method gave less to the workers than they could have obtained by a collaboration with the radicals. ... In short, the foundation of a workers party was Troelstra's first and most decisive mistake". On p.174 he pleads in favour of a transformation of the SDAP into a liberal-christian association. After the end of the Second Worldwar he obtains an important administrative function in the just established Centraal Planbureau (CPB). Its director, the social-democrat Jan Tinbergen has also contributed to the Plan van de Arbeid, and in addition knows Van Cleeff as a colleague of the CBS. In that period Van Cleeff sits on the committees, that publish several important policy reports in name of the trade union NVV. However, he continues to propagate the sociological and micro-economical planning, and that concept deviates more and more from the macro-economical course of the CPB. Van Cleeff's position becomes marginal, and in the end he is merely the personal advisor of Tinbergen. Nowadays his ideas have become obsolete, and justifiably so. Now he is only appreciated by the Association Woodbrookers Barchem, an originally social-christian group. Since the thirties of the last century, this group in Barchem was a collaboration of (left-)liberal entrepreneurs and (religious-)socialist officials such as theologians and other scientists. (back)
  10. In any case, New Left has brought about, that the modern reader finds such proposals offensive. The referrals of Van Cleeff to "science" also incite aversion. For instance on p.73: "The Russian belongs to the nervous type of Hymans; he is emotional, not very active, and primary-functioning (moment man). He is unstable, he knows no measures, he maximizes. Many properties of the nervous type - repetition, ignoring principles, lack of punctuality, urge to roam, etcetera - can be identified in the history of the Russian revolution". Since the sixties modern science attaches much more weight to social factors than to physical factors. (back)
  11. See Maßstäbe für eine humane Gesellschaft: Lebensstandard oder Lebensqualität? (1974, Verlag W. Kohlhammer GmbH) by E. Eppler. Between 1961 and 1976 Eppler was a member of parliament for the SPD. Between 1968 and 1974 he was the minister of economic collaboration in the Federal government. And between 1970 and 1991 he was part of the party executive. At the age of 88 he still participates actively in the public debate, also in religious organizations. (back)
  12. See Lof van de politiek (1992, Prometheus) by M.A.M. Wöltgens. Between 1977 and 1994 Wöltgens is a member of parliament for the PvdA. Since 1989 he is the chairman of the PvdA group. After his departure from parliament he has led various administrative organizations. His personality was the cause of some criticism during his period as chairman of the group. On p.25 in Regerenderwijs (1994, Uitgeverij Bert Bakker) by P. Rehwinkel and J. Nekkers it is stated: "Rottenberg [then chairman of the PvdA EB] said in public that the chairman of the group was a man with a poor condition and a lazy Limburger". Also on p.39 in Paars! (1994, Sdu Uitgeverij) by Emile Bode a citation of Rottenberg is presented: "I also think that a change in the direction of the group is desirable. That is up to the group. But it does not necessarily mean that he [Wöltgens EB] keeps his position". On p.121 Bode writes: "During the summer recess in 1992 he wrote a true book: Lof van de politiek, a report of an inner dialogue. OK, almost nobody has read it, but it is a nice try. Truly for a large PvdA audience". The cynicism is clear. Still, the book is instructive for councillors and party militants. Bode's irritation must have a personal origin. (back)
  13. See Economische gelijkheid en het goede leven (1993, Uitgeverij Contact) by J. de Beus. Since 1977 De Beus is a university teacher in welfare theory and political economics. Since 1991 he is a professor at various universities, with as specialization the political philosophy. Since the seventies he sympathizes with the social-democracy. He becomes a curator of the Wiardi Beckman Stichting (Foundation), and in 1994 he makes important contributions to the national election program of the PvdA. But he also expresses clearly, that in his view the social-democratic leaders Wim Kok and Wouter Bos are timid politicians. During the national elections in 2006 he even supports the campaign of the CDA. Perhaps the cause of the political capriciousness of De Beus can be found in his lamentation on p.59: "But in my best moments (when I have slept well, think clearly, and can manage the whole world) I believe that people ought to create and maintain a certain equality". (back)
  14. See Van waarde - sociaaldemocratie voor de 21e eeuw (2013, Van Gennep) by M. Sie Dhian Ho. Sie Dhian Ho was a university teacher in international political economics. Since 2008 she is the director of the Wiardi Beckman Stichting, the scientific bureau of the PvdA. (back)
  15. See Konjunktur und Wirtschaftswachstum (2010, Verlag C.H. Beck oHG) by H.-J. Wagener. Sie Dhian Ho does recognize this (p.64 in Van waarde: "[strenghtening] the quality and efficiency by furthering the initiatives of the workers, the development of their qualifications, their participation in the decisions of the enterprise or organization, teamwork and excellent relations between the workers and management"; p.68: "The recognition of the knowledge and experience of the workers contributes to a higher productivity and is essential for the success of innovations"), but your columnist misses in her argument the concept of the risks of enterprise. Incidentally, he also omits this risk in his column about the motivation of labour, with the exception of the performance wage (piece wage - as has already been advocated in the Socialisatierapport, rising wage during the engagement, promotion tournament). (back)