Some thoughts on communism, sparked by buying coffee. I’m not an expert on the food and/or beverages industries, so I may have missed something important, but even if so the discussion will hopefully be suggestive of thoughts.
The various establishments that give freshly-prepard food (and hot drinks etc.) to people, who then take it away and eat it, do so by putting it into a container, of styrofoam or cardboard or foil, that cannot be effectively washed and re-used and thus gets thrown away. And end up somewhere like the Great Pacific Trash Continent (or whatever it’s called).
An individual or family who ate all of their food from containers which they then destroyed would surely be considered wasteful. Why does such waste happen with these food-giving-away establishments?
What would happen if they gave away food in re-usable containers, with metal forks, ceramic mugs, plastic tubs, etc? The immediate answer is, they would spend far more money on giving away these endless ‘proper’ implements, and their customers would swiftly acquire a needless glut of the same, and no doubt would simply throw them away. This would be an even more wasteful situation!
But wait! A glut of cutlery in one place*, and a dearth in another? Surely the answer is to set up some simple mechanism by which they go from one to other. I.e. eaters (that odd breed of person) hand in their surplus cutlery to some central, easily-located site. This site then distributes it back to food-providers. A great river-system of cups, bowls, and forks is created, ever-flowing, and carrying hot food along with it. Waste is eliminated!
Is there a problem? There might be a few worries about hygiene but I’d be surprised if it was technically infeasible to sterilise large numbers of bowls and spoons as effectively with better technology (e.g. vast dishwashers or gamma-radiation blasters**) as people currently do with soap and hot water.
The more serious problem is this: in such a scheme, nobody would ever have insufficient forks. If they needed forks, they could just get some with food, and then not return them. And without unprecedented cutlery-surveillance, this could never be detected and stopped.
Is this a problem? Among its advantages are that people can more easily move into new houses, for instance, and that people on low incomes can reduce their expenditures. On the other hand, surely if cutlery isn’t rationed, people have no reason to limit their use of it. What if everyone snaps up 250 sets?
But that hardly seems realistic. People are naturally limited in their use of cutlery. If you had 250 sets, what would you do with them? Build a fort? To put it another way, the only realistic reasons for having more cutlery that I can think of seem equally like good reasons, not wasteful ones (e.g. I have a lot of friends, a huge kitchen, and like to hold big dinner parties).
Ah, but. Now, nobody can make a profit selling such cutlery, except to that socialised distribution network. Moreover, nobody can make a profit selling disposable cutlery at all. And that socialised distribution network, by virtue of its relative centralisation, is a much stronger bargainer, has more power in the trade, and is thus able to demand lower prices and better quality.
That is, the interests of cutlery-capital*** are entirely ruined (and those dependent on them for work, though secondarily). What this reflects is that what is bought and wasted is nevertheless profitable. As a result, we are unlikely to see such a system as has here been sketched as long as capitalism remains (though it’s not impossible).
So what we have here is an example where straightforward and common-sense communism**** would remove a serious and entirely needless problem (waste) but seems like a crazy thought because it goes against the imperatives of capitalism.
*’Glutlery’ is the correct technical term.
**’Blaster’ may not be the correct technical term.
***’Capitlery’ is the correct technical term.
****’Communism’ is the correct term, not just ‘socialism’ – abolishing property not just in means of production but in something as simple as cutlery. That need not mean, note, that there are no individualised rights to cutlery – it might still be prohibited to go into someone’s kitchen and take all their knives, though more as a douche-y thing to do than as a ‘theft’, since they can be easily replaced. But these rights (‘possession’) fall short of property properly so-called, e.g. in not including tradeability.