Those of us seeking a more fair, egalitarian and stable society often imagine a more-or-less utopian future. Part of what we imagine may be expressed with the old quote “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. (Wikipedia tells us that while this quote is often associated with Karl Marx, it actually precedes him – going back at least to Louis Blanc in 1839.)
The concept has a moral and practical basis. We wouldn’t want to live in a world with no sanitation workers, no janitorial work and nobody to do various other necessary jobs. So, why should those who do these jobs have less of their needs met? Suppose every adult could just as easily be the proverbial “rocket scientist” or “brain surgeon”. Such a person might find some necessary but repetitive jobs even more wearing than most people do. If there are non-rocket scientists who can work in factories, let the rocket scientists be happy they are rocket scientists and give the factory workers a generous standard of living.
And the concept apparently resonates with many people’s aspirations – they are able to imagine the quote coming from heroic figures. Wikipedia tells us:
According to a survey conducted by the Museum of the American Revolution, “more than 50 percent of Americans wrongly attributed the quote “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” to either George Washington, Thomas Paine, or Barack Obama,
We still haven’t crossed beyond the realm of society dominated by big money. Once we do, it will still take a while to reconfigure the economy and government, change habits and assumptions, and otherwise prepare for goals such as “to each according to his needs”. In the final analysis, future society will use its decision-making processes to apply (or not apply) such a rule of distribution. I’m not assuming I’ll be there to participate in finalizing how it’s done. Still, we can try to shed some light on the question today.