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A Future for Socialism

A Future for Socialism

John E. Roemer

ISBN 9780674339460

Publication date: 01/01/1994

Many people point to recent events—the collapse of the Soviet Union, the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas—as proof that capitalism has triumphed over socialism once and for all. In A Future for Socialism, a noted economist argues that socialism is not dead but merely in need of modernizing. John Roemer believes that the hallmark of socialism is egalitarianism—equality of opportunity for self-realization and welfare, for political influence, and for social status—and he reminds us that capitalist societies face increasingly difficult problems of poverty and social inequality. Reenergizing a debate that began with Oskar Lange and Friedrich Hayek in the late 1930s, he brings to important questions of political economy a new level of sophistication in line with contemporary theories of justice and equality.

Roemer sees the solution of the principal-agent problem as the key to developing a decentralized market-socialist economy. This would be capable of maintaining efficiency and technological innovation while supporting a substantively more equal distribution of income than is achieved in capitalist economies. Roemer defends his views against skeptics on the right, who believe that efficiency and innovation are incompatible with egalitarianism, and skeptics on the left, who believe that socialism is incompatible with markets.

Because of its interdisciplinary approach, A Future for Socialism will appeal to a general social science audience, including economists, political scientists, sociologists, and political philosophers. It is also accessible to the interested reader.


  • Roemer says it’s always been assumed that markets only worked with private ownership. His book, A Future for Socialism, challenged that. Writing after the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe, he wanted to see whether he could formulate an alternative to unbridled capitalism—so he combined a free market and centralized control. ‘Firms would be neither private nor public,’ he says. Instead the nature of ownership would alter so that every citizen was, in some way, a shareholder… This may seem unusual, he says, but it’s not unknown: ‘Alaska has it for the oil fields that are owned by the state. Every citizen of Alaska gets a royalty cheque each year… It’s your right while you are a citizen of Alaska.’ In his socialist state, companies would compete with each other, and workers would be able to move from job to job. There could even be incentives for managers (larger salaries, bonuses, other perks), Prof. Roemer believes, ‘assuming that’s what the labour market would pay them.’

    —Ian Coutts, Globe and Mail


  • John E. Roemer is Elizabeth S. and A. Varick Stout Professor of Political Science and Economics at Yale University.

Book Details

  • 184 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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