“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” is a famous phrase from Karl Marx which one would hear in the Soviet Union very often. The phrase implies that anyone can contribute in any amount they can and everyone should have access to goods as per their individual needs, irrespective of whether or not they contributed anything to its development.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, demonstrated that even though this might have been a great utopian idea, in the real world there are plenty of problems with the idea of equalizing everyone’s income, regardless of their merit or contribution.
It is therefore interesting what ex-Soviet countries as well as other European countries think about this idea some 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A study conducted by the European Value Study (EVS), a large survey research program that has studied basic values for almost 40 years provides insight into what people in 16 European countries think. GORBI has been a part of the project since 2008 and is the data provider for Georgia and Azerbaijan for the most recent year.
When asked if they believed that incomes should be made more equal versus greater incentives for individual effort, on average 46% of respondents think that incomes should be made more equal. Georgia in this regard is the biggest outlier, where only 8% of our population believes that incomes should be made more equal. Many would expect a more balanced result regarding this issue in a formerSoviet country, especially as Belarus, Russia and Armenia believe much more than Georgians that incomes should be made more equal.
Graph 1. Incomes should be made more equal (%, agree)
Source: European Value Study, 2017
Another interesting question that EVS asked is whether people think that individuals should take more responsibility for providing for themselves compared to the idea that the state should take more responsibility to ensure that everyone is provided for. If on average 43% of the population surveyed in 16 countries think that the state should take more responsibility to ensure that everyone is taken care of, Georgia again turns out to be an outlier where 70% of the population shares this opinion. Therefore, at a first look we are dealing with paradoxical thinking: the immense majority of Georgians (92%!) think that there should be strong incentive for individual effort, while at the same time a majority of Georgians (70%) also think that governmentshould take more responsibility for providing for everyone.
So how do we account for the dissonance between these ideas of individual and governmental responsibility? I think that we need to look at these statistics while bearing in mind that the unemployment rate in Georgia is quite high and around 800,000 people live below the poverty line. By agreeing that government should take more responsibility to ensure that everyone is provided for, individuals do not mean redistributing money, but providing jobs. This interpretation may be about the role of government to create theopportunity to make money. Georgians are a proud people, and it may be that there is real importance in earning a benefit rather than receiving it. Therefore, even though an individualistic approach towards income is very prevalent in Georgia, with 92% of population thinking that there should be greater incentives for individual effort, 70% of population thinks that government should provide an opportunity to an individual for them to provide for themselves according to their own merit.
In addition, the idea that only 8% of the Georgian population reported that incomes should be made more equal causes me to think about the individualistic character of Georgians. Despite being a small nation, we are an ambitious one. This may help explain the very high number of candidates in the most recent presidential elections as well as seeking local government positions. Georgians in general like leadership positions and to show that they can be leaders.
The tradition of “Stumar-Maspinzloba” in my opinion, is a good example of such attitude, where even if a family does not have the means to host someone they will borrow in order to share their last meal with their guest. In addition, if we look at the number of IPhones and Jeeps in the city, in comparison with the average monthly salary of Georgians, we are sure to discover many more luxurious goods than the average Georgian is able to afford. The unfortunate truth is that in order to afford theseluxury items and show their individualism and success many Georgians will not hesitate to take a loan or sell something else. This is a significant sacrifice in order to have items that make them look individualistic and outstanding, Perhaps it is then logical to assume that they do not want to be “equalized with everybody else”. They are ready to work hard or take out a loan in order to stand out.
GORBI is an exclusive member of the Gallup International research network and has more than two decades of experience in survey research (gorbi.com)