The concept of “social contract” emerged in the 16th century and dominated the thought of political philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
The Social Contract from Hobbes to Rawls:
The concept refers to an implicit contract between members of society whereby, for example, citizens exchange one thing, such as freedom, for another, given by the State, such as security and safety.
The concept represented an essential theoretical basis for understanding the origins of political governance. Some date the concept back to the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Al-Mawardi, Thomas Moore, Ibn Khaldoun, and others. The idea of a contract determining the nature of the relationship between the rulers and the ruled has preoccupied human thought since ancient times.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (“Social Contract”, Encyclopedia Britannica), what distinguishes Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau’s thought from others is “their attempt to justify and delimit political authority on the grounds of individual self-interest and rational consent.” This means that they tried to normalize “why and under what conditions government is useful and ought, therefore, to be accepted by all reasonable people as a voluntary obligation.”
But the three philosophers differ according to whether their goal is to justify the system of governance or to protect individuals (ibid.). Hobbes says that the primitive nature was cruel and chaotic, a state of permanent warfare; therefore, individuals agreed to appoint a tyrannical ruler who would take away their freedom but protect them from chaos and war (Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, 1651). Locke (in Two Treatises on Civil Government, 1690) argues that the nature of things requires the preservation of natural rights against insecurity.
That is why abiding by civil rule is part of a social contract, and is conditional upon “the protection not only of the person but also of private property”. “Sovereigns who violated these terms could be justifiably overthrown” (Encyclopedia Britannica).
So, while Hobbes builds his theory on the need to overcome primitive chaos by trading freedom for security and stability, Locke considers that human rights are natural and inherent and must be preserved by choosing a ruler who provides security and justice in exchange for people’s obedience.
In Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique (1762), Rousseau, on the other hand, says that “humans were unwarlike and somewhat undeveloped in their reasoning powers and sense of morality and responsibility.” (Encyclopedia Britannica). “When, however, people agreed for mutual protection to surrender individual freedom of action and establish laws and government, they then acquired a sense of moral and civic obligation.” (ibid.).
What is important for Rousseau is the moral aspect, that is, the basis of governance is morality, the desire of the ruled to comply with the ruler’s decision because s/he sees it as a preservation of security and tranquility. The contract is moral first and then civil, but the basis is the shift from nature and instinct to rules and morality.
Marx and Engels found in the theory of social contract, especially of Locke and Rousseau, a source of Utopian thought which advocates a direct democracy not based on individual interest.
At the same time, they perceived it as a desperate bourgeois attempt to reconcile the interests of those in power on the one hand and the people on the other, (James Sterba, “The Marxist Dilemma / Paradox of Social Contract Theory”, American Philosophical Quarterly Journal, 1982.) From the point of view of Marxist thought, it is not considered a contract if the proletariat assumed its historical role, controlled the means of production and eliminated the capitalist mode of production.
As if Marx and Engels were using Rousseau and Locke only to demonstrate the necessity to return to the primitive phase, the pre-social contract phase, as a practice of a natural pattern of production. The difference between Rousseau and Marx is radical: the first sees the transition to the contract an accentuation of the sense of morality; the second (with Engels) sees the return to primitive utopianism as the highest peak of morality (Friedrich Engels, “Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigenthums und des Staats” 1884.)
John Rawls was the most influential philosopher of the 20th century to have used the concept of a “social contract” in order to set up the foundations for a “just society.” In his book, Theory of Justice (1971), Rawls criticizes utilitarianism, which posits that justice is “ defined by that which provides the greatest good for the greatest number of people.”
(“John Rawls’ Theory of Justice Summary, UK Essays”).
Rawls also proposes that if a “theoretical person who, shrouded in a veil of ignorance, must design a just society without foreknowledge of his or her own status in that society…the individual will choose a system of justice that adequately provides for those positioned on the lowest rungs of society,” fearing that “he or she may end up in such a disadvantaged position and will want to be adequately provided for.” (ibid.).
According to Rawls, the foundation of the social contract is: “what will guarantee a just society without sacrificing the happiness or liberty of any one individual.” Rawls’ goal is to reconcile the principle of “freedom” on which Western capitalist societies were formed (according to the liberal principle) and the principle of “justice”, the basis of the philosophies of social justice that were developed in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The correlation of these two notions in political thought and political practice in the twentieth century has made thinkers at a loss as to justice requirements in the era of the primacy of freedom. Rawls suggested a solution within a social contract, possible at least theoretically and philosophically.
Social Contract Theories according to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund
Rawls and many other thinkers, such as Amartya Sen, have rehabilitated the “social contract” theory within social philosophy and development thinking at the international level.
The successive economic crises of the last two decades, the revolutions and wars of the Arab Spring, the growth of populism, the emergence of protectionist tendencies, and the attack on globalization have nowadays all precipitated the emergence of demands for a new social contract. In 2015, the World Bank’s North Africa and the Middle East Branch issued a report called “Towards a New Social Contract.”
The report claimed that the countries of the region adopted the “same development model”, despite the fact that their economies differ in relation to whether they export or import oil.
The model stems from the fact that the state “would provide free health and education for all, support basic materials and fuels,” and also be the major employer, providing the largest number of jobs via the public sector. On the other hand, we find low citizen participation in political life, and a relative curtailment of freedoms to (allegedly) ensure the security of both the state and citizens.
This contract achieved significant economic and social successes in the Arab region. In 2000, “poverty rates were low and declining. Almost everyone completed primary school, and enrollment rates in secondary and tertiary education were high and rising” (ibid). However, by the end of the 2000s, the contract began to show signs of growing fragility. Public indebtedness increased as a result of the pressuring social demands bill, especially in light of the economic crisis and the skyrocketing prices of fuel and food at the international market (ibid.).
The public sector is no longer able to provide jobs to the unemployed and “the private sector did not grow fast enough” to compensate for the shortage of job opportunities (ibid.). Despite continued investment in education and health, the reform of these two important sectors still faces major challenges, particularly on two fronts, “quality and equity” (ibid.). Thus, the old social contract is no longer “suited to the needs of the current generation of citizens” according to the authors of the report.
Instead, the report proposes a new social contract based on encouraging competitiveness in the private sector rather than relying on the state as a source of employment, abandoning subsidies of basic commodities, and switching to a system of direct cash transfer to the poor. Add to this the need to give space to citizen’s voices and the need to hear them in order to regain their trust.
This may sound like a new development model rather than a social contract, but it carries within it a veiled description of what the Arab regimes might gain, i.e. stability and political legitimacy at the time of social propensity for revolutions and civil wars.
At the beginning of December 2018, Nemat Shafik, President of the London School of Economics and former Vice President at the Bank of England, (and prior to that) at the IMF, and the World Bank, published, on the website of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a lengthy article entitled “A New Social Contract: Overcoming Fears of Technology and Globalization Means Rethinking the Rights and Obligations of Citizenship” (Finance & Development. Dec, 2018, Vol. 55 Issue 4).
In her article, Shafik analyzes the circumstances of “the failure of our social contract to manage properly the consequences of globalization and technology.” “The advance of automation” has led to a significant drop in the employability of a large portion of low-skilled workers and will lead to a major split in the labor market “for the benefit of the more educated,” says Shafik. She also added that social security systems in the United States and France (“redistributive policies”) led to the protection of low-income households but burdened governments with debts.
Additionally, everyone contributes by paying taxes when they have a job, and the rich pay more taxes but “live longer, and thus benefit more from the pension system”. According to Shafik, this disrupts the erroneous saying that there are those who “work hard” and those who are ” a burden to others.”
Finally, Shafik says, “we face huge issues of intergenerational fairness.” “As the age of the median voter rises by a year, public spending on pensions goes up by 0.5 percent of GDP,” she adds. So young people should also mobilize, vote, and participate in electoral processes to make their voice heard and impose their views.
Shafik, therefore, says that it is necessary to review the social contract and establish a new system based on the principle of “payment of taxes in exchange for public goods, and looking after the old, the young, the infirm, and those who have fallen on hard times.” Putting conditions on remittances to those in need, requiring insurance in return, rethinking the social security system, and encouraging the rich to use public services to ensure a sustained sense of solidarity and “quality assurance” – are all inevitable policies to overcome the crisis.
It is also necessary to maintain “pre-distribution policies (i.e. investment in education, social mobility, infrastructure investments in poorer regions, and spreading productivity improvements to the frontier).”
We have to invest more in the capacity of education to bridge social identity. Shafik says: “countries with greater social mobility grow faster because they more effectively match people to the right jobs,” and thus contribute significantly to supporting production. Under this new social contract, young people must be given “entitlements that they can use to improve skills over the course of their lives”, an investment in the future “because they would repay the investment with higher future taxes that could finance care for the elderly.” (Shafik).
On the other hand, minimum wage cuts should be offset “by wage subsidies, earned income tax credits, and higher minimum wages, combined with access to services such as education and healthcare” to maintain reasonable standards of living for all. Effective policies must be enacted to ensure proper and appropriate employment transformation in order to adapt to automated production and digitization, through training, monitoring the opportunities offered by mechanization and digitization, and “giving part-time and temporary workers more rights to pensions, paid leave, and training.”
Finally, income must be rebalanced so that capital can bear a large part of the burden by “eliminating policies aimed at heavy taxation of employment” and by taxation of “capital where economic activity takes place” (ibid.) to counter tax evasion and resorting to tax havens.
A New Social Contract for Morocco?
All these issues, which are of concern to development theorists of international institutions, are not far from the current debates around the issue of development in Morocco. Moroccans speak of a deep crisis of the current development model; the existing model which has relatively worked for the last few decades has reached its limit. The current social contract is no longer valid and may not meet the aspirations of today’s generations.
The lack of trust in politics and in State institutions is due to many categories of the population backing away from the terms of the contract, which was engineered after Independence (1956-1999) and reproduced in a new form during the “New Era” (starting 1999).
In fact, the historical evolution of Morocco’s development since Independence can be summarized in two successive social contracts. The second one was built on the foundations of the first; at the same time, the second provides a more or less clear and profound critique of the first one.
The first social contract that was developed in the post-Independence period was based on the central role of the state in regulating the provision of services, such as health, education, and access to basic services, and in being the main employer due to its monopoly of the production means, especially by owning main companies and big businesses.
On the one hand, the state intervened to subsidize food and fuel and set up relatively limited social safety and insurance networks. On the other hand, the overall governance system was motivated by security concerns, which meant that the few democratic openings now and then were always followed by exceptional measures whereby citizens’ voices were silenced, dissenters were jailed, opposition parties were oppressed, and the press was muzzled.
The terms of the contract were the state’s intervention as a guarantor of the redistribution of wealth in exchange for everyone’s involvement in a political project based on the consolidation of executive monarchy as a fundamental basis for government and governance in Morocco.
Under this contract, Morocco was able to maintain relative stability (despite the turbulent events of 1965, 71, 72, 73, 81, 84, and 90), to form a new elite that public schools managed to bring from various social classes, to establish a strong centralized administration and an experienced territorial cadre of civil servants, and to maintain relative (but fragile) social equilibrium (despite the chronic precariousness of the lower social classes).
However, the resulting authoritarian welfare state had a high bill. Open access to public services, subsidies of basic foodstuffs and fuel in periods of price inflation, and wage increases to absorb popular anger drained treasury resources.
The existence of loyal elites gave the regime a cadre of trained officials capable of defending it politically. However, the fact that these elites were originally “unproductive classes” living on a rent system, deprived the national economy of opportunities to develop and create more wealth to finance the social bill.
The growth of a class that benefits from privileges without producing any added value, successive social demands, and an inflated civil service administration led to a rise in the foreign and domestic debt, with public finances approaching bankruptcy.
The World-Bank-and-IMF supported Structural Readjustment Programs (1984-1992), despite their macro-economic achievements, froze social spending on education, health, and basic services, set a ceiling for public employment, disrupted the normal development of wages, and halted the development of the social security network.
When Hassan II warned of Morocco’s economic “heart attack” in 1995, it was an official announcement that the post-independence social contract had reached a dead end.
The second contract adopted during the New Era (Mohammed VI Reign) is a sophisticated reproduction of the first contract. The new social contract has been based on the fight against poverty, the gradual targeting of lower social classes, the lifting of subsidies on foodstuff and fuel and the expansion of social security networks and improved access to basic services.
All of this in return for a tacit consensus on continuing to work within the framework of the basic perennial foundations of “Monarchy, National Unity and Islam” and a careful orientation towards gradual democratization (despite its many shortcomings) and participatory political decision-making.
This contract had the commendable results of reducing poverty, reducing the unemployment rate, and expanding the middle class.
Nonetheless, it did not offer a solution to the problem of chronic youth unemployment, especially for higher degree holders; it did not contribute to raising the income of the emerging and highly demanding middle class; and did not guarantee quality access to education, health, and basic services for all.
Indeed, the expectations of the middle class and the youth grew at a time when an emerging wealthy class benefited from privatization, and privileges granted to investors in real estate, agribusiness, agriculture, energy, and telecom. The wealthy class appeared as if it were a group of self-interested lobbies enhancing the unequal distribution of wealth and contributing to growing corruption and lack of transparency in public tenders.
The New Social Contract witnessed its first crisis with the successive Arab Spring revolutions when voices took to the streets calling for uprooting corruption, combatting new economic lobbies, and doing away with the alleged control of things public by the so-called “deep state”.
The new 2011 Constitution gave an impetus to reforms (especially political reforms) and was able to administer a serious lifting of the renewed social contract, but it soon showed its limitations in absorbing popular anger, especially as citizen participation in development and in the renewal of the governance system and actual political democratization remained absent in light of a manufactured conflict with the Islamists and the attempt to go back on the achievements of the 2011 Constitution.
Such desperate attempts to reengineer the political map (in a pseudo-counter-revolutionary manner) deterred the country from addressing the core issues of economic growth, human development, ensuring effective citizen participation in managing local affairs, and supporting a fair redistribution of wealth.
The Rif Hirak (uprising in the northern city of Al Hoceima that lasted more than a year), the uprisings of marginal communities, and the Facebook revolution against the elites and state symbols opened the door to a deep crisis described by King Mohammed VI as “the crisis of the current development model.” Hence the current debate among political stakeholders on the need to think seriously and effectively of a new and more effective social contract.
Such a contract must include smart and conditional targeting of the poor, including an effective upgrading of their abilities and skills that would lift them out of poverty. If they overcome poverty and become active economically, they will contribute to the economic cycle and produce wealth, taxes, and resources that would compensate for the funds spent through conditional direct transfers.
This new contract should also include strong support of the middle classes through the reduction of income tax or other mechanisms to fund improved access to housing, car acquisition, payment of private education for children, access to college for the young and funding for travel and leisure.
Strengthening the capabilities of the middle class will increase their consumption capacity and will thus give a strong boost to the economy and contribute to raising public resources. Supporting the middle class does not mean setting up a rent system but investing in economic growth and wealth creation.
The contract should also include conditional cash transfers (dependent on training, learning, and skills enhancements) for young people in university, unemployed youth, and young job-seekers.
The support to youth may be in the form of grants, long-term advances, temporary jobs, and achievement awards which offer young people the means to improve their skills, help them find jobs, and contribute to building their identity and their future.
Ensuring direct citizen engagement in the management of local matters is also essential to ensure more effective management of development issues. It means setting up mechanisms for citizen monitoring of projects, citizens holding officials and elected representatives accountable through public sessions, setting up procedures to manage local financial resources through transparent consultations and open budgets developed with the participation of the local community and the population, and developing effective systems for managing complaints and grievances related to development programs and their impact on the population.
But all this comes only in the framework of gradual but real democratization and from within the framework of the perennial foundations of the Moroccan nation.
When we talk about responsibility and accountability, we must give it the real meaning of choosing who manages public matters through ballot boxes and holding them accountable through parliament, oversight entities, and elections, but only if all resources are put at their disposal and they have ample power to take decisions. There is no accountability in the absence of the right resources and the lack of real decision-making power.
Finally, it is imperative to ensure that the voice of the citizen is heard by guaranteeing his/her right to criticize and demonstrate. Society and the state become stronger when citizens are free, the press is more independent and critical, the parliament is strong and holds real accountability power, civil society is more democratic and mobilized, the unions are more responsible, strong, and critical, the private sector is more aware of its economic role and is well organized…
States become weak when critical voices are crushed, silenced, and curbed, and they become strong when their opposition is strong and independent as are the views of those who criticize the government and the regime.
The duality of rights and duties is essential to the success of the desired social contract, provided that we understand that the lack of awareness of one’s duty does not eliminate the mandatory enjoyment of one’s rights.
The right is binding and legitimate and must be guaranteed and protected by the law, but duty is a culture and a set of values developed through awareness, debate, and engagement.
Rights are constitutional and universal entitlements and duties are an acquired culture. That’s why it is not acceptable to trade this for that. A successful society is one that guarantees the most basic rights and works hard to spread the culture of true citizenship.
This is not possible without the determination and courage of all to bring forth hope, the hope for a brighter and better future for all—for a society where no one soul is left behind.