Thursday, October 30, 2008

What’s So Bad About Socialism?

Barack Obama is offended that John McCain called him a socialist, as if the term were some kind of epithet. What’s so bad about socialism that politicians don’t want to be characterized as being in favor of it? Isn’t socialism about caring for the disadvantaged and being your brother’s keeper?

The conventional definition of socialism is in economic terms. It is an economic system in which the state controls and administers the means of production and distribution with a view to creating an egalitarian society. (Wikipedia) It is to be distinguished from capitalism. According to Wikipedia, “Capitalism is the economic system in which the means of production are distributed to openly competing profit-seeking private persons and where investments, distribution, income, production and pricing of goods and services are predominantly determined through the operation of a market economy in which anyone can participate in supply and demand and form contracts with each other, rather than by central economic planning.” The difference, then, is that in a socialist system the state controls the economy theoretically to produce an egalitarian society (in which those with the ability to produce support those who produce less) and in a capitalist system the state has no control and individuals are left free to pursue their own interests – state control versus freedom, and the goal of egalitarianism versus allowing the risks and rewards attendant to individual differences. In other words, socialists would force the more productive and affluent individuals (through taxation and regulation) to support those who are less productive and affluent. Capitalists would allow both the productive and the less productive to support themselves from their own efforts, abilities and conditions.

When controlling the activities of the state, the voters need to consider what kind of government they want – not only for their short term benefit (e.g., a government that allows me to vote money out of my neighbor’s pocket into my own) but also for their long term benefit (e.g., a government that does not inhibit achievement or reward dependency). And they also need to consider the morality of their choice. The Christian ethic preaches that one should be his brother’s keeper. Does that mean you should choose to be your brother’s keeper, or does it mean that you should coerce (tax and force) your neighbor to be his brother’s keeper?

In a recent article on the credit crisis in The New Individualist magazine, Eugene C. Holloway discussed moral hazard and the morality of the welfare state:
Alexis de Tocqueville warned that democracy would last only until Congress learned how to bribe the people with their own money. In the promises of the political candidates of the two major political parties, we see that this practice has now become ingrained. Beginning early in the history of the Republic, but exploding into the welfare state launched in response to the last great world financial crisis (also spawned by the Federal Reserve’s mismanagement), the federal government has pursued policies intended to relieve people of their personal responsibility to exercise due care, and has tried to eliminate reality’s harsh incentives, which train people to raise themselves from poverty. Not only has this not worked as intended and created a moral hazard among the beneficiaries; it has also preempted charity, good will, and benevolence. It has substituted inflation, taxation, bureaucratic control, government mandates, and political power for the work of voluntary organizations, cooperative associations, and philanthropists, causing people to resent being forced to become their brothers’ keeper. Where coercion is substituted for the freedom to choose, the morality of benevolence, charity, and good will is rendered irrelevant.

The ultimate moral hazard is the growing expectation that it is the role of government to bail people out of every sort of misfortune, stupidity, and vice—which, in logic, does nothing but encourage the growth of misfortune, stupidity, and vice. Correspondingly, it diminishes the role of virtue, morality, and benevolence in our culture.
Socialism would substitute government coercion for individual virtue, morality and benevolence. History has shown that it does not work. It is the tool of demagogues, power seekers and tyrants. And that is why Mr. Obama, who is more a socialist than Mr. McCain, protests being labeled a socialist.

Consider the definitions and judge for yourself who is a socialist. In fact, you can find few politicians who are not. Control is their stock in trade. Leaving people alone is not what they do.

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