The True Legacy of Socialism Is Immorality

Everyone can see the historical evidence in support of 'free minds and free markets.'

I was in New Orleans a few weeks ago, giving a discussion about human development. My presentation focused on worldwide gains in living standards during the previous 200 years, an era of historically exceptional affluence brought on by the industrial revolution and global commerce. One of the audience's queries was about the morality of capitalism. "You've demonstrated that capitalism generates more money than socialism," a young guy admitted. "However, is it moral?" he inquired.

In response, I focused on capitalism's voluntary and socially beneficial components. Capitalists need to execute work or generate commodities that other people want in order to gain money. (There are exceptions, of course.) For example, capitalists who are shielded from market pressures by corrupt public officials benefit from monopoly rents to which they are not entitled. That is what the term "crony capitalism" means.)

In the same way, most interactions between capitalists and consumers are voluntary. Customers cannot be forced to purchase products and services from the private sector by capitalists. (There are, of course, exceptions.) The US government, for example, can compel people to buy private-sector health insurance under Obamacare.)

It is critical to defend capitalism as a morally sound economic system, not least because, as I previously stated, "insofar as capitalism is only the latest iteration of an economic set up based on commerce, private property, and profit making, there have always been those who found those three [morally] unpalatable."

As my New Orleans interrogator hinted, socialism is frequently thought to be moral. Is that assumption correct? Socialism is a utopian concept aimed at resolving all of humanity's issues, most notably poverty and inequality. Unfortunately, theory and practice have often been at conflict with one another.

Here is how Karl Marx outlined the future benefits of a socialist society, “If we have chosen the position in life in which we can most of all work for mankind, no burdens can bow us down, because they are sacrifices for the benefit of all; then we shall experience no petty, limited, selfish joy, but our happiness will belong to millions, our deeds will live on quietly but perpetually at work, and over our ashes will be shed the hot tears of noble people.” 

Leon Trotsky, the Soviet revolutionary, wrote that in a socialist society “Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser, and subtler; his body will become more harmonious, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dynamically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above these heights, new peaks will rise.”

Fidel Castro declared that the Cuban Revolution was “of the humble, with the humble and for the humble” and that his struggle for socialism was “for the lives of all children in the world.” Che Guevara, Castro’s number two, mused that “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.” 

To this day, the platform of the Socialist Party of the United States declares, "We are committed to the transformation of capitalism through the creation of a democratic socialist society based on compassion, empathy, and respect..." These lofty sentiments are echoed by the platform of the Socialist Party of the United States, which declares, "We are committed to the transformation of capitalism through the creation of a democratic socialist society based on compassion, empathy, and respect..."

Putting socialist principles into practice proved to be far more difficult. In practice, one of the most evident flaws of socialism is its proclivity for authoritarianism. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek originally established this link in his book The Road to Serfdom, which is still present in Venezuela today.

Hayek emphasized in his book, published in 1944, that the crimes of the German National Socialists and Soviet Communists were largely the outcome of increased governmental control over the economy. Growing government intervention in the economy, he argued, leads to tremendous inefficiencies and lengthy lines outside empty stores. When the economy is in a constant state of crisis, more preparation is required.

Economic planning, on the other hand, is anti-freedom. Because no one plan can be agreed upon in a free society, economic decision-making must be accompanied by the concentration of political power in the hands of a tiny elite. When the failure of central planning becomes evident in the end, totalitarian governments prefer to suppress critics, often by mass death.

Political dissent under socialism is difficult, because the state is the only employer. To quote Trotsky again, “In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat.” A free economy, in other words, is a necessary, though not a sufficient condition, for political freedom. 

Obviously, not everyone believes that the price of equality is too great to pay for despotism and mass death. For example, British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm was once asked if he would have backed Communism if it had accomplished its goals at the expense of, say, 15 to 20 million people — rather than the 100 million it killed in Russia and China. Yes, he replied in a single word. Even today, many individuals, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, admire the Cuban regime for providing ostensibly free health and education to the people.

I wrote “supposedly”, because under socialism, bribes (cash payments, for example, or favors) are ubiquitous. Medical practitioners, who don’t feel that they are being paid enough by the state, demand bribes in order to look after their patients. Teachers, who feel the same, promote the children of doctors in order to get better access to health care. This process goes all the way down the food chain. 

Bribery and thievery frequently go hand in hand. All production facilities, including as factories, stores, and farms, are owned by the state in communist nations. People must first "steal" from the state in order to have something to trade with one another. For example, a butcher may take meat in order to swap it for vegetables stolen from a greengrocer, and so on.

Favors can also be earned in different ways under socialism. In East Germany, for example, neighbors and even spouses were frequently spied on. The secret police's full-time personnel and unofficial collaborators accounted for around 2% of the total population. Once occasional informers are taken into consideration, one out of every six East Germans was involved in spying on their neighbors at some point.

In other words, socialism is not only based on coercion, but it is also morally corrosive. Lying, stealing, and spying are commonplace, and people's faith in one another is eroding. Socialism, rather than encouraging fraternity among people, makes everyone distrustful and bitter.

I've long believed that the biggest harm caused by socialism was not economic. It was a heavenly experience. Many nations that abandoned socialism were able to rebuild their economy and flourish. This cannot be true of their institutions, such as the rule of law, or their inhabitants' conduct, such as the prevalence of corruption. The reduction of impediments to open commerce between individuals leads to prosperity. However, how can a society become less corrupt and more law-abiding?

In other words, the genuine legacy of socialism is immorality, not equality.

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