Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Trouble with Socialism

A hero of mine, William F. Buckley, once said: "Every ten years I quote the same adage from the late Austrian analyst Willi Schlamm and I hope that ten years from now someone will remember to quote it in my memory. It goes, 'The trouble with socialism is socialism. The trouble with capitalism is capitalists.'"

Mr. Buckley (I call him Mister out of a very real respect and admiration) was certainly right and Schlamm's point is right on the mark. Let’s talk about this a little.

A “real capitalist" is a person that cares more about providing for his family than providing for yours; cares more about his own profit than yours; someone who trusts that he is a better taking care of his own interests than some government bureaucrat in Washington or some state capital. By that definition we are all capitalists whether we admit it or not. By that simple definition, capitalism isn't some ideological theory about profit making or the acquisition of money; it is just human nature and common sense. It is a description of what motivates just about everyone.

Now let's look at Socialism. Every time Socialism has been applied to a governmental entity it has ultimately and completely failed. Look at the Soviet Union. Socialism reached a zenith of power decrying the slogan “from each according to his ability; to each according to his need” (communists morphed that slogan into “from each according to his contribution”, a significant change). The problem was that people simply don’t behave like that. The senior officials and people in positions of power in government worked the system to get the bigger houses, nicer cars, more food and even put their children into better schools. Black markets appeared and had as big or higher a total economy than the Soviet Union itself. People throughout the country learned very quickly how to work the system for their own betterment –just like all of us “capitalists”!

The problem with socialism is socialism, because there are no socialists. Socialism is based on the assumption that we human beings will naturally act in a certain way. That simply isn't true. You just cannot get people to behave against their nature -- at least not without inflicting a terrible amount of punishment. It's easy to design a society that rewards each according to his need instead of his ability. The hard part is getting people to live by it and be content within its limits.

In our own society it is easy to see examples of this failure of what socialists preach put into practice. Labor unions demand exemptions and "carve-outs" for their own health care plans and lobby for higher and higher wages and more and more benefits –based more on what they perceive to be the companies profits and ability to pay, not necessarily what individual union members contribute to the effort (in other words, earn by their labor) . Also, "from each according to his ability" seems to disappear around tax time. Rich, and not so rich, liberals try their best to minimize their taxes. It seems that political philosophy disappears when the tax form appears.

That is why the problem with “Socialism” is “Socialists”. It is why Socialism always, always fails. Similarly, however, the problem with capitalism is capitalists. Some people will always abuse the system and take things too far. Avarice and greed are strong motivators and it is human nature to give in to them, sometimes to excess. That is where a government comes in. Not to control and be a part of every individual’s everyday life, but to just act as a regulator, ensuring no one abuses the system. A referee, if you will, standing on the sidelines ensuring that everyone plays according to the rules.

History is a great teacher. A look at history will show us that every great, long lasting nation was based upon a free market and on a form of capitalism. The political structure may vary from monarchy to autocracy to theocracy -and the form of government even within successful nations may change as time passes, but all were based economically upon a form of capitalism. The failure of great nations came about as a result of either greed and abuse, incompetence (which often leads to being conquered by a neighbor), or an attempt to change to a socialist society. The only examples of “successful” socialist nations were both short-lived (in the context of history) and were cropped up by totalitarian governments. They were societies that left the people no choice or say in how they were governed. They all ultimately failed and were replaced by smaller governments based on capitalist principles.

America today is faced with the same problem that eventually faces all successful nations. We are trying to find a balance between government regulation and government control. There are many who believe that socialism is the answer. They see a Utopian society which is, and has always been, an elusive fantasy. They know, however, that the only way a socialist society can actually get a grasp on our nation is through a totalitarian form of government. It is no accident that the more liberal influences in Washington are continually expanding government and governmental control. Guarding against that home-grown cancerous threat is the challenge of our time. Remember that no matter how “fair” the socialist creed may sound, it never, never works. People are just not cut out to actually behave like that. In the end it will always, always fail. What always, always works is a well regulated form of capitalism in a free and open society.

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