Recently, as noted previously on this blog, I have spent some time frequenting some socialist websites and forums and reading some of the modern socialist “thinkers”. I have also read a couple of books, include The Problem with Socialism by Thomas DiLorenzo, which is a pretty good deconstruction while still be approachable. Not as detailed as Socialism by Mises, or as thorough as Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, but still flagged a couple of key points to me.
Mises and Hayek clearly described why Socialism cannot work – the problem of pricing, knowledge and economic calculation are well described elsewhere. DiLorenzo makes a very good argument that modern socialism is largely driven by envy, the demand that the wealsth be shared because somehow the distribution isn’t “fair”.
This concept of fairness, as described by socialists as the justification for their demands, reminds me of the use of the word “fair” by children. Many children, between the ages of 3 and 7, will demand other children share, that parents force unwilling siblings to play with them – and children are quick to recognize that demanding “fairness” makes it more likely they will get their way. “Mom! Hannah won’t share her candy with me. I don’t have any so it’s not fair!”. But the fact the demanding child already ate their candy is left out of the argument. And if you point out to one of these petulant children that their behaviour isn’t fair when the reverse happens, they will deny or ignore you. Why? Because for children, FAIR is a one way street. It only flows towards them.
The same can be said of socialists. In their mind, it is fair to impose progressive taxes because the wealthy can better “afford to pay”. If you make the argument that this same “fairness” be applied to grades in University – that all students should get the same mark regardless of effort or aptitude, you will be laughed out of the room. If you try to make that point that a flat income tax is MORE FAIR, on the basis that 10% of a big number is still more money to the state than 10% of a smaller income, the concept of fairness goes away. As DiLorenzo points out, it isn’t about fairness – it’s about envy for thoose who have achieved. The premise on which this lies is that since the socialist hasn’t gotten rich, they can’t imagine how anyone else has, and therefore it must be ill-gotten. This goes back to Marx. The idea that only labour has value is the fundamental flaw in Socialism – intellect, risk taking and invention have no value to the socialist. Which is why Socialist states (e.g. USSR, PRC, DPRK, Cuba) have failed to ever produce a technological advancement that was adopted around the world.
My other great realization from reading the socialist web, is that while Socialists call for equality of outcome, rather than equality of opportunity, their methods and implementations fail to even measure outcomes. Why? Because it isn’t really about outcomes. It’s about INTENT. If the intent of the government action, program or policy is good, then the action, program or policy is inherently good. The fact they cannot see or predict the unintended consequences is irrelevant – and more importantly – not their fault. Raising minimum wages has the intent of helping the poor. Therefore it is a good idea. If you disagree, you are against the intent. The actual implementation is fraught with problems, most notably that is prices the unskilled and unproductive worker out of the economy. But that was not intended, and is therefore not their fault and cannot be laid at the feet of the planner.
I came to this realization when a communist apologist attempted to argue that although millions of Ukrainians starved during the collectivisation of farms in the 1920s and 1930s, this was not the Stalin’s intent. The intent was that collectivisation would remove inequalities and improve food availability to the nation. The fact that the result was mass starvation, particularly as food was withheld from the poor to save the cities, is irrelevant to the Socialist, because the intent was good. This explains the logic of some socialists when asked why there has not yet been a successful socialist nation, to explain it simply hasn’t been done right yet – if it were done right, with the proper intent, that the unintended consequences would not happen next time.
Linking this back to my earlier statements – this view that the intent of action is all that matters is again a very juvenile concept. How many times have you heard a child say “I didn’t MEAN to do that” as an excuse for why they shouldn’t be held responsible?
So the next time you are reading a policy of a socialist government, or party campaigning for election, or just making arguments on the internet, remember that to them, all that matters to them is intent. Consequences are not their responsibility. Many socialists exhibit the intellectual rigor of a five year old.