Boots & Sabers

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Owen

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0648, 08 Aug 23

Theory will only take you so far

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a taste:

In theory, socialism should work. It is an economic system in which scarce resources are allocated by priority of need. The theory is that if everyone contributes according to their ability, and everybody consumes according to their need, then the society as a whole will achieve maximum efficiency and aggregate success, or, at least, aggregate satisfaction.

 

Socialism makes sense in theory, so why does it always fail in practice?

 

Socialism fails because it mistakes the fundamental nature of people. Socialism assumes that people are naturally altruistic and will act in good faith. In reality, altruism beyond one’s own family or community is a modern phenomenon. It has only been in recent decades, when food scarcity has abated (thanks to capitalism), that some people have lifted their eyes beyond their personal needs to care about the broader world. But even now, the vast majority of people are far more concerned about their personal self-interest and will behave accordingly.

 

So it is that in a socialist economy, people do not contribute according to their ability. They contribute as little as they must. And they do not consume according to their need. They consume as much as they can. To combat this, the system must be enforced by an ever more forceful central authority. The flawed, and often evil, humans who gravitate into the center of a socialist system tend to be those who are seeking to consume the most. The inevitable result is cruelty, cronyism, and collapse.

 

To preserve liberty in a political and economic sense is to not allow power to concentrate, because whenever power is concentrated, there will be cruel and corrupt people seeking to use that power for their own benefit. Our national founders fundamentally understood this, which is why they designed our federal government to divide and check power.

 

Every system of government is found along a continuum from complete decentralization of power to complete concentration of power. On one end we find anarchy. On the other end we find communism, monarchy, fascism, and other forms of totalitarianism. Socialism is the younger, more handsome, brother of communism while democracy is the older, less reckless, brother of anarchy. The United States has a republic, which seeks to protect individual liberties from the oppression from the majority (democracy) or the minority (totalitarianism).

 

No system is static. There are too many forces at play for it to be so. The tendency, in both economies and governments, is for power to concentrate. This is so because people of ill intent are pushing it in that direction for their own gain. As power concentrates, the progression accelerates until critical mass is reached, and destructive energy is released.

 

There is a reason why socialism is so often advocated by academics and opposed by those who have lived under socialism. Theory will only take you so far.

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0648, 08 August 2023

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