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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Socialism Is...

State ownership of the means of production. That's what it is. Hoping and advocating for a more equal distribution of wealth could be socialist, depending on the means chosen, but simply expressing this desire is not socialist, or morally objectionable, in itself.

There is a sloppy tendency on the political Right to label anything we don't like "socialist," and I understand that. All the great tragedies of working-class movements, when they've turned truly heinous, 1) were explicitly socialist in intention, or, 2) involved the excesses of a State which had already been empowered to enforce its vision of economic fairness, above all other goals.

Why is socialism bad? It turns every human interaction into an economic one; it conceives of every human problem in exclusively economic terms; while claiming to lift the worker, it denies him or her self-determination, in favor of the whole. It turns the person into a mere instrument of the Ideal State, or the Ideal Man within it, notions to which he is obligated to pledge his whole self.

It's not altogether wrong to note the quasi-religious character of socialist regimes, because that is what is demanded.

Here's the bad news: Market capitalism as such does the same thing: it turns people into mere instruments in service to its ideals, in its purest form. For us to say things like, "Greater economic freedom will solve most human problems"--even with the qualifier--we are suggesting that man's greatest need is material or economic.

It may be that a free, voluntary, mutually beneficial exchange of goods or services could facilitate a natural solidarity between people, especially in a context where voluntary exchanges of goods and services don't occur at all. It would suggest, however, that the scarcity which was imposed was the primary factor in why the parties had not begun to enjoy the benefits of that solidarity.

It is a mistake to assume that the existence of many occasions or opportunities for voluntary mutually beneficial exchange of goods and services constitutes justice. This is especially so when we define "liberty" narrowly as "the ability to get what you want without interference." That definition assumes 1. people know what they want; 2. what they want is always good; and 3. there is no just scenario where a government could interrupt an exchange, either because it isn't just, or because there are higher ends that take priority. I can't make those assumptions, so I can't agree with Milton Friedman and others, for example.

A story, to conclude: Barack Obama can be a funny guy. There is a romance to a political campaign, and those guys even in October, 2008 were really starting to enjoy themselves, and I don't blame them. McCain had called Obama a socialist, and Obama's reply was, "Is he going to call me a socialist because I also shared my toys in kindergarten?" It was cheap, stupid, and otherwise open to mockery, but if you don't know how to define your terms, and you aren't adept at switching from the art of politics to the science of argument, your opponent gets away with it. I still think that Obama, while being one of the greats on the art side, is eminently beatable. We'll never know, because he's done running for office, but he always has seemed like Rocky, pounding bums at the beginning of Rocky III. He'd later find out he's not as great as he thought, but in Obama's case, there's no Clubber Lang to remind him.

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