Socialism (is) for Dummies

It never seems to go away. No matter how many times it’s tried and how many times it fails in spectacular fashion, socialist ideologies continue to infest modern thinking like roaches. The empirical evidence against socialism is so strong that no sane person can object to the argument that it is dead on arrival in any version, but still it persists as an ideological “truth”. No matter how many times you poke holes in their logic, and no matter how many people end up dying as a direct result of it, socialism just keeps on keeping on.

The reason for this is that socialism on paper is an amazing concept. It pulls at our hearts because the ideas themselves espouse championing the little guy and making sure everyone has what they need. It calls for a fair playing field where everyone makes it, regardless of where you come from or what you’re doing. Utopia is an amazing idea, and socialism looks like the perfect way to get there.

The problem is that socialism ignores one glaring problem: human nature. As survivalist animals, we are always on the lookout for what is best for ourselves, not the other guy. In optimal circumstances we can find it within us to be selfless, but unless the reward is big enough we are typically unwilling to put anyone before ourselves, that being our individual person or those who we include in our sphere of concern. We will always prioritize people who mean something to us over those who do not. There is a reason family continues to be a thing.

If we accept the fact that people will always be looking for ways to advance themselves and those they care about, we start to see where the ideals of socialism fall short. When people start to have a preference for one person or group over another, conflict is inevitable. The only way those disparities can be peacefully resolved is if we all feel that the disparity is fair. The primary way in which this resolution occurs is in the way we view how society provides us with the ability to interact with those resources. In modern times it is simply the difference between equality and equity.

In a good capitalist society, the goal is equality of opportunity. If you can remove most of the unfair impediments to access to good opportunities, everyone has a reasonable chance to find success in whatever it is that they want to do. Equality of opportunity means we start with a level playing field and then let each person figure out how they’re going to reach their own individual goals. The end result will never be the same, and the goal isn’t to manipulate things to make it that way. Nothing is forced on anyone; it is a completely cooperative system and your results are determined by your skill and a bit of luck.

In the perfect socialist society, the goal is equality of outcome. The desire isn’t to put people in positions to become successful on their own, but to force those who are already successful to help those who haven’t figured things out (or simply can’t figure things out) and save them from their problems. The idea is nice, but the end result is always the same. The successful people get pulled down by the masses of the desperate and everyone ends up losing.

The problem is one of production. A small percentage of very successful people produce the majority of things, be it goods or services or whatever. This is not due to people gaming the system to keep talent in a very small pool of people. It requires extraordinary skill and dedication to produce the kinds of things we take for granted every day, and that skill and dedication are rare. This means that only a small percentage of the population will possess enough skill or talent to make a meaningful difference on a society level scale, and because of this they end up getting most of the reward. This is true in any society, be it a capitalist system that measures success with money, or a socialist society that measures success by position or prestige. It’s simply the way things work, and no amount of political manipulation is going to change it.

If we understand that resources are finite and that a small percentage of people will always disproportionately control them, then we have to decide what system we are going to use to make that allocation of control as fair as possible. Socialists will tell you it should be the government because people are greedy and selfish and won’t do anything to help society without being forced to. Capitalists say that government is corrupt and just steals our money, so trusting them with complete control is dangerous and stupid. Both sides have good points, and the answer is likely somewhere in the middle.

There must be freedom for people to make their own choices so they can develop their talents in whatever direction makes them the most productive and satisfied. That is a key part of the equation. Personal satisfaction makes all the difference in the world when it comes to individual productivity. Happy people produce more than sad or anxious people. People who are forced into things they don’t want to do will be unhappy, and that reduces productivity. On the other side, too much freedom results in the worst of human nature materializing and ruining innocent lives. Some level of external control is warranted.

This is where we run into trouble. How much external control is necessary before becoming oppressive? We recognize the need to place limits on society and we start out with the best of intentions. Then people start going overboard with the rules and eventually no one has any room left to breathe. When you start to feel like your effort no longer provides enough benefit to you, or the effort required is just too much to keep going, you lose your happiness and your productivity decreases, which results in a ripple affect across society. When enough people feel those effects, the system collapses.

Part of the problem is human nature itself. We like to believe that we can achieve a utopian society with enough government intervention, but this ignores the fact that people in power will always be corrupted if given enough of it and the rewards are worth the risk. The more we give control over to the flawed human beings in government, the worse things will inevitably get as back room deals and large sums of money or prestige or whatever other version of currency begins changing hands in exchange for special favors.

If we understand that we fundamentally can’t trust putting human beings in direct control of things, it seems that the answer truly lies in a heavily capitalist leaning society with minimal controls to reduce corruption. The ideal capitalist system has no face or ideology; it is simply about producing the most stuff at the most profit. With proper controls, everyone wins. If it’s a choice between an impartial system or a cabal of corruptible human beings, I’ll take my chances with the system, please.

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