Socialism Is Cruel


Many today view socialism as the kindest and gentlest method of organizing civilized society. Dyed-in-the-wool socialists are referred to as "bleeding hearts" because of the popular perception that they possess heightened empathy for the downtrodden. The sellers of socialism — whether left-wing Fabian socialists or right-wing revolutionary socialists — always peddle their theory as the best means for society to provide a social "safety net" for those who are left behind by the ravages of the free market. The truth, however, is that socialism is incalculably cruel and particularly cruel to those it attempts to benefit.

Socialism as a political philosophy was best summarized William Graham Sumner in his 1883 "Forgotten Man" essay:

As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C Shall do for X or, in the better case, what A, B and C shall do for X…What I want to do is to look up C …I call him the Forgotten Man…He is the man who is never thought of. He is the victim of the reformer, social speculator, and philanthropist, and I hope to show you before I get through that he deserves your notice both for his character and for the many burdens which are laid upon him.

Although Sumner and his followers, including Henry Hazlitt and other Austrian economists, correctly point to C as a victim of A and B’s social engineering, they fail to recognize that it is really X who is most victimized. This is because the only thing that is taken from C is property, which can be replaced, while the theft from X is of things dearer that can never be replaced — X’s time and social utility. This is because in a perfectly free market everyone is "doing" things that they love to "do" and receiving receipts from the market — for the moment, dollars — for their service to the market. Spending our most valuable and ever-depleting resource — time — doing the things that we love to do, is the key to happiness and success. If you doubt this, find the increasingly rare person who is so happy with their job that they say "I would to this job for free." If you ask this person what they most like to "do," you will find that their job involves doing the things that they most like to do. These people have found their niche, their place in the market. When A and B decide to employ X or direct X to behave in ways that they, not X, desire, they are wasting X’s time, social utility and thus wasting X’s life.

For example, when A and B (e.g. President Elect Obama and the socialist Congress) see the temporary condition of X’s unemployment, A and B seek to "fix" the problem by employing X to "do" something that A and B deem socially desirable — e.g. installing a nationwide system of high-speed internet. A and B sell the program as a benevolent means of providing X with work and further point out that the new system will also help disadvantaged Y who does not presently have access to the internet. A and B do not tell C, D, E or anyone else in the alphabet population that, because A and B have caused the new system to be created, A and B will inherit the power to regulate the most powerful means of communication and education in the history of mankind. This comes later, after the entire alphabet population has overcome its giddiness over the new "free" internet. When civil libertarians who supported the charitable internet project object to A and B’s obtrusive regulation and monitoring, A and B or their successors claim that they "paid for it" and so have the power to regulate it. If anyone else in the alphabet has the temerity to challenge A and B’s good intentions, J, a judge appointed by A and approved by B, dutifully agrees with A and B.

But what about poor X? X is an honest man and yearns to do the work of a carpenter, building and improving permanent structures. He was sitting in the unemployment line hoping and praying that someone in need of an honest carpenter would hire him. Meanwhile, R, a real-estate investor who has acquired several foreclosed properties in a beaten-down part of town, is in need of an honest carpenter who he can hire to repair and refurbish his properties and prepare them for resale. R wants to employ X and hire X to do what he loves to do — carpentry. The problem is that A and B also want to employ X but hire him to do what they want him to do — lay cable. In this competition for X’s labor, R is at a distinct disadvantage. R, unlike A and B, does not have the power to tax and thus coerce others to pay for his endeavor and further does not have the power to finance his operation by selling below-market debt to CB, A and B’s central bank. In short, A and B can literally print X’s wages and coerce others to pay for their endeavor while R must use his own finite capital.

Given A and B’s bidding advantage, when X looks at his options, the thing that he loves to do — carpentry — pays much less than the cable installation job. Because there is no real market demand for the job, A and B must set the wage price at a level that will cause X to abandon his dream of doing carpentry. X has three little x’s mouths to feed and so takes the higher-paying job laying cable. Poor X spends eight years of his life doing something that he does not like to do and something the market is not demanding from him — climbing telephone poles, snipping coaxial cable, etc. At the end of the eight years, X has died from overeating, abusing alcohol and the health problems that result from his Faustian bargain. R? Well R’s houses sit vacant or are shoddily repaired and refurbished because A and B have stolen X from R and forced R to hire people that are not as qualified as X. A and B point to the shiny new cable lines and pat themselves on the back for repairing the "market failure" and for providing internet access to millions that did not have it before. A and B then turn their attention to R. They excoriate R for being a slumlord that profits from shoddily repaired homes. A and B decide to "do something" about the problem and decide to expand their power to condemn and redevelop private property. The economic bubble from the internet construction has now burst, forcing X’s son, little x, on the unemployment lines. Little x loves to lay cable. A and B want him to be a carpenter. And so it goes.

And what if X likes to lay cable (or build cars) and the free market offers no jobs laying cable? Aren’t A and B doing a public good by employing X to do what he loves to do? No. The market is not static and neither is any single individual. The most challenging part of all of our lives is managing transitions — matching what we like to do with what the market wants from us. If the market will no longer pay X to lay cable, we do X no favor by employing him to do something that is economically obsolete. A and B are still wasting X’s time and therefore his life if they employ him to do something that the market is not demanding. X the individual must search his skill set and identify other things he likes to do and match them with market demand. When he does this he serves the market and builds real self-worth. The decision over what X does with his life is therefore a decision that only X can make. A and B do incalculable violence to X and the free market when they misdirect his labor and compel him to do things that he does not love to do.

Cruel, isn’t it?

Bill Butler Archives