Friday, February 12, 2010

The Socialist Temptation II: Socialism, the Poor and the Will to Power

I would like to challenge the idea that socialism is beneficial to the poor. I think it actually hurts the poor and that this has been proven everywhere socialism has been tried. If you look at Cuba, North Korea, the pre-1989 Eastern European countries, or the Soviet Union itself a similar pattern emerges. In each case the operational mindset is that wealth is a commodity and that economics is a zero-sum game in which the goodies have to be divided up by central planning but the total amount of goodies never changes. There is only so much wealth and it must be divided more fairly - that is the socialist mindset. And that mindset produces poverty.

Socialists believe that the capitalist faith in entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation is all a pile of superstition designed to mask the claim of the bourgeoisie to a larger share of the total goods and services produced in society. Therefore, they believe that everyone deserves a (relatively) equal share of the output of society. This belief is in conflict with the motivation and freedom needed for businesspeople to increase the wealth of society.

So socialism fails at increasing the wealth of any society it takes over and can only redistribute existing wealth. At first that seems like an endless supply of goodies to hand out and that the gravy train has indeed arrived. But after a while economic stagnation takes its toll and the limitations of redistribution as a permanent strategy reveal themselves. At that point, either the state cautiously begins to open up to capitalism (like China) or it refuses to depart from socialist orthodoxy and collapses (like the USSR). But socialism itself has not, does not and will not help the poor. Only free markets can do that - as is being recognized belatedly in the growth of micro-enterprise in developing countries.

The only thing that really improves the lot of the poor is the ongoing increasing of wealth throughout society that occurs in societies that have: (1) political and economic freedom, (2) a recognition of natural law, which forms the basis for a just system of laws and (3) a respect for the family as the basic unit of society in which people are formed and shaped to be upstanding members of the wider society. This kind of society has existed in many parts of the world and when Europe and North American countries followed this model they became magnets for immigrants from all over the world and symbols of hope for the poor. But they were not socialist.

Socialism is an embodiment of a very modern idea, namely, the idea that we humans can remake nature, society and even human nature by means of our thought. It is a naive faith that we are in control - that we are creators rather than creatures. It supposes that we not only create value by our sovereign choices, but also that we have the ability to mold and shape social structures until they reflect our will.

Modernity as a whole is a grand experiment in remaking the world according to human will. During the rise of modern science European people became convinced that nature was yielding to our intellect and that there was no limit to what we could achieve. The old belief that the purpose of the human intellect is to gain wisdom about how we must and should submit to the natural law was cast aside as an impediment to progress.

In socialism we witness the rise of a new knowledge class of bureaucratic experts who claim power on the basis of their specialized, applied knowledge that allows them to enact the will of the people in the alteration of society and even human nature for the better. (Don't ask "better as defined by who" because that is rude; it is to be a party pooper. The euphoria of giant strides in technology has yet to wear off and asking such questions is an insult to the faith in progress.)

Socialism hands unlimited power to this new class of bureaucratic experts to do social engineering by central planning and the result is the imposition of the will of the strong on the common herd. Liberalism and socialism both eventually degenerate into the will to power but socialism is the ideology that justifies it in the name of helping the poor, which explains why liberalism has tended to slide into socialism throughout the 20th century. Liberal progressivism adopts the same rhetoric of helping the poor as the definition of progress and so gradually adopts the socialist ideology and eventually the whole philosophy.

The poor in this scheme are just pawns in a greater game. Concern for their welfare constitutes ideological cover for the real game, which is the seizure of absolute power by the elite bureaucratic class of technical experts who then are positioned to impose their will on society. So no one should be surprised that no raising of the living conditions of the poor in socialist countries actually occurs and that this failure does nothing to disturb the faith of the tenured radical.

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