Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

April 25, 2017

The Return of Socialism

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:38 am

Well it happened again. Something I’ve run into from time to time starting in college.

Apropos of something I forget I remarked that after the catastrophic collapse of socialism worldwide in the late 1980s early ‘90s I thought socialism would never again be a viable movement.

Subsequent events have proven me wrong.

A very intelligent and articulate person with as I have, years of experience living in Eastern Europe, said those countries weren’t socialist, they were communist.

I countered they called themselves socialist and officially considered themselves as working through the transitional stage of socialism towards true communism.

He replied there are plenty of prosperous democratic socialist countries such as the Scandinavians, and if you wanted to see capitalism look at Russia today.

Stop me if you’ve hear this before.

“Oh the Nazis weren’t socialists.” Although National Socialist German Workers Party doesn’t sound like a right-wing trope to me.

“Oh they were communist, not socialist.” Though Union of Soviet Socialist Republics sounds, well… kind of socialist.

So what is going on here? Why is a political label associated with some of the most brutal tyrannies in history respectable, even popular again?

Firstly, I think there is a problem of definition. Those European countries cited as examples of democratic socialism are not socialist according to most dictionaries. They are welfare states, the desirability of which is an argument for another time.

The original and still primary definition of socialism is government ownership of the means of production. There are arguments about how much government ownership. Some insist the government should own only “the commanding heights” of the economy but us little folks would be free to own shops with a few employees.

Many people who call themselves democratic socialists don’t advocate this. One even asked me, “Where’d you get that idea of socialism?”

(I told him, “The dictionary.”)

One Englishman said, “Nah, socialism means taking care of your mates.”

OK, I can get on board with that. But it sounds not much different from a church committee or a neighborhood association. Church social = socialism.

What a lot of people seem to mean by “socialism” is “not capitalism.”

Again, we’re running into problems of definition here. By capitalism many mean what we’ve got now; private ownership of the large scale means of production by powerful interests which wield great political influence through funding political campaigns, regulatory capture, lobbyists, and every way legislation – and legislators are bought and sold. Plus socialization of loss through bailouts, subsidies, etc.

To counter this, modern socialists advocate taking large-scale economic decisions away from individuals and put in the hands of “democratically elected officials.” That is to say, curing the problem by doubling down on what caused the problem.

Free market advocates break their hearts and work themselves into early graves trying to explain that’s not what they mean by “capitalism” and what they advocate is something else entirely. That in fact the modern idea of capitalism is pretty close to Musolinni-style fascist economics.

A free market rests on a few basic principles. Among them: property rights, voluntary trade, and personal responsibility.

Property rights. What’s yours is yours to use as you see fit. Simple in principle though often complicated in practice taking into consideration your neighbors’ property rights, and legitimate public interest such as roads, bridges, levees, etc.

Voluntarism. That to the greatest extent possible trade of labor, goods, and services should be carried out by mutual consent, without force (robbery, extortion) or fraud.

Responsibility. You assume the risks, you reap the rewards – or incur the loss. This also means you do not inflict your costs on your neighbors. Again, simple in theory and complicated in practice. We all do this a little when we drive our cars, which nobody minds much. We tend to notice when a neighbor starts up a pig farm though.

Though markets are complex and prone to error, mistakes of judgement and unforeseen consequences, any argument for a command economy has to explain why the choices of the many should be overruled and controlled by the few.

It’s as simple as that.

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