The Three Problems of Socialism

by ELAC member Zachary D. Rogers

Socialism has made an unexpected comeback. There are various reasons for this: the rise of Bernie Sanders and his advocation of socialism, the discontent of Americans with the current economic system and the ruling class that benefits from it, and a lack of historical awareness among Americans who have led what any other time in history would have considered a fairly peaceful and prosperous existence. However, while the term socialism is being widely used it is not true socialism that is being advocated for. Marxist-Leninist socialism of government ownership of property, central planning, and oppression is not the socialism beloved by today’s millennials. Instead, today’s socialists desire and advocate for statism in every area of American life. What they truly want is to regulate the American economy more than it already is. 

While true socialism is not what is being advocated for it provides an opportune moment to remind the public what socialism is, its problems, and why it should not be adopted. Socialism may be defined as “A theory or policy of social organization which aims at or advocates the ownership and control of the means of production, capital, land, property, etc., by the community as a whole, and their administration or distribution in the interests of all.” There have been various socialist states, including Italy under Mussolini, Germany under the Fuhrer, and the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin. The three-fold issues of economics, human flourishing, and tyranny have and will continue to plague socialism. 

The Problem of Economics

Socialism fails to understand economics, specifically the role of property rights,prices, profits-and-losses. The Socialist state requires central planning and government ownership of all property. 

In contrast to the socialist understanding of economics and property rights, the Founders supported the legal right to own and use goods and property as well as trade or sell them in the market. The Founders understood that people may use their talents to acquire and use property because all people are equally free and endowed with certain inalienable rights, one of which is “the means of acquiring and possessing property.” According to John Locke, property is acquired when a man adds his labor to it. Therefore, for government to forcibly assume and dispose a man’s property is to violate justice by violating his natural right to acquire and use property. 

Prices in the market transmit scarcity and abundance so that actors in the market can respond accordingly. This allows the market to efficiently produce what is in demand-what people need, want, and will pay for while avoiding an overabundance of undesired products. 

Profits and losses ensure market efficiency by rewarding companies that best serve the market. Companies that achieve a profit are able to grow while companies that do not fail. 

Socialism is a system that violates property rights, fails to understand the need for prices to transmit information, and the role of profits in supporting efficient businesses while allowing businesses who fail to serve the public to fold rather than consume resources. Instead, socialism hampered creativity, productivity, and prosperity while giving the Soviet people shoddy goods they did not want. 

The Problem of Human Flourishing

Socialism fails to understand or promote human flourishing. Early socialists thought that central planning and government ownership of property would ensure a comfortable living for everyone and provide the time and resources for them to pursue higher things-philosophy, literature, and art, for instance. Unfortunately, the socialist solution led inevitable not to freedom and flourishing but to oppression, poverty, and death. 

In Communist Russia the Soviets tried to divide the extended family, husbands from wives, children from parents, and wives from husbands. Individual kitchens were done away with in favor of communal rooms and shared cooking spaces. They were a failure. Children were taught to spy upon their neighbors and parents for the good of the state, trust between those who should have been closest was broken down, destroyed, or eroded until it was paper thin. Spouses were unable to trust each other and lived in fear of being sent to prison without the slightest provocation. Unhappiness, fear, and lying prevailed in relationships. 

The Problem of Tyranny

Communism inevitably leads to tyranny, it is built into the system. Private property and respect for the private sphere, where people can flourish and human relations are possible cannot be allowed. The socialist must control the means of production in order to ensure compliance with the central planning of the state. What this means in practice is individuals have little to no control over their lives. The elites, those experts trained to know and lead, must be given deference and additional goods as a reward for their service in guiding and serving the state. These individuals acquire immense power over the lives of those beneath them because there is no protection for individuals, no private property or individual rights demarcating the appropriate sphere of government power and authority. 

Socialism has a History of Failure, Misery, and Oppression

Americans should reject socialism because it fails to understand economics, is incapable of creating the conditions in which human flourishing is possible, and inevitably leads to tyranny. The history of socialism is one long story of bloody revolution, tyrannical control, and a terrible warping of the human soul. The blood of socialism can be seen in the Russian Revolution of 1917, the purges, famine, and gulags of Stalin, and the bloody fields of Cambodia under the Khemer Rouge. Millenials should be wary of giving immense power to the state in light of the great evils it has been used for under socialism. 

Socialists desire government ownership of the means of production, the destruction of private property, central planning, and an economy where everyone works for the state. This would be the destruction of liberty and with it the American birth right bequeathed to us by the Founders-those great people and soldiers who fought for our liberty and then crafted the world’s greatest regime to protect what they had bought at a steep price in blood and treasure.