The Crisis of Socialism

One should not make the mistake of thinking that the pathetic floundering of the Obama administration and the imminent doom of Europe's spendthrift welfare states spells the end of global socialism.  Socialism has rarely attempted to make any claim to being a more efficient or economically creative system.  Instead, it has always touted "fairness" and "equality" as its primary virtues.  Any and all failures of the system are being -- and will be -- attributed to its opponents: the "greedy" rich, the distastefully aspirational segment of the middle class, and a "working" class blind to its "interests" as hallucinated by Manhattan-based academics. 

Most of its supporters will never be able to confess the defects inherent in their creed, even if the alternative is to embrace extreme and previously unthinkable measures.  The crisis of socialism is, like the crisis of communism that preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall over two decades ago, an hour of maximum danger for freedom. 

As things stand today, most of us live under systems which mix features of capitalism and socialism.  For many decades now in the West, capitalist systems have sustained and nurtured socialist programs that have always been fundamentally unsustainable, because they were based upon demographic assumptions -- such as an ever-growing population base and an increasing ratio of workers to dependents -- that the programs themselves helped to undermine.  Anyone with a modicum of common sense and the ability to perform basic arithmetic can see that a growing dependent class and a shrinking productive class equals an inevitable disaster.  It has always been a question of when the crisis would arrive.

How can these government programs be sustained under economic conditions such as exist today?  By what means are we to pay medical and pension bills -- never mind interest on debt -- that will eventually consume all of our national income?  Time and time again the tiresome truth has been pointed out: either the benefits that have been promised by generations of politicians will have to be radically restructured or taxes will have to rise to levels that outwardly appear absurd. 

Perhaps, at least in the minds of some, this was the design from the start.  There were always those who pointed to the basic flaws of the social democratic model.  Possibly those who supported such schemes anyway did not care because, in their hearts, they always believed that such programs represented nothing more than a temporary resting place on the road to a less adulterated version of their utopia.  Thanks to government programs and taxes that can easily consume half of what a middle-class worker produces, today we have a society in which the citizen is half-slave and half-free.  This basic contradiction cannot stand.  One cannot both be a free citizen and have more than half of the rewards of his labor appropriated by the state.  One cannot be a free citizen while most of his income is a gift of the government.  No one can permanently endure, pace Lincoln, both half-slave and half-free.  Everyone will have to become all one thing or all the other.

That is why the crisis of socialism presents such opportunity and peril for liberty's advocates.  While many have awoken from their long slumber and become aware of the flaws of the economic system under which we toil, still others are likely to respond to any threat to their well-being -- dependent as it is upon the ability of the state to pay them for doing either nothing or little of value -- by demanding and supporting ever stronger measures in order to meet the unimaginable financial demands of the system.  There are those who will, to save the system, enslave others, and there are some who will willingly enslave themselves in order to hold onto their little chunk of imagined security. 

It is difficult to imagine any conditions under which the socialists will willingly concede defeat.  It is easier to imagine that they will resort instead first to increases in taxation even more massive than those that they now advocate, then to the use of something resembling conscription to acquire the necessary labor for their system, and then, as a final resort, to the wholesale confiscation of wealth in the form of nationalizations and the like.  It appears to be indisputable that the funding of the socialist elements of our economy will require ever-increasing inflows of cash.  A good question -- indeed a litmus test -- to ask of your socialist friends will be at what point they will consider the system to be unsupportable.

There are many who benefit from the system as it stands today.  Those who receive their incomes directly from the government -- both in the form of cash giveaways and as part of the vast class employed by the state -- are obvious enough.  The less visible, but perhaps most important, beneficiaries are among the upper class.  They, after all, are able to comfortably accept most of the costs of the system while, in return, they gain protection from countless would-be climbers who might be found among those men "in trade" and whose ambitions are obstructed by the tax and regulatory barriers erected by the state.  Their way of life absolutely depends upon the perpetuation of the existing state of affairs.

When blandishments calling for solidarity have failed, they will resort to harsher tactics.  We have already seen some of this overseas.  I have one wary eye trained towards the plans by some left-wing radicals, at the urging of openly anti-capitalist Adbusters magazine, to "occupy" Wall Street on September 17th.  The best-case scenario for the day is that we will witness a limited amount of vandalism by black bloc anarchist types.  The worst is that it will mark the arrival of London and Athens-style chaos on American shores.  The former is likely; the latter is possible.  There will be no dignified surrender that marks the defeat of socialism.  Instead, the crisis may well prove an invitation to hooliganism and other acts injurious to liberty.  Mark my words: if it is not New York on Saturday, it will be some other place and some other pretext; socialism will not go easily.  First they will threaten, disrupt, and attempt to intimidate.  And then, when that does not work, they will attempt to guide us ever deeper into the abyss.