How Socialism Fails in Theory

Even though Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal was a complete failure of a bill, not even making it to a vote in the House, liberals still hail it as a success.  True, it did not become law, but it had noble goals and could have succeeded if it weren't for America's self-interested economic system and selfish, unimaginative politicians.

And this is how socialism wins in the end.

Democratic socialists, like Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, claim to believe in what socialism promises — equality, social benefits, a compassionate state — and not in what it actually does, like impoverish and enslave the nations that adopt it.  If anyone asks them how they plan to pay for these public goods, they never answer, but they claim the moral high ground, stating that they at least care about the poor and the environment and have started an important national conversation.

The label of "socialist" has long been the easiest way to virtue-signal — hence its popularity among college students.  Whereas in the past, people would flaunt their Christian charity, in today's secular culture, people flaunt their socialist politics — and the latter is much easier because it does not even require giving anything except repeating slogans like "health care for all!," "universal daycare!," or "down with the 1%!"

This is a problem, not only because it garners support from gullible audiences (as evidenced from the millions raised for Bernie Sanders's campaign in a matter of hours) and through media propaganda that normalizes a radical ideology, but also because socialism is fundamentally wrong.  Even as a theory, socialism does not work.  Not only does it distort the nature of human beings, but it misunderstands the nature of property and human need.

According to John Locke's foundational work The Second Treatise of Government, property is "whatsoever ...  [a man] removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labor with, and joined to it something that is his own."  Whatever a person gains through work or innovation makes that his property.  True, he can do whatever he wants with his property, like exchange it or give it away, but no one is entitled to his property except himself.

By contrast, socialism characterizes property as an indifferent good that everyone owns in common.  Seizing someone's property, then, is not technically immoral.  Ownership of property is based on need, which everyone has in equal capacity, not on productivity or work, which is naturally unequal.  Jeff Bezos does not really need billions of dollars, so the democratic socialist has every right to take his property and redistribute it.  This is simply the moral equivalent of finding a spring of fresh water and sharing it with people according to their thirst.

As such, what counts as theft in a free society equates to sharing in a socialist one.  To go even farther, a socialist government would not only take Bezos's billions, but would either take over his business and have a more fair-minded, but less qualified, person run it, or force Bezos himself to work against his will for the good of his fellow man — which is essentially slavery.  If Bezos resisted replacement or enslavement, he would not really be greedy, demanding more than his fair share; he would be human, demanding his natural rights (life, liberty, and property).

In addition to misdefining property, theoretical socialism errs in regard to how it defines need.  Is need just the bottom level of Maslow's hierarchy (food, shelter, water, sleep, etc.)?  Is it all levels that involve more abstract goods, like friendship, education, and spiritual fulfillment — which most socialist politicians have to promise to a pampered first-world audiences?

Need, though sounding objective and absolute, is mostly a relative concept; depending on the situation, a person could define need different ways.  And only an individual himself can define what he needs, not some distant government.  He therefore meets his needs by producing things of value, which he can then trade to others who have what he needs.  When a whole series of these trades occurs, the laws of supply and demand will determine the value of what people produce, incentivizing all members to produce more and meet everyone's needs along with wants.

When a government determines people's needs, instead of people determining this themselves, the socialist nation will inevitably face shortages.  First, with limited knowledge, political leaders will have to guess at what their people need, leading to scarcity in some areas and excess in others.  Second, since government can only redistribute and not create, it will have to compel people to work at producing necessities and take them away from anything unnecessary, which includes all forms of innovation and personal improvement — this means taking Bezos and other Big Tech executives out of their offices and putting them on farms and construction sites.  Third, since government can plan only for what it knows, all unplanned events like war, natural disasters, rebellions, and large fluctuations in the workforce will result in even more shortages due to greater need and lower production.

Finally, a socialist government will need to find ways to maximize compliance and minimize disruptions, for even the most willing population will require some motivation.  This will necessarily involve constant propaganda to reinforce ideals of selflessness and worship of the state and eliminating or imprisoning those who dissent.

Thus, even in theory, socialism implicitly requires theft, enslavement, deprivation, imprisonment, murder, and mass deception.  The country and its people make little difference to the downward progression.  No other pair of countries illustrates the difference socialism makes than North and South Korea.  Situated in the same place with the same group of people in the same circumstances, socialism alone made the difference between one becoming rich and developed and the other becoming a miniature Hell on Earth.

Socialism fails on all levels, and everyone should recognize this.  Anyone who embraces the socialist label deserves scorn and correction, not praise and adulation, since they subscribe to a theory that is implicitly cruel and dysfunctional.  For a desperate country looking for any kind of change to their misery, the appeal of socialism might make sense even if it won't work.  But for the richest country in the history of the world, the appeal of socialism makes no sense.  Only a profoundly lazy, ignorant, or morally corrupted society could accept it in any form — even in theory.

Auguste Meyrat is an English teacher in the Dallas area.  He is the editor of The Everyman and has also written essays for The Federalist and The American Conservative.  Follow him on Twitter.