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Friday, 23 August 2013

Socialism Is Ethically Wrong

Abundantia, by Louis Petitot, 1846, Pont du Carrousel, Paris

The fact that communism, or even socialism, cannot be implemented in reality, is by now widely accepted; even Leftists and liberals, if unhappily and grudgingly, had to surrender to the overwhelming historical evidence which has accumulated especially in the last 2 or 3 decades, showing that a socialist economy is almost a contradiction in terms, and a society based on those principles is barely feasible, and certainly not a happy one.

But hardly anyone seems to question the ethical validity of socialist ideas. In the mind of most people, they still inhabit the moral high ground.

In fact, I believe that socialism not only starts from premises which are wrong factually, but it is also wrong ethically.

First of all, let's start from explaining what wealth is. There is a common misconception that wealth is a theft of sort, that people become rich by taking from others.

I don't think that this idea began with socialism. The French libertarian socialist, or anarchist, Proudhon, famously said: "Property is theft", but I don't think that he was original in that.

No, it seems to me that, when you lack something, to blame someone else for your want is one of the simplest, most instinctive of all human impulses: envy.

The thought behind this seems to be that there's only a given, limited amount of goods, and if somebody has more, then it follows that somebody else must necessarily have less.

There's a long history of that idea, perhaps beginning with humanity itself, through Robin Hood to modern-day socialists.

It is a misconception, due to a failure to understand the nature of wealth. Wealth is essentially created, not given.

If anybody is in any doubt about it, they just have to think of these two countries: Iran and Switzerland.

Nature has given an enormous wealth to the former, in the form of oil (although the reason why oil is "black gold" has to do with the huge economic and historical development of the West, and the need of Western societies for it) and natural gas. Iran has the world's largest proved natural gas reserves, and the world's fifth largest proved crude oil reserves. And yet, it is the 75th country in the world for Gross Domestic Product based on Purchasing-Power-Parity (PPP) per capita.

The Swiss live in an extremely hard habitat, a region of high mountains very unsuitable, on the face of it, to human settlement and economic prosperity. Still, the Swiss have the 9th highest Gross Domestic Product based on Purchasing-Power-Parity (PPP) per capita in the world.

It is obviously the use that both these populations have made of their natural resources that has made them rich or poor, not those resources in themselves. And that use stems from a conscious choice of those people, which in turn comes from their mindset, their way of thinking.

And here we arrive at one of the many hypotheses and fundamental parts of his theory that Karl Marx got wrong: the idea that human beings are dominated by the ineluctable laws of economics, which in turn are governed by the dialectic of history and eventually of nature.

For both Marx and Sigmund Freud humans are not free agents, but subject to deterministic principles. They go against the Christian concept of free will, which is not only closer to the truth, but also positively guides human behaviour, so it is pragmatically useful.

Instead, psychoanalysis and Marxism, two theories of huge influence, one in the personal the other in the public sphere but both profoundly affecting the cultural and political life of our time, have done a lot of damage through the creation of a highly destructive way of thinking that denies free will.

It's true that most individual human beings only use a little part of their potential. That doesn't imply the flattering idea, which has sometimes been expressed, that everybody is potentially an Einstein or a hidden genius.

It just means that most human beings don't fully realize how much control they can have on their lives, how much difference a choice rather than another can make on one's destiny.