The old socialists yammered about The Iron Law of Wages and other pseudo-scientific notions to make their case against something they called “capitalism.”
Today’s socialists — “democratic socialists” — avoid a lot of that nonsense, but they are still against “capitalism.” And this sets them up for what might be called an Irony Law, doomed to repeat the errors they openly avoid.
Under capitalism, said old-time socialists, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Today’s socialists admit this hoary “immiseration thesis” is old hat. Well, at least the smart ones do. Sure, democratic socialists and Democrats spend a lot of time torturing data to trot out nightmare scenarios of the recent past — but everyone with a lick of sense knows that the masses are doing well by historical standards.
Really, really well. “Life is better now than at almost any time in history,” Nobel Laureate economist Angus Deaton writes in his 2013 book The Great Escape. “More people are richer and fewer people live in dire poverty. Lives are longer and parents no longer routinely watch a quarter of their children die.”
The rapid diminution of dire poverty is the real kicker. And it is just not plausible to attributes this progress to the work of self-proclaimed socialists. The Castros and Chavezes have a lock on that workload, and their results have been abysmal.
It’s in the socialist countries that people are doing the worst.
Which means that the new socialists have to be far more clever. “The socialist argument against capitalism isn’t that it makes us poor,” explains City University of New York Professor Corey Robin in the New York Times. “It’s that it makes us unfree.”
Nick Gillespie at Reason tries to make sense of that statement. I see it as a breathtaking inversion of the truth. Gillespie characterizes it as an inversion of the standard anti-socialist line — which I just demonstrated, above — of the invocation of “Stalin, the Great Leap Forward, or even Hugo Chavez.” Gillespie says that this obvious, standard argument from political results is unpersuasive.
Well, unpersuasive to whom? Impractical people who do not care about results?
To be charitable, Gillespie is trying to take seriously the arguments of the best of today’s socialists. They are saying something different from the Old School line. And they certainly don’t want poverty.
They just see something awful in capitalism.
“When my well-being depends upon your whim, when the basic needs of life compel submission to the market and subjugation at work, we live not in freedom but in domination,” writes the Gray Lady’s tax-funded socialist professor. He wants “to establish freedom from rule by the boss, from the need to smile for the sake of a sale,” and so forth.
But this is not new. It, too, is old hat — as socialism has always been.
The classic source for this argument is Oscar Wilde’s “The Soul of Man Under Socialism.” A fascinating, weird essay in which the great aesthete sought to achieve individualism through socialism. For Wilde, the burden to be lifted from our shoulders by socialism was nothing other than the burden to be nice to each other, to be productive, to help each other out for mutual profit.
The ironies abound, and are especially rich considering that Wilde was himself an ironist. But Wilde aside, and apparently long forgotten, ironies remain everywhere. Gillespie notes that “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may rail against the gig economy, but just like Bernie and Warren she uses Uber every chance she gets.”
Why does she do this? I have a theory: because socialists must declare their hatred of the free — uncoerced — transactions that take place in markets. If they didn’t they couldn’t call themselves socialists. If they do not oppose private property and trade, they would have nothing different to offer anyone. Socialism is their Unique Selling Proposition.
Nevertheless, they know, in their bones, that there is freedom in being able not to buy any particular good, to select, instead, something else. Just so, there is freedom in choosing one career over another, one boss over another, one client over another.
But they are right to this extent: there can be no freedom from the burden of choice.
And there can be no freedom from reality, from Nature, which does not provide us all we want without thought, sweat, and opportunities foregone.
What socialists want, in the end, is free stuff. Actor-comedian Jim Carrey praises “free” medicine in Canada — he went on a tear on Bill Maher’s HBO show to this effect. “We have to say yes to socialism — to the word and everything,” insisted the comedian. “We have to stop apologizing.”
But Carrey acknowledges no costs. He just talks about the stuff he and his mother, in Canada, didn’t have to pay for, long before he was rich. He denies the limitations of the socialist system, and the limits that actual Canadians experience in their socialistic medical sector.
What socialists always deny is this: the cost of “free stuff” is actual freedom. One must give up achievable freedom to get “everything” for free.
And then it turns out, when everything not forbidden is made compulsory, one finds out that everything is more expensive, more scarce, more . . . non-existent, even.
Free stuff, entailing the loss of freedom, entails much more, because the opposite of freedom is coercion. Threats of force. Forced labor and confiscated wealth. Prohibitions. Regulations everywhere. Bullying by state boards and men (and women!) with guns.
These are the policies that socialists, “democratic” and otherwise, always resort to. Must resort to. They pretend that this is all sweetness and light. “Free”! But it is really a grisly business, not in the least “nice” and “sociable.”
Some may like the word “socialism” because it has that word “social” in it. That word says it all, no?
No matter what your end, no matter what you don’t like about private property and trade, if you push socialism and “succeed,” you end up with poverty, terror, and death.
That’s the Irony Law of Socialism.
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