Socialism can be anything and everything, but it always produces nothing
3 July 2018
The problem with debating socialists is that each of them has a different understanding of what ‘socialism’ means. Each will hold up a different model for what they believe socialism to be, and many will even state that ‘true socialism’ doesn’t exist and has never been practised before.
Since the meaning is variable, the term can be twisted and construed to fit any issue and act as its solution. Our current political discourse has turned this dangerous economic theory into a buzzword. Socialism can be anything and everything, but it always produces nothing.
I wasn’t the only one surprised to hear that billionaire businessman, Elon Musk, considers himself to be a socialist. After all, his success has been built under the capitalist system of the United States of America. He also exhibits the decidedly capitalist behaviours of managing private companies and criticising labour unions.
But that didn’t stop Musk from insisting he is ‘actually a socialist…just not the kind that shifts resources from most productive to least productive, pretending to do good, while actually causing harm.’ He went on to state that ‘true socialism seeks greatest good for all.’
The backlash Musk received for his comments didn’t come from capitalists or businessmen. The main source of it was other socialists, who strongly disagreed with the definition that was put forth as well as the man it was coming from.
‘You parasite,’ one user tweeted. ‘I think taxing your accumulated wealth at 90% would be pretty damn funny.’ Meanwhile, another individual noted that the ‘best way to convince people you’re a socialist is to sound exactly like Ayn Rand,’ a sentiment carried by others who suggested that ‘for a guy who is constantly crooning about “not caring if we make a profit” Elon Musk sure is a billionaire.’
I don’t know what the Tesla and SpaceX CEO expected, really. Other than his various companies, Musk is most well known for his massive 20 billion dollar fortune and the lifestyle many imagine that kind of wealth affords him. He is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time, yet by declaring himself a socialist, Musk has aligned himself with those who rally against the so-called ‘one percent’ and seek to end the accumulation of private wealth.
These are the Bernie Sanders supporters of the world. To them, the title of CEO is not a mark of achievement but a badge of distrust, an embodiment of apparently ruthless and swinish capitalism.
The problem with these proponents of socialism is that they take the term to mean almost everything the government does in regard to the upkeep of civilisation. They believe socialism is anytime the government spends money on behalf of the public. This Bernie Sanders campaign poster lists an assortment of so-called ‘socialist programs’ in the United States, laughably including NASA, student loans, the FBI, fire departments, the White House and many more examples which only prove their stupidity.
The provision of public services is not an exercise of socialism but an exercise of proper government. On its own, welfare does not equate to socialism, and neither does the concept of social programs. Anyone who would suggest otherwise doesn’t know the basic definition of what they preach. Either that or they’ve distorted the meaning into something else entirely.
At its heart, socialism is a political and economic theory which advocates for collective ownership and the means of production and distribution to be controlled by the government.
When Elon Musk is defining socialism, he is seeking to shift resources away from the ‘least productive’ and to the ‘most productive’ in order to achieve the ‘greatest good for all.’ However, traditional socialists would argue against this idea, as it directly goes against the idea of ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,’ which dictates that the allocation of resources is not dependent on how much work an individual or firm puts in.
When Bernie Sanders is defining socialism, he’s ‘not looking at Venezuela’ or ‘Cuba’ but countries like ‘Denmark and Sweden.’ The Nordic Model is particularly attractive to millennials and budding socialists, with proponents quick to use Denmark as an example of socialism working in the modern day.
However, there’s just one problem: Denmark isn’t socialist. The nation’s Prime Minister went on record to make it abundantly clear that ‘Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy’ and is actually more of ‘a market economy.’
Indeed, the Nordic Model tends to prioritise private ownership and the freedom of businesses; in Denmark, there’s no minimum wage. You’re allowed to argue for the high taxation, social safety net, and welfare system of these European nations, and that’s a new debate altogether, but to call them socialist is simply wrong.
Worse, it conflates your position with the brutal regimes and governments who practice socialism for real, such as North Korea and Venezuela.
According to Marx, a socialist society is only temporary. It is a transitionary stage that would eventually see the birth of a classless, stateless society organised by the people who live off it. This supposed utopia is what many point to when they refer to ‘true socialism’ and how it has never been achieved before.
I have two problems with this.
The first is that this system would be impossible without doing away with modern civilisation altogether and bringing us back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The second is that this ‘utopian society’ would not be utopian.
There is nothing romantic about a system in which you can’t own property and can’t reap the tangible benefits of ascending above your peers. A rebuttal to this would be that in an ideal society, you wouldn’t want to own things or compete. But this goes against human nature itself.
We cannot expect that even with their basic needs satiated, humans will remain complacent and content. Economics 101 teaches us that mankind has unlimited wants and needs compared to limited resources.
What reason would there be to innovate if we all received the same outcome for different levels of mental or physical labour?
That’s why capitalism works. In order to reap greater benefits, individuals must put more effort into creating/contributing to products and services that ultimately benefit society.
Yes, Jeff Bezos is a billionaire beyond comprehension. But where would society be without e-commerce? Yes, Google is a megalithic private corporation. But how would you have stumbled across this article without its search engine?
True socialism exists only in the minds of those who dare to delude. Capitalism exists everywhere you look, from the screen in front of you to the roof above your head.