December 10, 2022 Reading Time: 6 minutes
Reprinted from the Foundation for Economic Education

Here’s a question for a PhD dissertation: How did something so radically anti-social ever get the name, social-ism?

I leave that vexing matter to whoever wants to write it up. Meantime, I can assist the project by offering some of the reasons why socialism is a self-evidently anti-social contrivance.

First, what is socialism? For a definition, socialists themselves offer numerous moving targets. For example:

It’s happy talk and sharing things even though under socialism there’s less to share and be happy about.

It’s free stuff until the bills come due.

It’s the welfare state, where the politicians get well and the rest of us pay the fare. (See “John Calhoun’s Mouse Utopia and Reflections on the Welfare State”).

It’s bread lines that bring us all together, somehow. Remember that Bernie Sanders once proclaimed that people lining up for food in communist countries was a blessing in disguise.

It’s government ownership of the means of production so the economy can hum with the efficiency of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

It’s when workers run the factories that somebody else invested in.

It’s when clueless elites tell the economy what to do.

It’s Scandinavia (which isn’t socialist).

It’s communal utopia where everybody gets an equal portion regardless of effort, until they nearly starve. The Pilgrims tried it until forced to replace it with private property. (See also “The Dark Side of Paradise: A Brief History of America’s Utopian Experiments in Communal Living”).

It’s Venezuela, or it was Venezuela until it didn’t work.

If it seems like socialists don’t really know what it is, that’s only partly true. In most cases, they just don’t want YOU to know what it really is. The best charlatans are always the clever ones.

Socialism is rightly and widely perceived as diametrically opposed to capitalism. So it can’t possibly be acts of caring, sharing, giving and being compassionate toward the needy. There is demonstrably more caring, sharing, giving, and compassion toward the needy under capitalism!

Even when it comes to foreign aid, capitalist countries are the donors and socialist countries are the recipients. You can’t give it away or share it with anybody if you don’t create it in the first place, and socialism offers utterly no theory of wealth creation, only wealth confiscation and consumption.

Another way to think of the distinctions between these two opposing systems is this: Capitalism is what happens when free and peaceful people are left alone. In that sense, it’s natural and spontaneous. Socialism is nothing more than the presumptuous plans of bullies and know-it-alls who impose their plans at gunpoint. In that sense, it’s unnatural, contrived, arbitrary and officious.

Socialists are math-challenged: They’re good at division and subtraction but are unaware of addition or multiplication. If your second grader tells you that 3 + 2 = 1, you know he’s a future socialist. Likewise if he tells you that taxes on cigarettes discourage smoking but taxes on investing, hiring or starting a business have only beneficial effects. The economics knowledge of socialists is even more dismal: They think supply and demand means the people demand and the government supplies.

In my book, Was Jesus a Socialist? I blew away the smoke bombs to reveal what socialism really is:

It is the concentration of power in the hands of the State, which then deploys legal force for one or more of these purposes (and usually all three to one extent or another): the redistribution of income, government ownership of property, and the central planning of economic life.

Note that socialists do not propose to accomplish their objectives by mutual consent. They do not advocate raising the money for their plans by way of bake sales or charitable solicitations. Your participation is not voluntary. From start to finish, socialism’s defining characteristic is not so much the promises meant to beguile but rather, the method by which it implements its agenda—FORCE. If it’s voluntary, it’s not socialism. It’s that simple.

Now that we know what socialism is, why is it anti-social? Let me count the ways:

Why? Because they say so. Isn’t that reason enough? “The more the State plans,” wrote Austrian economist F. A. Hayek, “the more difficult planning becomes for the individual.” But socialists don’t care about that because what they have in mind is surely more noble than anything us peasants are thinking.

This is a remarkable achievement, perhaps socialism’s singular contribution to sociology. Even if a socialist’s own life is a mess, he still knows how to run everybody else’s. Even if he doesn’t believe there’s a God, he thinks the State can be one. Hayek nailed it on this issue as well when he wrote, “The curious task of economics is to convince men of how little they know about what they imagine they can design.” Socialists imagine they can design just about everything but, as I’ve explained, none of them could make something as simple as a pencil.

No climate-change denier denies that climate exists. But socialists claim that if there’s such a thing as human nature, they can abolish and reinvent it. Humans are individuals, with no two alike in every way, but socialists believe they can homogenize and collectivize us into an obedient blob. It doesn’t bother them to punish individual success and achievement even if the end result is equal impoverishment. They believe that human beings will work harder and smarter for the State than they will for themselves or their families. This is much closer to witchcraft than science.

Have you ever noticed that the socialist agenda is not a page of helpful suggestions, or a list of tips for better living? When they’re in charge, you don’t get to say “No, thanks.” Freedom of choice? No, sir! Socialist ideas are so good, the old saying goes, that they must be mandatory and opposing views must be censored. Deep inside every socialist, even the naïve but well-meaning ones, a totalitarian is struggling to get out. This is what socialists eventually do with such monotonous regularity that you can absolutely count on it. When a capitalist buys a social media platform and opens it up to all viewpoints, it’s the socialists who go berserk and demand investigations.

In his remarkable book, Intellectuals, British historian Paul Johnson penned a blistering chapter about socialism’s ultimate guru, Karl Marx. Johnson quotes Marx’s own mother as famously remarking that she wished her son Karl “would accumulate some capital instead of just writing about it.” Mrs. Marx was on to something. Karl and his acolytes, to one degree or another, make war on the single most powerful generator of the material wealth that improves the lives of people—namely, private property and its accumulation by private, profit-seeking individuals who invest and create and employ. Wherever such lunacy gains power, it marches its subjects backward towards the cave.

From Marx to socialists of the present day, conflict is everything. If it’s not present, they will invent it. After all, everyone is either a victim or a villain, an oppressor or part of the oppressed. Conflict is the way history unfolds, they tell us. And like palm readers and tarot card practitioners, they declare the future to be on their side. This always-angry perspective rules out a spirit of gratitude, especially toward capitalists. Socialists never show up at a business of any size with signs exclaiming “Thank you for taking risks, providing products and employing people.”

Imagine you’re at a cocktail party and in walks an obnoxious party crasher. He dominates the conversation and oozes disdain for differing viewpoints. Get out of line and he threatens to shut you both up and down. He tells each person what he should drink and takes away everything else. He bores the room with his arrogance. Everything he says is a mere pretense to knowledge that he neither knows nor cares to know. He denounces you for your ambitions and demands that you comply with his. He takes your stuff because you have more than he does, or just because he wants to. Decline his advances and he’ll call the cops on you. He’s a windbag with a baseball bat.

Would you say that guy was anti-social? Of course, you would. He’s about as anti-social as it gets.

For the same reasons, so is socialism.

One of the greatest economists ever, Ludwig von Mises, wrote this eloquent summation:

A man who chooses between drinking a glass of milk and a glass of a solution of potassium cyanide does not choose between two beverages; he chooses between life and death. A society that chooses between capitalism and socialism does not choose between two social systems; it chooses between social cooperation and the disintegration of society. Socialism is not an alternative to capitalism; it is an alternative to any system under which men can live as human beings.

An earlier version of this essay was published at El American.

The XYZs of Socialism (free eBook) by Lawrence W. Reed

Lenin’s New Economic Policy: When the Soviets Admitted Socialism Doesn’t Work by Lawrence W. Reed

You May Think You Like Socialism, But You’re Probably Not a Socialist at Heart by J. Kyle deVries

Margaret Thatcher on Socialism: Twenty of Her Best Quotes by Lawrence W. Reed

Was George Orwell a Socialist or a Libertarian? It’s Complicated by Lawrence W. Reed

My Response to Time Magazine’s Cover Story on Capitalism by Lawrence W. Reed

Lawrence W. Reed

Lawrence W. (“Larry”) Reed is the President Emeritus, Humphreys Family Senior Fellow, and Ron Manners Global Ambassador for Liberty at the Foundation for Economic Education.

He holds a B.A. in economics from Grove City College (1975) and an M.A. degree in history from Slippery Rock State University (1978), both in Pennsylvania. He holds two honorary doctorates, one from Central Michigan University (public administration, 1993) and Northwood University (laws, 2008).

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