That’s been the buzzword of the past few years. “Democratic Socialism.” It’s different (It Says Here) from the Socialism of the past, from Lenin and Mao and Castro. No, it’s “Democratic” which means everyone votes to establish Socialism. That makes it all better.
Look, the problem with socialism isn’t the means used to establish it. Maybe by voting it in–and, indeed, if you look at what Marx said as opposed to the many things attributed to him by others, his “revolution of the proletariat” was supposed to be an electoral revolution, voting the overthrow of the capitalists–avoids the initial bloodshed of an armed revolt but that initial bloodshed is generally a pittance compared to what happens after the new government is established.
The problem is inherent in socialism itself. Let’s look at that. Take away the hoped for results and look at socialism in terms of the processes it takes. Socialism, basically, is a centrally planned economy where the means of production, broadly defined, are directed not by individual will for individual gain, but according to the dictates of some central planning body. Property rights for anything that is determined to be “means of production” are centrally controlled. The claim is that this is for the “common good” but that’s no more than a hoped for outcome. It’s the process that concerns us here.
Let’s look at the task that confronts those planners. In the US we have millions of products made every year and hundreds of millions of people. Each person had their own individual “ranking” of which of those various products are more important to them and how much of one product they would be willing to forego in order to acquire some amount of another. And that trade must be made because scarcity–there’s never enough of anything for everyone that wants it–is an immutable law of economics. No system can eliminate it so there will always be tradeoffs: more of one thing mean less of something else.
So, the first thing the central planners have to figure out is how much of each product to make. How many bars of soap. How many paper clips. How much printer paper. How many notebooks. How many cars. How many watches. How many phones. How many toilets. How much toilet paper. How much drinking water. How much irrigation water (which doesn’t have to be as pure as drinking water).
Then, your central planner needs to figure out where all that stuff has to go. How much of each to Detroit. How much to San Francisco. How much to Byesville, Ohio. Every town and village. How much of each of those multitude of products has to go to each?
Given the combination of scarcity and different people having different wants and priorities, how are the central planners going to deal with the folk who are unhappy with the distribution. “I don’t like the state approved soap. It stinks and makes my skin itch. I’d rather have one with a bit more lanolin and a bit less lye.” “I’m allergic to wheat. Can’t I substitute corn instead?” (And if so, how much corn for how much wheat?)
This is before you even get into production. And, indeed, this is where a lot of the true horror starts to come forth. All those various products? They don’t spring forth full grown like Athena from the head of Zeus (and even that took a good, solid whack with an axe). Someone has to make them. Someone also has to haul away the trash. Someone has to dig the ditches. Someone has to shovel the manure from the livestock. Someone has to clean and maintain the sewers. Put simply, there are millions of jobs that must be done. Some are desirable. Other’s are not. Some are downright miserable. But they need to be done. How do you decide who does what? Who gets those miserable jobs? In an economy based on voluntary exchanges coordinated by prices, some of those unpleasant jobs will be staffed by unskilled people just entering the work force as a stepping stone until they acquire the experience and skills to move on to better jobs. Others, however, can’t be done by those entry-level workers. In those cases, since the jobs must be done, the pay will tend to rise until enough people find the compensation adequate to get them to accept the jobs necessary to do the required work. But without prices, and competitive wages, how do you get people to take those unpleasant jobs.
The Soviet Union found a way. “Off to the salt mines with you.” Indeed, forced labor is a perennial feature of centrally planned economies. And it just so happens that it also provides a method of dealing with people who are unhappy with the availability or distribution of goods and services, who are unhappy with the options available to them for employment (don’t like digging ditches? Oh, trust me, there’s far, far worse we could have you do), or, really, anything else they happen to dislike about the regime.
And it is this power that is inherent to the very concept of a centrally planned economy that leads to atrocities. It is said that power corrupts and there may be some truth to that, but however much it corrupts those who have it, it is an unresistable lure to those who are already corrupt. The corrupt will seek power for their own benefit and will be far less hampered by the means they use to acquire it than those who truly seek to benefit others. The more concentrated the power is, the more it will tend to be used to benefit those in power rather than the population at large. And there is no greater concentration of power than that of centrally planning and controlling the economy.
This is why the various forms of socialism–International (which really means Russian National) Socialism, National Socialism, “Market” Socialism (whatever that was supposed to mean back in the day), and Democratic Socialism–are nothing more than window dressing on the foundation and structure of central planning. It’s like hanging floral curtains on the barred window of a prison cell and claiming that it is no longer a prison cell despite the concrete walls and locked and barred door.
And to be blunt, those pushing forward this “Democratic Socialism” deception aren’t actually advocating a “kinder, gentler” socialism. The public face of Democratic Socialism, Bernie Sanders, honeymooned in the Soviet Union. The actual policies he advocates, stripped of the “Democratic” rhetoric are entirely in line with Soviet style communism. No, he’s not different from Lenin except in one way. He knows that if he tried an armed revolt the results would almost certainly not be in his favor. So he’s simply hoping to convince the gullible to vote him in as this country’s Lenin.
Then the real horrors of socialism, “Democratic” or otherwise, can really sink in.