“To Me Socialism Means….”

This bit has come across my social media feed more than once:

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People like to denigrate Ms Occasio-Cortez’s intelligence.  I’ve done it myself (for what seems to me good reason).  However, this really isn’t an example of that.  This is a common result of what comes when you define something not my the processes and incentives involved, but by the hoped-for outcome.  People get told over and over again that “Socialism means…” followed by things like fairness, providing for the poor, “social justice”, and what have you.  And, as a result, when those outcomes don’t happen, of course it wasn’t “real socialism” because it didn’t provide the desired outcomes.

This leads folk to implementing the same processes over and over again, claiming, once again, that it’s for the desired outcome.  And, of course, they dismiss any failures because if it didn’t have the desired outcome then by definition it wasn’t socialism.

The catch to all that is that you don’t implement outcomes.  You implement processes.  And if the processes don’t lead to the outcome (as, time and again we have seen with socialism) then all the definitional objections in the world aren’t going to change that.

Another example.  Marx claimed that once socialism was implemented the state would “wither away.” What about the processes involved and the incentives created cause the state to wither away was left more than a little vague.  It would be unnecessary because people would just do the things they needed to do for the “common good.”

That this doesn’t describe any human population of any size since the dawn of time is just glossed over.

But, clearly, since the state in Communist Russia, or China, or Cuba, or Cambodia, or (more recently) Venezuela have not had their states wither away (although, perhaps, Venezuela is rapidly heading to failed state status, if it’s not already there, that’s not hte same thing at all), therefore they can’t possibly be “real socialism.”

The problem with that particular issue–the state “withering away”–is that once you have the dictatorial power necessary to establish socialism–to collectivize the farms, to strip people of their hard-won property rights, to force people to comply with the various task that must be done (without the use of prices, including price of labor, to attract people to less desirable occupations)–you attract people who desire that kind of power for its own sake.  While it’s not something I particularly grasp, there are folk out there who like ruling over others.  And if, somehow, you manage to get everyone else to agree to work together in harmony without any price or other self-interest motivation (and good luck with that; see above about no society of any size in history) those in power before that point aren’t going to just step aside.  And one of the things they will do with their power is ensure that they always need to remain in power.  If there isn’t a reason for them to retain power (“for the common good”, of course) they’ll manufacture one.

“We have always been at war with Eastasia.”

This all comes by attempting to define things by the stated hoped-for outcomes rather than the processes and the incentives those processes create.  The nice thing about a system of voluntary exchanges coordinated by changing prices is that the process provides incentive for people to provide for the wants of others because they can then exchange that for things they want.  And the incentive is to produce the most value, as those they are exchanging with see it, at the least expenditure of scarce resources that have alternative uses.

The process of free market exchange does more to accomplish the stated hoped-for goals of socialism than the process of socialism ever has…or ever will.

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