Now that the Democratic Party in the United States is enthusiastically doing a swan dive into the steaming pool of regressive sewage known as socialism, numerous attempts at defining socialism have emerged in public discourse, social media, and political propaganda. The vast majority of those definitions are faulty and misleading. The result is widespread ignorance of what socialism truly is, and worse, how insidious it is.
More than a handful of progressives have accused Republicans, conservatives, and capitalists of using scare tactics when it comes to their warnings about the U.S. becoming a socialist country and a socialist economy. Their narrative goes something like this: “Republicans act as though socialism is the big bad boogey man we should all tremble in fear over, when in reality, socialism is nothing more than promoting equality and taking care of each other in a compassionate way.” Another of their favorite hits goes like this: “Socialism is a sound socio-economic theory that’s never really been tried correctly,” (sung to the tune of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”)
Those talking points are as ridiculous as they are false.
A clear and accurate definition of socialism is absolutely critical at this point in our history, which is why I’m going to provide one for you now.
To understand socialism, it’s a good idea to back up a step or two and examine a more fundamental ideology called “collectivism.” That ideology forms the bedrock of not only modern progressivism, but also of the unholy trinity of collectivist left-wing socio-economic frameworks: socialism, communism, and fascism. I should point out right away before we go any further that none of these ideologies have anything to do with compassion or helping people. They are the most noteworthy examples of tyranny and oppression we can get our hands on. Collectivism is essentially the idea that the collective is the central object of concern for mankind. Society and what’s good for society is greater than the individual. This stands in contrast to individualism, which states that the individual (who has dignity and worth as an image-bearer of his or her creator) is greater than the state.
Individualism and collectivism are diametrically opposed to each other. Therefore, a high regard for the individual and their rights is out of place in any collectivist ideology, including socialism. What matters is what fosters the greatest “common good” for society as a whole. All other considerations are secondary and expendable.
The next essential component of socialism to cover is redistribution of wealth. This was one of the central themes of the Obama administration, where the idea that the rich should “pay a little more” or that they should “pay their fair share” was a central talking point. That, of course, was pure demagoguery, because no one ever heard even the slightest indication as to what that “fair share” is, how it’s calculated, whether it will ever be enough, or how the term “pay” could ever be justified when we all know this is not a matter of “paying” but of “taking.” As Milton Friedman has pointed out on numerous occasions, the only way you can redistribute wealth is to take it away from those who have it and give it to those who don’t. And the only way to do that is by force. No one—not even the most sincere and benevolent socialist—ever gives up their money voluntarily to the government to be redistributed as it sees fit. It is always, and I mean always, someone else’s money they want redistributed.
It only takes a moment’s reflection to realize that taking someone’s money away from them by force against their will is known as theft. So the first observation we should make about socialism in practical terms is that it is built squarely on a foundation of injustice. Ironic, since modern socialists like Bernie Sanders are constantly berating capitalism on the basis that it is supposedly unjust. It’s hard to find anything more unjust than theft. At any rate, Bernie is forever shrieking about how “absurd” it is that a few people own the majority of the nation’s wealth and that this is supposedly a moral outrage. Why? Who says it’s unjust that some people have a lot more money than others? What Bernie is incapable of grasping is that even if you eliminate all the alleged malicious motives of all the capitalists, there would still and always be huge disparities in income and wealth, for the simple reasons that not everyone works equally hard, not everyone has equal talents, not everyone is interested in vocations and callings that garner the same financial rewards due to variations in demand, and for a litany of other reasons. It is dishonest and incoherent verbal trickery to look at disparities and call it “inequality.” Disparities are natural and inevitable. There is no law, moral or otherwise, that says that in a just and fair society, everyone’s income will always naturally be relatively even. At the end of the day, the fundamental and overriding reason socialists object to the fact that some people have a lot and some people have a little is nothing more than petty envy. So you might say that one of the best definitions of socialism is “the hatred of other people because they have more stuff than you do.” Envy leads to greed, which is why Thomas Sowell said, “I have never understood why it’s greed to want to keep the money you have earned, but it’s not greed to want to take someone else’s money.” This would be an ideal place to point out that socialists condemn capitalism because they think it’s based on greed.
Since socialism is built on the foundation of theft, and what is being stolen is, in effect, the fruits of one’s labor, the second observation that screams for our attention is that socialism is based on and intrinsically defined by involuntary servitude, better known as slavery. This is also a particularly potent point of irony: socialists condemn slavery and call it one of “America’s original sins.” Yet their very socio-economic theory has slavery built in to the core of its agenda. Everyone works for the collective, for the common ownership of production. The state has the ultimate authority over how production should be managed, allocated, and dispensed. Many socialist regimes involve the government owning the means of production, but that is not always the case. The state can have final authority over economic assets and activity even if they don’t directly own them. State-directed economic activity is just as much a matter of socialism as state-owned production is. Both are textbook examples of socialism. In either case, the fruits of one’s labor do not belong to the one doing the work. It is taken away and becomes the property of the collective.
The next central component of socialism is ideological in nature. This is an area where you can clearly observe its collectivist roots. No form of collectivism can function if the participants in the socio-economic machine are allowed to think for themselves. All thinking and belief must conform to the ideology of the state. Anyone who fails to think “correctly” must either be re-educated, or failing that, eliminated. This explains the hundreds of millions of people murdered during the 20th Century in the name of socialism. This is no mystery and should come as no surprise. It is a natural consequence of state-enforced ideology. Punishment for thought crimes is severe, since wrong thinking jeopardizes the health of the collective, and this cannot be tolerated if the collective is to thrive.
At this point, it is important to point out the unholy matrimony between socialism and progressivism. Progressivism is also essentially a collectivist ideology. How? Progressivism is about progress. What kind of progress? Progress toward a better society and by implication a better world. Progressivism is about fostering a gradually superior society through social engineering. So both progressivism and socialism are united by the overriding objective of suppressing any belief systems that are contrary to that which promotes the ideal society and the “common good.” Independent thought is anathema. As we have already observed, those who disagree will be punished. Moreover, any long-standing moral or social principles that can potentially stand in the way of progress can and will be abandoned. Those who continue to stubbornly maintain a commitment to those principles are demonized and ruined with precisely no regard for their dignity as human beings.
The next item on the chopping block in defining socialism is private property. There are two possible dispositions of private property in socialism. It is either confiscated by the state, or heavily regulated, to the point where whoever owns that property has no voice in how it is used or managed. Socialist regimes that “allow” private property ownership will often tout their superiority by claiming that people haven’t had their stuff taken away from them, and that we should therefore applaud their noble benevolence. The word “joke” is the kindest one to use to describe this nonsense. When private property is technically allowed, it may as well not be private property at all, given how much the state will exercise absolute control over it.
Now that we’ve identified the central defining characteristics of socialism, a synopsis of the myths and false talking points about it is in order.
First, social programs and socialist programs are not the same thing. Many people point to roads, police departments, public schools, and the Post Office of all things as examples of socialism. “See?” they bloviate, “we are already socialist and the world didn’t end.” Funding public services with participatory taxes (like sales tax) is not socialism. That’s the nature of most of the social programs socialists point to in their false narratives about how socialist we supposedly are. However, there are some public programs that do have socialist overtones. Examples are Social Security (which is a Ponzi scheme that borders on criminality), Medicare, and Medicaid. The truth is, this country has begun to resemble socialism in some isolated areas. But it’s important to point out that wherever this has occurred, it represents a departure from the original principles on which this nation was founded. The founders of this country would go into convulsions if they saw how these policies and programs have taken root like a cancer in our otherwise healthy socio-political landscape.
Second, socialism is not voluntary or “democratic.” The term “democratic socialism” is a contradiction in terms. A pure democracy is a form of tyranny. That’s why the U.S. is not a pure democracy. It’s a constitutional republic that carries out some of its secondary functions through limited democratic means. A pure democracy is two wolves and a rabbit voting on what to have for dinner. But the word “democratic” has a calming and deceitfully benevolent connotation that misleads the hearer in ways that are as intentional as they are malevolent. It is in that ostensively benign sense that I call “democratic socialism” a contradiction in terms. Socialism’s defining characteristics, if you remember, include redistribution of wealth, and theft of private property by force. That the people, for a while, actually may vote on how that wealth is redistributed and stolen from those who earned or inherited it doesn’t mean it is now suddenly just and virtuous.
Third, socialism is not “sharing” or “compassion” or “taking care of each other.” Theft is not “sharing.” The idea of sharing and taking care of each other imply a voluntary act. People in our society do share and take care of each other all the time. It’s called “charity.” Most rich people (with the exception of socialists like Bernie Sanders) give a substantial portion of their wealth to charity, in an effort to take care of those in need. People in this nation and on this continent have been doing that for centuries. But they do it voluntarily. That’s the difference between charity and socialism. Suppose you and I were walking down the street in downtown Des Moines and we encountered a homeless person asking for money. Now suppose you took out a gun and held it to my head and said, “give me all the money in your wallet.” I give you the money, and you then give it to the homeless person. Is that charity? Is that compassion? Is that taking care of each other? Of course not. That’s theft. That’s socialism.
Fourth, socialism does not foster prosperity and eliminate poverty. It actually creates poverty. Margaret Thatcher once said, “the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.” She was right. Socialism creates what is known as the “tragedy of the commons.” When everything is owned by the collective and all the fruits of labor are redistributed (i.e. given to someone else) the individual no longer has any incentive to be productive. If what I earn is just going to be taken away from me and given to someone else, why should I work so hard? I’ll just be lazy and let someone else take up the slack. Whenever people are sharing the work and sharing the earnings, each individual will naturally let others do more work than they do. Just as people don’t value what they didn’t earn (which is why free stuff never works), people don’t work as hard for what they know they can’t keep. It is part of the reality of our fallen human nature. Productivity and production take a nose dive. How does the socialist state respond to this lack of productivity due to the lack of incentive? It must punish the worker for failing to be productive. Milton Friedman again: “In a capitalist country, my worst fear is getting fired. In a socialist country, my worst fear is getting fired at.”
Fifth, there’s no such thing as free college. Or free health care. Or free [fill in the blank]. Socialists like Bernie Sanders tell us that health care should be free to the consumer because health care is a “right,” another glaring absurdity. Health care belongs in the category of goods and services, not rights. If health care is a right, medical professionals have an obligation to provide it for free. Let me know how that works out for you. If health care is a right, simply because people need it, then food must be a right as well. Are the socialists going to force people who work in agriculture to give away their produce for free? If food is a right, they have to. It should be obvious what imbecilic places this mentality will take us to. Someone has to pay for that healthcare. So the sophists like Bernie say your insurance coverage or health care services are free, in that no one pays any premiums or fees. But Bernie acknowledges that someone has to pay for it, so the way they pay for it is through higher taxes. You may have the intelligence to ask the silly question, “how is that better?” His answer is, “because you will pay less even in the increased taxes than you would with the premiums.” Really? How does he know that? But the deeper question is never addressed: why should any given citizen pay for someone else’s health care? Compassion? We’ve already seen that stealing money from one person and giving it to another is not compassion. It’s theft. But cheer up, the problem is worse than you think it is. When the government spends money on health care services, that inflates the cost of health care. Why? Because the providers know how much money the private citizen has compared to how much money the government has. When the government (or any third party for that matter) whom the providers perceive as having virtually unlimited resources pays, the provider will charge more. Always. That is what has driven the cost of health care through the roof: government spending. The providers don’t have to compete, they can charge the government or the third party payer whatever they want because they know the government will pay it. They have to. When you make something free, you reduce its cost to zero, and therefore you increase the demand to infinity. Based on the immutable laws of supply and demand, what happens to the price? It skyrockets. So the government has to increase taxes to offset the increases in health care costs it is perpetually creating through its own foolish spending. So much for Bernie’s asinine claim that our taxes will be cheaper than our premiums. Remember that the health care providers have to pay those increased taxes as well, and they will raise their prices again to offset the losses those tax increases cause. Now the amount of money the government spends on health care is suddenly no longer enough to cover the increased cost of health care. So what do they do? Raise taxes again. And again. And again. The cycle repeats itself over and over. The inevitable outcome? Economic collapse. That scares people to death, so much so that their response is to…endorse socialism.
There’s one question we haven’t asked: Where does freedom fit in with socialism? The answer is a resounding “nowhere.” Free people can make their own decisions on what to do with their property, who to sell it to, and for what price. Therefore, personal freedom is violently incompatible with socialism. You will recall that one of the words I used to describe socialism is “tyranny.” Tyranny was the fundamental evil that inspired and galvanized the formation of the United States of America. Now in the first half of the 21st Century, hordes of people—mostly the ones kissing the ring of the Democratic Party—are screaming for it to become the very fabric of our existence.