Over and over for decades, Conservatives have made the point that socialism does not “work,” that it does not create wealth but rather leads to poverty. This is true. Despite promising nirvana, “utopian” (socialist) communities and countries based on communism and socialism always failed economically.
Conservatives (including Wall Street Journal op-ed writers, right-wing think tanks, and pro-free enterprise economics departments) keep repeating the obvious and assert that people simply need better economic education to set them straight. Yet Conservatives keep losing every battle; the left repeatedly responds by ignoring their argument and rationalizing socialist failures.
The rationalizations run the gamut:
- Previous socialist programs were not run correctly.
- The moral ideal was right, but people are just too corrupt to practice it—there is a flaw in human nature.
- The failure was caused by a plot by the U.S. (usually the CIA).
- Socialism takes years to come to fruition and will triumph at some unspecified, future date….and so on.
What is striking is that no matter what the economic failures, true socialists rarely give it up. Why not. Because it has a moral base. Ayn Rand has made it clear that, “The power of morality is the strongest of all intellectual powers…men will not act, in major issues, without a sense of being morally right.” (quoted in Binswanger, 1986, p. 315).
Morality trumps economic facts if there is a conflict. This is true even if one’s accepted code of morality is objectively wrong. Millions have died fighting for Communism and Nazism (national socialism), including murdering millions of victims and keeping millions of others in hopeless poverty.
What is the problem with Conservatives (for more details, see Binswanger, 1986, pp. 95-100)? The Conservative argument is based on a contradiction: Capitalism is practical because most people want to live better, but morally it is defended by altruism, the premise that one must live only for the sake of others. Thus, Capitalism is only permissible so long as one lives, or claims to live, for “the public good.” For the Conservatives, Capitalism is moral only to the extent that the capitalist lives to serve others. Self-interest can be smuggled silently in but not as a moral right or as a moral ideal. This means that “creeping socialism” always has the advantage and thus creeps unabated. The hapless Conservative defense is routinely: “Hey, let us not overdo it. Let us have some capitalism. The welfare state will work better if capitalists have permission to function.” Socialists face no such internal contradiction; sacrifice for and of others is the morally right thing to do even when everyone stays poor, cf. Cuba and Venezuela. (See Locke, 2020, for a detailed discussion of Venezuela).
The socialist’s indifference to poverty reveals that there is a deeper moral (objectively anti-moral) layer than altruism which means sacrifice for the benefit of others. Since others do not actually benefit, the deeper standard is the destruction of economic freedom as an end in itself. This is pure nihilism, destruction for the sake of destruction: better to have everyone grovel in poverty than to let one person make a profit. Socialism is based on hatred for human life. In socialist societies, the worst people, power lusters, rise to the top, but they only rise because socialism gives them a moral sanction.
What then would change a socialist’s mind? Convincing them that socialism is anti-life and that Capitalism, which is based on individual rights, is morally good, i.e., that every individual has a right to their own life, which includes the right to trade freely with others, based on self-interest, and profit from it (i.e., without fraud or coercion). This would mean that capitalists would be admired, both practically and morally, rather than reluctantly tolerated as a necessary evil or totally forbidden. Economic education will only be embraced by people who think that Capitalism is not just practical but morally good. Moral education is needed as the proper base for economic education.
Some might ask about the puzzling situation of a Communist dictatorship, China, openly fostering Capitalism (though with numerous controls). This is a historically unprecedented event. So, what explains it? It is not based on respect for individual rights since communists deny them. It is based purely on power lust. For centuries China was backwards in relation to the west. Now they have decided to be imperialists, and they saw that the only way they could get the needed power was to create wealth which would give them the ability to intimidate or dominate other countries by using economic and military force together, e.g., massive exports, cyber-crime, building a large, military including a nuclear arsenal, trying to forcibly take over international waters in the South China Sea, threatening and harming fishing vessels from other countries, seizing islands they do not own to build military bases, stealing copyrighted and military technology from foreign countries, bullying countries which displease them (Australia), invasion (Hong Kong, Tibet), continual military threats (Taiwan), loaning money to poor countries, who will not be able to repay them, as a means of gaining power over them, cooperating with other dictatorships such as North Korea and Iran which are also building nuclear weapons to attack the U.S., etc.
China recently acknowledged that their use of Capitalism was only a strategic move until full socialism could be established. China, right now, is the single biggest threat to world peace and freedom. The old-line Marxists said capitalists would buy or make the rope that will be used to hang them. China wants to make their own rope and hang us with it. It remains to be seen how all this will turn out. Our weapons are: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, our military might, Capitalism, and our commitment to freedom as a moral ideal–if we can keep them.
Edwin Locke, Capitalism Magazine