The View From 1776

Socialism Corrupts Human Nature

The welfare-state brings out the worst in people, making society into a selfish, every-man-for-himself scramble to get “entitlements.”  As government intervention depresses incomes toward equality, economic production declines, and people become equally poor.

Many readers have expressed sentiments from outrage to distress at my characterization of liberal Republicans and Democrats as advocates of fascist corporatism.  Fascism, of course, is simply a nationalistic version of socialism, as opposed to the world-government impulse of the Socialist International reflected in utopian boondoggles like the UN.

Readers’ unhappiness is the result of ignorance which is not their fault, but the fault of our socialistic, progressive doctrines of education introduced early in the 20th century and placed firmly in the saddle in the 1960s.  Most people, having no historical perspective on economic and political affairs, assume that what is has always been so, because that is all they have been told.

No one having even a minor acquaintance with the history of the 20th century can deny that the role of Federal and state governments changed radically (in the literal and political senses) in the 1930s.  Before the New Deal, however much they favored labor unions and cooperatives, along with city and state government planning, not even the Progressives believed that the Federal government could manage the entire economy as if it were a private corporation.  Since the time of President Franklin Roosevelt, generations of Americans have come to the mindless faith that The Great Father in the White House is responsible personally for every up and down in the economy.

Elsewhere, I wrote that the basic dividing line between sociopolitical outlooks in the Western world is regulation and control vs. limits and balances, collectivism vs. individualism.  This can be understood more easily if one looks at the underlying conceptions of human nature.

In the Western world, two views of human nature are dominant.

One is the classical economic understanding described by Adam Smith in his 1776 “Wealth of Nations,” in which people as a whole, at least those with any common sense, look for ways to improve their own and their families’ economic well-being.  Smith’s keen observations of economic activity in his time, and historically, led him to the view that such activity is spontaneous and part of the natural order, to the extent not impeded by government intervention.

From this understanding comes the idea of the law of supply and demand: when goods desired by people are in short supply, prices rise, and producers are led to increase production of the desired articles, thereby pushing market prices down toward their former level.  This insight led him to his celebrated “invisible hand” idea that, while each individual is motivated by his personal interests, those motivations lead people to become more productive and thrifty, thereby increasing the aggregate well-being of society.  While, at any given time, some people are suffering hardship from economic conditions, a free market offers most of them the opportunity to improve their status in the future by dint of hard work and frugality.  And human nature leads most of them to take advantage of their opportunities.

None of this is to say that individuals and religious groups ought not aid the poor, elderly, and disabled.  Smith was first and foremost a moral philosopher who elevated individuals’ sympathy and empathy for their fellows to the pinnacle of morality.

This conception of human nature made England, then the United States, the greatest economic powers in world history while producing unprecedented improvements in standards of living for people in all income levels.

The other conception of human nature, in contrast to Adam Smith’s pragmatic analysis of actually observed conditions, is the abstract, theoretical, French, socialistic conception espoused by American liberals (our sect of the socialist religion). 

In this theory,  people are by nature altruistic, freely contributing to the best of their abilities, while selflessly consuming as little as possible, provided they do not live in a market-oriented economy that induces greed.

The effect of the liberal socialist theory, everywhere it has been implemented, has been to reduce the overall wealth of the nation employing it, tending to make everybody equally poor.  The reason for the detrimental effect of socialist theory was described by Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1850s after observing the effect of half a century of socialism in his native France: in the welfare-state, people’s motivation is corrupted to envy of those with more than themselves, which leads them to clamor for government confiscation of property owned by people with higher incomes. 

People concerned primarily with getting their entitlements take to the streets in organized demonstrations, riots, looting and property destruction, as we are witnessing in the case French students and labor unions demanding regulations assuring unaccountable jobs-for-life security.

The Soviet Union, based squarely upon this conception of human nature, reduced people to standing in lines for hours for basic needs, often finding nothing left when they reached the head of the line.  The artificiality and cruel destructiveness of liberals’ theory of human nature led to the complete collapse of the Soviet Union, shortly after President Johnson’s Great Society entitlements had all but destroyed American society.

Socialist nations like France and Germany, historically the most powerful in Continental Western Europe, are slowly sinking under the weight of their increasingly unsustainable promises to make welfare payments exceeding their economies’ productive capacities.  The United States is unfortunately following in their footsteps.

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