There is an old libertarian case for socialism that I’ll briefly outline before getting to my new one. It goes like this:
- Property and economic rights exist in and of themselves.
- Everything everyone presently has, has been stolen heaps of times, including the land you’re living on that cave men endlessly fought over tens of thousands of years ago.
- You might as well spread the wealth around a bit because by taking from the rich and giving to the poor you’re probably just giving stuff back to the rightful owners.
Okay, so now my own free market defense of socialism. This is largely devil’s-advocate and not necessarily what I really think.
- Free market capitalism is the most efficient economic system. Resources and labour go where they are most usefully deployed. Such a system produces the wealthiest possible society. With this wealth we are better able to make choices in our own interests, i.e. ‘the pursuit of happiness’. Yay.
- In a free market, people are payed what they are worth. Some people are worth heaps. Some people are worth shit. Over time, some hard-working, talented individuals with in-demand skills become fabulously wealthy until they die of cancer because they tried to treat it with natural hippie cures first. On the other hand, dumb-as-dogshit workshy labourers remain poor. In real terms they may be richer than they would have been in a socialist paradise because at least there is bread in the bakery to buy with what little money they have, but the difference in wealth between the rich and poor is immense. Fair, but immense.
- Depending of the type of society, the less economically valuable, intelligent or hard working get angry at this inequality and cause trouble. They block roads, break windows, loot, burn stuff, commit burglaries, make walking the streets unprotected dangerous and things like that. In sufficient numbers they threaten to overthrow the government and institute socialism – not the Norwegian kind, the Venezuelan kind. Oh, oh.
Their motivation is not always economic – there might be other triggers, like the killing of one of their fellow thugs by police – but their lack of economic power is an underlying cause of their bad temper and lack of respect for societal norms. This is not a just motivation, it just is. To continue,
- The unrest is such that society becomes less efficient than it previously was. The police and private security needed to keep crime in check become expensive. Damage caused to enterprises is enormous. It is hard to do business because things keep getting pinched.
- The talented and hard-working rich decide it would be cheaper to throw the poor a bone rather than pay for all the extra security. In the interests of the most efficient possible society, they give some welfare and benefits to the dumb or shiftless in order to keep them off their backs.
This theory would seem best suited to societies with an economically dominant minority, i.e. the Chinese in the Philippines or the Spanish-derived in Latin America. Such are their small numbers and visible difference, overthrow or genocide is a real possibility. Appeasement makes sense.
The theory works less well in Western societies where the violent underclass already receive much welfare and seem to become all the more dysfunctional and demanding because of it.
Still, the point is there. Any economic or social theory is only as good as it plays out in real life. If it’s just going to get overturned then you need to tweak it. Just a gentle nipple-cripple ought to do it – tweak! There, fixed.