Free Markets, Socialism, and Morality

[Edit – A number of readers are having a hard time wrapping their arms around the distinction this article makes between systems, the people within them, and morality.  Clearly capitalism acts as a more moral system than socialism for people, but that is because people do not operate naturally in hives.  Bees are perfectly happy under communism, and hives collapse with the loss of the queen.  As such, the morality of a system is not based on the system itself, but the behaviors the system encourages in people.  That may sound like a small distinction, but it is an imperative one when trying to dismantle the leftist claim that ‘socialism is morally superior to capitalism’.]

The socialist argument that irks me most is the ‘capitalism is not based on morality’ argument.  While this argument is accurate, it should be noted that socialism is not based on morality either.  Morals are not found in systems.  Only people have morals, and in fact more people have been killed by attempts to infer morals where they do not exist than have been killed by any other motivation.  In the meantime, the best systems have always been the ones where people are most free to let their own morality flourish.

Socialism killed hundreds of millions of people in the last century, and is off to a fast start this century as well.  Not only is socialism not based on morality, but by focusing on control, it encourages abuse.  Freedom and liberty breed morality, and while neither of those things are moral themselves, freedom and liberty encourage morality in people, whereas whenever power is centralized, it breeds corruption.

Human nature works in a concentric ring that starts with the immediate family, and works its way outward. We do not generally put ourselves first, but rather we put out immediate family first, happily sacrificing our own interests to forward the interests of those we love. As we move out from our immediate family into our extended family, we are still willing to sacrifice, but we are perhaps not as willing to die in doing so. We have some friends that we are willing to sacrifice for as if they were family, but generally family comes before friends.

We are also happy to sacrifice for our community, and the closer the community, the more we are willing to sacrifice. I might not sacrifice as much for my neighbor as for my best friends, but I will certainly take care of my neighbors if they need something I can provide.

The further out the circle goes from our immediate family, the less we are willing to sacrifice, and that is how human beings are wired – that is who and what we are. Any economic system, or system of governance, that violates these principles of human nature, is bound to fail. Simply put, our commitment to forwarding society is directly tied to how well society models the outward spiral of our willingness to sacrifice.  The beauty of the American system, as written in the Constitution, is that it conforms to human nature, putting the family first, and using federalism to keep the vast majority of governance local.

When government begins to take care of the needy, the public begins to consider taking care of the needy to be a job for government, and people become less generous.  Americans have less of a tradition of social welfare than Europe, and, not surprisingly, Americans also donate more than do Europeans.

Generosity is not considered virtuous in a socialist system, which is why Republicans donate so much more than do Democrats. Under socialism, the virtuous ones are those who are downtrodden.  The downtrodden are also in many cases those who are able to work, but who choose not to. Is it virtuous to live off the efforts of others rather than working to take care of oneself? I would hope even the most liberal among us would answer with a ‘no’ if asked that question directly, and yet modern liberalism is based on the notion that the most virtuous among us are also those who do the least to advance society. Privilege, we are told, is what drives success – hard work and effort are considered worthless.  Virtue is derived by being oppressed, and the more oppressed a person is, the more virtuous they are determined to be.

On some level we must all know that modern liberalism is wrong, and yet, by pretending, as Fredric Bastiat noted in 1850, that not wanting government to do some thing is the same as not wanting that thing done at all, liberals pretend that their system is moral and that freedom is not.  The truth is that in any system, what actually occurs is infinitely more important than what is promised, and in free markets food waits for people, whereas under socialism, people wait for food. It does not matter to the person who is hungry whether the people producing food do so for purely philanthropic reasons, or for profit; what matters is that there is food.  Bernie Sanders can complain that we have hundreds of brands of deodorant while children are starving, but in the United States there is no such thing as starvation, and if there were, blaming deodorant for it would be silly unless Bernie Sanders wants children to eat deodorant.  We should all prefer the system that best produces food over the system that does not.

Liberals focus entirely on the distribution of wealth, while ignoring completely the creation of wealth. Liberals also tend to confuse wealth with money, ignoring that while money may be the tool we use to measure wealth, the actual wealth of our nation is the totality of the goods and services produced. Until liberals can demonstrate an ability to distribute that which is not produced, they should stay away from economics, and focus purely on social issues. Liberals should leave the actual running of the country to adults.

I’m going to get some flak for insinuating that liberals are not adults, and yet there is an old saying that ‘a young person who is not a liberal has no heart whereas an old man who is not a conservative has no brain.’ This saying is often repeated because there is a semblance of truth to it.  It takes heart to want to build a better world, but it takes brains (and wisdom) not to destroy the world we already have in pursuit of a mythical utopia.  People are not bees; we do not work solely for the betterment of the hive.  We work for the betterment of our families, friends, communities, states, and countries – in that order.  Socialists are akin to children in that they view the world as they wish it to be rather than as it actually is, and in doing so they strive to make people act like bees in spite of the fact that doing so goes against every aspect of the human condition.  Socialists strive to correct the human condition through the use of government force over every aspect of our lives, and somehow the immorality of their own beliefs is lost on them.

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