NY Times asks: ‘What’s a Socialist?’

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July 2, 2012 by galudwig

Steven Erlanger’s question and subsequent answer to this question in the New York Times is actually quite good and I found myself agreeing with most of what he wrote. Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I agreed with everything.

Socialism is not Radical

Most of Erlanger’s opinion piece deals with the fact that socialist principles are widely accepted by virtually everyone and only ‘the fringes’ would seriously attempt to dismantle the welfare state. Of course, he is entirely correct.

If one imagines a scale with a completely free market with well-defined property rights on one side and a planned economy where everything is owned and run by the state on the other, there is not a single country on earth today that cannot to a significant degree be called ‘socialist’.

Clearly, this means that socialists are not ‘radical’ and libertarians are not ‘conservative’. Erlanger does a pretty good job explaining how socialists and social-democrats merely want more of the status quo. Their disagreements with ‘the right’ concern the degree to which the economy should be subjected to socialist or interventionist principles, but not those principles themselves.

Mainstream does not Guarantee Truth

But what does it matter if socialism is no longer radical? Does being mainstream confer truth and correctness upon one’s ideas? Of course not.

Two big and important things are overlooked by most people who implicitly accept the socialist principles of the welfare state:

  • The welfare state exists only at our expense. All progress and all wealth originates in voluntary cooperation. All state activity, which is non-productive in itself, takes more from us than it eventually ‘gives back’
  • The welfare state makes people dependent on handouts in order to gain political support and creates poverty by taxing value-creating activity and rewarding idleness

The result of the interventionist ethic of contemporary socialism is statism. The government in France currently spends 56.6% of GDP. Clearly not enough for the French public, who just elected François Hollande: if only the welfare state were expanded just a little bit more, surely our problems would go away?

But the state creates problems for society, it does not solve them. First of all, it cannot solve them. Welfare statists focus on what is easily seen, only to ignore the larger picture of the unseen. Secondly, it does not want to solve them. Poverty is the raison d’etre of the welfare state. It is in the interest of statist politicians to silently perpetuate it.


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