In something of a surprise, Americans are now debating, with some seriousness, Socialism as a public good to be generously funded through taxation.
The politics of this started in 2016 with an aging intellectual Jewish Socialist left over from the 1960’s born and raised in New York City’s robust and famous Jewish community – Bernie Sanders.
Bernie’s putting Socialism on the table of American politics in the 2016 Presidential campaign has attracted many young supporters. Bernie is running for president again this year.
Coming from a newer New York City ethnic community, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has expanded Bernie’s dream of a New Eden for all into the Green New Deal which will save the world from climate change and bring social justice to all Americans, even those unwilling to work for a living.
From the hallowed halls of Harvard Law School, Professor Elizabeth Warren proposes seriously thought out legislation to replace much of capitalism with government fiat. She, too, is running for president.
Socialism can never succeed. It is a stupid idea, out of touch with human reality. So why all this foolishness from supposedly smart people?
I think Vladimir Lenin, no slouch Socialist himself in some ways, put his finger on the core problem of Socialist advocacy in his little book, “Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder, written in May 1920.
For the immature, Socialism is all at once 1) a superego-ideal, 2) a balm for their status anxieties and 3) a comfort for their Id-based drives for power and security. Socialism offers escape from reality through intentional human engineering of human relations. In the terms of psychoanalytical theorist Erik Erikson, Socialism provides delayed identity formation into adulthood.
Socialism ignores laws of nature, making impossible the achievement of its promises in the world in which we live and breathe and have our being. It is an anthropocentric fantasia.
Capitalism, on the other hand, both prospers under the laws of nature and suffers from them. It is the human condition, which Albert Camus and other French existentialists found to be absurd. Which is why if we want to improve Capitalism, we must work with the laws of nature and not run from them.
When I refer to the laws of nature, I am thinking of a materialism where patterns of life repeat themselves, permitting prediction of what others will most likely decide to do. Our species, Homo sapiens – each and every one of us, rich or poor, literate or illiterate, young or old – comes into this world through a natural process. We have evolved from nature and are subject to its physics, biology and chemistry.
And yet, the great mystery is that we also have a mind, a heart so to speak, a spirit, a consciousness.
To follow the spirit and ignore the material is just as foolish as to live only for the material and ignore the spirit.
The laws of nature, which I suggest created and shape Capitalism, are in human nature. To me, Capitalism can be analogized to fluid dynamics. There is a flow to life which seeks more flow and resists restrictions thrown in its way. The water in a downhill running creek will find a way around the rocks and the stones.
The private property and open markets of Capitalism are part of this natural flow, thrusting themselves up constantly from deep within the human experience.
Two great thinkers who have made this point are Frederick Hayek and Karl Popper. More recently, I refer you to the constructal law of thermodynamics proposed by Adrian Bejan of Duke University.
Flow is generally horizontal or downwards. As Mencius observed, water will not flow indifferently, up or down.
The core problem with Socialism is that it does not comply with thermodynamics. It is not designed for flow but rather for order – for what it calls “equality of outcomes.” It is top-down, hierarchical, directive and so is subject to stagnation, desiccation through evaporation, torpor and constriction of life force.
And given its hierarchy, even its promised equality is hard to thoroughly achieve.
Socialism does not have self-correcting checks and balances in its power dynamics. It depends on some people being right and correcting through regulation and discipline those who are wrong.
Roughly speaking, Capitalism is an open system working on frothy horizontal dynamics of change and innovation while Socialism is a closed system working on vertical dynamics of command and control. A solidly Socialist system has no circulation of its elites. Those on the top, stay on the top, as long as the top controls the “repressive apparatus of the state.”
The challenge for Capitalism is to sufficiently “capitalize” its inhabitants to permit them to take advantage of market opportunities. Where stakeholders are not attended too, where rent-extraction clogs up the workings of its markets and competition to restrict creative destruction, Capitalism takes on the top down exclusionary elitism of aristocracies – both traditional and Socialist.
Thus, the great experiments seeking to approach absolute Socialism – the Russia of Lenin and Stalin, the China of Mao, the Cambodia of Pol Pot – all stood upon a foundation of pervasive repression and death.
Even the first glimmers of living in an Edenic Socialist state under the Jacobins of the French Revolution were accompanied by repression and killing of undesirables. Revolutionary forces seeking a reign of virtue turned on their own – Danton, Robespierre, Saint-Just, Graccus Babeuf.
Anarchical Socialism – Bakunin, for example – never got off the ground.
Socialism has only been a success, of sorts, where it has compromised with Capitalism in welfare state economics. But even then, Socialism is limited in its achievements by the economic realities of taxability and private sector growth. Socialism needs a very big goose to lay all the golden eggs it wants to distribute. And under the laws of nature, presumably that big goose needs a big gander in order to meet its production goals.
The limitations inherent in Socialism also arise from human nature – greed, ignorance, self-promotion, faithless agents of the common good, inability to resist the temptations of power, factional loyalties, nepotism, narcissism, etc.
Just consider the present case of Venezuela.
Our challenge as a species is how best to live on this side of Eden in a very fallen world where ignorant armies clash by night.