I came across an argument today, one oft-repeated by socialism’s apologists and people who want, against all reason and history, to continue advocating for that destructive and murderous ideology. It goes something like this:

Police, the military, infrastructure spending, and firefighting are socialist programs.

Do you see the gag here? All these things are considered important, popular, and even vital roles of government, and by dubbing them as aspects of “socialism,” we are supposed to think that socialism is a good thing and not the ogre we know it to be. It’s an analogue to Washington Monument Syndrome, wherein budget cuts are made deliberately painful and visible by shutting down popular and high profile government services first, instead of culling waste and fat, and it’s a fallacy of absolutism and false choice in that it defines everything as socialism, leaving the only alternative as raw anarchy.

Lets set the logical problems and tendentiousness aside, and consider the assertion at face value for a moment.

What is socialism? By the book, it’s a system of government that involves central planning and control of the economy, redistribution of wealth, and government ownership of the means of production. That last point differentiates it from other statist systems like communism (government owns everything) and fascism (the means of production are privately owned but tightly controlled by the government). It’s also a subtlety that’s ignored by most present-day socialists. Colloquially, socialism (lets call it small-s socialism) emphasizes two factors: substantial government control and regulation of the economy, and redistribution of wealth.

It’s that last bit where socialists get sneaky. Their claims about government services like law enforcement and the military being “socialist” is an effort to muddy the meaning of redistribution. They ignore the stark difference between core of government that benefit all citizens in a generalized manner, and programs that take from some to benefit others. They’ll point at socialized medicine, food stamps and other forms of government assistance, and the like and say “this is what taxes are for.”

I’ve addressed that point in depth before, so I’ll just summarize here: Taxes can be split into two groups: “fee for service” and “wealth redistribution.” Any level of government above pure anarchy involves some functions, and capitalism requires some system for the protection of individual and property rights and a court system for the resolution of contracts and conflicts. Furthermore, all but the most die-hard anarchy-fantasists recognize that national defense is a proper role of government. How we pay for these services can be debated, but paying for them isn’t “redistribution” by any normal definition of the term. This is further reinforced by looking at what is clearly redistribution, i.e. the services where government takes money from some people in order to give it, in some form, to others. There’s a case to be made for fee-for-service. Use a public road, it makes sense you contribute to its upkeep. There’s no case, in a free society, to be made for taking, by force, the fruit of one’s efforts merely to give it to someone else.

Socialists get around this by waving their hands about the general benefit to society of their redistributive schemes, arguing that we all benefit when the poorest are cared for by taking money from others (after the government keeps a “taste” for itself, of course). Funny, though, how those societies that do the most of that have lower living standards than those that don’t.

That’s the neat thing about wannabe socialists. They always seem to be on the “benefiting” side of socialism, they always expect that they or theirs, in the Marxist dogma “from each according to his ability to each according to his need,” to be in the second half of the sentence. Their redistribution pays no heed to the people taken from, nor does it even acknowledge that socialist belief would require them to engage in professions that they are best suited for, rather than being free to pursue the life-arc of their choice. A true socialist would not tolerate an able-bodied person doing nothing while collecting welfare. Nor would a true socialist tolerate people going to college to engage in studies they’re unsuited for, or that don’t offer a productive career path. All those “fill-in-the-blank Studies” degrees would be disallowed, and those most suited to digging ditches would be obligated to do so. The true Socialist nations did this, but that’s never mentioned by today’s small-s types.

There are a few socialists who are exceptions to this expectation of benefit. They’re the ones who have so much money that their progressive bleatings won’t impact their lifestyles one iota if actualized. It’s easy to be noisy when you have no skin in the game, and multi-millionaires are in no danger of being taxed down to a less luxe lifestyle. It’s one reason why Hollywood is awash in the “socially conscious” who fly private jets to global warming conferences and tweet about inequality as they do so.

Watch, further, those who put forth the argument that basic government services are “socialism.” After fuzzing up the meaning of the word, they’re going to attempt to walk you back to its more honest meaning, in order to get you to admit that socialism isn’t a Bad Thing. This is similar to tactics used by interrogators, who understand that people have a greater need to be consistent than to be correct, and so try to get a subject to concede a seemingly minor side point in order to use it against them later on when they object to the crux of an argument.

Don’t concede the point. Basic government services are not socialism, formal or “small-s.” To believe otherwise is to equate the word socialism with the word government, a conflation that yields no reason or justification for changing anything that we currently do or for resisting capitalism and free markets.

If socialism is so obviously great, why has it taken so many lives, failed so many times, and impoverished billions? If it’s a system that can be gotten “wrong” so easily, why would we dare trust that, this time, they’ll get it right? What’s the reason for playing these semantic games and running deceptions of this sort? The old W.C. Fields quote comes to mind:

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

Most socialist wannabes are selfishly greedy for other people’s money and stuff. Many may not recognize it, and some may think that they’re engaging in “social justice” and being white knights for the poor. But if they looked at history honestly, they’d recognize that the way to help the poor is through personal action and through advocacy for capitalism and free markets, not by taking from others at gun point under the veneer of a “kindler, gentler” version of a horrific, murderous ideology.

This gambit that basic government services is “socialism” is sophistry (aka bullshit) intended to rehabilitate the word and convince people it’s not the atrocity history amply shows it to be. Don’t fall for it.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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