I’ve been binge-watching an old British television series called MI-5 (or Spooks, depending where you are). One episode I watched last night, late in Season 4 (or Series 4, to use British nomenclature) included a character that was an old, unrepentant Cold War communist, just released after 30 years in prison. The character, a true believer, noted at one point that “housing is a human right,” carried on about how house ownership was a Bad Thing, and how a house should belong to the State or the people or whatever, so that, when the current occupant was done with it, it could be used to house someone else.

This morning, a friend shared a commentary written by a “progressive journalist” that went into excruciating sophistry about the immorality of retaining excess wealth. The author “admits” that some people deserve to be paid more than others and that taxation is theft, or more specifically says it’s possible to hold these beliefs, and still understand that retention of excess wealth is immoral. He makes his case passionately, with heavy italicizing and the use of hot pink to emphasize his hot links, and attempts to sap our “not again” reactions (legitimate as they are) to this supposedly fresh spin on the morality of redistribution:

But there is a separate question that this defense ignores: regardless of whether you have earned it, to what degree are you morally permitted to retain it?

He comes around to his point, that there is a “maximum moral income,” the specifics of which can be debated up to a point, but which everyone should agree is not in the millions of dollars. He then diminishes the idea of people directing the use of their excess wealth in charitable ways, because they often do so inefficiently or for selfish reasons. And he does all this with a seemingly straight voice.

While the article doesn’t come out and conclude this overtly, it strongly implies a wealth tax and the idea that third parties (i.e. politicians and bureaucrats) managing that “excess wealth” for the betterment of the poor would make our society a better place. This is nothing more than a fancy new way to argue what an infamous asshole once observed:

From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

This observation provided the foundation for the deaths of hundreds of millions and the impoverishment of billions. And, yet, it keeps being reincarnated in fresh ways.

Why?

Greed and envy, of course. The irony of being greedy for and envious of that which other supposedly are keeping due to their own greed and envy is lost, obviously. But, it’s more than just greed and envy. Greed and envy are cynical motivations. These people actually believe in socialism. They actually believe that, if our system were changed to work the way they want, things would be better, the brutal lessons of history notwithstanding.

What’s consistently lacking in this importuning of socialism is consideration of people’s reactions. Newton’s Third Law doesn’t only apply to the physical world, it reflects human behavior. Change X, and people’s behavior will change in response. Thus, if it’s known that income or wealth earned beyond a certain level, even a generous one, would be confiscated, who’d work to earn beyond that level? What would be the motivation to create wealth in the magnitude that the article author considers immoral? If people had the biological motivation to work tirelessly for the state, socialism and communism would have worked. They haven’t, and they never will, because they run contrary to human nature.

A corollary to this is the “tragedy of the commons.” Consider the unrepentant commie from MI-5, and his idea regarding housing and home ownership. Where would be the motivation to build nice homes, were they to be the property of the state? Where would be the motivation to maintain them, or even to make them livable? Another character’s rejoinder to the commie’s idea about housing was to mention Soviet style concrete bunkers, and if anyone thinks that’s an improvement on today’s society, well, some people are just dumbasses.

In the thinking and behavior of those who decry the private ownership of wealth, we find the same sort of shallow, child-like thinking we see in actual children. Things are “not fair,” and someone in authority should exercise that authority to correct the imbalance. Just as children need parents to manage their lives and demand that parents arbitrate whatever they see as an injustice, socialists need the Best-and-Brightest to manage their lives (David Mamet called socialism the “abdication of responsibility”) and demand those Best-and-Brightest arbitrate whatever injustices they perceive, and to do so by force. But, just as children don’t contemplate the broader reality of their demands, our earnest but infantile socialists don’t think through how their ideas would actually pan out.

And, just like children, the calls for parental intervention are invariably about receiving more (either personally or on behalf of a third party). Kids who choose to share what they have often do so without requiring parental intervention, just as the wealthy who choose to share don’t typically do so via the government (seriously, when was the last time you heard of a billionaire making a donation to the government in lieu of setting up a charitable trust?).

Then there’s the behavioral change in the recipients. Already, we know that welfare discourages self-sufficiency (and, as it’s currently structured, disincentivizes it as well).

Wealth is the product of human activity. Even pumping oil out of the ground involves human activity. Resources are worth nothing until they’ve been extracted and processed, and even when we use machines to increase productivity, it remains that human activity is the prerequisite for wealth creation. Socialism (and communism, and the other statist -isms) discourage the wealthy from working, by taking away their “excess” wealth, and discourage the recipients of that “excess” wealth from working, by giving to them what they’d otherwise work to create. What does any person of sound mind expect to happen when such discouragement is prevalent? Obviously, the less work done, the less wealth generated. Thus, living standards decrease. Thus, everyone is poorer.

Sure, in a capitalistic society where the rich get to keep their riches, there’s inequality. And, sure, if the government forcibly redistributes that wealth in an “equitable” fashion, the have-less will get some more. But, that’s a one-time thing, because the continued creation of wealth ceases. For proof, look at every expansionist, imperialist, socialist, communist, and redistributionist society in history. Inevitably, they either look outward to plunder that which other societies have, or cannibalize internally, nationalize companies and industries, suck them dry, and look for more when they need to refill their coffers. But, as Margaret Thatcher famously noted:

The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.

No amount of opprobrium and scolding over the immorality of retaining excess wealth will change this reality. If it’s known that whatever you earn in excess of X will be taken, you won’t work in excess of X. Sure, when the confiscatory law is first passed, there’s lots to grab, and there’ll thus be lots to give away. But when the grabbing’s done, when the productive have been cleaned out and when they have no reason to continue to be productive, what then? Those who received will demand to continue to receive, but there won’t be anything to give them. Meanwhile, the societal notion of working will have been destroyed. That’s how you get Venezuela.

Children don’t think about these realities, and they don’t think about the long-term consequences of their demands that parents correct perceived unfairness. So it goes with socialists and communists. They don’t think about how their highfalutin, “moral” arguments about income or wealth redistribution will change behaviors and make society poorer. If they did, they wouldn’t be socialists. They wrap their childlike plaints about inequality and unfairness in fancy language and what they pass off as “deep” insight, but it’s all just whining, and it’s all about getting their way at the expense of others.

Yes, this is all broken-record stuff. If you’re an adult who understands the fundamental flaw and wrongness of socialism, you may be rolling your eyes and asking if it was really necessary to write another fourteen hundred words on the topic. But, as long as there are people who try to repackage this horrid ideology, there should be rebuttals and deconstructions, lest someone get suckered into buying the same old poison because of the fancy new packaging.

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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