Why Socialism is Morally Wrong: The Basis of Property Rights

This essay is Part 1 of a three-part series on socialism:

Socialism-raised fists-black on red backgroundSocialism has become more popular in the US recently, at least as a term people use for their political beliefs. Bernie Sanders and many of his young followers claim to be socialists. But what is socialism, really, and is it a moral system or an immoral one? Is it practical or impractical?

In this essay, I will give the definition of socialism as dictionaries and its most committed advocates understand it. Then I will take socialism in its “purest,” most “noble,” most economically reasonable form–which many socialists claim has not been refuted by history–and show you why it is both immoral and impractical.

The Common Definition of Socialism

The Oxford English Dictionary defines socialism as:

A political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

If we are talking about full socialism, as its serious advocates mean it, the “regulated” here is redundant and should be taken to mean complete regulation and control, which is effectively the same as ownership. In a fully socialist society, “capitalists”–those who own “the means of production, distribution and exchange,” like factories and grocery stores–are abolished. Everyone in the society is a “laborer” or “worker,” in the broad sense of “someone who works for wages,” (what I’ll sometimes call a “wage-worker,” as opposed to someone who earns profits from private ownership.)

The “community as a whole” exercises control through some form of governmental institution. In different socialist theories, this may take the form of anything from local direct democracies, to national or worldwide governments of central planners, allegedly representing the collective will of the “working class” (proletariat.)

(In light of this, I will say up front that Bernie Sanders is not a socialist in the full sense of the term: he doesn’t advocate the outright abolition of capitalists. I will have more to say about what he actually is, in Part 3 of this series.)

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New Book Out Today! Equal is Unfair, by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins

Equal is Unfair: America's Misguided Fight Against Income Inequality, book coverIt seems like virtually everyone on the political left is talking about income inequality, or inequality of wealth. From Paul Krugman, to Rachel Maddow, to Elizabeth Warren, to Bernie Sanders, to President Obama. They all condemn high levels of income or wealth inequality as unfair and economically destructive.

But what if they’re wrong? What if high income inequality is a good thing for prosperity? What if it’s necessary for the greatest improvement in the lives of the poor? What if the campaign against inequality is actually immoral?

There’s an important new book on income inequality that was just released today. It’s called, Equal is Unfair: America’s Misguided Fight Against Income Inequality. Here are some videos from the authors on the issue of income inequality. The first chapter of the book is also linked below.

The videos:

Bernie Sanders and the Inequality Gimmick:

Who Cares About Inequality?

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“Equal is Unfair – The Inequality Advantage”: A Talk by Yaron Brook

Should economic inequality (inequality of wealth) in a capitalist system concern you? Is inequality of opportunity a problem that needs a governmental solution? Is it fair or just that some people make more money than others, or inherit wealth from their parents?

I found this video so powerful that I had to share it in its own post on my blog. In this video, Yaron Brook is both reasonable and passionate when he speaks about one of the central moral and political issues of our time: inequality. He also answers questions from his audience at the University of Exeter after the talk.

Stick around for the Q&A for Dr. Brook’s view of what legitimate equality is. (Hint: It’s the same type of equality meant by the Founding Fathers of the United States.)

Also, look for Yaron Brook’s upcoming book, Equal Is Unfair: America’s Misguided Fight Against Income Inequality, co-authored with Don Watkins.

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Related Posts:

Socialism and Welfare vs. Justice: Why Inalienable Private Property Rights are Required for Justice

On Fairness and Justice: Their Meanings, Scopes, and How They Are Not the Same

Wealth is Created by Action Based on Rational Thought

The Role of Profits in Free-Market Capitalism, and Why High Profits are Good for a Company’s Workers

How Business Executives and Investors Create Wealth and Earn Large Incomes

The Role of Profits in Free-Market Capitalism, and Why High Profits are Good for a Company’s Workers

Underpants Gnomes Meme - Phase 1: Physical Labor Phase 2: ? Phase 3: ProfitWhether people like it or not, it is a fact that the production of valuable things requires more than physical labor. (I’m looking at you, Karl Marx, with your Labor Theory of Value and “profit as exploitation.”) This is especially true when it comes to industrial-scale mass production. To successfully deliver products at a reasonable price and quality, a company must be organized in certain ways that are effective; there must be communication and coordination between the various departments; there must be management to make sure things keep running smoothly together and that timetables are kept; there must be wealth invested for buildings, machinery and raw materials in the right amounts; any machinery and facilities must be continually maintained; there must be management of sales and distribution of the product; etc.

A collection of factory workers without power tools, without specific roles and without management direction will produce very little and very inefficiently. In any line of business, there is a tremendous amount of strategy, business planning, technical planning, management, and industry knowledge that goes into making a company productive and successful.

As I discussed in my essay, “How Business Executives and Investors Create Wealth and Earn Large Incomes,” a company’s chief executive officer (CEO) carries tremendous responsibility: he is crucial in making large-scale decisions for the company, implementing and coordinating major changes, planning long-term for the future market and technology the company will face, formulating and holding onto a large-scale vision of where the company should go, etc.

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Ayn Rand and the Crude Materialism of the “Rich vs. Poor” Worldview

The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn RandOne of the most common criticisms of Ayn Rand that I hear from people (especially on the Left) is that she “loved the rich and hated the poor,” or, in more recent terms, that she “was for the 1% at the expense of the 99%.”

Yet Ayn Rand herself did not really think or judge people in those terms, as should be fairly obvious to anyone who has read her writing without prejudice: Many of the heroes and protagonists of her novels were poor or roughly middle-income, including a young Howard Roark, Steven Mallory, Roark’s friend Mike, Eddie Willers, Cheryl Brooks, Jeff Allen, Gwen Ives, and even her most famous hero, John Galt. Many of Rand’s villains are wealthy businessmen, government officials and scientists, including the mature Peter Keating, Guy Francon, James Taggart, Orren Boyle, Floyd Ferris, Wesley Mouch, Kip Chalmers, and Mr. Thompson.

Rand’s nonfiction explicitly says that what is important in the moral judgment of people is not the scale of their productive ability, but how they choose to use their minds. In her essay, “The Objectivist Ethics” (VoS) Rand writes:

“Productive work is the road of man’s unlimited achievement and calls upon the highest attributes of his character: his creative ability, his ambitiousness, his self-assertiveness, his refusal to bear uncontested disasters, his dedication to the goal of reshaping the earth in the image of his values. “Productive work” does not mean the unfocused performance of the motions of some job. It means the consciously chosen pursuit of a productive career, in any line of rational endeavor, great or modest, on any level of ability. It is not the degree of a man’s ability nor the scale of his work that is ethically relevant here, but the fullest and most purposeful use of his mind.” [emphasis mine]

So Rand doesn’t accept that having more money automatically makes one more moral.

But why then the accusations that she’s in favor of the rich and against the poor? The accusations actually show us, not what Rand believed, but what many of her critics believe. The accusations actually reflect the materialistic nature of these critics’ worldview.

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The Social Justice Warrior’s 9 Theses Against this Blog and Its Author

This blog is racist, because it supports Israel over Islamic totalitarians, and because it posts videos of people speaking in front of Tea Party sympathizers. (You know, those horrible racists!)

This blog is sexist, because it uses “he,” instead of “he/she” or “(s)he” or “he or she” or “she,” when referring to those of unspecified gender.

This blog is ableist, because its author doesn’t believe people should be robbed to support the disabled, (and all the disabled are permanently useless and can never support themselves without the government forcing others to care for them.)

This blog is hateful of poor people, because it doesn’t support the forcible tearing down of rich people for their sake.

This blog is against sound economics, like the Broken Window Theory and “wealth inequality means everyone is poorer.”

This blog dares to peek beyond the Veil of Ignorance, and challenge John Rawls’s view of (social) justice as fairness.

This blog is homophobic, because its author doesn’t support laws forcing private businesses to hire or serve people they don’t want to, such as gays.

This blog is anti-science, because its author doesn’t want government to destroy people’s freedom on the basis of unreliable computer models.

This blog is triggering, because it contains offensively positive references to Ayn Rand.

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Related Articles:

Alternet’s Ayn Rand fetish

Salon’s Ayn Rand fetish

Socialism and Welfare vs. Justice: Why Inalienable Private Property Rights are Required for Justice

A farm and a factory: examples of property that requires effort to build.In 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, “the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, and the fruits acquired by it.””

Here, Jefferson is affirming the principle of individual rights, especially property rights. But don’t property rights sometimes stand in the way of justice? In any such cases, wouldn’t it be a moral imperative for government to violate property rights?

The purpose of this essay is to show that inalienable private property rights are a necessary condition of justice. That is, any violation of property rights implies injustice, to the extent of the violation. Please note that it is not the purpose of this essay to argue that property rights guarantee justice. Objectivism does not hold that property rights are a sufficient condition for justice, only a necessary condition. There is much injustice that can occur without violations of property rights. But no one, including the government, can rectify such injustices by violating property rights. Anyone attempting to do this is in the wrong, morally.

So, what is an inalienable property right? It is a principle specifying that no one else may take or otherwise use the thing a person has a right to, without that person’s permission. (All things properly called “rights” are inalienable–that is, they cannot morally be taken away; otherwise they are not “rights,” but grants of permission by someone else. Note also that one person’s rights can be waived by him, by the act of violating another person’s rights.)

A property right to a certain, distinct thing–call it “X”–is properly acquired by either 1) engaging in a productive process directly involving X, when it is not already owned by someone else, or 2) consensually trading things or services with another person for X, when that person owns X, or 3) receiving X as a gift from another person, when that person owns X. A “productive process” might be farming to produce food, building a home, building a factory, making shoes, writing software, providing services, like air conditioning repair, radio, television, movies, etc.

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