A Note on Socialism as Elitism
Since ancient times some people have considered the market place an unruly forum in which to determine whose work and what commodities are worth how much. With Marxism this view acquired a pseudo-scientific status. The complaint that when free individuals and groups exchange goods and services some will get more for their contributions than they deserve reaches the level of a total ideology.
Before this complaint and its ideological expression are dismissed, it is important to understand their appeal. It isn't very difficult to empathize with the complaint when we restrict it to individual instances. Most people have experienced a feeling of dismay with what certain producers in the market receive for their work. The pop music groups make millions of dollars for grinding out a few pleasant but clearly not phenomenal songs. A boxer gets millions of dollars for going eight or so rounds before knocking out his opponent. A television commentator collects some $200,000 a year for uttering two minutes worth of banalities twice or three times a week for about half the season. A New York Times columnist makes a bundle from writing flawed economic commentaries! Surely these folks are not worth all that money – or so the thought occurs to some of us. Especially when others, who make far more worthy contributions, receive far more modest remunerations for their efforts.
These sorts of considerations are natural, even if not fully justified in the total context. We cannot deny that monetarily speaking the worth of many a product and producer is in some sense over or under estimated. Out of this impression, natural enough in individual instances, grows a very dangerous ideological perspective. But one must appreciate that some of the individual instances make sense.
Now really − what foolishness prompts people to pay that kind of money for such frivolous results or charge so little for the same? And it is not unreasonable, now and then, to question the wisdom of various people when they do shell out enormous sums of money for goods or services while other, quite objectively more worthwhile products (even to them individually) could have been purchased for a more sensible price and some sell something quite worthwhile for but a nominal price.
From these impressions the jump is made, by Marxists and other statists, that something must be done to stop such alleged miscalculations. And then, very quickly, the suggestion is made that if only some wise folks could make sure that the objective value of work and products is identified, matters could be remedied in a jiffy.
Since, however, persuasion does not guarantee results − people can ignore the advice of the wisest of men − the appeal to coercion is readily welcome. The conclusion to this effect is highly questionable − indeed, an out and out non-sequitor − admittedly. But as with all questionable hypotheses, the ground from which they stem is usually firm enough. Otherwise generally sensible human beings would never pick up on the broader theory advanced. It helps to recall this when we want to understand why so many people are sympathetic toward socialist/egalitarian political measures and doctrine.
Yet understanding the ground for the sympathy does not lead a rational person to accepting the broader inferences drawn. There is one particularly odious implication that follows from what is inferred from these understandable impressions. Others may be found as well, but this one will pinpoint a clear-cut inconsistency in the broader picture advanced by socialists.
The complaint begins by noting that free people tend at times to overrate the work and products of their fellows. True enough, they do. (There are advocates of the free market who would deny this on grounds that no objective values exist. But this is self-defeating, since they also hold that the free market is of objective value to us.) The suggestion advanced in turn is that we should have a central governing body of people who will make certain that such mistakes do not happen − even if it takes the use of firing squads to accomplish this noble result. Yet if the premise is true—that people make mistakes by over and underrating others' work and products − then the conclusion cannot follow − that people will make certain that such mistakes do not happen. This is because what people will do is tied to what they can do. The body of select people is no less a body of people than the body of people that makes up the free market place!
Here is where the odious implications of the broader picture emerge. We are asked to believe that some people are inherently different from the rest of us. We are told that the select group − the leaders of socialist/egalitarian governments via their schemes of distribution and equalization − is immune from the errors of the rest of us. That the likes of Ralph Nader, Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden, et al., are really inherently better and wiser folk than are we all is what the citizenry is supposed to accept!
The conclusion is interesting. Because starting from a desire for equality − fair pricing, lessening the frequency of over- and underestimation of work, etc. − we are led to the establishment of public policies that grant some people the legalized position of institutionalizing their (elitist) errors. It is this conclusion that is never justified. It is the view that this select group of individuals can and will do better than free people in voluntary association at determining what is good or bad within the realm of production and exchange.
The simple fact is − known since the time of Thomas Aquinas − that we are best off taking the risk with the free market. The "utopian vision" of perfect judgments needs to be abandoned. We should all try to implement the best judgments we can make, at least within our own market activities, and maybe even in cases where our help is asked for or freely accepted.
It is futile to argue that market decisions could not be better than they are. But it is far sillier to hold that institutionalizing the will of some of us can produce a guaranteed utopia. In that path lies disaster − and we are now tasting its beginnings in our own land.
Tibor Machan is a member of The Foundation for the Advancement of Free-Market Thinking (FAFMT) Advisory board and the R. C. Hoiles Professor of Business Ethics & Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman University in Orange, CA.
Posted by bionic mosquito on 01/04/13 11:07 AM
Tibor makes a good point when suggesting that those who would regulate come from the same gene pool from which the failure to regulate sprung forth.
However, I will take one minor exception:
TM: There are advocates of the free market who would deny this on grounds that no objective values exist. But this is self-defeating, since they also hold that the free market is of objective value to us.
BM: All value is subjective, and many of those who hold to this do NOT "hold that the free market is of objective value to us."
Posted by CelticFire69 on 01/03/13 05:52 PM
Good piece, although thanks to the work of people like yourselves I have come to realize that many of the "discrepancies" in market pricing are due to money power manipulation. Without guaranteed monopolies within fields and jurisdictions, subsidies, unlimited credit, etc. a lot of these "money for nothing, chicks for free" crowd would not exist. Keep the faith!
Posted by Just John on 01/03/13 04:33 PM
Mahalo and Amen.
Posted by alaska3636 on 01/03/13 02:24 PM
The way I see it, bureaucrat worship is similar to the white coat effect. Without much analysis, one may be induced to assume that the mark of a profession is a term spent in a particular education or corresponding apprenticeship. Most people believe in their doctor's benevolence and expertise when instructed to get the flu shot, for instance. Without thought, or due diligence, the brain just takes a shortcut based on perceived trust and complies.
I recently read an insightful comment on an uninsightful article about libertarianism (can't remember the source.) The commenter basically pointed out that most people who identify as libertarian tend towards an interest in philosophy and economics or otherwise intellectual endeavors. The comment goes on to state that the reason there exists so little agreement among libertarian-types is that when one thinks for oneself about matters philosophic, there is little in which to believe of others' subjective experiences, without an incredibly powerful and cogent logical argument.
I believe that intellectualism, or skepticism, is itself an anomaly of time-preference as it doesn't necessarily provide for our immediate survival needs. I.e. If everyone was a skeptic about the status-quo (the current means of survival), then as a result, a greater percentage of a population would find a difficult barrier to surviving (and thriving) that goes against our primordial instinct for survival. Stated another way, if we spend our time thinking of how the system is wrong, then we are not spending our scarce time in ways that would ensure fitness within the current system.
I'm not downplaying the need for skeptics as they tend to be appreciated much more by the next generation than the preceding one. It might have been Neil Bohrs who said something to the effect that new ideas are not accepted by the current generation but by the next one to grow up with those ideas.
Makes the socialist control of education a scary thought, but likewise, the increase in home-schooling to be a very optimistic proposition.
Posted by Libertarian Jerry on 01/03/13 12:52 PM
Good article Tibor... ..Socialism,or for that matter any collectivism,is based on many frivilous assumptions and presumptions. But it really boils down to envy and coveting. One of the cornerstones of the socialist dogma is the Income Tax. When confronted with socialists,especially at tax filing time,I often ask them; why it should be anybody's business how much money anybody makes? This question usually leaves them dumbfounded because they don't want to admit that when it comes to a citizen's right to economic privacy that that right doesn't exist. And that the political elites should decide how much of a citizen's wealth should be taken for redistribution. That the elites know better how to "run" a "society" then the average citizen. What the socialists fail to realize is that when it comes down to property rights societies dont't exist. There's you and I,there's him and her but society is an abstraction. In the end there are property rights for individual people but not for something called the society. When you have an abstraction like society raised to a level of predominence then that paves the way for the Hitlers and Stalins to seize power and rule over people. "Ein Volk,Ein Reich,Ein Fuherer. Finally,the only way that the socialists can decide who must pay their "fair share" is with the threat or use of violence. What happens to the people who don't want to or can't afford to pay the elite's taxes? It all comes down to jack boots and gulags. I'm afraid to say it,but America looks like it is headed down that path.
Posted by 1776 on 01/03/13 12:16 PM
The reason this country has a revenue problem is precisely connected with the big government statist spending problem!
The Pork Filled and Expensive Non-Relief Sandy Relief Bill Katie Pavlich News Editor, Townhall Jan 02, 2013
Click to view link
Posted by rossbcan on 01/03/13 11:19 AM
"question the wisdom of various people when they do shell out enormous sums of money"
IF money actually were as it was "a store of productive value", performing the truly neccessary function (for division of labor) of scorekeeping between productive and unproductive, it will be recognized that TRUE money is a measure of LIFE, time and energy applied to achieve productive goals.
And, if you don't own your money / property or, if money is a valueless fraud, it is pointless to invest life in productive endeavors.
If you own YOUR life, you own all fruits thereof, to spend as wisely, or as frivolously as YOU CHOOSE.
Conversely, if YOU choose to impose costs of YOUR choices on others, well, it can only be interpreted as an ATTACK with the inevitable consequence of DEFENCE, an equal and opposite reaction until balance is again restored.
and, our predators induce imbalances and profit by pretending to mitigate them, but, in actual fact replace discredited imbalances with "new, improved" imbalances.
Historically, the "scales of justice" WEIGH "equal right to CHOOSE life, for everyone", something VERY REAL AND MEASURABLE, as opposed to insubstantial OPINIONS.
Posted by dave jr on 01/03/13 11:18 AM
Jeanna: "And, arguments can be made that the million $ boxer, or football quarterback, or rock star is actually benefiting from a monopolistic, government supported system."
True, as currency creation no longer requires wealth production, money becomes 'easy' for those connected and their players. Perhaps, if we had sound money, the entertainment industry would have to scale back.
But at the same time, the arts and entertainment has always accompanied wealth production as it feeds off the froth. Like a canary in a coal mine, if it perishes, it would be a cause for alarm.
Posted by Jeanna on 01/03/13 11:02 AM
The socialist mind set strives for equality through regulated markets. In the very process of regulating the markets they deny the freedom of the markets to work. The very demand for equality diminishes indiviudal capacity and growth. Both stated desires mask their own inability to compete, to produce, and is an expression of their own envy.
Why is it necessary to set a minimum wage? Why is it necessary to define the worth of labor? This process denies the ability of one to hire, and another to compensation for their time and labor.
The hagglers in the markets are determining an acceptable price to both parties; the amount that will enable the producer to recover his costs, his labor, and enough profit to continue to produce; the amount for the buyer that offsets his desire for the product without expending the labor to produce it.
Whatever greater benefit accrues to one of the parties, it was worth it in the eyes of the other, or the transaction would not have occurred.
Where is the fairness and equality in denying one person the ability to price the worth of his time against another's expertise? If everyone's labor is equal, then everyone has to be an expert in all productive efforts.
Who gave the socialist the right to establish price setting equality?
And, arguments can be made that the million $ boxer, or football quarterback, or rock star is actually benefiting from a monopolistic, government supported system.
Posted by dave jr on 01/03/13 10:36 AM
"Now really - what foolishness prompts people to pay that kind of money for such frivolous results or charge so little for the same? And it is not unreasonable, now and then, to question the wisdom of various people when they do shell out enormous sums of money for goods or services while other, quite objectively more worthwhile products (even to them individually) could have been purchased for a more sensible price and some sell something quite worthwhile for but a nominal price."
Here you have uncovered the ground zero of liberty. The freedom of individuals to spend their wealth unwisely. To frivlously pay it forward. If the wealth were real, it would remain as a benefit in the system generally. Unproductive is not a loss, counterproductive is. It is lost when wealth is taken and turned against you. This is what the Marxist/Socialists do. Take your property and beat you with it. And their smiley face mask is creepy.
Posted by rossbcan on 01/03/13 08:57 AM
TM: "Surely these folks are not worth all that money"
Of course, you and I would not voluntarily pay for such dubious "services". "misdirections" and "distractions".
BUT; somebody does for the simple reason "they achieve value, benefit"
A simple "cui bono" and how analysis yields:
This is part of "bread and circuses", keep the marks stupid, satisfied and distracted as you "move in for the kill" and prey upon them.
Threats to the plebe's bread? Watch them howl, en-masse for the heads of the productive, the REAL PREY and, since money is the ability to coerce, prevent the productive from prospering so their values cannot influence society at large.
Well... , every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The productive strike back, as they must, since, the plebes may get small carrots, but, to be productive attracts very large sticks, wielded by predators:
Click to view link
and, one point socialists can NEVER EXPLAIN is why it is "neccessary" that they MUST have far more power and perks than those subject to their personal responsibility (flip side of the coin of freedom) and civilization destroying "help".
just as states can NEVER EXPLAIN how / why it is "neccessary" that ALL but them and their cronies obey the law and how, a population which does not have the legal right to "initiate aggression" can "somehow" democratically transfer this non-existant right to states whom conflate themselves to "we, the people".
Luckily, we do not have to confront them, they are self-destructing by the natural consequences of their own behavior.
Fools such as myself, however, cannot resist the opportunity to "nudge them along":
Click to view link