From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs

3 Apr

It’s a phrase I’ve heard a lot: “We need to change this capitalist system!” Yet no one who tells me that can tell me what replaces it. Or how we replace it. Just that it’s unjust. But we know what happens next; there’s plenty of examples of what replaces it.

Now, I’m going to have real trouble being fair to this viewpoint, mostly because it’s hard to nail down these idealists on what kind of system they’re actually working for. If you could force one of these folks to actually drill down on what they want, they’d probably say “a socialized system, like Europe, where the even poorest are taken care of.” This is said by people who obviously have never seen how the poor live in Europe. They may have gone backpacking, stayed in a youth hostel, and thought… “you know, this ain’t bad. It’s not a private room, but everyone seems happy.” That was their vision of socialism.

Search the word “banlieue.” This is the French public housing neighborhoods, many of them filled up with immigrants from former French colonies in Africa, many of them Muslim. The same activists who tell you that “America is the most racist country on Earth” wouldn’t notice that French people won’t even hire black immigrants, regardless of how many university degrees they hold. So a man with a Master’s in Banking has to flip falafel. (We have the same problem here, except the man has a Master’s in Fine Arts, and he’s white.) That is socialist France.

Okay, maybe they weren’t thinking France, they were thinking Norway. Their public housing is immaculate (well, at least this picture from four years ago is), prisoners can work normal jobs outside before returning to jail in the evening, and they welcome immigrants from all over the world. Sounds perfect, right? Then if it works in Norway, why doesn’t it work in France? First off, a lot less people. There are 5.3 million people in Norway; 65 million in France. Second, Norway has oil, France doesn’t, so there’s a lot more money to be spent per person. And unlike the US, they don’t spend a quarter of their budget on the military.

As an activist-y friend of mine once said, “if we cut the military by a third, we could pay for every social program in America!” He would be right… for a while. The problem with social programs is that costs don’t stay flat. Medicaid, our version of socialized medicine, now costs state governments anywhere from one quarter to one third of their budgets, depending on where you live. If you can depend on high-quality healthcare that you don’t have to pay for, why would you put money into a insurance premium? I certainly haven’t paid a premium in five years and I’m not even on Medicaid! And as anyone will tell you who’s on it, Medicaid isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Okay, maybe the activists don’t mean socialism, they mean communism. After all, if everyone pulls their weight, we can work together and achieve amazing things! Let’s just… walk on past examples of how that doesn’t work, and let’s go to examples where it did. The best example of communism at work is the kibbutz. Israeli pioneers built communal farm communities where there was nothing (except poor Palestinian share-croppers) and built a lush paradise. Working together, everyone gets shares of the kibbutz’s profits, old and young people are taken care of, and they’re prosperous.

It’s the prosperity that eventually defeated communal living. Today, kibbutzim are still there, and the share holders are prosperous, but they have to hire non-citizen Indians and Pinoys to actually run the farms. The kibbutz’s kids… left. Why stay on the farm when there was college to go to, and an exciting city, and so many opportunities other than driving a plow? So just like the US, they imported a brown underclass to do the jobs they didn’t want to do.

The Amana Colonies are the best example of the communal experiment. In 1856, these not-Amish (but they look like them) moved out to Iowa and created seven villages that created one of the most successful true communist communities united by faith. The experiment ended in 1931, where the Great Depression combined with local disasters caused the community to incorporate. The corporation is still there today… but the people aren’t. Most of them left or died out; today, there is only one of their churches remaining, attended mostly by elderly people.

So what’s my point? I’ve given some of the best examples of what activists on the left are asking for… and they fail every time. Capitalism has been around for over two hundred years and it’s still here. It’s not pure capitalism, there’s plenty of government control, but it has lifted more people out of poverty than anything else known to man. “But we still have poor,” you say. Tell that to the Nigerian working class who lives with dirt floor and an open fire to cook on. Our poor have big screen TV’s; our homeless have smartphones. As an Indian national once told me, “in America, the poor are fat.”

So be careful what you ask for, my idealistic friends, you might get it. Of course, I could be just full of crap–what do you think? Am I glossing over some important points? (I am.) Let me know in the comments below! And after you type, check out my books, which are not set in utopias, despite the fact that many of them are set in libertarian worlds. However, if $1.99 is too much to pay, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. You’ll be glad you did.

3 Responses to “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”

  1. fgsjr2015 April 3, 2021 at 2:40 pm #

    Great article!

    I believe there is a middle ground, in between extreme socialism (i.e. Communist iron-fist rule) and extreme capitalism, the latter which, along with increasingly potent corporate lobbyism, is what’s especially occurring in Canada and the U.S. But with the momentum of the growing wealth gap and big business gaining greater advantage over the worker, I don’t see how very much can be realistically changed by the working class and poor, even through a social pendulum shift.

    Unlike a few social/labor revolutions of the past, notably the Bolshevik and French revolutions, it seems to me that contemporary Western world’s virtual corporate rule and superfluously wealthy essentially have the police and military ready to foremost protect big power and money interests, even over the food and shelter needs of the protesting masses. It could be excused as busting heads to ‘maintain law and order’ as top priority, thus the absurdly unjust inequities and inequalities can persist. Meanwhile, whenever a public person simply openly desires an actual livable wage for all, world peace and/or a pristinely green global economy and natural environment, theological fundamentalists immediately react with the presumption that he/she must therefore be Godless and, by extension, evil and/or (far worse) a socialist!

    Those doubting the powerful persuasion of huge business interests need to consider how high-level elected governing officials can become crippled by implicit or explicit corporate threats to transfer or eliminate jobs and capital investment, thus economic stability, all of which is being made even worse by a blaring news-media naturally critical of incumbent governments. Also concerning is that corporate representatives actually write bills for our governing representatives to vote for and have implemented, typically word for word, supposedly to save the elected officials their time. …

    One might recall the memorable words of the morbidly greedy Gordon Gekko character, to his stock-broker protégé Bud Fox (Wall Street, 1987):
    “Now you’re not naive enough to think we’re living in a democracy, are you, Buddy? It’s the free market, and you’re part of it.”

    • albigensia April 4, 2021 at 6:48 am #

      Thank you. You make some valid points.

      • fgsjr2015 April 5, 2021 at 4:23 pm #

        You’re welcome, and thank you.

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