Did I ever tell you the definition of “insanity?”
This phrase leads into one of my all time favorite monologues by a clearly insane villain, not just because it’s so well delivered, but because what the villain proceeds to say is absolutely true. The gist of the villain’s explanation of “insanity” is the same as Einstein’s definition; trying the same failed method over and over again and expecting different results.
This monologue pops up in my head immediately whenever I see someone suggest that America should adopt socialism as its primary economic and governmental system. They suggest this despite the fact that socialism has failed repeatedly, and has resulted in some of the worst living conditions and human rights violations this planet has had to endure.
But despite its obvious failures, the Washington Post played host to columnist Elizabeth Bruenig, who has suggested this very thing in an article titled “It’s time to give socialism a try”:
In the United States, we’ve arrived at a pair of mutually exclusive convictions: that liberal, capitalist democracies are guaranteed by their nature to succeed and that in our Trumpist moment they seem to be failing in deeply unsettling ways. For liberals — and by this I mean inheritors of the long liberal tradition, not specifically those who might also be called progressives — efforts to square these two notions have typically combined expressions of high anxiety with reassurances that, if we only have the right attitude, everything will set itself aright.
Hanging on and hoping for the best is certainly one approach to rescuing the best of liberalism from its discontents, but my answer is admittedly more ambitious: It’s time to give socialism a try.
As Ed Morrisey points out at Hot Air in an excellent deconstruction of the article, Bruenig goes on to say that capitalism “encourages and requires fierce individualism, self-interested disregard for the other, and resentment of arrangements into which one deposits more than he or she withdraws,” yet offers no explanation as to how this is true. Bruenig just has a feeling that this is the kind of environment capitalism causes, and therefore that’s the way it is.
But Bruenig is correct in wording, but maybe not in feeling, in regard to capitalism’s encouragement of a “fierce individualism.” Individualism is the vehicle by which we arrive at improvement, but the road we take to get to improvement in a capitalist society is potentially endless, and the turns we take potentially limitless. The ability to create, own, and profit from an idea in an capitalistic society has created the Gates, the Jobs, and the Musks of the world, and those are just recent examples of capitalism’s ability to improve everything.
Meanwhile, socialism’s road to improvement is frankly limited. You can only go so far, and as many countries who have adopted socialism have proven, that road gets shorter and shorter the longer the socialist system is utilized. Oftentimes, the individual is limited by the government in what he can own or profit. There is no expansion or change in business or invention, and what’s left is stagnation that, true to socialism’s promise, is shared by all the people.
That is, except those who reign over the government.
Examples of socialism’s total failures were pointed out by Morrisey clearly, and if you want to see those examples I highly recommend you read his. I will forego the list, as I feel like that list has been given ad nauseum to no great effect for those who wish to have socialism. Still, that knowledge should be known, and I suggest you give Morrisey’s article a read.
But I want to focus not on examples of how socialism didn’t work, but on why it didn’t, and the answer is deceptively simple.
It all falls back on the individualism discussed earlier. Bruenig makes the mistake of believing that this individualism is created by capitalism, but the truth of the matter is that this individualism is inherent in humans before capitalism even touched the instincts that drive it. Furthermore, Bruenig makes the mistake in believing that individualism means pure concern for the self.
The individualist drive that comes stock with all human minds often drives our need for self-improvement. That is true. However my individualism also serves as my need to keep my family healthy, happy, and if possible, living in luxury. That selfish drive is often used to improve the lives of those around the individual, not just the individual.
It’s our goal to become wealthier because through wealth we can achieve better safety, better food, more property, and better conditions for our offspring. It’s through this need to improve standing and living conditions for ourselves and our family or tribe that has driven men and women to create better products that sell. These products, which are then sold for a profit, improve the lives of everyone outside the family or tribe as well, and the profit reward for the seller allows the improvement of the inner family or tribe.
Thus the iPhone, the washing machine, and the My Pillow.
Socialism runs afoul of this instinct for improvement and expansion. It limits the individual to government approved standards, which the human instinct cannot tolerate, at least not for long. At some point, someone is going to want more, and they will do what’s necessary to improve their standing. In a socialist environment, this can take many forms, but rarely are they good, and it oftentimes requires doing something illegal.
But the underlying problem is that humanity and socialism just don’t mix. Socialism requires a complete selflessness and a perfection in execution by the people under it. This is impossible with a fallible human race. Even then, it still doesn’t account for environmental or market changes that may throw the entire system into the gutter just as Venezuela’s oil problem showed us.
Socialism just can’t happen for the human species, and suggesting it be adopted after this has been proven continuously throughout its history elicits a question.