Where Socialism Fails

Here’s George Orwell, from The Road to Wigan Pier:

Indeed, from one point of view, Socialism is such elementary common sense that I am sometimes amazed it has not established itself already. The world is a raft sailing through space with, potentially, plenty of provisions for everybody; the idea that we must all co-operate and see to it that everyone does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of the provisions, seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that nobody could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system.

Orwell is right. If there’s plenty of provisions for everybody, and if everybody does their fair share of the work and gets their fair share of the provisions, then what could be the problem? What decent person wouldn’t want that?


And that’s where the whole project falls apart. On a life raft with two likeminded people on it, the system might work okay. But it just doesn’t scale, and the bigger and more heterogeneous the group, the worse it falls apart. Everybody will not do their fair share of the work, no matter how we define “fair.” Humans fail. Humans succumb to laziness and stupidity. And this goes double when they’re guaranteed no reward for working extra hard or being particularly innovative, and punished with no lack for doing nothing, or wasting precious community resources on a poorly-thought-through experiment. Actual implementations of socialism are famous for that last one, actually.

Second, and perhaps more important—who will “see to it that everyone does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of the provisions”? Who decides? Who has the authority to decide what you, personally, ought to do today? Who decides when you’ve contributed enough, and you can go home? Who decides if you can enjoy a beer after work? What if you want two? Who decides how much food, medical care, housing, etc., you get? What if you want more? What if you don’t like your job and quit? As Alfred P. Doolittle famously observed, those who won’t work don’t eat any less, and they drink a lot more. What about that?

This is where the whole scheme is inevitably totalitarian. In order to have the socialism Orwell so ably describes, we have to enthrone someone to decide. Some magistrate, commissar, board, commission–some Caesar, some human being with pretensions of deity will decide what your “fair share” of the work is, and what your “fair share” of the provisions will be. If the history of socialism has taught us anything at all, it is this: that position will attract the most corrupt, petty, hypocritical, and pretentious martinets in the whole society. They will abuse their positions to fatten themselves and their friends at the expense of the rest of us.

That’s what happens every single time—read a history book!—and every single time, there’s a chorus of eternal optimists who say “they didn’t implement it properly” and want to try again, this time with your health and prosperity at stake. You know what? No, they didn’t implement it properly—and nobody ever will. Human beings are not angels, and power attracts the corruptible.

And so I oppose socialism because Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. God has not delegated to Caesar the right to make these decisions–and we should not render to Caesar what does not belong to him. I oppose socialism because I am a Christian, and so should every Christian worthy of the name.


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