First, the concept is broad, and many different, and sometimes directly opposing ideals can be termed socialism. Let’s use Angelo S. Rappoport’s in his Dictionary of Socialism (1924) findings: common elements of socialism include: general criticisms of the social effects of private ownership and control of capital – as being the cause of poverty, low wages, unemployment, economic and social inequality, and a lack of economic security; a general view that the solution to these problems is a form of collective control over the means of production, distribution and exchange (the degree and means of control vary amongst socialist movements); agreement that the outcome of this collective control should be a society based upon social justice, including social equality, economic protection of people, and should provide a more satisfying life for most people.
So, simply put, a central government (collective control) needs to reallocate wealth, so that everyone receives a fair share. No one goes hungry, all have adequate housing and health care, and everyone is happy, happy, happy. The desire for a social state bubbles up when a society has become too lopsided. When a few have too much power and goods, it leaves the masses with little to lose by revolting. The leaders of the masses take over, and institute the happy, happy, happy. Slowly the workers see that the leaders are getting richer, while they are working harder and getting less. As it takes over more and more aspects of the economy, the giant central command grows sluggish, unable to react to changing needs and market forces.
This is actually works for a while, especially in societies that are unaccustomed to personal liberty. It also does best in societies with a strong cultural work ethic, because a lack of incentive to work is where it all starts to fall apart. Example: Joe, Bob and Nancy make widgets at the State factory, even though there’s already too many widgets. Bob gets an owie on his left pinky, and so he doesn’t need to work anymore.
Joe lives next door to Bob and sees that Bob lives in a similar house, he can smell Bob’s steaks on the grill and hears the VROOM of Bob’s car. Joe has to walk to work, because there’s a shortage of cars right now, and he’s not been determined to be needy. Joe decides he’s got an owie too, can’t work, and applies for assistance. Now Nancy has to work harder at the widget factory, because her quota went up without production from Bob and Joe. Pretty soon, Nancy’s left pinky starts to feel sore. Nobody needs widgets anyway, she figures.
Let’s look at it another way. I like ice cream. When I get my paycheck on Friday, I want to go spend part of it on a delicious scoop plopped on a sugar cone. While licking the rivulets melting onto my fingers, I notice a wide-eyed and shabbily dressed little kid eying my confection. I buy the kid a cone, and my enjoyment is increased, as I watch him enjoy it.
Next Friday, there’s three hungry kids. The Friday after that, there’s six, and they all want theirs dipped in chocolate, like mine. So the next week, I borrow some money, and the twelve of us have double scoop cones dipped in chocolate and rolled in freshly roasted pistachios. It’s all great fun, but I’m starting to get annoyed when the kids get dropped off by parents driving better cars than mine. And I don’t bother going after that promotion at work, because I’ll have to work even longer hours, while a larger percentage of my pay is going for the insatiable demand for ice cream.
You see, it is basic human nature that keeps the great social experiment from working for too long. People will work to better their own living conditions, present or future, and for the betterment of their loved ones and descendants. This is probably an inescapable evolutionary trait. After all, the Neanderthal couple that hunted and gathered to feed their twelve children have more descendants than the Neanderthal couple that took half of the goodies to the needy village miles away.
Behaviorists will tell you that the larger and more immediate the reward, the higher the motivation. Thus, there is a powerful incentive to work, using one’s full talents and energy for the benefit of one’s own. But, the extent to which an individual will voluntarily work for the greater society is much more limited, leading to an ever more controlling central power, in order force the unwilling to do the tasks necessary to keep it all afloat.
©Copyright Tracey Wood 2013 All Rights Reserved