Socialism Thursday

Bryan Caplan wonders if Communism was nothing more than the largest cargo cult ever.  I’m not quite convinced, not because I think it’s wrong, but because I think it isn’t limited to Communism.  I see it instead, as some of the commenters do, as endemic in the concept of government “planning” in general.  At best, the “planners” chase after simplifications of “what makes a good economy” (Steel!  Cloth!), or more ephemeral concepts (NGDP!).  They do this by necessity because it is impossible to process all of the local, subjective, conjectural, and conditional information which disbursed humans have, and so are utterly incapable of matching the harmony of open, interpersonal transaction.

As a jumping-off point for my next topic, MernaMoose in the comments couldn’t do any better:

“As a true Marxist, Mao genuinely sought to create a class-less society. This is what he was after more than anything else. Whereas Stalin’s purges were largely (or entirely) to insure his own grip on power, Mao was after more than that.

“Mao’s perpetual frustration was the fact that in order to impose a class-free society, he needed an organization to impose it. Because you realize, there has never been a “class-free” society in nature, and there never will be.

“What Mao proved beyond all doubt, is that a class-free society cannot be created even in a lab beaker. Because the organizations he created to impose his beloved class-free condition, inevitably led to a hierarchical structure and ohmyGOD no, we’ve got class distinctions all over again.”

I just got finished reading Eugen Richter’s book Pictures of the Socialistic Future.  It’s a very entertaining novel of a Socialist who finds his dreams of a Socialist Germany consummated, and slowly realizes that it has become a nightmare.  The translation is outstanding and Richter is a prophet.  Richter wrote this while a member of Parliament in Germany.  He regularly asked the Socialist members of Parliament tough questions—who would take out the garbage in a socialistic system?  Where would people live?  How would people exchange goods?  Why would people work at all?—and followed the socialists’ responses to their logical conclusion.

More than 50 years before socialism took over part of Germany, Richter predicted the anti-emigration policy (including murdering people trying to leave the country), the major decrease in productivity, the burdensome deficits, the secret police, and the starvation and wanton pain and suffering caused by a government which has decided it can handle peoples’ lives better than they can.

Richter also points out the contortions to which socialists put themselves when they try to create their classless society.  On the one hand, workers became socialists because they were promised “the fruits of their labors.”  On the other hand, a “fair” society obviously could not pay certain people more than others simply by accident of job position; that would re-create a class society!  Similarly, you can’t allow people to save money because those savings could become capital, which would re-create a class society!  And so on.

Caplan, from whom I first learned about this book (and who wrote the introduction for the current edition), has more.