The Intellectual Cover for Socialism


I think not
#1
by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

Compared with life in Western countries, where the socialist sector is sizable, life under total socialism is miserable.

The standard of living is so deplorable that, in 1961, the socialist East German government built a system of walls, barbed wire, electrified fences, minefields, automatic shooting devices, watchtowers, watchdogs, and watchmen, almost 900 miles long, to keep people from running away from socialism.

The empirical evidence shows that socialism is an obvious failure. And the cause of socialism's failure is crystal clear: there is almost no private ownership of the means of production, and almost all factors of production are owned in common in precisely the same way that Americans own the Postal Service.

Why, then, do seemingly serious people still advocate socialism? And why are there still thousands of social scientists who want to put more and more factors of production under social instead of private control?

For one thing, of course, some socialists might simply be evil. They might have nothing against misery, especially if it is only misery for others, and they are in charge of administering it while living very well indeed.

But I am interested in those who advocate socialism because it is allegedly more "value-productive" than capitalism. They claim that the evidence showing otherwise, as in East Germany, is beside the point, or perhaps merely accidental.

But how can anyone deny that the East German or Russian experience is decisive evidence against socialism? How can people get away with promoting the absurd view that the evidence against socialism is merely fortuitous?

The answer lies in the respectable-sounding philosophy of empiricism. It is empiricism that shields socialism from refutation by its own failure, and gives socialism whatever credibility it still has.

That's why the Misesian critique of socialism attacks both socialism and empiricism. It explains that there is a necessary connection between socialism and lower living standards; the Russian experience is no accident; and the empiricist' attempt to make it appear an accident is founded on intellectual error.

Empiricism is based on two fundamental assumptions: first, one cannot know anything about reality with certainty, apriori; and, second, an experience can never prove definitively that a relationship between two or more events does or does not exist.

Using those two assumptions as the starting point, it is easy to dismiss empirical refutations of socialism.

The empiricist-socialist does not deny the facts. In fact, he will (reluctantly) admit that living standards are deplorable in Russia and Eastern Europe. But he claims that this experience does not constitute a case against socialism.

Instead, he says, the miserable conditions are a result of some neglected and uncontrolled circumstances that will be taken care of in the future, after which, everyone will see that socialism means higher living standards.

With empiricism, even the striking differences between East and West Germany can thus be explained away. The empiricist says, for example, that it's because West Germany got Marshall Plan aid while East Germany had to pay reparations to the Soviet Union; or because East Germany encompassed Germany's less developed, rural provinces; or that the mentality of serfdom wasn't discarded in the East until much later; and so on.

Not even the most perfectly controlled experiment can change this predicament, because it is impossible to control every variable that may conceivably influence the variable we want to explain. We don't even know all the variables making up the universe, which renders all questions permanently open to newly discovered experiences.

According to empiricism, there is no way that we can rule out any event as being a possible cause of something else. Even the most absurd things-provided they have taken place earlier in time-can be possible causes. Thus there is no end to the number of excuses.

The empiricist-socialist can dismiss any charge brought against socialism so long as it is based only on empirical evidence. He can claim that since we cannot know what the results of socialist policies will be in the future, we have to try them out and let experience speak for itself. And no matter how bad the results may be, the empiricist-socialist can always rescue himself by blaming some heretofore neglected, more or less plausible, variable. He makes a newly revised hypothesis, and it is supposed to be tested indefinitely.

The empiricist says that experience can tell him that a particular socialist policy scheme did not reach the goal of producing more wealth. But it can never tell him if a slightly different one will produce better results. Nor will experience tell him that it is impossible to improve the producion of goods and services, or raise living standards, through any socialist policy at all.

Now we see just how dogmatic the empiricist philosophy actually is. In spite of its alleged openness and its appeal to experience, empiricism is an intellectual tool that completely immunizes one from criticism and experience. It is the perfect intellectually dishonest means for shielding socialism from the glaring truth of its own failure.

Misesian economics shows that socialism fails because it violates the irrefutable laws of economics-among them the law of exchange, the law of diminishing marginal utility, the Ricardian law of association, the law of price controls, and the quantity theory of money-which can be deduced from the axiom of action by means of applied logic. And thus we can know-beforehand and absolutely-what the consequences of socialism will be wherever it is tried.

If we want to attack socialism, we must also attack the absurd intellectual error of empiricism. And if we want to defeat socialism, we must make a principled Misesian case based on the logic of human action and the irrefutable laws of economics.
 
Jay
#2
"The empiricist says, for example, that it's because West Germany got Marshall Plan aid while East Germany had to pay reparations to the Soviet Union;"



And where did that Marshall Plan money come from? Well it sure wasn't from some silly socialist state, that's for sure.
 
tracy
#3
Does anyone really advocate a truly socialist state anymore? I think people just vary in the degree of capitalism they approve of. I mean, even the US has some programs that would be called socialist by some, like social security. That's just wealth redistribution, but even Bush isn't gonna try to get rid of it.
 
Jay
#4
I think there are plenty of Canadians who advocate a "truly socialist state" and they look at the attempts to privatize healthcare as a threat to the end they wish to create.

Even people on this site have called for the nationalization of the oil industry....
 
Dexter Sinister
#5
Quote: Originally Posted by I think not

The empirical evidence shows that socialism is an obvious failure. And the cause of socialism's failure is crystal clear: there is almost no private ownership of the means of production, and almost all factors of production are owned in common in precisely the same way that Americans own the Postal Service.

Hoppe can be pretty heavy going and I can't pretend I really understand a lot of what he says; definitely not a light read for the bathroom or bedtime. I think what that text cited above means is that socialism doesn't work essentially because it's contrary to human nature. If nothing you can do will improve your lot in life, there's no point in trying to be efficient, effective, hard-working, or anything else. You'll never get richer. The failures of totalitarian socialism in the 20th century are pretty obvious. China seems to be doing quite nicely these days though, so it's a bit of a stretch to say categorically that the empirical evidence shows socialism to be an obvious failure. It's not, not in every case, not even in the few remaining totalitarian instances of it. At least not yet. And the record of totalitarian capitalism is no better.

On the other hand, to say that socialism means communal ownership of all or most of the means of production is merely one pole on a pretty broad spectrum of what used to be called mixed economies. Maybe they still are, it's been a few decades since I studied economic theory seriously. Thus, to dismiss all forms of it as if only that one pole is under discussion is a little disingenuous.
 
#juan
#6
On the other hand,

I think capitalism is quite a bit more palatable with the addition of selected social safety nets. There isn't a modern capitalist country in the world that doesn't have them. In a country like China, socialism is probably the only system that would work. China is now adapting a few capitalist ideas so it looks like some happy medium is where the ideal lies.
 
tracy
#7
Quote: Originally Posted by Jay

I think there are plenty of Canadians who advocate a "truly socialist state" and they look at the attempts to privatize healthcare as a threat to the end they wish to create.

Even people on this site have called for the nationalization of the oil industry....

In all fairness, I am completely opposed to healthcare privatization too but it isn't because I want a socialist state. It's because I've seen how ineffective and wasteful and unfair private healthcare is. I don't see it as a threat to a socialist state, I see it as a threat to the health of our people.

I've really never met anyone who wants us to become the Soviet Union in our politics.
 
Jersay
#8
I oppose privitization because the only people who truly suceed at it are middle and upper class people.

Socialism was to create equality between the classes right, while capitalism divides, that why I fundamentally would like some form of socialist state.
 
missile
#9
We had our own oil company for many years [petro canada] and one of our less intelligent governments sold it!
 
Jay
#10
Quote: Originally Posted by tracy

I've really never met anyone who wants us to become the Soviet Union in our politics.

Quote: Originally Posted by Jersay

that why I fundamentally would like some form of socialist state.

Tracy, allow me to introduce you to Jersay. Tracy, Jersay. Jersay, Tracy.


 
the caracal kid
#11
Quote: Originally Posted by Jay

I think there are plenty of Canadians who advocate a "truly socialist state" and they look at the attempts to privatize healthcare as a threat to the end they wish to create.

Even people on this site have called for the nationalization of the oil industry....

well, pure socialism is a failure, but only as great a failure as pure capitlaism.

a post-consumism economics is very viable once people learn to be more than dumb meat-robots.

as for oil, i am the complete opposite. i am for an end to government subsidization of the oil industry altogether. Funny how those against social consciousness ofte are also so supportive of corporate-welfare.
 
ElPolaco
#12
Quote: Originally Posted by Jay

I think there are plenty of Canadians who advocate a "truly socialist state" and they look at the attempts to privatize healthcare as a threat to the end they wish to create.

Even people on this site have called for the nationalization of the oil industry....

I think the current privatization of health care is a threat to the lives and well being of most folks I know. Of course I'm just trailer trash so you know the types I know.
 
Jay
#13
Perhaps you can expand on that....

Do you think there will be no coverage for them?
 
Alberta'sfinest
#14
Russia was collectivized, and it was communism, lacking all democratic process, and it failed because although they all had equal rights, equal opportunities are impossible to gaurentee.
I believe in a mixed economy. I believe that the key to perfecting the balance between social responsibility and capitalistism is that most industries should be private, and only those with gaurenteed profit margins should be public. This means that Healthcare, resources, pharmacare, insurance, etc, should be publicly run, or heavily regulated.

The reason is simple. People are going to get sick, it's not their choice or fault in most cases, but they need medical attention. Hospitals have a gaurenteed market, and no matter what the price is, patients will either pay it or pay with their lives. Also, having a fit and healthy society provides us with a better workforce with less sick days, and a better output rate. Healthy people, both body and mind are better for society. Now, we can have private or a public system in place, but any private system should be heavily regulated, should never compromise care, and should be paid for by the government for necessary services for those who can't afford them. Here in Alberta we actually do have health insurance, it's public, and it's about $300 per year for an adult, and it's nothing if you don't make enough. I don't make enough, and this was because of my health problems, and if I was living in the states, I'd be homeless and would most likely have resorted to crime. Instead, that social net is assisting me with dealing with my bipolar condition, and I'm working on recovering, with a focus on going to the U of A this fall to start my degree in business, and I will eventually get my doctorate in business philosophy. Another option i'm considering is to become a psychologist, as from dealing with my own condition I've learned methods of coping and prevention of my own illness. To me, these options sure beat the hell out of being homeless, and I'll be able to repay my debt to society ten fold. If I hadn't gotten into this free program, it's most likely I would have ended my life and contributed nothing. Empathy is a strength, not a weakness.

I'm a rather smart man, my mom says i'm too smart for my own good,lol, but this is true actually. The reason why I get depressed and manic is due to the speed of my thought process. I'm what some would call a natural brainstormer, when I focus on bad things though, I brainstorm negativity. I get trapped in a tail spin of negative thoughts perpetuating negative thoughts. I get manic when I start doing the same thing but with amazing, sometimes fantastic thoughts, to the point where the thoughts blurr as their passing so quickly that I can't even make sentences or speak without it being a combination of two or more thoughts, and all communication is lost, then the negativity starts to take over.
I created a few little sayings to repeat in my head if I get depressed. There are no problems, only solutions waiting to be implimented.
When I start to get manic." I can run a mile in my head, but unless I put one foot in front of the other, I'll end up on my face."
My theory is that mental illnesses is a matter of gifts turning to burdens. How many people do you think would be dead in the streets if we were all given cars, but never taught how to drive?

Sorry for going off topic, but I did it to illustrate that it's not a bunch of people that just want to leach off everyone else, but that society is helping people that wish to give back, despite the few bad apples which get way more attention than success stories. It's not really too suprising really since media companies are owned by extremely wealthy individuals that don't require these services, and figure others shouldn't either.

Conclusion, Social services strengthen our community by helping people become active members of it.
 
tracy
#15
Alberta's finest, there are programs for the needy with health problems in the United States as well. We don't just throw those people out of the hospital to die because they don't make good money. They are guaranteed necessary treatment regardless of their ability to pay and many poorer Americans are covered by state or federal programs (here it's Medical). Social security is also there to help those with disabilities. There are plenty of holes in the system, but that's no different than in Canada. In Canada some people have to be hospitalized if they want to get quick mental health services.

I think this is one of the worst misconceptions about America.
 
Lifestream
#16
What's the problem with mixed healthcare? There are some private schools, why not "some" private clinics/hospitals?

Perhaps we have a false dilemma on our hands here?
 
Jay
#17
Quote: Originally Posted by Lifestream

Perhaps we have a false dilemma on our hands here?

You mean like, creating a federal bureaucracy out of a problem that doesn't really exist, under the guise of helping the working poor? Naw......couldn't be.
 
FiveParadox
#18
Mixed health care is not a problem in my opinion, so long as the increased cost of private care is not downloaded on the citizen; if the Government must begin to co-operate with private care providers, then they should pay for private care just as they would public, if the public system is inadequate in their particular case; it should not in my opinion, however, be used by "default."

Edit Added the word "not" to the last sentence.
 
tracy
#19
Quote: Originally Posted by Lifestream

What's the problem with mixed healthcare? There are some private schools, why not "some" private clinics/hospitals?

Perhaps we have a false dilemma on our hands here?

Look at the UK system and that would be my answer.

Private hospitals/clinics will only take the easy, money making surgeries. They get to keep the profits that would normally be reinvested in care. They will leave public facilities with everything unprofitable resulting in even less funding for public healthcare. Profit motives in health care are bad anyways imo. The hospital should not have making money off of its patients as its first goal.
 
I think not
#20
The author speaks of a pure socialist system. Many posters have suggested a middle of the road approach, my question would be, how much middle of the road do we go? How about an example of a successful middle of the road country? In other words when does socialism become too much?
 
Jay
#21
Quote: Originally Posted by tracy

Quote: Originally Posted by Lifestream

What's the problem with mixed healthcare? There are some private schools, why not "some" private clinics/hospitals?

Perhaps we have a false dilemma on our hands here?

Look at the UK system and that would be my answer.

Private hospitals/clinics will only take the easy, money making surgeries. They get to keep the profits that would normally be reinvested in care. They will leave public facilities with everything unprofitable resulting in even less funding for public healthcare.

Couldn't we solve that issue by having the government subsidize personal insurance payments? IE if you meet a certain criteria the government picks up a portion of your insurance payment?
 
Jo Canadian
#22
Quote: Originally Posted by I think not

How about an example of a successful middle of the road country? In other words when does socialism become too much?

I think you've found the underlying question that has plagued humankind since we got into groups to pick lice off of our backs...The same can be said for when does capitalism become too much, or some other ism. Many countries have been attempting to achieve that balance by varying several different degrees left, right, up and down. I don't think we've really discovered the perfect utopian ism yet, which makes neither the left or the right wrong in what they're doing.

....And so the great Experiment continues...
 
I think not
#23
Quote: Originally Posted by Jo Canadian

I think you've found the underlying question that has plagued humankind since we got into groups to pick lice off of our backs...The same can be said for when does capitalism become too much, or some other ism. Many countries have been attempting to achieve that balance by varying several different degrees left, right, up and down. I don't think we've really discovered the perfect utopian ism yet, which makes neither the left or the right wrong in what they're doing.

....And so the great Experiment continues...

Great Jo, that was one of the reasons why I posted this article. I don't believe humankind has found the utopian ism as you say. I think at some point it will become evident that a mixture of a few isms would make a great formula.

I personally believe free market is as best as we can get for now. I don't buy this rich getting richer and poor getting poorer. There are less people in poverty today as a percent of overall population than any time in history.

Having said that, I'm a firm believer that basic human necessities, such as water, power, education, health should have the government involved, not take over, keep these sectors in check, so to speak, regulated. I also believe corporations need greater regulation without choking productivity.
 
Jersay
#24
Middle of the road socialism, I believe would be the Northern European countries of Sweden, Norway, Finland.

Sweden, 66% fo their budget goes on social programs. And they have the most females in the world in parliment.

So as a progressive, socialist system I think the Nordic countries.
 
I think not
#25
I've posted a thread on sweden, I suggest you read it, carefully, several times.
 
Jersay
#26
Seems good to me.

quasi socialist, quasi-capitalist.
 
I think not
#27
Read it again
 
Jersay
#28
Seems like it is coming undone.

That's a shame.
 
the caracal kid
#29
ITN,

agreed.

the utopianism is impossible so long as there are individual differences. the ultimate solution is a dynamic range that allows for and accounts for the differences between individuals and balances that with the ideals of the society. I am for a very proactive social system to help people, and help them early before problems become too entrenched because people are "creatures of habit". Investing in people is investing in the future of the society. The interim approach until the "piggies" are ready to progress beyond hunter-gatherer meat-robots is a government that invests heavily in its people, while taking a business-model approach to it. Universities can be the engines of economic evolution. The government invests, and gains back by having part ownership in the results of the research and development. for example. Most importantly of all though is that the individual be respected as such and thus always given freedom of choices within the society itself.
 
Jay
#30
Quote: Originally Posted by I think not

In other words when does socialism become too much?

You could argue that there was a time and place for Ontario Hydro as it is part of infrastructure, something not out of the ordinary for governments to be involved in. Even after the privatization of Ontario Hydro the government has been subsidizing electricity to the tune of 50%. Is this a good thing?

I say that the current subsidizing of electricity usage is undermining the markets ability to produce new technologies in this field that the consumer could take advantage of. If we were paying the real cost of electricity generation, we could find value in purchasing solar etc; we could even see return on our money. At the moment there is no pressure to do so and part of the benefits of a free market are being missed. So socialism can have a tendency to hamper productivity and innovation.
 

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