No matter what your philosophical/political beliefs, odds are: you have a desire to increase joy, prosperity, security, etc.
Both Socialists and their detractors, including Libertarians and Free Market Anarchists (hereinafter "Voluntaryists"), see the necessity of creating structures to assist, watchdog, uplift, and protect people. Yep. This may come as a surprise to many: Voluntaryists do see the necessity of various structures built with the purpose of helping people in need and discouraging criminal activity.
The primary difference is that the average Socialist is OK with those structures involving coercion. I realize that is a strong statement. Hear me out. The coercion in question will often be rationalized by "ends justify means" ethics.
The Socialist might say:
In order to progress, we need social structures. It would be great if these structures were to spontaneously develop and be sustainable but not enough humans are generous or thoughtful enough for this to occur organically. In fact, most humans are so selfish and corruptible that they would take advantage of the few who would voluntarily and selflessly contribute to the good of us all.
Therefore, we need an entity (hereinafter "Authority") that has the power to create and enforce rules upon the strong and selfish who would take advantage of the weak and generous. One of the many ways the strong and selfish would take advantage is by capitalizing upon the labor of the weak and generous. This is why our Authority must also control the means of production, to make sure that prices and salaries are fair.
Note: The text above is only a portion of Marxist theory. The intent of this article is to stay as concise and fair as possible. Also: It is understood that not all socialists are Marxists. We are going to generalize a bit in order to make a point. Finally: For most of this article, we can easily swap out "Socialist" for "Statist," as even the right wing, surprisingly to many, advocates for coercive, centralized measures and tends to subscribe to the idea that force is OK if the quest is worthy enough. More: https://ClearSay.net/left_vs_right_illusion.asp.
Here is how a Voluntaryist might respond to each of the above points:
(1) Socialist: "We want structures in place to assist people in times of need."
Voluntaryist: Yes! We do, too!
(2) Socialist: "It would be great if these structures were to spontaneously develop and be sustainable but not enough humans are generous enough for this to occur organically."
(a) Structures do spontaneously develop; people band together to create services that are needed. I'm sure we can all point out many that exist right now, in spite of government. This is especially easier and more likely to occur when not competing with government where funding is forced via taxation. Why would a customer pay for private security when the customer is already paying for police through taxation? Same with education and health care.
(b) The goal is for goods and services to be available. Free markets (when they have existed) have done a great job making a greater variety of things available to wider populations. Examples include automobiles, computers, cell phones, information, and energy. The market does this by finding greater efficiency gains which lead to lower prices. Heck, this very conversation wouldn't be possible if Google hadn't sought and found efficiency gains (e.g., in how they run and cool their data centers). We're also starting to see this in education (e.g., MOOCs).
(c) If you care enough about any of these issues to force people to contribute, then wouldn't you contribute voluntarily if there were no coercive government structure forcing you to contribute? Some would. Some would not. But without the cost and loss of efficiency often incurred by government, the effects of each contribution would be greater in a voluntary society. And to go deeper: contribution that is forced is not true generosity.
(3) Socialist: "... most humans are so selfish and corruptible that they would take advantage of the few who would voluntarily and selflessly contribute to the good of all of us."
Voluntaryist: Yes. People are selfish and corruptible. This is the primary reason Voluntaryists do not advocate for giving people power over others. Think politicians. We believe https://ClearSay.net/law-without-gov.asp can easily be assembled so that we can have safety nets, security, and watchdogs. All based on the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP); basically that there is need for only one rule: IT IS NEVER OK TO INITIATE FORCE. So to be clear: Voluntaryists do not expect people to be angels and, in fact, assume there will be a small percentage of people who ignore rules. You may wonder, "How can that work?" Here are some examples: https://ClearSay.net/law-without-gov.asp.
(4) Socialist: "Therefore, we need an entity (hereinafter 'Authority') that has the strength to create and enforce rules upon the strong and selfish who would take advantage of the weak and generous. One of the many ways the strong and selfish would take advantage is by capitalizing upon the labor of the weak and generous. This is why our Authority must also control the means of production, to make sure that prices and salaries are fair."
(a) As mentioned above, we can have "Law without Government". You can find one example of this in a comprehensive 18 minute animation here: https://ClearSay.net/law-without-gov.asp. Briefly: In the absence of government monopoly on law and law enforcement, the many already existing security and insurance firms (Private Security Organizations or "PSOs") often working with Dispute Resolution Organizations (DROs) will fill the void to provide sources of voluntary protection. In an atmosphere of zero legitimization of initiation of force (Free Market), people will be free to choose among the competing firms. Note, we are distinguishing between "firm" and "corporation". "Corporation" is a government protected entity and no government means no corporations, meaning companies can and will be held fully responsible to their customers by their customers as well as by the various watchdog groups that already exist, as well as the many PSOs they are competing against. Finally, peaceful solutions are typically more cost effective than violent solutions. Remember, cost is not limited to money; reputation matters, especially in this age of instantaneous and wide-spread communication.
But let's explore why the Socialist might justifiably fear any institutions allowed the power to protect, judge, and even punish. Most entities' primary goals include reproduction and growth. So yes, it is conceivable that a PSO might WANT to "take over" by either buying out their competition or even creating an army. What would stop them? There are many factors that virtually guarantee the cost-to-benefit ratio for a PSO to initiate force in a Free Market are so high that it literally would not ever happen. Here is an in-depth conversation on that topic: https://ClearSay.net/without-gov-warlords-would-take-over.asp.
(b) Regarding the need for the Authority to control the means of production so as to make sure prices and salaries are fair. Here it is important to understand a foundation of Socialist economics, which is something called the Labor Theory of Value (LTV). It is simply the belief that a good should be priced in direct relation to the cost of effort and materials (hereinafter "energy") required to produce the thing. So, if a person or company spent a huge amount of energy producing a microwave oven, let's say $1000, then that is what the price must be. Seems only fair, right? Look a little deeper and this theory falls apart. If people are forced to pay whatever cost the manufacturer incurred in production, where is the incentive for the manufacturer to find more efficient ways to produce microwave ovens? More importantly: this theory does not take into account the preferences of the customer. LTV assumes all products have an objective price, which does not take the customer's subjective values and situation into account. Some examples:
- In the desert, one may prefer a cup of water to a diamond.
- No matter how much time you spend producing mud-pies, they are still worthless.
- A fresh bottle of wine gains value simply by aging.
(c) Regarding the need to protect workers from "exploitative capitalists": This idea evades the issue of trade in a Free Market being voluntary. It lacks an explanation of why workers voluntarily choosing to exchange labor for wages is exploitative. A business owner (I've been one for 22 years) must constantly juggle prices and salaries in order to stay viable in the market and especially in a Free Market [which doesn't exist] where you can not lobby government officials for special favors, https://ClearSay.net/why-is-regulatory-capture-important.asp, tax breaks, bailouts, etc. Yes, profit is important but smart employers also want to keep their employees as happy as possible. Unless you have a monopoly on your industry, your employees have more options than just you. Remember that in a typical employee/employer relationship, both sides profit. The employee exchanges their labor and less pay/profit for immediate and consistent pay, little or no investment, and little or no risk. In fact, often times your only investment as an employee is on-the-job training, which costs the employer and can only benefit you, whether you stay or move on to another company.
When you raise the minimum wage, you raise the cost of living. While that increase may not be huge, it will disproportionately hurt those with the least amount of purchasing power, i.e., those making minimum wage. "Why not set a 'bottom' to insure people are not paid something like $5 per hour?" At first glance this sounds great. Look deeper: Wage control takes people who have little or no experience and cuts them out of the market. Few, businesses can afford to bring in a completely inexperienced employee and pay them $8 or $9 per hour.
For more on this topic, I recommend these sources:
- Lessons in Praxeology (study of human action):
Christian Gruber on Communism: "...common ownership breaks down due to an inability to calculate properly for efficient allocation of scarce resources (see Bohm-Bawerk and Mises' critiques of socialist calculation). But, the goals of communism aren't [necessarily] statist - it's just that most communist experiments have attempted to wield the state as a way of representing the idea of common ownership through a central institution."
This article was first written by me on my NVC, Voluntaryism, Parenting, and Unschooling resource site here: