Nov 20, 2014 - Equality    No Comments

The Naive Argument of Socialists

The United States Constitution guarantees the right of all men to equal justice under law, but propagandists have carried the doctrine beyond equality of rights to equality of things, and “men are heard to proclaim human equality who would revolt at the suggestion that all birds, all fish, all cattle, all dogs or all race horses are equal.” All men are not created equal any more than animals. And even if they are created equal, that creation ends when life begins.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865


The Naïve Argument of Socialists

“Surely it is plain that to vest the legal title of residual ownership in the community has no necessary connection with the beneficial use of the property by the whole community. If it did, there would be no such thing as militarism in armies, as bureaucracy in governing departments, as profiteering by corporate officials and controlling minorities, as favoritism and patronage in the public services, as legalized raids on the public treasuries.

It is because soldiers, who do not own the army, develop special interests of their own that we have the phenomenon of militarism. It is because officials use the government service as a vested interest, though they do not own it, that we have a phenomenon of bureaucracy. It is because corporate officials and financiers and minorities use corporate property for their own benefit, though the residual owners are shareholders, that we have the phenomenon of corporate mismanagement.

None of these evils is presented by the fact that the beneficiaries do not possess the title deeds. The legal title does not even indicate how the property is to be administered for the beneficial advantage of the residual owners. Yet the whole promise of socialism rests on the assumption that property held in trust for others will be administered faithfully and wisely in their highest interest.

Though it is evident from all experience that there is no warrant for this assumption –though it is evident that property held in trust is not necessarily administered in the highest interest of the residual owner — the socialist naively argues that if all property were held in trust for all the people, all property would as a matter of course be administered in the highest interest.

And what is the communist conception of how collective propaganda should be administered? There is a “socialist” formula, declared in the present Russian constitution, which is “from each according to his ability, to each — according to his toil.” But this is regarded officially as a transitional formula to the true communist principle: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” But how are “needs” to be determined?

Since inequality has, on the Marxian premise, provoked all class struggles, the answer must be that the “classless” state will be one in which there is nothing to struggle for. The communists are driven to the notion that only if worldly possessions were “equally” distributed would men cease to struggle for more than their allotted share.

The whole premise of communism — that it can end class war, imperialism, national war, personal aquisitiveness and possessiveness — rests upon two suppositions: that equality of reward can be calculated and administered, and that it will be acceptable. So the correct way to state the communist theory is not that it means to abolish the private ownership of productive capital — that is merely a means to the end — but that it promises to administer productive capital according to the principle of “equal” rewards.

The fulfillment of this promise is of course dependent upon the ability of the rulers of a communist state to define equality in actual practice, to administer the economy by offering equal rewards, and to discourage, suppress, re-educate and if necessary, exterminate those who demand more than an equal reward.

Now it is no easy problem to deduce from the general principle of equal rewards the criteria by which they can be determined. I use the term “rewards” because it is evident the hypothesis could not be satisfied if all incomes derived from useful labor were equal in terms of money. Identical money wages would merely enhance the desirable advantages of inequality in other things.

In an army all private soldiers are paid the same wage, but it makes a vast difference to the soldier whether he is paid for service in the front line trenches or for being the chauffeur for the minister of war. It must be obvious, particularly to the communists who pride themselves on having a realistic appraisal of human selfishness, that only total and absolute equality of reward could, according to their theory, end the struggle for privilege.

The total satisfactions, the real income, measured not only in money, not only in goods, but also in place, power, repute, safety, adventure, interest, relief from monotony, would have to be equally divided that no one would wish to have any other job than the one that is open to him.

But though the communist diagnosis demands it, equality in this sense cannot be defined in theory or arranged in practice. The reason is that equality of reward has only a subjective meaning, whereas wage schedules, occupational requirements, the recruitment of labor, and the selection of managers and officials are objective decisions. The two cannot be reduced to a common denominator.

Thus if money incomes are equal, how shall the pleasure and pain of the effort expended be equalized? How many hours in a coal mine are equal to how many hours in a commissar’s office?”

(The Good Society: An Inquiry Into The Principles of, Walter Lippman, Little, Brown and Company, 1937, pp. 74-77)

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