Stamatakis: Don’t criticize socialism with unproductive ranting, instead examine economic effects

By Nick Stamatakis

There’s a song I’ve been hearing a lot recently.

It’s called “I’m a Socialist,”… There’s a song I’ve been hearing a lot recently.

It’s called “I’m a Socialist,” and many well-intentioned college students sing it.

It isn’t hard to see why the song is so catchy. The poorest shouldn’t starve while the rich enjoy fancy things. Spread the wealth around and we will have a nicely-functioning country where everybody has a chance.

It’s a pleasant song, but it’s wrong. Yet the typical rebuttal tune that refutes “I’m a Socialist” is downright obnoxious.

It is a gnashing, death metal dump of anger. It begins with tirades against stupid, lazy or entitled kids failing to take personal responsibility. Then comes screams about liberty and rights. You give a homeless person a doughnut, and soon he will ride off with your wife and a fattened ox. Accusations of class warfare abound.

This rebuttal has had very little impact on changing opinions. Most college-aged adults now hold more positive views toward socialism than capitalism, according to the Pew Research Center. Yelling about rights and class wars hasn’t changed things.

This is because very few people have actual distaste toward the rich. College campuses are not breeding grounds for revolutionaries — you’d be hard-pressed to find a poster of Lenin on a dorm wall. Very few want a revolution. They just want the rich to pay more and don’t think that will lead to a weaker economy.

It satisfies a key truth for many: that fair is better than not fair. This key appeal to socialism is not addressed at all by the blathering.

So to all the defenders of capitalism, it is time we recognize that this concern must be directly addressed. Stop making the socialism/capitalism debate about rights and your ability to be greedy. Also, stop trying to say that making the rich pay five cents more on the dollar will cause them to shut down their factories and shops, leading to depression, regardless of how true these concerns are. After all, we don’t need to say these things to criticize socialism. All we need to criticize is how socialism distorts the natural economy with unexpected side effects.

If that line doesn’t have enough kick, socialism fails because when you introduce rabbits to the Australian outback, they might end up causing massive soil erosion.

If that analogy was unfamiliar to you, socialism fails because a central political authority will mess up if tasked with deciding where money goes in a system as complicated as the U.S. economy.

The country is just too big to understand. A CEO or mayor can sometimes centrally plan — their systems have fewer players and more unified goals. But in an economy with billions of transactions a day, involving occupations ranging from priest to gondolier, there are too many interactions to manage. Interventions have the possibility of drastic, second-hand side effects that in the long run make everybody less happy and often less equal.

Consider two of the most socialist programs in the country today, Social Security and Medicare. Both represent mild forms of socialism; while not radical in their redistribution, they are both cases of the young, according to their abilities, transferring to the elderly, according to their needs.

To the blathering capitalism defenders, this has not led us to a society of lazy elderly people. Ezra from Bethesda and Mabel from Mobile are actually more likely to be working today than in the 1960s, when these programs really started revving up. Plus, Social Security has led to a dramatic decrease in senior citizen poverty rates.

But despite all these positives, this is not a victory for socialist thinking. New work by economists Evans, Kotlikoff, and Phillips suggests these programs have dramatically lowered the savings rate of the young. It makes sense: in your thirties, there is less urgency to save with these programs for your seventies.

This is the kind of unexpected side effect that socialism causes, one that has deeply impacted today’s world. This saving drop since the 1960s led to a drop in national saving, which equated to a fivefold drop in domestic investment over the same period.

The “So what?” of this is that domestic investment leads to real productivity growth, which leads to increasing real wages. A perfectly decent social program may be partially to blame for the stagnation of your incomes — an effect felt more deeply by the working class, who rely on wages rather than investments for income. Social Security may increase income inequalities.

Look at what is not mentioned: Nobody suddenly became lazy, nobody took your guns away, and nobody took away your freedom. Instead, a large government program with good intentions may have lead to far worse side effects on the other side.

This song is certainly more nuanced than blathering about rights, but that is the real reason why “I’m a Socialist” is a flawed tune, and one that actually addresses legitimate concerns without calling anybody a stupid, ignorant fool.