There is absolutely no way to be a socialist or communist and accept scarcity as a true factor of existence. This simple truth is the reason why socialists and communists are so purposefully ignorant of anything in the realm of economics. And if you attempt to explain even the most basic of economic theories to them that work in opposition to what they want to be true, they will attempt to shame you into submission with buzzwords like “capitalist pig”, “racists”, or any other pejorative term they deem worthy enough of slandering you with. I think before I attempt a refutation of socialism, I want to demonstrate what a solid argument is. This is because most socialists I talk to seem incapable of even connecting the most basic of economic ideas and instead let baseless declarative statements rule the arguments that spill forth from their babbling mouths. Understand (and we will revisit this later) that this either conscious or subconscious denial of scarcity is what makes socialism an ideology of fools.
Sound Argumentation and the Logical Pitfalls of Socialists:
Let us first understand what constitutes a sound a argument. In order to even do this, we need to understand some clear terms in regards to logic. An argument is composed of a series of propositions. A proposition is “a statement in which something is affirmed or denied of something else”. 1 There are also “terms” within the proposition. “Cats” in “Cats are mammals” is a term along with “mammals”. Terms can be complex as well. An example of a complex term could be “Only artists who paint realistically” in the proposition “Only artists who paint realistically are true artists.” 2 When we connect two propositions with a verb, we have what is called the “categorical proposition”. This means we have a subject (something about which something is affirmed or denied) and the predicate (that which is affirmed or denied about the subject). Some examples of categorical propositions are:
- Economics is the study of human action.
- Socialism is incapable of economic calculation.
- Cats are mammals.
- All humans engage in purposeful behavior.
As one can see, even the simple beginnings of a solid argument are highly dependent on clear and concise terms. And this fact is what makes much of the socialist position pure garbage since most leftists seem averse to clear and concise terms themselves. This only means that most socialist “arguments” end up being word salads that, at the end of the day, are littered with special pleading logical fallacies, motte and bailey, and non sequitur propositions. Special pleading is demanding a certain standard in evidence for you opposition but not demanding the same level of evidence in your own and not offering a reasonable reason as to why. It’s essentially unreasonably applying logical rules to your ideological opponent while not having to adhere to these rules yourself and having no real reason as to why this is. Motte and bailey is the act of first presenting a completely indefensible but desirable position (the bailey) and retreating to a more reasonable and easily defensible position after being pressed (the motte). The “motte” position is generally less controversial than the “bailey” position, so this fallacy is essentially a bait and switch. An example of this fallacy is as follows:
The feminists who constantly argue about whether you can be a real feminist or not without believing in X, Y and Z and wanting to empower women in some very specific way, and who demand everybody support controversial policies like affirmative action or affirmative consent laws (bailey). Then when someone says they don’t really like feminism very much, they object “But feminism is just the belief that women are people!” (motte) Then once the person hastily retreats and promises he definitely didn’t mean women aren’t people, the feminists get back to demanding everyone support affirmative action because feminism, or arguing about whether you can be a feminist and wear lipstick. 3
Finally, a non sequitur is when “a statement… …is not connected in a logical or clear way to anything said before it” 4 An example of a non-sequitur would be, “People like campfires. Campfires have fire. People like to be on fire.” Obviously, such a series of propositions does not logically follow. But socialists make these kinds of arguments all the time. An example would be, “We have a pseudo capitalist economy. The economy crashed in 2008. Therefore, capitalism caused the 2008 financial crisis.” In the same way the campfire example does not logically follow, neither does this very typical leftist position on the 2008 recession.
This is all too typical of socialists though. Again, they hate clear terms and they thrive on logical fallacies. Since their arguments lack clear and concise terms (terms they refuse to define), anytime socialism goes wrong (like in Venezuela for example) it is not real socialism but “state capitalism” (they seem to ignore the fact that the definition for both terms is remarkably similar or that they were excited about Venezuela to begin with 5). Any argument a dissenter brings up becomes a strawman because we don’t understand socialism or their views. The problem is when you genuinely ask to understand it, they give you more vague buzzwords and logical fallacies. This makes conversing with socialists in argumentation almost impossible. And this is not because of any merit their position has but because of the purposeful obtuseness of it.
Scarcity is Real:
We need to next understand scarcity. Recently I was chatting with someone about this idea. They had presented a meme of a tribesman who says, “Nature gives us everything for free. Nature doesn’t charge us any money. All nature asks of us is that we protect it.” This is fallacious for a number of reasons. Nature does charge because an economic actor has to pay with labor in order to transform things from raw resources into useful consumable goods. Even a blow gun or bow for this tribesman requires the payment of energy, labor, and time. Money is just a modern and more efficient method for representing labor, time, and other scarce goods (sound money that is, fiat dollars less so). If nature did make things “Free”, scarcity wouldn’t exist and we would be in Eden, paradise. We wouldn’t have to labor. Our hunger would be satisfied the moment it occurred. Our thirst would as well. Anything we needed would instantaneously be provided for. Clearly this is not how reality works. If one is put in the natural state of man, one realizes very quickly that he must labor. He must apply the scarce means in his control towards fulfilling the perceived uneasiness he observes in his position. This is economic action. This is actually the source of any and all economic activity. This is also “the Action Axiom”. “Axiom” is actually a slightly misleading term. It is more of a synthetic a priori proposition. This is because in order to deny the action axiom or refute it, one must engage in an action (the refutation) through a scarce means in their control (time, their body, etc.) which means that a refutation of the action axiom requires the axiom to be true. This is a performative or dialectic contradiction. Because it is a contradiction, we do not have to take the refutation seriously and can continue to hold the action axiom as true of human nature. 6
But why do people act?
Again, people act because they are lacking something in the here and now and perceive that through action, they can placate that need. If I am hungry now, I engage in using my time and scarce resources such as my body, energy, bread, cheese, and lunch meat, to make myself a sandwich.
Scarcity is undeniable though. Just try to occupy the same point in space as someone else. Try doing two exclusive things at once with your time and body. You can’t. This is because time is scarce. Your body is scarce. Land and space is scarce. There is a finite amount of these things available to you just like how there is a finite amount of food and drink available to you as well. Scarcity is a natural feature of our existence and the human experience. This is what makes socialism insane. These economic illiterates think that simply abolishing private ownership of the means of production means the natural feature of reality known as “scarcity” will magically disappear. This is a non-sequitur. On top of that, socialism is then incapable of using the single thing that allows us to account for scarcity: economic calculation.
The Socialist Calculation Problem:
I don’t have the time explain in depth the ideas of economic calculation, but a quick overview of the subject needs to be mentioned. One of the hardest things within even a free market is to understand what to produce and how to produce it. 7 I like the example of a railroad that is being built. In a free market, the entrepreneur building the railroad has many metallic resources available to him that he can build his railroad out of. He can perhaps use steel, gold, or platinum. Thanks to the pricing mechanism inherent in the free market (economic calculation), the entrepreneur building the railroad can see that it is not economically effective to build the road out of gold or platinum since the costs are just too high compared to steel. This is because of the scarcity of these other metals and the fact that they are being bid away from railroad construction by other producers for other ends. These other producers are willing to pay a higher price for gold or platinum than the railroad builder therefore steel is used and the new railroad has a better chance of being profitable and successful thanks to this economic calculation. To continue this example of a railroad, the entrepreneur building a railroad needs to use prices and economic calculation in planning his line. Is it more cost effective to dig through a mountain or go around it? A profitable, non-wasteful solution can only be made through the pricing mechanism of the free market. We can all agree that the builder that builds his road out of gold is probably going to fail, and rightfully so. This is because even in the crony capitalist system we have now (as opposed to a true and pure capitalists order) we still have a useful price we can derive economic calculation from. So if the builder that builds his railroad out of gold goes out of business, we are not surprised since this is clearly an ineffective and wasteful application of the scarce resource of gold.
This pricing mechanism means that scarce goods become more expensive, especially if there is demand for them. Since the price is higher, and the demand is there, only those with the most urgent demands acquire the scarce good in question. But with socialism, you abolish this feature of economic calculation and the pricing mechanism when you socialize the means of production and scarce resources. Since there are no true prices, how does the railroad builder know if steel is the most cost effective and efficient resource to use in his production of railroads? He doesn’t know. This is why shortages always occur and the USSR and modern day Venezuela are perfect examples of no proper pricing mechanism leading to shortages. There are people in Venezuela hunting dogs, cats, and pigeons in the streets because improper economic calculation and wasteful lines of production have created or amplified scarcity as far food is concerned. 8 Ludwig Von Mises predicted such outcomes long ago, and his insights continue to go unheeded among the brain dead masses clamoring for “free” everything and acting as if it is their “right” to have such things at no cost (as if being alive and breathing was enough of an argument that you deserve anything for free that comes at the expense of someone else).
Socialists Then Deny the Nature of Reality:
Clearly, scarcity is real and the pricing mechanism inherent in the free market capitalist order is better at anticipating and dealing with scarcity than socialism is. It is a wonder that socialism is even still considered a legitimate economic ideology! It fails to account for anything regarding reality successfully and the only thing that keeps it alive is its impossible promise of abolishing scarcity within the natural world. Socialists are really just people with an ignorant view of reality and economics, there is no other way to understand them. And they have no desire to understand economics given the litany of logical fallacies they fall prey to and don’t find problematic for their position (indeed, they seem to view their logical fallacies as strong “arguments”). At the end of the day, socialists are ignorant of the most basic of economic theory and deniers of scarcity itself. This only makes them worth ignoring… If only the venom of their fallacious ideas was not poisoning the minds of so many.
- “Meet the Categorical Proposition” Liberty Classroom Lecture by Gerard Casey ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- “All in all, another brick in the motte” by Scott Alexander ↩
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary ↩
- “Hugo Chavez’s Economic Miracle” by David Sirota ↩
- “Doubt the Action Axiom? Try to Disprove it” by Gennady Stoyarov II ↩
- “Economics and the Calculation Problem” by Alex Salter ↩
- “Venezuela Food Shortages Cause Some to Hunt Dogs, Cats, and Pigeons” by Peter Wilson ↩