I remember once when I was driving across the fields of Kansas in the middle of the night. A pair of headlights came up behind me in extreme haste, quickly pulling close to my bumper and then veering into the oncoming lane to pass. Their significant speed was enough to make my eighty-five mph seem dwarfed and lethargic. Their car, an expensive sport coupe, made me feel equally inadequate. However, miles down the road I rejoiced and cheered to see them pulled over. Their misfortune had made my day.
The Germans call this ‘schadenfreude:” a malicious satisfaction derived from the misfortune of others. Although my personal situation had not changed positively or negatively, I was still cruising down the interstate listening to music, I was enlivened by the negative situation of another. Undoubtedly, this is some form of selfishness, being only concerned with what I receive and indifferent to the condition of another. My emotion–however deplorable–only existed in me and only affected me for a short period of time. But if I, or others, attempted to turn this emotion into wide-ranging political or economic policy it would be truly despicable. Unfortunately I do not see socialism, or even other more moderate forms of egalitarianism, as being wildly different from an institutionalized “schadenfreude.”
Amongst popular thoughts, in the panoply of heartless and uncompassionate theories, capitalism is often said to be near the top. Socialism, however, is thought to be the philosophy of compassion and care. Put simply, capitalism is the philosophy of the selfish and socialism is the philosophy of the altruistic. I wish to dispel and reverse this basic and facile distinction.
Capitalism may “allow” people to be poor, but socialism doesnÔø?t allow people to be rich. The reader may notice a subtle variance in the previous sentence–with “allow” being placed in quotes in reference to capitalism and not in reference to socialism. This is not a mistake. Capitalism, or the promotion of capitalism, is often personified with the use of certain action verbs such as “allow,” “permit,” or “promote.” However, this personification is just as fallacious as similar personifications of evolution–claims that evolution “seeks,” “plans,” or “desires.” Using such words, and thus assigning an impersonal system moral responsibility, makes such a system much easier to condemn and attack on moral grounds. However, the state of the distribution of wealth amongst members of a market society, each acting in their own interest–much like the distribution of height or skin color–has no moral responsibility behind it.
Socialism, however, is not free from such moral condemnation. On the contrary, socialism and all centrally planned and regulated economies, behave in a manner precisely opposite from capitalism. In all such economies there exists a person, or a group of people, who decide how the economy should behave–who gets what, how much, and when. Here a case for moral responsibility–for the justified use of terms like “allow,” “permit,” and “promote”–clearly exists. Thus, saying that “capitalism allows people to be poor” or “socialism doesn’t allow people to be rich” creates a clear dichotomy of responsibility, both moral and practical. In the former no such responsibility exists, in the latter responsibility is present in both moral (the justice of the situation) and practical (the causal reason for the situation) forms. Therefore, a moral description of socialism as Ôø?selfishÔø? is justified whereas a similar description of capitalism is not.
Schadenfreude and envy are the driving force behind egalitarian thought. There can be no other motivation behind egalitarian motivated (equality of outcome) economic and political philosophies. How else can one explain the motivation of a philosophy that attempts to curtail the success of someone even when their success does not alter the condition of either an individual or a group people? The only wrench that can be thrown in this argument is a counter-argument dependent upon zero-sum economic reasoning–the belief that the wealth gained by someone is wealth lost by another. Here a reason for not believing in a “schadenfreude” interpretation of socialism. Now the argument can center on the reality of zero-sum economics.
This is, however, socialism’s only crutch. If zero-sum economics can be disproved, and I believe it can (as my colleague Aaron Powell has attempted to do and I may attempt at a later date), then socialists and egalitarians must accept the “selfish” moniker and perhaps simply argue for a “desirable form of selfishness.”
The desire not to see another succeed, even when one’s own condition is unaltered, is selfish. Socialism clearly falls into this behavior pattern and is therefore selfish.
This is a rather simple observation, but I thought it appropriate to the topic of the article.
I believe that support of the capitalist system is a reflection of faith in human nature, and support of socialism is a reflection of a lack of faith in human nature. This, again, seems counter-intuitive to those who believe socialism is the “caring system”.
My reasoning is as follows. Given that charity is a self-serving purchase with a marginal utility – you spend $X on charity to feel good when no other purchase would make you feel as good for that $X spent – then supporters of capitalism assume a sufficiently high average marginal utility for charity such that wealth distribution does not become too extreme. Supporters of socialism assume that the population is too evil to purchase charity, and that charity must be forced upon them.
NB: I know the whole thing depends on a value judgement – that variation in wealth distribution becomes evil at some extreme. However, I think that the assumption is hard to deny. Some supporters of capitalism famously do so, having fallen into the trap of defending capitalism on socialism’s terms.
this is bullshit. do you see with lots of money being charitable enough so that everyone has something to eat?
and hey, that dipshit article wouldn’t convince anybody whose read anything. even adam smith and milton friedman admit that wealth is created by taking the surplus labor value of others. i.e. you do get rich from other peoples work. why the hell not tax it back and give everyone a piece of they pie they helped make?
eat my ass you libertarian fucks.
Not to dignify this sophomoric diatribe with a response…but I have one thing to say.
Your account of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman displays a level of ignorance that is even more aggravating in the way it is ostentatiously flaunted. If I put two thousand dollars in a low yield CD and live off of the interest would I be living off the “created wealth of exploited workers?”
I would appreciate no further posts of such content to this site. Thanks
you can’t live off the interest of $2K in a low yield CD. in order to live off interest, Somewhere along the line you either need to have a lot of money to invest already (and where did that come from? inheritance from your dads earnings off the work of others? your own business which profits off surplus labor of others?) or you need to be investing in faster returning stocks, which means companies with a premium of increasing shareholder value. One key ingredient in shareholder value is minimizing labor costs. So yes, usually you live of interests based on the incresing value of your stocks as a companies ratio of profit to labor costs inscreases (i.e. your holdings in nike are making you enough to live on because nike is making profits because girls in honduras are making the shoes for a lot less than they deserve for that work.) Somewhere along the line, profits come from someones hard work and labor, and often thats not the person thats making the profits. Even with service companies and concept-driven products, theres someone at the end of the chain getting paid a small fraction of the amoung the company makes on whatever “product” it is that they are bringing into existence. This is where Marx and Smith agree. The question as relates to the article on this site is: If, by taxing the money people make beyond a certain degree of really damn wealthy, we could use the money to make sure nobody is starving and homeless (one way of looking at socialism) should we advocate that, or is that just a way of selfishly hating rich people? I’d have to say, I don’t buy the argument that its a form of selfishness to see a little redistribution so that human beings don’t starve and die. and I would also have to agree with mr. twisp that its fair to guess that the amount rich people would freely donate to help others in order to make themselves feel good would not be enough to relieve that plight. Nor would rich people necessarily donate the money in such a way as to address the fundamental causes of that plight. Soupkitchens make donors feel good. They dont prevent hunger next year.
Actually profits don’t just come from surplus labor. Profits is the diffrence bettween resources out and resources in. Labor is a resource it is one you put into a product such as nike shoes. There are others too such as plastic, that leather stuff, machinery, transport marketing, ext. if all of this cost less then the resourses you get by selling the product then you make a profit. The labor also makes a profit however not many people work for free so this person, that person profits is in the salary they make which is off of surplus resources. How much they deserve however can really be measured? Its hard to say there is no scale exsept, maybe with the market. Some actors don’t work as hard as a guy working at Mcdonalds but I doubt he will ever make as much as an oscar winning actor. Why? because he dosen’t please as many people as the actor. If everybody was as good as the actor and nobody could make hambergers like the guy at Mcdonanlds and we all really like hamburgers then he will get more money.
Same thing with the nike girl in hondurous anybody can make a shoe but not everybody can run corporations hince girl = 1,000 a year, CEO = couple million a year. “But Apathy the girl is obviously exploited”. Well then what does that mean the company is using her for thier own selfish needs? Who hires people to not to be used, or not to make money? Well she is using the company, the marketers and everybody else. The more your exploitable the more money you make. The CEO of Nike has much more use then the hondurous girl and gets more use therefore more money.
Socialism however is not about just taxing the rich. It’s about abolishment of all property rights and putting the means of production into the hands of the goverment or “the people” whatever they call it.
Now to the real meat of what I have to say.
Being rich does not cause others to be poor. A Nerosurgon 200,000-300,000 sometimes. Now would a bunch of garbage men and poor ass people be better of if they didn’t have this rich doctor thier to perforce surgery? Creating wealth threw voluntary free trade usally makes even the very poor better off.
Take your soup kitchen analogy. Due to competition for money in the produce industry even though huge profits are made food is cheaper in American then it was in the USSR (where people starved because of no property rights to give incentives to produce more efficiently). Even though the USSR had such great soil that hitler wanted to steal it.
The problem, in my opinion, arises when you begin to classify employees as “resources.” Capitalism is all well and good until big brother begins taking out “Dead Peasant” life insurance polocies on blue collar workers.
Well aren’t employees resources? You can’t get work done without a worker and there is a finite supply of workers. Employment works on the same principles of supply and demand as other resources such as diamonds, oil exct.
Im not sure but I think you can put life insurance on anybody actually without them having a say.
“The desire not to see another succeed, even when oneís own condition is unaltered, is selfish. Socialism clearly falls into this behavior pattern and is therefore selfish.”
This line doesn’t really follow. How does a socialist economy desire not to see another person succeed? If you prosper under a socialist society you are working towards the greater good and working to bring the rest of society up with you. The main problem with socialism is that it places barriers in the way of attaining ‘mega-wealth’. It’s not that people don’t want to “succeed” it’s that there is no reason for them to do so. What is the incentive if you can’t somehow gain from it? Either way confusing this with a somehow innate desire to not wish for others to succeed is inherantly wrong.
I’d also take aim at your statement that says that socialism does not allow people to be rich. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, it’s entirely possible for anyone to become rich under a socialist system, it’s just that you would have to bring everyone else up with you as well.
And this is of course why we in America view socialism so abhorently. We can not think of a system where people aren’t greedy and selfish and only thinking of themselves. That’s because we value a society based on the individual over the group. Right now I’m not entirely sure that this is working out well for us. Time will tell.
Ihough I understand what you’re trying to say, i must admit that I see one logical fault that, in my opinion, kills your argument. Putting aside politics for a moment, I’d just like to examine your train of thought.
You say, “Capitalism may ìallowî people to be poor, but socialism doesnít allow people to be rich.” and claim that this forbiddance of other people becoming rich is an obvious instance of selfishness. But you’re neglecting the fact that those living under and supporting socialist systems are very consciously placing the restraint of never becoming rich on THEMSELVES as well. Your analogy of schadenfreude and the broken down car, therefore, must be altered to include your car breaking down as well.
You ask, “How else can one explain the motivation of a philosophy that attempts to curtail the success of someone even when their success does not alter the condition of either an individual or a group people?” and claim that it is selfish to attempt to insist on such supposed curtailments, once again neglecting that the socialist willfully resigns his own success or possibility of success, and accepts the curtailments on himself, which is crucial.
What you’ve done is looked at the situation from the point of view of someone who may not have a lot, trying to bring down one who does have a lot to his level. This may be valid in some situations. But looking at an entire nation from above, if both you and the other person are residing in a socialist state, both the ‘richer’ ones and ‘poorer’ ones accept these supposed boundaries of wealth for the greater good.
If you replace a system in which you could potentially move up in the world from your “lesser” car to that very sports car with a system that will forever forbid you from doing so, you cannot be called selfish. Similarly, if you are one of the many that own a sports car, and decide to allow a system in which you will lose your sports car and always drive the same “lesser” car as everyone else, you also cannot be called selfish.
Capitalism, on the other hand, in lacking this acceptance of boundaries-on-wealth, is rightly considered selfish, for it insists that whether I drive a crappy car or a sports car now, I want to retain the ability to maybe acquire a better one later, regardless of what kind of cars everyone else in my country is driving.
Now whether selfishness is truly a vice is a whole other discussion. Ayn Rand says the ego is the fountainhead of human progress — you, Trevor, probably agree with her.