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In my readings on political philosophy, even the most hard-core socialists, from the state-ownership clan to the anarcho-syndicalist-socialist clan seem to accede the fact that capitalism is “second best.” In other words, they craft a utopian vision for what a socialist world could look like, but since people are crooked, selfish, etc. then we must at least admit in that world, “capitalism delivers the goods” even if it is soulless.

Well, in some other post we can argue whether (1) anyone knows what the heck capitalism means (e.g. I am not even a “capitalist” supporter fwiw), or (2) whether its soullesness is a warranted criticism.

What I’d like to ask is a second question and I do not see it adequately (i.e. sincerely) addressed in political philosophy. Suppose people are as wonderful as our sketchers of utopias want them to be. We are charitable, unselfish, community spirited, resilient, patient, willing to settle disputes peacefully, stewards of resources, and more. Wouldn’t a capitalist world, if people were perfect, be even more attractive than a socialist world under this reckoning of the fabric of humanity?

In other words:

  1. People suck, so capitalism > socialism
  2. People are awesome, so ….

I think the allure of socialism is not at all in the society-level camping trip that G.A. Cohen and his acolytes dream about. In my view the allure of socialism is really about controlling others. It is about setting rules for people who would otherwise be inclined to do things different than you. It is about dealing with real and perceived unfairness and injustice. It is NOT in my view in any way related to “the best way for all of us to live together.” I’m no philosopher, so I am not hashing it out, but think about every “problem” a socialist seems to have with “capitalism” … and explain how that remains a problem if people are saints. And then think back to your economics and remember the information, incentive and feedback/learning challenges that face human beings who are trying to cooperate and consider again what “system” is best under what circumstances.

In summary, capitalism >> socialism under any set of assumptions about human behavior, and it is precisely this realization that I think motivates socialists – as is evidenced of course by the violent history, consistent record of failures, and general inability for modern politicians to articulate a true criticism of “capitalism” beyond “things and people that I don’t like.”

My worldview has changed somewhat sharply over the last decade. In addition to becoming depressed about tribalism, I am increasingly suspicious that most of the lofty positions and rhetoric and policies we see are thinly veiled attempts for people to exercise power over one another – and it is the sovereignty of the individual that is most likely to emerge when markets emerge and capitalist institutions emerge that drive people who are hungry for power (and who are enamored by others wielding power) up the wall.


One Response to “Trigger Warning: Brief Political Philosophy Post”

  1. stan says:

    You should read prof Munger’s unicorn theory


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