Won’t Somebody Please Rescue the Poor Tradinistas Slaving Away as Baristas?
But please not with Socialism.
This essay is part of a series examining how American religious, economic, and political freedom are compatible with Christian views of a good society. It was provoked by the publication of the Tradinista Manifesto, which called for “Christian socialism” and an established national Church.
Some of the best arguments against socialism have been given by popes, and the best summary of these is in the article “A Catholic Socialism?” by somebody calling himself C. W. Strand, especially Part I of that article. Strand is a leader of the nascent Catholic Tradinista movement, which seeks to replace our increasingly crony capitalist cum socialism-lite economic system with a socialism-which-is-not-socialism. Frying pan, meet fire.
Anyway, Strand realizes the Church must be answered, so he dutifully steps through the points of horror the Church says socialism always causes. One is the “debasement of marriage and the family.” Pope Leo XIII correctly stated that socialism destroys “the natural union of man and woman,” leading the state to set “aside the parents” and replace them with “state supervision.” As the state steps in, the family weakens further, causing the state to subsume more authority, and so on: a negative feedback.
To this Strand says something like, “The horror is true, but it need not be that way in our version of socialism.” And in similar manner he dismisses each real horror as unthinkable in the Tradinista‘s new socialism-which-is-not-socialism.
A difficulty with criticizing the Tradinista movement is the embarrassment of poverties: there are so many things wrong, one must pick and choose carefully.
It’s all very depressing (and very long), but since the Tradinista movement has captured the imagination of those who have not yet read the dismal history of socialism-as-practiced, and of those who have read it but believe with Strand that next time we’ll get socialism right, Strand’s errors need discussing.
A difficulty with criticizing the Tradinista movement is the embarrassment of poverties: there are so many things wrong, one must pick and choose carefully. Let’s concentrate on forms of work and “the market.”
The Market: How Humans Behave
Tradinistas condemn “the market,” that is, people lawfully and freely disposing of their private property. “Markets,” they say, “are vehicles of exploitation when people must sell their labor-power on the market in order to survive.” Tradinista Jose Mena complains that Millennials are forced to work at “barista jobs in spite of our college degrees, flip through the internet for empty consolation, and live with our parents.”
Notice Princeton graduate Mena said “college degrees” and not “educations” (apparently Mena’s wife is a fellow Ivy-league graduate). He bristles at work he considers non-glamorous and beneath him. How many like him choose not to work rather than debase themselves? If they are not working, who supports them? Well, others, such as parents. Yet Mena would instead have the state provide for him, which concedes Pope Leo’s point. Notice too his admission that rather than working for a wage, he’d waste his day surfing the net instead of doing something constructive. Books at the library are still free, yet no ora et labora for Mena!
Socialism is always accompanied by the fallacy of “If I’m not smart enough to see how it works, then it can’t work.”
This is no small point. One of the Tradinista arguments is that if the state provides a “free” basic living, then people, rather than working long hours, would have time for a “life of greater contemplation — most importantly, contemplation of God,” which is a spiritual good. Yet the net-surfers and the under- and unemployed have that opportunity now. Why aren’t they using it?
By the Sweat of Your Brow Shall You Earn Your Bread
The “market,” Tradinistas say, results in “economic compulsion,” forcing some people to work for wages or face “destitution.” People “must sell their labor-power in order survive and most capitalists must compete on the market or go under.” All this is so and yet there is not widespread famine, disease, pestilence. Materially, people are better off now than a century ago (though the closer we evolve toward complete socialism, the worse things will get). How can this be?
Socialism is always accompanied by the fallacy of “If I’m not smart enough to see how it works, then it can’t work.” The (apparent) chaos of non-socialist systems is difficult and maybe impossible to wholly grasp. Planned socialist economies, in contrast, can be understood by anybody, which is their charm. All errors seem fixable when control is complete. A planned economy also needs planners, and the desire for this power is what drives more than a few would-be socialists.
Should Your “Basic Needs” Come from the Government?
Socialists disparage the compulsion of having to earn a living, yet they never see that their argument works both ways. Consider a craftsman who has to move his goods to a place where people who might want them can find them. But he is cursed! He is at the mercy of others who control the means of producing this movement. This becomes a “vehicle of exploitation.”
If he can’t pony up the dough to grease the wheels of these vehicles — buy my bestseller Mixing Metaphors & Martinis — he will fail to sell his goods and will not have enough money left over for “basic needs,” such as “food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc.”
True, the craftsman need not produce his wares and might instead be able to live off his savings. But if he did that, he would not hire the movers, thus depriving these people of a living. And if nobody takes a risk, then nothing would happen: there would be no economy.
And something needs to happen under socialism, because in order to, as the Tradinistas insist, guarantee “a livelihood [to all] independent of the market,” the wealth has to come from those who took risks and succeeded. You can only tax from those who have. Yet there is much less incentive for risk taking when it is known the state will confiscate ever larger shares of the profits. This produces another negative feedback.
Or You Could Work in a Forced Labor Gang in Venezuela
I have saved the strangest part for last. Strand says the free “market” results in “economic compulsion,” which is anathema. But he must have had “that if any would not work, neither should he eat” in mind, too. It is not insignificant that by 1918 that great socialist Leon Trotsky, who with Lenin well knew the Biblical aphorism, modified it to “who does not obey shall not eat.”
Strand says he would punish idle hands under his new socialism. “We have envisioned, for instance, individuals working part-time for the state or else receiving a diminution in their guaranteed, state-provided basic goods and services.” (You have to love that he couched the austerity in terms of “receiving.”)
But now we see the obvious contradiction. Being forced to labor for the state is compulsion. Indeed, it is simply a form of state-sponsored slavery. But he says it is compulsion “ordered to the common good,” and therefore benign. Not coincidentally, the folks shipped to Siberia were told they were working for the “common good” too. I can’t help but wonder if Strand envisions himself compiling the naughty and nice list.
Strand admits under our current system of “economic compulsion” good things happen, but when they do they are only accidental because they were not planned for the “common good,” only the good of the individuals involved.
If we want anything fixed, we should fix ourselves, not try to re-order the economy in a way we already know will be a disaster.
There are two errors here. The individuals are society, thus the good they do is necessarily for the common good. And it is not capital that is causing the inequities and iniquities noted by Tradinistas, many of which are real enough, but something else. Capital by itself is moribund. It is how it is used that brings it to life.
It is people who lack the notion of the good, who care more about self than family, who love the world but not their neighbor, who worship the state and not God that are the problem, not capital. So if we want anything fixed, we should fix ourselves, not try to re-order the economy in a way we already know will be a disaster.