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Fundamental flaw in all Hegel/Marx-based policy is the belief in total control of all facets of reality; the illusion that society/history/life can be shaped at will from a central controller. This is why Socialism and Communism of all 19-th century political philosophies come closest to religion.

That's just not true. First of all, there are many versions of socialism without a hint of religion, even though Marx may be an exception. Second, to control an economy from a central authority is no more difficult than to control anything else - there are governments other than feudalism, right? And indeed, historically centrally-planned economies have occured and worked well, eg Mycenae.


An important tenent of socialism is that individuals are rewarded/paid for existing and not on the basis of achievement or supply/demand. Some critics of socialism say that removes incentives towards improving technology, medicine, and other factors that result in a higher standard of living. In short, some critics of socialism define socialism as a system where everyone is equally poor.


I put the above on this Talk page because it wasn't integrated with the text. I hope you'll take a minute or two to put it somewhere inside the text (wherever it belongs).

I have a few minor questions about the comment itself, too. Do any significant critics of socialism actually define socialism as a system where everyone is equally poor? I rather doubt that.

I cleaned up and reworked the text, and included the quote as a common criticism. --LDC


I think the response to the standard of living criticism is usually that supply and demand rewards mainly a narrow elite - even in the present system, where globalization has simply created a geographical separation between them and the proles. But I'm not quite confident enough to put that on the main page. -- Josh Grosse

The most common replies I've seen to the problem of incentive are that the profit motive is replaced by (1) accomplishment as its own reward, and (2) the motive to make life better for all people. Neither of these really works, but those are the contentions (I will not dignify them by calling them "arguments"). I suppose we ought to mention something to the effect that the vast majority of socialist economies have failed, but since we include pseudo-socialist democrats above, we can't say that about some of them (Sweden, for example, seems to be surviving despite its welfare state). --LDC

Interjection: Interestingly, on wiki there is a page explaining how rewards can actually hamper interest.

You're not referring to the soviet union and its kin, are you? I don't think very many socialists uphold those as model states...what non-dictatorial socialisms have there been that have failed?

The UK, perhaps. Leading world power before becoming socialist, now just another country. - TS

I think we may reasonably chalk that up to the influence of the world wars, rather than socialism. There aren't too many examples to work with, but very few have just collapsed through socialism. See below.


Neither of these really works, but those are the contentions (I will not dignify them by calling them "arguments").

Oh, and I should point out the obvious - that the alternative that capitalism provides, that money should be the reward for labor, doesn't "really work" either. In the sense that when the main motive is avarice, people often try to skip out on doing work or worse yet overlook the wider consequences of their actions. Thus everything from tax evasion and embezzlement, to the unfair buisness practices monopolies often excercise, to the horrendous concealment of evidence and murder on the part of the tobacco companies.

I let this slide earlier, but I have to comment now. No serious modern supporter of capitalism (nor any historical supporter of whom I am aware) has ever said anything like this. Under capitalism people are left alone to pursue whatever motives they like -- profit is not defined monetarily, but in whatever terms people choose! Some people may choose to work solely for money (but almost no one ever does). You may work for whatever reason you desire, and freely trade the product of your labors with whomever you may desire. What capitalist theorist say that you ought not to be able to do is use force to make other people supply you with what you want.

It's simply a very freshman error to claim this about capitalism. Serious theorists of all stripes do not make this error. (Political activists often do, of course.)

Few modern supporters of capitalism have said this because it is a criticism of the system. I can't be so sure about serious theorists, because I'm not sure how the term is meant- very often the distinction between them and crackpots is drawn based on the conclusions they reached, rather than the methodologies, so it is possible that merely being a proponent of a non-capitalist system means one is not serious, regardless of the qualities of one's arguments. I hope this is not how the term is being used.

As for profit, it is all very well and good to say it is non-monetary, and defined in terms of whatever terms you want. But I have yet to see any economists talk much about anything other than money, property, and other assets to which a material value can be pegged. Whatever the theory, in practice the primary motive in all exemplary capitalists systems is monetary, and it is a fact that all of the above phenomena have occured as a result. So it is not a mistake to criticize at least current capitalist systems on those grounds.

-- Hm, I think I'd have to jump in here.  Money is a common
exchange, and is an easily measurable quantity that everyone
ends up using in some form in their existance.  Certainly we
can go too far in equating its ownership in bulk with success
in life, but it seems to me that we could theorize an 
economically justifiably healthy economy with low volumes of
money moving around (because people wouldn't care about
it all that much), but which is sustainable. 
It's rather harder, OTOH, to measure satisfaction and
happiness and come up with workable theories and metrics.  So
the fact that we use money as an indicator of the health of our
economy doesn't mean that it's necessarily everyone's prime
motive (although I personally agree that we're far closer to
that than we should be.)

I think a subpage Socialism/Criticisms would be in order. There should be enough material there to make an entire article.


Most of the above criticisms have the common idea that socialism, for one reason or another, doesn't work. But historically socialism has worked, and indeed has worked well. Sweden is a particularly good example (and there is no real reason to suppose that its success is despite its welfare, unless you assume the conclusion it is a counterexample to). There are others which I'm less familiar with.

I would guess that in general socialist economies have had lower standards of living than free markets, simply because they tend to be draw their supporters from the poorer classes - more poor means more socialism. The history of Athens is a beautiful example of that principle, and also of the fact that welfare need not retard progress. The great depression is another; there was more welfare because people needed it.

There are valid criticisms of socialism, mainly having to do with issues like political rights. That socialism does not work is not one of them. It's an impression mainly generated from the collapse of the USSR, which was more from idiotic management than anythign else. Indeed Stalin, though as a dictator exceedingly harmful to his people, did succeed in significantly industrializing that country.


To the author of the previous (Joshua Grosse, I think): do you mean to say "that socialism does not work is not one of them?" Or "I am not convinced that socialism does not work is not one of them?" That is, are you affirmatively asserting that this is not a valid criticism, i.e. that it is false? Or are you merely asserting that you aren't sure the evidence is conclusive.

As for me, I think that the evidence is conclusive and overwhelming. We could perhaps better discuss this, if we wanted, in another forum. For example, the idea that the collapse of the USSR was "more from idiotic management than anything else" suggests that someone else could have run a command-and-control central planning economy more effectively, that they just didn't have good enough, smart enough, bureaucrats at the top.

But there are very good theoretical considerations which show that it isn't all about politics or morals, it's that a centrally planned economy is downright impossible. We need the market price system because it is the only effective means of concisely communicating accurate signals about costs.

(see Hayek's The Use of Knowledge in Society (originally published in American Economic Review, XXXV, No. 4; September, 1945, 519-30) for a classic pre-mathematical statement of the problem.)

A better article would back up the statement with a summary of the serious empirical research which has been done in this area. I think if you looked at the data, you would agree: socialism doesn't work. (This is in addition to it being horribly repressive, etc.)


To the above, I am indeed asserting that socialism is workable. I don't feel the need to move to a different forum, because regardless of what sort of evidence you have, I don't see how it can be conclusive and overwhelming when working socialisms have actually existed.

As for the USSR, try comparing it to other Russian governments. The tsars ruled over a poor and primarily agricultural country. Modern Russia is in sufficiently bad shape that many people are considering a return to what is, regardless of economics, undoubtedly a cruel tyranny. Yet under Stalin, the country was significantly industrialized, and I have heard of no major crises that were not deliberate (dictatorship being a problem, but a different one). Perhaps communism in its decline is no comparison for capitalism in its flower, but clearly initiative had been lost - where were the five year plans, for instance - and at its height the Soviet Union was a power to be reckoned with.

In any case, the failure of that one country at best shows socialism does not work in all circumstances. Does it speak to us about the doom of democratic socialism or libertarian socialism? Does it somehow invalidate the evidence provided by Sweden and its kin? Any proof that socialism does not work is in direct conflict, not with opinions, with facts. Those are hard to argue against.


I disagree. I think that the facts, seriously studied by serious people, are conclusive. What is needed is a serious measure of degree of socialistic control of the economy and a metric of success. When this is done properly, the evidence is striking. Even done -improperly-, one is required to evade or ignore quite a bit to get any other result.

It's been a long time, but if you provoke me enough :-), I'll have to look up the serious academic studies of this issue.

Socialism can't work for a reason that most non-economists have a hard time grasping -- the economic calculation problem. This isn't about rights and justice or anything like that.

Admittedly I am not an economist. But when ordinary evidence contradicts something, all the credentials of the author and brilliance of their arguments suddently become irrelevant. I can disprove Aristotle's physics with a bowl and some water, though he thought it out in detail and I am by no means as great a man as he. Now, what you have not explained to me is this: how can it be claimed that socialism can't work, when there are actual examples of working socialism? Sweden, Mycenae...are you just going to ignore these?

Of course, I'm leaving aside the most important reason that socialism can't work -- any serious definition of "working" would have to include respect for individual rights as a criterion for success, in my book, because politics is grounded in morality, and morality demands that we not use force to control people's lives in precisely the way that socialism demands.

That's not usually what is meant by it - for instance, dictatorship is generally held to work, and in fact is often quite brilliant at achieving its goals, which simply happen be at frequent odds with those of the people. But in any case this is an infinitely less objective criterion, as many people have different definitions of rights. Thus some would claim that socialism is the only working system, since others allow inequities that many consider to be a violation of the right to equality.

What I'm saying is -- even leaving aside the obvious grave moral failings of a system rooted in command-and-control -- socialism can't work (and doesn't work, as amply proven by the evidence, seriously studied) because of the economic calculation problem.

You can disagree, of course! But your disagreement will sound to the broad consensus of economists as kooky as the disagreement of the creationist who makes goofy claims about evolution based on hoary old fallacies disproven long ago.

There is a fact of the matter, and serious people have studied it. Random opinions are no more valid in economics than they are in biology or any other science.

As stated above, it's not a random opinion, but rather one based on evidence. No matter how carefully constructed an argument is, no matter how clever the people who hold a consensus, it is invalid the moment a counter-example shows up. That's nothing akin to creationism, that's the scientific method. And it is hard to see the existence of something as anything but a counter-example to claims of its non-existence.

Creationists say precisely the same sorts of things to attempt to evade the scientific consensus. Creationists say things like "Evolution could not be true, because how could a complex structure like the eye develop?" or "Evolution is not true because there are gaps in the fossil record." These are both totally ignorant objections, of course, as anyone who has studied the evidence knows. But they certainly seem plausible to the uninformed.

By 'serious people' I mean economists. PhD economists who have reputable jobs at reputable universities. Of course, it is possible to dig up some crank economists here or there who think that socialism can work. (It isn't easy, though! At least, not at good universities!)

It is of course possible, in some sense of the word 'possible' that a totally untrained layperson, reading the works of politically or religouslly motivated activists, might stumble onto a major flaw in the scientific consensus of evolution. But we should doubt it.

Similarly, we should regard the claim that "socialism works" as not much more scientific than the claim that "Lamarckism works" or "The scientific evidence shows that there was a great flood, covering the entire surface of the world 60 feet deep in Noah's time." Interesting to observe, culturally, but having no place in a serious writeup.

In the event that there is an example of something, than all claims it does not exist are automatically null and void, and there can be no further discussion of them. Looking at evidence is not akin to creationism.. Now supposedly Sweden is not actually an example of a welfare state; fine, and in the case that no others turn up, theories that they are impossible are potentially ok. But you yourself have given no indication that the examples are invalid, and yet still maintained they can't exist, and quite frankly that seems far more akin to creationism than looking at them would be.

By whose book, by the way, are these few economists "cranks"? As I understand, socialism is still a well-known and respected theory in Europe, so presumably European economists haven't been nearly so quick to conclude it is unworkable. Have they? About what percent of economists are we considering wrong here?


As currently propounded, neither argument (socialism works - no, it doesn't) can succeed. Socialism is not a discrete thing which can be held to possess invariant properties. Every socialist will give you a different definition of the ideology. "Works" is nearly impossible to define. Because "works" means "accomplishes a task or goal," and how many tasks and goals are there? Which are more valid than others? Whose goals are they? If the discussion is to continue, and is to actually lead anywhere at all, it would be beneficial to agree on precise definitions of these things - which I predict will not happen. AyeSpy

Sweden is an example of a welfare state and Mycenae is an example of a centrally planned economy. Both of these have proved reasonably prosperous and enduring. If neither is to be counted as a socialism, and their successes do not count as working, I will gladly drop the point, but merely suggest that less misleading terminology be used.


See, defnitions are the bugger, here. Sweden is not a welfare state - it is a free enterprise economy with huge, huge taxes which are spent to create a very deep cushion of social support. Within the last 20 years, some of the more burdensome taxes have been modified so that a person who makes too much cannot be taxed more than he earned (formerly possible) I will check out the Mycenae contention... AyeSpy

Ok, sorry 'bout that one then. Welfare state was the term used above for Sweden, with the additional statement that it was a working system, though strangely with the claim that such states don't work. Any examples of systems that are indeed welfare states? How 'bout the economies during the great depression (which though not stellar certainly were preferrable to the alternative)?


I liked the four new paragraphs added (though they needed some grammatical editing and cleanup), but I cannot justify the removal of three paragraphs except as attempts to change what might be perceived as anti-socialist bias with pro-socialist bias. Eliminating the only reference to private property rights, for example, is dishonest and unjustifiable. I replaced those three removed paragraphs with a single one that better integrates with the new text, and is as unbiased as I can manage while still retaining the information. --LDC



I agree with you that removing the paragraphs as I did was a little bit harsh, and I had decided to restore them (probably in a modified form) today, which is now not necessary as you have done so.

I actually removed them not because of their anti-socialist bias (although they were!) but because they are incorrect. A study of the history of socialism shows that it actually grew out of a desire for private property rights, and not out of a desire to remove them. The cause of the confusion over this issues comes from the socialist notion that people should not "own the means of production". There is a separation between ownership of those things that you use to survive, and those things that you own which you use to control others. For example owning your own house is one thing, whilst owning a factory is different. The former is correct, the latter is not. The factory should be "owned" by the work force.

In a peculiar way this separation of the two notions of ownership recapitulates the argument over usury that took place within the catholic church a couple of centuries before. I think that its fair to say that the conclusion of this debate (that usury was not sinful) can be seen as the first step towards the formation of the capitalist economies that we saw in the 1800's.

I think that it would be good if we could work some of these notions into the piece, to set against the current rather blanket statement that socialism is "against private property". I am reticent to do this directly however as I would not want to be accused of a dishonest and unjustifiable bias again! Do you think you could have a go at putting these notions into the piece perhaps?


If you think there are some interesting historical perspectives to add, by all means, go ahead. And even reporting that socialist belief systems regard owning a factory as somehow different from owning a house is perfectly fair--as long as it is made clear that this belief is itself a socialist idea, and not a generally accepted idea that socialists merely mention to argue for their position. Socialism implies limits to private property. Period. The fact that some of them use semantic arguments changing the ordinary meaning of "property" to deny this does not mean that we have to do that, though it is OK for us to report that they do. Yes, I know I am personally biased against socialism, but I really think I'm being as fair as possible here while retaining the essential information. --LDC


Actually the text is not so bad now. I hadn't reread it carefully enough since the last change. With the section on ownership of private property where it does not lead to class division, I think that this covers the situation fairly well.


What does this mean? -- "As predicted by Lenin and Trotsky, Stalin's "socialism in one country" was unable to maintain itself, and the USSR ceased to show the characteristics of a socialist state long before its formal dissolution." --LMS


Let me point out that Mycenae is a dubious case. We don't know nearly enough about how it operated to claim it as a socialist success. The 'civilization' lasted a good while (a couple of hundred years), but we know about its organization at the end from the burn level that accidentally baked a bunch of clay tablets. That was the fall of Mycenae, etc., so we don't know how much the late social organziation had to do with its failure. --MichaelTinkler.

Mycenae fell along with kingdoms all across the near east (e.g. Hattusas, Troy, Ugarit), many of which appear perfectly healthy on the eve of the catastrophe, so it is extremely unlikely the late social structure had anything to do with its collapse. But I agree that it should not be held up as a particularly strong example. When I mentioned it above, I was just throwing out some examples of working socialist states, not trying to define a canonical list of which should be examined.


This article treats both those who favour complete nationalization of the economy, and those who support a mixed economy, with some publicly owned enterprises, a moderate degree of government regulation and a moderate degree of income redistribution through progressive taxation and social security, to be socialists. While some who favour the later are happy to be called socialists, many wouldn't, especially these days. Many who favour the later would actually consider themselves capitalists. Myself, I support a mixed economy, but I'd call myself a moderate capitalist, not a socialist. And I don't think support for a mixed economy really has that much in common with supporting a communist command economy.

I agree there is a continuum from pure capitalism to pure socialism. The point on the continuum where "socialism" becomes "capitalism" seems to depend on the country. My impression is that the boundary is farther to the right in most Western European countries than in the United States because the term "socialism" has more negative connotations in the U.S. and is often conflated with communism. I am not sure where the boundary is in Australia. (Now if only I could express this in an understandable way to be included in the article :-) --Eob


I think at the very least the article needs to make clear that socialism is used in different senses by different people -- Simon J Kissane

The second half of the entry is a history of Marxism not of Socialism. Has no-one here heard of the Tolpuddle Martyrs that preceded Karl Marx? I would be inclined to move that part to an entry about Marxism and start the history off a lot earlier. -- Artistotle