No, Socialism Does Not "Sound Good In Theory"

No, Socialism Does Not "Sound Good In Theory"

The Myth Needs To Stop
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Have you ever heard the phrase, “socialism sounds good in theory, but it fails in practice?” As any in depth reading of the 20th century will show, the latter charge is evidently true. However, socialism, and centralized economies in general, also have a fundamental theoretical issue that many of its proponents fail to take seriously.

Have you ever considered how we determine the price of everything we buy? I feel comfortable assuming that you haven’t, and in full disclosure I hadn’t either until very recently. But it's a question that warrants some deliberation. Let’s explore:

Firstly, the price of one thing kind of depends on the price of everything else. For example, the price of a laptop depends on the price of each of the components that go into it; and the prices of those components are dependent on the price of the labor that goes into mining and collecting the resources those parts are made of; and the price of that labor depends on a near infinite number of factors, all of which must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis that takes into consideration differences in people talents, abilities, and interests. Further, one must also consider more subtle factors such as climate, geography, culture, and politics, all of which indirectly affect something’s price. And I won’t even begin to talk about the risks that entrepreneurs take when pursuing business ventures, because trying to assign a monetary value to risk is impossible irrespective of the special circumstances of a particular situation.

Not only must a supplier calculate the costs incurred and risks associated with bringing a final product to market, but he must also negotiate with consumers – because entrepreneurs will only turn a profit if their product sells; and in order for it to sell customers must be willing to pay the cost; and for that to happen consumers must believe that the benefits they receive will outweigh the costs incurred from purchasing it.

So how exactly do we account for all of those relevant factors and come to an agreement on what something is worth? Doing so for one product appears hard enough, but just imagine trying to do that for every single good and service that gets exchanged. Then imagine trying to do that every single day – because prices of capital products change on a day-to-day basis.

This is called combinatorial explosion, and it’s a fundamental problem with computing. When trying to determine something’s worth, the number of combinations that one has to examine grows exponentially, so fast that even the most powerful computers we have will require an intolerable amount of time to examine them. Exacerbating the problem of combinatorial explosion is the fact that what constitutes value itself is highly subjective. Perhaps you’d be willing to pay more for a hybrid than a pickup truck if you have a job that requires you to commute; and perhaps the opposite would be true if you own a landscaping company. Regardless of what example we use, its obvious that some people value some things more and some things less, and thus you can’t assign definitive monetary value to a product without regard to individuals tastes and preferences – in other words, you need feedback.

Although price calculation is an irreducibly complex problem, it’s one that needs to be solved – and from a purely theoretical standpoint, it’s one that socialism fails to address. Ludwig von Misses elaborated on this idea in his work Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth. His critique of socialism, popularly known as the Impossibility Thesis, goes as follows:

The very definition of Socialism is that all the means of production belong to the government. Spin it any way you want to, that they belong to everybody, or to nobody, or to the government, but the important point is that there is no buying and selling of means of production. Nobody can buy or sell steel or coal or a factory, because it is illegal for anyone to own them. That would be Capitalism, if a private person owned any means of production whatsoever and could do with it as he pleased.

So, socialism abolishes private property of capital goods and natural resources. Since the socialist State is sole owner of the material factors of production, they can no longer be exchanged. Without exchange there can be no feedback and hence no market prices. Without market prices, the State cannot calculate the cost of production for the goods it produces. In the absence of economic calculation of profit and loss, socialist planners cannot know the most valuable uses of scarce resources – thereby making the socialist economy, from a theoretical perspective, strictly impossible.

So how have we solved this problem? Obviously there is some phenomenon that works as a price calculator otherwise we wouldn’t have prices.

Well, herein lies the genius of market systems: they provide a distributive computational solution to the problem of overwhelming combinatorial complexity. Because no single person can account for all of the relevant factors that affect prices, the only solution is to leave people free to figure it out on their own. Here is a more technical analysis of how this works:

All people make monetary bids for goods according to their subjective valuations, leading to the emergence of objective monetary exchange ratios, which relate the values of all consumer goods to one another. Entrepreneurs seeking to maximize monetary profit bid against one another to acquire the services of the productive factors currently available and owned by these same consumers.

In this competitive process, each and every type of productive service is objectively appraised in monetary terms according to its ultimate contribution to the production of consumer goods. There thus comes into being the market’s monetary price structure, a genuinely “social” phenomenon in which every unit of exchangeable goods and services is assigned a socially significant cardinal number and which has its roots in the minds of every single member of society yet must forever transcend the contribution of the individual human mind.

So, rather than being set by an arbitrary authority from the top-down, contrary to what advocates of socialism might argue, prices actually emerge out of a collective process of people making individual value judgments and price appraisals from the bottom-up – and in effect, markets act as a de-facto price calculator by facilitating exchanges of goods and services between individuals.

Now I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that markets have issues, and of course our free enterprise system doesn't always live up to our highest expectations. However, when examining issues of the economic variety, one must always stay grounded in reality. Obviously if you use some hypothetical utopia or dreamland that has never existed as the basis for comparison our society will certainly fall short; but when compared to other societies, historical and present, we stack up among the best in the world.

Further, so long as we grant people the liberty to make their own choices, inequities will always exist; and as a consequence there will always be some people who are less well off than we would like. This doesn't mean we should do nothing to help those people who fall through the cracks, and it doesn't mean that all socialists are cranks. What it does mean, however, is that we shouldn’t strive for perfection in the form of a socialist utopia – because once you understand that the world is incomprehensibly complex, that humans are imperfect and imperfect creatures cannot produce something perfect, you come to understand what an absolute miracle it is that our society functions as well as it does.

Cover Image Credit: ChronoZoom

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This Is How Your Same-Sex Marriage Affects Me As A Catholic Woman

I hear you over there, Bible Bob.
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It won't.

Wait, what?

I promise you did read that right. Not what you were expecting me to say, right? Who another person decides to marry will never in any way affect my own marriage whatsoever. Unless they try to marry the person that I want to, then we might have a few problems.

As a kid, I was raised, baptized, and confirmed into an old school Irish Catholic church in the middle of a small, midwestern town.

Not exactly a place that most people would consider to be very liberal or open-minded. Despite this I was taught to love and accept others as a child, to not cast judgment because the only person fit to judge was God. I learned this from my Grandpa, a man whose love of others was only rivaled by his love of sweets and spoiling his grandkids.

While I learned this at an early age, not everyone else in my hometown — or even within my own church — seemed to get the memo. When same-sex marriage was finally legalized country-wide, I cried tears of joy for some of my closest friends who happen to be members of the LGBTQ community.

I was happy while others I knew were disgusted and even enraged.

"That's not what it says in the bible! Marriage is between a man and a woman!"

"God made Adam and Eve for a reason! Man shall not lie with another man as he would a woman!"

"Homosexuality is a sin! It's bad enough that they're all going to hell, now we're letting them marry?"

Alright, Bible Bob, we get it, you don't agree with same-sex relationships. Honestly, that's not the issue. One of our civil liberties as United States citizens is the freedom of religion. If you believe your religion doesn't support homosexuality that's OK.

What isn't OK is thinking that your religious beliefs should dictate others lives.

What isn't OK is using your religion or your beliefs to take away rights from those who chose to live their life differently than you.

Some members of my church are still convinced that their marriage now means less because people are free to marry whoever they want to. Honestly, I wish I was kidding. Tell me again, Brenda how exactly do Steve and Jason's marriage affect yours and Tom's?

It doesn't. Really, it doesn't affect you at all.

Unless Tom suddenly starts having an affair with Steve their marriage has zero effect on you. You never know Brenda, you and Jason might become best friends by the end of the divorce. (And in that case, Brenda and Tom both need to go to church considering the bible also teaches against adultery and divorce.)

I'll say it one more time for the people in the back: same-sex marriage does not affect you even if you or your religion does not support it. If you don't agree with same-sex marriage then do not marry someone of the same sex. Really, it's a simple concept.

It amazes me that I still actually have to discuss this with some people in 2017. And it amazes me that people use God as a reason to hinder the lives of others.

As a proud young Catholic woman, I wholeheartedly support the LGBTQ community with my entire being.

My God taught me to not hold hate so close to my heart. He told me not to judge and to accept others with open arms. My God taught me to love and I hope yours teaches you the same.

Disclaimer - This article in no way is meant to be an insult to the Bible or religion or the LGBTQ community.

Cover Image Credit: Sushiesque / Flickr

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Dear Senator Walsh, I Can't Wait For The Day That A Nurse Saves Your Life

And I hope you know that when it is your time, you will receive the best care. You will receive respect and a smile. You will receive empathy and compassion because that's what we do and that is why we are the most trusted profession.

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Dear Senator Walsh,

I can't even fathom how many letters you've read like this in the past 72 hours. You've insulted one of the largest, strongest and most emotion-filled professions.. you're bound to get a lot of feedback. And as nurses, we're taught that when something makes us mad, to let that anger fuel us to make a difference and that's what we're doing.

I am not even a nurse. I'm just a nursing student. I have been around and I've seen my fair share of sore legs and clinical days where you don't even use the bathroom, but I am still not even a nurse yet. Three years in, though, and I feel as if I've given my entire life and heart to this profession. My heart absolutely breaks for the men and women who are real nurses as they had to wake up the next morning after hearing your comments, put on their scrubs and prepare for a 12-hour day (during which I promise you, they didn't play one card game).

I have spent the last three years of my life surrounded by nurses. I'm around them more than I'm around my own family, seriously. I have watched nurses pass more medications than you probably know exist. They know the side effects, dosages and complications like the back of their hand. I have watched them weep at the bedside of dying patients and cry as they deliver new lives into this world. I have watched them hang IV's, give bed baths, and spoon-feed patients who can't do it themselves. I've watched them find mistakes of doctors and literally save patient's lives. I have watched them run, and teach, and smile, and hug and care... oh boy, have I seen the compassion that exudes from every nurse that I've encountered. I've watched them during their long shifts. I've seen them forfeit their own breaks and lunches. I've seen them break and wonder what it's all for... but I've also seen them around their patients and remember why they do what they do. You know what I've never once seen them do? Play cards.

The best thing about our profession, Senator, is that we are forgiving. The internet might be blown up with pictures mocking your comments, but at the end of the day, we still would treat you with the same respect that we would give to anyone. That's what makes our profession so amazing. We would drop anything, for anyone, anytime, no matter what.

You did insult us. It does hurt to hear those comments because from the first day of nursing school we are reminded how the world has zero idea what we do every day. We get insulted and disrespected and little recognition for everything we do sometimes. But you know what? We still do it.

When it's your time, Senator, I promise that the nurse taking care of you will remember your comments. They'll remember the way they felt the day you publicly said that nurses "probably do get breaks. They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day." The jokes will stop and it'll eventually die down, but we will still remember.

And I hope you know that when it is your time, you will receive the best care. You will receive respect and a smile. You will receive empathy and compassion because that's what we do and that is why we are the most trusted profession.

Please just remember that we cannot properly take care of people if we aren't even taken care of ourselves.

I sincerely pray that someday you learn all that nurses do and please know that during our breaks, we are chugging coffee, eating some sort of lunch, and re-tying our shoes... not playing cards.

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