Socialism is the idea that capital should be in the hands of the government and not in the hands of citizens. The goal is to shift wealth away from the rich to the poor through government regulation. In the twenty-first century it would seem that the United States is closer to becoming a Socialist nation than ever before. The opposition to it is as loud as support for it is organized.
Those who support socialism, or at least the ideas behind it (without actually using the term), have several fundamental assumptions from which they operate. They assume that economics is a zero-sum game, meaning that the only way citizens gain wealth is by taking it from others. This is the idea behind the statement “the rich get richer while the poor get poorer” and the assumed exploitation of the poor is considered an injustice. With the assumptions that the economy is a zero-sum game and the wealthy have unlimited power over the common citizen, only the authority of the government is considered capable of righting the injustice. The rich are so by taking from others and leaving them in poverty and this cruel exploitation is wrong. The solution is said to herald the working middle class which supposedly is not interested in obtaining wealth and offers a path of deliverance for the impoverished through labor.
The problem with a simple three-class understanding of redistribution is that the level of government involvement in the economic affairs of citizens grows exponentially once it has been started. Beginning the process of moving wealth from the rich to the poor through government requires that first those citizens who possess wealth are to be identified and catalogued. Once that is done, they must be forced by law to sacrifice a portion of their capital to the government under the threat of punishment, as most are not going to do it voluntarily, having earned that capital.
In order to facilitate this gathering of both centralized information and capital, workers have to be hired and trained. The national nature of the work requires workers in a nearly every state. These workers are going to want a comfortable salary that will entice them to leave the private sector and work for the government. They will want to rent apartments or own homes. They may have families and will want paid vacation and sick leave as well as medical insurance. They will need buildings to work in and tools to help file and keep the information on wealthy citizens. Those buildings will need maintenance workers and the collected capital will need accountants. Where are the funds to cover all these expenses going to come from? From the taxes. The more tax revenue is collected the more workers are required to manage the revenue, increasing expenses and provoking a need for more tax revenue.
As the bureaucracy expands it will require more citizens being classified as wealthy through progressive tax rates, more workers and more comfortable incentives for those workers. But this only covers the taxation end of the economy. A whole other system must be put into place to catalogue poor citizens and determine who should receive benefits through social programs, thus effectively doubling the bureaucracy needed and the taxes required. The capital of working middle class can only remain untouched for so long before the government needs that capital to sustain its increasing bureaucracy and begins to gather it through taxation.
The United States is a very wealthy nation with a large population, so it might be argued that such a system would only target the top ten-percent who are rich and the bottom ten-percent who are poor, leaving the middle class citizen, who is privately employed untouched. Unfortunately, the three-class idea of rich, middle, and poor leaves out a fourth class, the government class. The massive influx of capital through taxation pays for the senators and representatives as well as for the executive and judicial branches of government. These leaders in Washington also require things like a home and insurance and they mostly likely will marry and have families. A political career can be very lucrative and comfortable and legislators have good reason to expand the definition of what constitutes a wealthy citizen and broaden the benefit packages for those who seek them since it will require more tax revenue and a greater influx of taxes can only benefit them and their families. Higher taxes do not necessarily translate into increased funds for the poor, but they do translate into an increase in security and comforts for Washington leaders and their families. The government class quickly becomes a small group of wealthy individuals using laws to glean wealth from the people for their own gain, the very problem they were heralded to solve.
Those in Washington would naturally feel entitled to a very comfortable existence and exemption from the taxes they levy on others. As Barbara Boxer famously said, “Could you say ‘Senator’ instead of ‘ma’am’? It’s just a thing. I worked so hard to get that title.” They are taxing and redistributing the wealth for the good of the poor and others who have been affected by the success of the wealthy. Theirs is considered a righteous cause against a wealthy private class and the government class is a means justified by the ends, all done for the cause of alleviating poverty.
Entitlement also affects those who receive the benefits. Once citizens believe that the government programs that relieve them of their discomforts was theirs originally before it was taken from them, there is no longer any reason for the poor to seek a mindset of independence and self-sufficiency. Their needs, from housing to medical, are completely and comfortably covered by government funds, so there is no need for them to labor toward entrepreneurial and productive solutions to their needs. Any cuts in benefits are met with violent protests because the government has made a promise and a guarantee to those citizens and a reduction of benefits is a breaking of that promise. What an entitled citizen does not understand is that while he may believe the government is under obligation to provide him with guaranteed comforts, it is the government and not the citizen who holds the authority over who receives what.
An entrenched class based on private capital is vulnerable because private citizens can always choose an independent path of employment, starting their own small businesses or choose a life of less luxury to avoid purchasing offered products. This has always been a threat to corporate power and a balance to organized large businesses. The government class however has the law on its side. Whereas corporations do not have militaries and police forces to ensure they can shut down any start up competition, governments do. In a socialist society, capital belongs to the government class (whereas under Communism private property belongs to the government class) and citizens are forbidden from developing their own independent source of capital from the property they own. For example, a citizen can own a yacht, but he cannot start a business of transporting paying citizens to seaside destinations to earn his own private capital. A citizen can own a bus, but he cannot start his own business of offering mass transportation. A citizen can own a large home with numerous bedrooms, but he cannot start a bed-and-breakfast for travelers. All capital a citizen earns from working comes from the government and belongs to the government. Entrepreneurial efforts are forbidden. Government is free to shut down any business that operates independent of its legislative limits.
The psychological impact is that citizens no longer live each day with a sense of freedom, but a sense of obligation, not to their fellow citizen, but to the government. Once such a system is in place, it cannot simply be discarded. Many factors can disrupt corporate power and even the wealthiest and largest companies are not immune, not even the mighty oil companies. Governments, on the other hand, can use the law and enforcement to ensure their immunity. Violent protests and revolutions can destroy property, but it ultimately only shifts one government class to another. In nations where people are violently protesting against their government, supposedly in the name of “democracy,” they are only transitioning from one form of oppression through dictatorship to another form of oppression through socialism. The government class once entrenched is nigh impossible to undo.
Yete, undermining the government class is possible. Christianity poses one of the largest threats to socialist systems. Whereas the primary philosophy behind socialism is peace and harmony through mass material security, Christianity offers a philosophy that defines life as consisting of more than mere material security. In the book of Matthew, Jesus offers this profound teaching:
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:25, 33 ESV).
Socialism offers the comfort of guaranteeing through a government class food and clothing so that citizens do not need to struggle for those necessities through private labor. Christianity places the responsibility for food and clothing in the hands of God’s sovereignty and provision and not the sovereignty and provision of an entrenched government class. The net effect of believing in a transcendent source of provision is that the citizen lives a life where labor is rewarded and laziness is punished. While this may sound cruel and unfair, it offers a life of satisfaction and freedom that gives room for the human spirit to thrive. Even if a citizen labors and earns little what he has is earned and gives meaning and purpose to life. Being in possession of his private capital is a greater sense of security than a guarantee from an oppressive government class. Private capital freely earned and offered voluntarily to the poor carries tremendous power toward the lifting of psychological burdens and elevating the human spirit, both to the giver and the receiver. Nothing is more powerful than the heart of a volunteer.
The very foundation of Christian charity is based on the theological concept of grace. God in His infinite private spiritual capital voluntarily gave to spiritually bankrupt sinners to elevate them from a poverty of sin. This proactive act of charity from God to man is the model. The sinner who receives God’s grace purely as a gift is then called upon to take responsibility for it and labor so that he can give of his material capital to those who are materially poor. A man who voluntarily gives of his wealth to the poor in need is a material model for Christ who voluntarily gave all that He had to the undeserving.
This context makes socialism inherently evil. It oppresses citizens and crushes the human spirit by controlling the fruits of their labor. Voluntary charity from earned wealth is robbed of its meaning because capital belongs to the government. All that remains is for the citizen to systematically live out their days fulfilling whatever role the government has given them in the economy to sustain a utopia enjoyed only by the government class.