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And exactly who depends on Greed and Envy?

I had a few thoughts over a coffee this afternoon on how to express the difference between a Capitalist and a Socialist society in a short sharp shocking manner. In the Capitalist society, when an individual sees someone who is better off, they try to learn from them and work hard to do even better. In a Socialist world… they just steal it.

The stealing may happen by proxy, but it is stealing just the same.

30 comments to And exactly who depends on Greed and Envy?

  • PeterT

    A problem with this enterprise is that many of the ill defined left do not see themselves as ‘socialists’. Thankfully the term has a bit of baggage. Probably they see themselves as many-coloured, as Saruman would have said.

    “Capitalism” I never thought, was particulary informative of its underlying ideals. Indeed, it is not hard to see how one might understand the word as the philosophy of adherents to Mammon (almost wrote Mormon there – dammit Mitt). Anyhoo, the word has quite a lot of negative connotations now and it may be an up hill struggle to redefine it in people’s minds.

    What is to be preferred? “Libertarian” is too obscure; “Individualist” I think is accurate but also has negative connotations. “Freechoicer” I think is good and snappy, but might be confused with “pro-choice”.

    Anyway, for the sake of explaining the two concepts to somebody without any preconceptions certainly I think your example will do.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Capitalism depends on greed, Socialism depends on generosity.

    You can almost guarantee that everyone is “greedy” to some extent, and if they aren’t then it doesn’t matter to anyone but them. But you can never guarantee everyone will be generous, therefore you also need a bit of “enforcement” in making sure this is the case.

    The problem with “greed” is some will apply it a bit more vigorously, eventually to the detriment of others, so some intervention may be needed. Capitalist societies work better because it’s perfectly feasible to protect against an over-application of greed performed by a small number of individuals, rather than a Socialist society which is trying to enforce “generosity” to a much larger population.

    Enforcement ultimately means a loss of choice and freedom as someone else will usually decide who the recipient of your “generosity” will be.

  • Dom

    “In the Capitalist society, when an individual sees someone who is better off, they try to learn from them and work hard to do even better.”

    Have you ever heard of OWS?

  • Sigivald

    In an already-socialist world, the better-off are the nomenklatura and apparatchiks, and you can’t steal from them…

  • PeterT: I very much dislike the term ‘capitalism’ myself, not least because it was coined by socialists, but also because it is semantically useless. Problem is, I also am struggling to find a fitting alternative.

  • Laird

    “Free markets” works for me.

  • Phil

    A capitalist gets up in the morning and thinks “How can I build a better widget today?”

    A socialist gets up in the morning and thinks “Who can I push around today?”

  • Hmm

    Q. “And exactly who depends on Greed and Envy?”

    A. Anyone who desires your power. Anyone who imagines you as an object for their use. Everyone who hasn’t been taught otherwise.

    It’s not just Socialists who depend on Greed and Envy, its just that Greed and Envy are cornerstones of the Socialist Religion. Socialists are happily greedy and envious because they are taught to always project their nasty little motives on their target. This for them is a win-win situation, until reality catches up with them or death occurs (or both.).

    Socialists only value the Authority’s Narrative. Non-socialist Capitalists value “truth” somewhat and also some mutually agreed values. Real Men value “Truth” as an imperative and all that flows from that.

    Capitalism values truth: Socialism avoids truth wherever possible.

  • Cousin Dave

    Runice: I would challenge that “good greed” and “bad greed” differ only in degree. I think there’s a qualitative difference. “Good greed” wants something because the person needs it for their survival, or because they have some desire to possess it or use it, or because they plan to trade it for something else that they want. I might want something for utilitarian reasons, or because its aesthetics please me. I may plan to keep it indefinitely, or I may intend to use it as an investment with the intent of exchanging it for something else later. Or I might even plan to give it away. In any case, I desire the object either because I have plans for it, or because it would please me to have it. If the cost is high and I don’t have sufficient resources, and I desire it badly enough, I will either exchange other things that I don’t desire as much, or I will save and accumulate resources until I have enough to acquire it.

    Bad greed wants things because the person feels that they are entitled to have them. I don’t want the thing because I have a use for it or because the object pleases me in some fashion; I want it because I feel that it is my right to have it. Note the difference both in my emotional approach to the thing, and in my motivation. In this case, I will not be motivated to trade or save in order to acquire the object, because I don’t feel that I should have to do so. It is my right to have that thing! And if I’m sufficiently motivated, I will undertake an exercise of force or power or violence to get it.

    Capitalism, when it works right, runs on good greed. People exchange resources to get the things that they need or desire. This works because there’s a vast range across the human population in what different people find desirable. We all have resources that we are willing to trade to get the things we want. It also works because we all respect the rules of the game: we engage in trade voluntarily, and no exchage takes place until all the parties involved agree on the terms. The system does have a few kinks, and there are things that have to be done to screen out bad actors, but for the most part it works.

    A system based on bad greed is a socialist system. In a socialist system, people get things according to how much violence they are willing to do in order to get them. The people most motivated to do violence are those that feel most righteously that they deserve things, and those are the people who benefit from socialism. (This is essentially narcissistic behavior; reading up on Cluster B personality disorders will explain a lot about why socialism usually works out the way it does.) This game has no rules, other than that might makes right. Not surprisingly, people who aren’t essentially narcissistic will usually conclude that the only way to avoid losing at this game is to not play; thus the total pool of resources in a socialist system is not replenished. That’s especially bad because Cluster B people are usually singularly bad about wasting and destroying any resources they have. (If you’ve ever lived next door to someone with borderline personality disorder, and watched as they gradually destroy their property, you know what I’m talking about.) This is why socialist systems always have shortages of everything, and only a very small pool of people at the top of the heirarchy prosper.

  • Gene

    I don’t think it meets the requirements of “sharp and shocking,” but I always think of the definition in terms of the inevitability of markets. Humans (leftists included) cannot live in a society without markets, no matter how much they hate them. The elimination of free economic markets merely gives rise to other types of markets, i.e., markets in political influence and power. And it doesn’t take much thought to figure out just how malignant the latter type of society can become.

  • nemesis

    I think that Capitalism is based on a fine balance of competition and voluntary co-operation, whereas Socialism would seek to eliminate both.

  • Andrew Zalotocky

    In a Capitalist society, you sometimes have to queue for your coffee. In a Socialist society, you queue to find out if there is any coffee.

  • chuck

    Oh, there was plenty of theft of patents and methods back in the gilded age. Theft is common to many species, it is only humans that label it wrong, and that only in special cases. I don’t think you can make a compelling case for theft as a distinguishing mark of socialism.

  • Richard Thomas

    Capitalism isn’t just based on free markets and exchange of goods and services increasing overall value though. It needs money to work. Some of that excess value can then be set aside. That allows it to be reinvested and creates a whole new service industry for the management of that excess money or “capital”.

    It appears to be a two-way relationship too. You can’t have capitalism without money but I think it would be next to impossible to have money without capitalism. Modern government would not be possible without money so capitalism is just a fact of life. That makes a non-capitalist government an actual impossibility and basically just a cover for outright theft.

  • veryretired

    Shannon Love at ChicagoBoyz had a very nice post a while ago in which he discussed greed. He made the point that greed is ubiquitous in human beings, and it is entirely natural that they find ways to scratch the itch.

    However, there is a distinct moral difference between a person who fulfills his greed quotient by working tirelessly in creative labor to produce a product or service people are willing to pay him money for, and the statist who works tirelessly to get control of the work and wealth of others.

    Greed is as normal as sexuality—the critical element is whether it is expressed through voluntary consent, or a forcible taking.

    One of the greatest scams the aristocracy of pull has carried out is the bizarre contention that the desire of the ordinary person for wealth and a higher standard of living is somehow disreputable, while the claim to these same values by the mystics of muscle and spirit is dignified because they never earned any of it.

    Freedom and individual liberty may bring good results in some cases and bad results in others—there are no guarantees that something positive will always result just because the liberties of the parties’ involved were respected.

    However, we have the historical record, especially of the last few centuries, which fairly clearly indicates the tremendous progress that can be made when people are released from the ingrained repression that charaterized most all of human society through the ages, and, conversely, the grotesque, twisted evil that results when the individual is submerged in the mass of the collective, ruled over by whichever lunatic has managed to sieze power, unrestrained by any limits on his ideology or psyche.

    Liberty does not guarantee morality, it allows it.

    Collectivism does not endow repression with a moral justification, but prevents the moral from existing at all, except upon pain of death.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    A better term would be a ‘free enterprize’ society, because this also includes the right to be a capitalist- and the right not to be! Many successful writers don’t own factories- and lots of rich people like accumulating land, not capital.
    As for the essential difference in political authorities, Socialists and left-leaners want to forcibly share wealth, while libertarians want to share power. Both sides seek equality, but in different mediums.

  • Socialism breeds envy and peasants; Capitalism breeds optimism and millionaires.

  • Laird

    Interesting observation, NickM, but I think incorrect. Libertarians don’t want to share power, they want to prevent others from acquiring power, over themselves or others. If wanting everyone to retain the power inherent in them as human beings is “sharing”, then are we also “sharing” the rights to freedom of expression, religion, etc.? The concept makes no sense.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Who is this NickM? Do you mean me, Nuke?
    I still stand by my generic observation- because power shared means no-one has power over us, and there is no-one below us to tempt us into misusing power. An equal right to buy and own guns, for instance, would stifle many a dictatorship.
    And another meaning is that if we have political units, they should be small, like a confederation. Whilst switzerland is not perfect, it shows that such systems can exist and thrive in the modern world.
    And I did not mean my observation to be treated as rocket science- but it is the perfect antidote to say to people who talk about sharing wealth. The only way to do that is for governments to hoard power- and the slogan ‘Share power’ reveals the socialists as power-misers.

  • Ed Snack

    I always thought that “capitalism” works as it does because it basically harnesses normal human nature to common ends in the most effective manner. Socialism on the other hand relies on a human nature being something that it isn’t.

    Like the old parable of being built upon sand, the social model built upon falsehood cannot stand. “Clever” people think they can defeat human nature, and who knows, for short periods perhaps they can, but not, I suggest, in the long run.

    This discovery was Adam Smith’s great insight.

  • Clix

    Socialism is actually the more optimistic of the two.

    Capitalism involves risk and possible failure of ambition; you put money and effort in and you try to ensure there is a return while accepting the possibility of an error of judgement somewhere.

    Socialists though are certain that the future is better their way. They reject the notion that socialism (and its bigger brother, Communism) has never really worked because they are optimistic the next revolution will create the perfection of which they personally approve and will not restrict them in any form.

    Socialists are optimistic that their way, if followed without question, will never again leave any member of society dissatisfied. Capitalists cannot have that optimism because they know that tomorrow may bring a different world that they must adapt to and meet.

    The socialist tomorrow is always the same and no one will ever question it again, and they are certain of it.

  • Laird

    Yes, Nuke, I had intended to respond to you. Bad fingers.

    I think we just have a slightly different take on the meaning of “sharing”. It’s a minor quibble, and we’re in agreement on the essential point.

  • RRS

    If it is not too late to comment:

    Capitalism (which really isn’t an “ism” since its operation does not purport to achieve any “social objectives”) and Socialism (which is, and does) are generally regarded as economic systems in those societies where they exist (usually never in “pure” form – except for the Totalitarian).

    As has been stated here before, what is called Capitalism is a condition resulting from the specific nature of the kinds of human interactions within a social organization. It can be described but not defined.

    That is not the case of Socialism, which because its forms are always constructs or fabrications, hence they have to be defined in terms of objectives – most often to shape the results of human interactions.

    Nevertheless, Socialism can be said to exist as a result of the nature of human interactions in a specific social organization. Critics tend to attribute that existence to a perceived inability of the members of the society to respond to paticular circumstances, either individually or through voluntary cooperation.

  • Paul Marks

    “Capitalism” is a “boo word” invented by the enemies of private property and freedom of association (and freedom of non association).

    And the word “capitalism” is used to describe the situation as it is (for example governement spending taking up half the economy and regulations controlling every aspect of the other half).

    So I tend to insist on “free enterprise”.

    Also not perfect – but better than “capitalism”.

    Still – Dale’s actual post is 100% correct.

  • RRS

    Is all acquistiveness Greed?

  • RRS

    Is all Envy covetous?

  • Jim

    You want shocking? Try this for size:

    When Capitalist wants to have sex with a woman he lavishes his attention on her and gives her gifts in an attempt to convince her to sleep with him.

    A Socialist rapes her.

  • Cousin Dave

    “I don’t think you can make a compelling case for theft as a distinguishing mark of socialism.”

    I disagree. While theft may be present in capitalistic societies (has there ever been any kind of human society that didn’t have theft?), it is not an essential ingredient. If you could wave a wand and make theft disappear from a capitalistic society, nothing bad would happen; arguably, that society would be better off. On the other hand, theft is essential to socialism, because without theft, the socialist government has no goods to redistribute in order to buy the support of the people who keep the government in power.

  • Dale Amon

    Exactly. Took long enough for someone to get it. Stealing is a fundamental tenant of Socialism. Whether by individual or through their State proxy, the very purpose of the system is to steal from those who have been successful and redistribute it (with a bit for those really important people who handle the redistribution) to those who have not been so successful. I was set on this train of thoughts by some quotes of Krushchev given by the guy from Romania who was the highest level defector of the Cold War. Krushchev specifically used the word stealing in relationship to ‘the capitalists’ and insisted that it was the word to use.

    As the comment above stated, if suddenly everyone was totally honest and stealing vanished from Capitalist society, the only thing which would happen is that even more wealth would be generated.

    If it were removed from a Socialist society, it would collapse, probably violently.

  • Honest capitalism and dishonest socialism work precisely as you describe. Dishonest capitalism buys the ruling or the legislation to say the other fellow’s stuff was their private property all along, and quite possibly slings the owner of the coveted property into prison for theft, by way of dessert. Honest socialism tries to join the successful collective, or founds a new one inspired by its example, and shares the proceeds among its own members.

    Dishonest capitalism and socialism occur when either one is imposed from a centre by force, and are therefore rather familiar, if not in every instance dominant.

    The honest varieties of either seem to me to be just different poles of free association within a free economy: one oriented towards high concentration of wealth and responsibility, the other towards wide distribution of the same. If one approach is to be promoted above its random voluntary occurrence, and most particularly if it’s to be promoted by force, there had better be a damned good reason for it. And a damned restrained force for promoting it.

    I have small interest in promoting capitalism per se, even though it specifically fosters several things I like. I think it contains plenty of concentrated interests which are more than capable of promoting it for themselves, or – worse – doing so via the State. But I greatly approve of free markets, and should dearly like to see them more in evidence than at present.