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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On socialism

There has been a lot of careless use of the world socialist and socialism in the last few days. The term is a pejorative that feeds people's emotions against a system which is thought to be the rule of the mob but in practicality turns out to be the rule of an elite few.

One problem is that no one really knows what socialism is or what socialists believe. The Oct. 22, 1908 NYT reports on Eugene Deb's 1908 campaign for president of the United States as a candidate of the Socialist Party. In the story they provide two definitions of socialism, one is from a Socialist newspaper (The New York Call):
The earth for all the people. That is the demand.

The machinery of production and distribution for all the people. That is the demand.

The collective ownership and control of industry and its democratic management in the interest of all the people. That is the demand.

The elimination of rent, interest, and profit and the production of wealth to satisfy the wants of all the people. That is the demand.

Co-operative industry in which all shall work together in harmony as the basis of a new social order, a higher civilization, a real republic. That is the demand.

The end of class struggles and class rule, or master and slave, of ignorance and vice, of poverty and shame, of cruelty and crime - the birth of freedom, the dawn of a brotherhood, the beginning of man. That is the demand.

This is Socialism!

The second definition comes from Mr. Deb's "textbook":
The Socialist Party does not disguise the fact that its ultimate aim is the entire abolition of rent, interest, and profit, and the collective ownership and operation of all the monopolized industries of the Nation.

Neither candidate seems to subscribe to either "statement of purpose" entirely, although it seems that one side is a little more likely to seek an end to, or at least a reduction in, profits, interest and rent. However, what will be the result of reducing or ending profits, interest and rent? Lucky for the folks in 1908 the NYT's opinion piece offered a little insight:
But what is property worth when rent, interest, and profit are abolished? If the owner of houses and lands is forbidden to accept rent, his houses and lands being no longer a source of income, would become worthless. They would be worse than worthless, indeed, they would be a burden, since we suppose he would have to pay taxes. Bonds and shares of stock would likewise be made worthless at a stroke when the Socialist laws went into effect, for interest and profit, according to Mr. Debs are to be entirely abolished. The quarterly or half-yearly coupons of bonds would no longer be paid, no more dividends would be received on stocks. The owner of loanable funds, actual cash in bank, would be in the same plight. Interest being abolished, he could get nothing for his money. We presume Socialism would permit him to spend it for the purchase of food and clothing.
Real estate property would not be worthless as it might still have consumption value and therefore someone might pay a positive price for the property, but it is true that the investment value of the property would be driven towards zero.

The opinion piece goes on:
So, after all, in spite of all its denials, Socialism does mean the confiscation of the property of private individuals. The Government might go through the form of paying for the railroads, the telegraphs, and the like, but if it gave in exchange bonds upon which no interest was to be paid, the pretend purchase would be, in fact, confiscation. Socialists have always angrily resented the charge that what they really mean is the redistribution of wealth. Mr. Debs's statement is a pretty full admission that that is their purpose.
Again, it doesn't seem to me that either ticket is necessarily advocating such extreme measures as attributed to the desires of Mr. Debs in 1908. However, remember that the most precious property we have as individuals is our time.

Those who work voluntarily trade their time for wages so that they can purchase goods and services to enjoy while they are not working, i.e. during leisure. Taxes should not be measured in dollars but rather in time. If an individual earns $1,000,000 per year for 2,500 hours of work that person's time is worth $400 per hour. If that person's tax burden is increased by $10,000 because they can "afford it" the government has abducted 25 hours of that person's time. If any other individual or system was able to expropriate an individual's time with no recourse, there would be immediate outrage. Rather, in our post-modern age, it is thought by many on both sides of the political spectrum to be a virtue to promise to steal other people's time.

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