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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Checkmate, Capitalists!

Arguments for socialism are based logical fallacies and historical ignorance

Look upon this meme, ye capitalists, and weep.

Socialists are people who either 1) are badly misinformed about social scientific matters, or 2) make a common philosophical mistake that I’ve dubbed the “Cohen Fallacy,” in honor of G.A. Cohen.

Regarding 1: Here is a ranking of all countries by how capitalist they are as of 2011. Where are the starving people generally located? Is it in the most capitalist countries?

By the way, here’s the trendline in absolute poverty around the world, thanks to globalization:


Regarding 2: I suspect what most socialists have in mind is an argument like this:

Sure, in realistic cases of socialism, such as the forms of socialism practiced in the 20th century, we had mass famine and forced starvation.

But in ideal socialism, the form of socialism I endorse, people would all love each other, share, and care! And so no one would starve. Ideal socialism is superior from a moral point of view to capitalism as we actually find it.

The problem with this argument, as I explained in Why Not Capitalism?, is that this is a bad argument:

  1. Socialism with perfect, morally flawless people who always do the right thing is better than capitalism with real people, who are imperfect, morally flawed, and often act badly.
  2. Therefore, socialism is better than capitalism.

The problem is that this argument leaves open whether capitalism with perfect, morally flawless people is better than, on par with, or worse than socialism with perfect, morally flawless people. It also leaves open whether capitalism with realistic people is better than socialism with realistic people.

As I argue in Why Not Capitalism?, ideal capitalism is morally superior (from a hard left-wing point of view) to ideal socialism. And I don’t see it even as debatable at this point that realistic capitalism, for all its flaws, is superior to realistic socialism.

Socialists might retort that capitalism makes us worse people while socialism encourages virtue and kindness. However, that’s a testable empirical claim. People like Herbert Gintis and Joseph Henrich, among others, have tested it, and it turns out to be the opposite of the truth.

This first appeared at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog.

  • Jason Brennan is the Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Chair at Georgetown University. He blogs regularly at Bleeding Heart Libertarians.