Unless you’re one of 500~ people who like the page Shit Kyle Wagner Says, then you’re probably not going to get the reference in the title. If you’re an anarchist, voluntaryist, or libertarian, though, go to that page and enjoy what this self-professed “former anarcho-capitalist who ‘woke up’ and became a libertarian who ‘woke up’ and became a liberty-leaning conservative who still calls himself a libertarian even as he says some of the dumbest shit you’ll ever see” has to say.
I got into a discussion with someone recently about Socialism versus Capitalism, and the argument ultimately sank into emotional territory; after it was all said and done, the question asked of me was this:
There are four million homeless people in Spain and eleven million houses that are empty. This is a waste of resources, and it’s morally wrong.
At first glance, this is not a good argument but a great one, for how can he be incorrect? Is it not clearly a waste of resources for so many houses to go empty while so many people need houses? Is it not obvious that the efficient use of those resources would have produced exactly as many houses are needed and would have left no one homeless? We can address the “morally wrong” statement later; for now, are these things not obvious?
They are, but only at a surface glance–and a limited one that sees only the first ten feet. It is a car driving around at night whose headlights reveal only the next thirty feet of highway, so the driver assumes he can relax and take his hands off the steering wheel, never considering that there is a sharp turn thirty-five feet away. “I can’t see it, so it’s not there!” the driver proclaims. If you’d dispute this assessment, then you should go and read the actual comment chain, where the socialist argues exactly that, saying that because he can’t see the value of x job at thirty-five feet away, it must have no value.
What a strange notion.
Let’s examine, for a moment, what’s happening here. The anonymous socialist–who is almost certainly the same guy who gave a competing answer to the question–is making a valuation judgment on the use of these resources, saying, “They are without value.” Obviously, he is being hyperbolic, and I’m not faulting him for that. What he means is that the job has almost no value; there’s no way he means that the job has absolutely zero value to anyone. If nothing else, the job has value for the person who does that job, so we have to assume that he meant “The job has very little value.”
However, we know that all valuation judgments are subjective. He is deciding that this job has no value based on his internal understanding of what has value and what doesn’t, and his understanding is colored by his own biases and predilections. To see what I mean, let’s look at another value statement.
“Drugs are bad.”
Sure, most people would agree, but why are drugs bad? Well–for a moment putting on the appropriate hat–they are damaging to society and to the individual.
Okay, but why is “damage to the individual” bad? Why is “damage to society” bad?
We’ll find that these questions are actually impossible to answer. We can do this with any value statement. What we find are value statements built on assumed value statements. Drugs are bad because damage to the individual is bad. However, when pressed, when we trace this seemingly-infinite regress back to its source, we are left finding ourselves saying, “Because it just is!” Let’s do another, more controversial one.
“Murderers are bad.”
Again, virtually everyone would agree–as would I–but why are murderers bad? Because killing people is wrong. But why is killing people wrong? Because it’s a violation of their rights? That’s not an answer–it’s rephrasing the assumption. Why is it wrong to violate people’s rights? Again, we are ultimately left with only “Because it just is!”
It’s not a problem that we build our value judgments upon assumptions that are built on assumptions that are built on assumptions. I firmly agree that murderers are bad, and I would certainly say that they’re bad because killing people is wrong because it’s a violation of their rights. The point is that it can’t be demonstrated. It isn’t objective. This value that we’ve set–even if 100% of all people agree with it–is not objective. Murder is no more objectively wrong than homosexuality is objectively wrong. This is what led Nietzsche to his observation that power is good, and that which causes a will to power is good; what is bad is weakness. Strictly speaking, Nietzsche is more right with his valuation judgments than anyone else, but only because his good and evil–a Blue and Orange morality if ever there was one–is built on the notion that survival of the species, ensured through power of the individual, is critical. This, too, is an assumption–Why is it good for the species to survive?–and Nietzsche was well aware of that. However, we’re getting into topics here that aren’t really related enough to warrant this much attention.
In effect, what we have from this socialist are two subjective valuation statements that are being said as though they are objective truths. “The resources are wasted in this manner,” meaning that the value of the resources is higher than the value of how they are presently being used; “this is morally wrong,” meaning that this state of affairs is “bad.”
Not only are these built upon assumptions, but how are these comparisons even made?
As Henry Hazlitt observed in The Foundations of Morality*, what is happening here is that the socialist is comparing an is to an ought. I’ve spoken about this before, how we humans do this constantly, comparing one state of affairs to another, and often one of those hypothetical states of existence is an idealized perfect one. Hazlitt put it best, though–we are looking at what is and comparing it to what ought be.
Obviously, though, we have a problem. Our imagining of what ought be is based on our assumptions of what is good and what is bad, and our assessments of good and bad are built on other assumptions. We might say “The world is in poor shape because people still kill one another, and we shouldn’t.” On the surface, yes–absolutely. However… We are comparing the state of the world as it is to how we think it ought be. So how do we think the world ought be? It ought be free of murder. Why do we think that? Because murder is wrong. Why do we think that? Because a violation of someone’s rights is wrong. Why do we think that? Because it just is.
My contention here isn’t that these subjective value statements derived from various assumptions are wrong. How could I even begin to make such a case? That they are wrong is, itself, a value statement, which is, itself, built on other assumptions. Beyond that, though, I agree–“It just is” wrong to violate someone’s rights. Far from arguing that these assumptions must be discarded, I firmly agree that these assumptions are critical, otherwise we can’t get anything done.
After all, every single day we assume that reality is real. Why do you get out and go to work? Because you assume that you’d really starve to death and really become homeless if you didn’t. Are these assumptions valid? Probably–but we can’t say definitively. Maybe you wouldn’t. Maybe everyone else would, but you’re a magical human being who doesn’t need to actually eat. Can you say you’re not? Have you ever tried? Maybe you’d experience the pains and mental anguish of hunger but would never actually die from it. Can you say this isn’t true? No. Does this mean you should chance it, and sit at home and wait to see if you die of starvation? No–make the assumption that you would starve, and take your ass to work.
I don’t demand that we stop assuming things and that we stop assigning values based on these assumptions.
I’m simply saying that we need to be aware that they are subjective statements built on assumptions, and that not one of us is objectively or demonstrably right about any value statement.
We can see, then, the immediate flaw in the socialist ideology. Not only does it contend that the state can set values correctly, thereby assuming that a thing has objective values and thereby assuming that the state can find them, but it proceeds on that assumption as though it is an objective truth. In fact, I could–and did–make the argument that it would be a waste of resources to give the houses to the four million homeless.
Think about it like this. I have a spare $100, even after I’ve put money into savings. It’s just spare money for me, completely disposable. A hooker comes up to me and tells me that she’s got STDs and is addicted to meth, and that she spent all of her money on meth and now doesn’t have money to buy food. The socialist’s position is that it would be a “waste of resources” and an “inefficient use of resources” if I told her no and kept my money to myself, saving it for another day. “You should give it to the prostitute,” says the socialist, “because she can put it to use buying food.”
The value statements can’t end there, though. What is the value of this woman having food? She will continue going through the streets fucking dudes and probably giving them STDs in the process. This must be included in the assessment of efficiently used resources. Maybe her survival means that she gives birth to a kid who grows up to be the next Stephen Hawking. This must also be included in the assessment. To make any definitive value statement requires omniscience–that is what I’m getting at. We must be able to compare an is to an ought, and we must be able to identify every single variable and every single consequence of the action. This is an impossible task.
Regardless, I don’t see how forcing me to give $100 to a drug-addicted, disease-ridden prostitute is a more efficient use of the money than if I just kept it to be used at a later date. They may be equally efficient, and letting me keep it may be more efficient. We don’t know. We can’t know.
But the socialist claims to.
* A fantastic philosophical work, though I have to confess that Hazlitt is occasionally pretty hard to read. However, if you can get through Nietzsche and things like Thus Spoke Zarathustra**, then Hazlitt shouldn’t be a problem.
** Good luck with that.