Now, I’m using the term “Wage Slave” as a joke, for the most part, because if one voluntarily enters into an agreement to do something in return for payment, then one obviously isn’t a slave. If I agree to cut your grass for $30 a week, I’m not your slave. I’ve gone over this before, because it stems from the idea that we are required to earn a wage in order to pay for food and a roof over our heads, but this is the case whether we work in the field to grow food and build our own home, or whether we provide services to someone else. It is the universe and the nature of biological life that requires us to earn food–whether by toiling in a field or toiling at a desk–and one way is simply more roundabout than the other. It is not American Society that forces someone to get a job and buy food; it is the fact that they must have food to not starve to death. If there was no money, no employment, and no grocery store (in other words, if no one else was producing food), it would still be necessary for the person to hunt, forage, and plant. We are not, therefore, slaves for wages to employers; we are slaves for sustenance by the universe.
All that aside, I want to talk about the Socialist Paradise, and I’m not going to strawman it here. I’m going to assume that it can be accomplished with no corruption, with no faux equality, and with no death squads. I can’t imagine what mechanism we could use to go from our world to this hypothetical world, but I do want to clarify that I don’t think there is any way to actually achieve this Socialist Paradise.
There is no unemployment in this Socialist Paradise. In fact, everyone works for the state, because the state is the owner of the means of production. Colloquially, in this democratic Socialist Paradise, it means “we the people” own the means of production, and the state is the embodiment of our control over it. The state has ceased being a distinctly separate thing from any individuals in society, and we have somehow managed to turn the state into an effective instrument of democratic will. There are no individuals within the government who do things for their own personal benefit, as has always happened in socialist countries.
There is no money in this Socialist Paradise. Everyone simply does their job, whatever it is, and then goes to the grocery store and gets the food they need. The idea obviously runs into a brick wall here, but it’s one we’re going to have go skate over: what of luxuries? No one needs alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, television, game systems, or anything else. Do luxuries simply cease to exist? How does the state know how many Democratic People’s Gaming Devices to create? Is there simply a requisition form that a person can fill out to request one? How long is the wait period on this? Let’s just assume that there is a requisition process whereby one can acquire luxuries–how many luxuries? Obviously, I can have a Democratic People’s Gaming Device, but what if my wife wants her own? Do we have to share one? What about a family of three, or four, or five? How much alcohol can I requisition each week? How frequently can I requisition for a new television? If my television gets broken by the cats–as has happened–is there a six month or two year waiting period before I can get another? Does some committee handle this decision? Are they elected?
I said I was going to gloss over this problem, but this is a problem that simply can’t be glossed over, can it? There are too many questions and too many variables. What if most people vote and decide that building video game systems is a waste of time, as many, many people do think? Even if 15% of the population still wants the Democratic People’s Gaming Device, construction of the devices has stopped; there is no way for those people to acquire one.
Perhaps someone has tired of their Democratic People’s Gaming Device (yes, I’m going to continue typing that out in full) after the society has decided to stop producing them. Obviously, the socialist paradise would require that the person return the Democratic People’s Gaming Device (which is obviously better than the Imperialist SwineStation and the CapitalistBox, even though it doesn’t do 4k–but 4k isn’t necessary anyway, because the Democratic People’s Television doesn’t have 4k resolution anyway… It’s also mono sound, but that’s okay because the Democratic People’s Television only has one speaker, and the Democratic People’s Enhanced Auditory Device ceased being produced six years ago) to the Democratic People’s Requisition & Distribution Center, at which point it would be recycled and used to make a device that was deemed necessary. Bob couldn’t simply trade his Democratic People’s Gaming Device to Tim in return for an extra three bottles of wine (Bob has a drinking problem).
Except that’s exactly what Bob would do. Bob is an alcoholic, and the state is allowing him only two six packs of beer, one bottle of liquor, and one bottle of wine each week, which isn’t enough to sate Bob’s thirst. He handles this by requisitioning for luxuries and swapping the luxuries in secret for other people’s beer, liquor, and wine. Bob doesn’t actually want a Democratic People’s Gaming Device; he wants a bottle of Democratic People’s Fermented Grape Beverage.
And here we come to the destroyer of Socialism: the black market.
During World War 2, the American government issued ration stamps in order to “assist” conservation and the war effort. What it ended up doing, however, was creating a black market where people bought and sold meat, bread, and sugar–often in broad daylight with the knowledge of local authorities–under the table, ignoring the ration stamp system. It was impossible for a government bureaucrat to know how much meat this family in Wyoming needed, but that didn’t stop the government from trying to dictate how much meat the family could have. The price of meat on the black market obviously increased, but it’s preferable that the family of Wyoming could buy meat at a higher price than to be unable to buy it at all.
People want stuff.
When the government outlawed alcohol, it did nothing to eliminate people’s desire to drink, and a black market was immediately created. Instead of manufacturing alcohol publicly and openly, people had to do it in secret. The quality of the alcohol plummeted, because it was being made in bath tubs and stuff, while its price increased due to the difficulties of getting it, the lower quantity in circulation, and the higher risks involved in manufacturing and selling it. This created gangs of thugs like Al Capone who made lots and lots of money and who, since they were operating in the shadows of society rather than in the open, took and exercised control with bullets and billy clubs instead of paperwork and civility. Once Prohibition against alcohol was lifted, Al Capone and the other gangs immediately went out of business, because fucking no one wanted to buy Bathtub Moonshine from Al Capone when they could instead buy Crown Royal from a store that wouldn’t break their thumbs if they were caught shopping elsewhere. The Untouchables and the feds were unable to put much of a dent in the illegal moonshine business, but the entire business was defeated overnight when prohibition was repealed.
We see the same happening today with prohibitions against drugs, and this is no more apparent than with the rise of Krokodil in Russia. People turn to Krokodil because it can be made cheaply from over-the-counter meds*, while heroin is much more expensive and much harder to manufacture. If there was a company producing heroin in Russia in the open–in factories–and selling it over the counter in pharmacies, then the Krokodil epidemic would never have happened. So much of the high price of heroin comes from its illegal status and the difficulty in manufacturing it; allowing open manufacture would drop the price significantly.
I was once addicted to pain killers. A ten milligram percocet on the street could reach $8–for one of the “school buses.” Lortabs rarely went past $7 each, but there’s a noticeable quality difference between percocet and lortab. During rough dry periods, a ten could reach ten dollars. The reason I became addicted was that a friend of mine who has sickle cell had time released 100mg morphine tabs that she sold me for $5 each. Half of one of those would have you lit up all day long. $2.50 for a high that lasted all day, and she got them regularly. The cost of taking them dropped substantially; whereas before I was spending $35 or so a day, suddenly I was spending only $2.50 a day, and I was able to do that for months and months… and months… and months…
The primarily reason people die from prescription pain killers is not the respiratory depression or any of the other hydro/oxycodone side effects. Tolerance to the narcotics is built up too much for that too happen; by the end of it, I could take 4 ten milligram lortabs and only barely feel it. The reason people die is the acetaminophen. Many of the people I ran around with had no idea how much acetaminophen they were taking on a daily basis, but 4 ten milligram tabs is a 2 gram dose of Tylenol. 4 grams in one day is extremely dangerous. I know a guy who is consuming about 12 grams of acetaminophen every single day, and it’s costing him hundreds of dollars a day to do it.
Now, the point I intended to get at was that it was possible to acquire the pain killers at a significantly lower price, by going through a doctor and buying them from a pharmacy. My sister and father went this route, though I never did–I didn’t want a paper trail showing any possibility of dependency. They both could sue the living hell out of a few doctors in the area, if they were unscrupulous, as well as the pharmacy that would fill a 60 count prescription of percocets and a 120 count prescription of lortabs within days of each other. Not to mention the early refills–“I accidentally washed them!” “I accidentally lost them!” “Someone stole them out of my car!”
By going through the doctor, my sister and father not only made their addictions far worse than mine could ever have been, but, relatedly, also paid substantially less per pill. Through the course of my run with them, I averaged probably $5.50 per pill, because I did go to the doctor some. Their average is probably $1 per pill, or even lower. $100 for the doctor visit, $25 for the prescription–that’s about $2 per pill, but they always came with refills, which further lowered the price. Legalization helped them substantially.
Illegalization didn’t keep me from buying pain pills at a much higher price. When someone is going to become addicted, they’re going to become addicted. On some of those rough days, if I’d only been able to find heroin, honestly, I probably would have bought it. All the hoops and hurdles accomplished was chasing me to the streets, where I burned through about $12,000 in the course of six months, all while feeding excuses to my wife about “how expensive gas is getting.” If I was addicted to heroin and unable to find any, but could get hydrocodeine, I would certainly have tried krokodil.
In the article I linked above, I talked about legalizing hate speech and why it’s so important to allow people to speak their minds openly and freely, without fear of violent reprisal or severe consequences for holding their opinions. The same underlying truth is the reason why: if people want to do something, outlawing it only pushes them into the shadows, where the rules of society no longer apply. Pushing the alcohol industry into the shadows produced the likes of Al Capone. Pushing hate speech into the shadows will turn it into hate crimes.
If Tim hates transsexual people, then let Tim say it without worrying about losing all of his business connections, employment, and everything else. Sure, those companies associating with him also have the right o sever ties, but we shouldn’t use social pressure as a roundabout way of forcing Tim to be silent, and that’s what we do in the modern world. It’s not much better to picket and protest Starbucks until they stop dealing with Tim’s company than it is to have the government arrest Tim for hate speech. Neither is a good solution, but at least social pressure doesn’t involve force and violence. But Tim saying that he hates transsexual people doesn’t do any harm. If he fires people for being transsexual, or refuses to do business with transsexual people, picket away, and demand Starbucks cease doing business with him. But just for stating his opinion?
If we create a society where Tim can’t say that he hates transsexual people because the consequences of that statement will destroy his life, then we’ve not erased his hatred; we’ve only pushed it into the shadows and added resentment to it. Tim begins muttering in anger in his home, “Oh, those queers can say they hate Christians… RAWR… but I can’t say I hate those queers…! ‘Equality’ they say! Yeah, for everyone except white Christians! RAWR!”
Without a way to express his hatred, it builds and festers. Will it boil over and become a news headline of “Tim & Co CEO Arrested For Murdering Twelve Transgender People”? Maybe, and maybe not. But every single person who said “You mustn’t say that!” and who forced him to hold his tongue through threats of world-shattering consequences contributed to the hatred and resentment soup that became violence. This is why I tell people to leave Mississippi alone. They won’t be the ones killed by angry hillbillies who can no longer express their opinions without fear. I will be.
Socialism’s problems rise primarily from this distinction between want and need, between luxury and necessity. It is the economic calculation problem, in a nutshell. There is no efficient or effective way for the government to know how many Democratic People’s Gaming Devices to build, because it simply can’t poll everyone. And even if it could, what if someone changed their mind? The entire argument for Socialism hinges on the precept that Capitalism is wasteful. After all, under Capitalism we’ve ended up with empty houses that co-exist alongside homeless people. That sucks, and is a problem, but their proposed solution is that the socialist government would build exactly as many houses as are necessary. This obviously a question that can’t be answered–in a capitalist society or a socialist one.
How many iPhones should Apple make? If they make too many, then they lose money because devices go unsold. If they make too few, then people will buy a competitor’s. How many Xbox Ones should Microsoft make? They face the same problem. If they make too many, then they lose money because devices go unsold. If they make too few, then people will buy a PlayStation 4 instead. The people best suited to estimate how many iPhones they need to make are the people at Apple, of course, but no one can say that there are no unsold iPhones or Xbox Ones hanging around. There are plenty.
Or you can make the Nintendo mistake, and repeatedly produce too few, even after promising customers that you’d fix the supply issue. Nintendo is so bad about this that people have accused them of intentionally undermanufacturing Amiibos to create artificial scarcity. That’s a silly argument, because Nintendo makes no money from the Amiibos being sold on eBay for four and five times the MSRP, but that’s just how severe their problem is. It pisses consumers off, and, as a result, I know of several prominent game reviewers (Jim Sterling among them) who refuse to touch Amiibo ever again.
Would the socialist society even make luxuries at all? Why should they? Luxuries are, by their very nature, wasteful. That is, after all, what makes them luxuries–they aren’t required, and they don’t produce anything. If the idea is to minimize waste and inefficiency, then it’s hard to imagine that luxuries of any type would be manufactured. Not only is it a waste of resources and time to build the Democratic People’s Gaming Device, but every minute that Terry sits at home playing it is a minute that Terry is contributing nothing to society.
So what would that look like? It would look like Al Capone–black markets of people creating things that people want, because the desire doesn’t disappear. Does the Socialist Paradise produce luxuries? If it does, then it has no idea how many to make, and creates waste. If it doesn’t, then free market principles take over, but in the darkness and away from “official” society, so it’s a black market. Either way, the Socialist Paradise isn’t a paradise at all. How does it handle people like Al Capone, who dare engage in such horrible, evil, capitalist activity as making a good that people want? In decades, the state hasn’t managed to eliminate drugs, and it actually went as far as declaring war on drugs, so we already know that efforts to combat the black market are futile. Do we instead go with the ration and requisition system?
I suppose the latter, and thank goodness, right?
Living in a feudal society where we are all slaves to the lord who fulfills our necessity requests and produces luxuries per requisitions is so much better than being able to get up and go buy an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4–whichever you prefer. And because we all know that a monopoly doesn’t decrease quality or anything, we can rest assured that the Democratic People’s Gaming System is definitely better than either the PlayStation or Xbox would ever be.
So thank goodness for that.
* Russia now requires a prescription, which has made Krokodil much harder to manufacture, ensuring not that people will stop doing dangerous, homemade drugs but that people will instead invent some other homemade drug.