is an essential feature of the . However, that does not equate to an endorsement of socialism.
When the UK had its revolution in the 17th century, enterprise and commerce developed and thrived. Although the right to vote remained with aristocrats and land-owning classes, the middle class grew and prospered in the following century.
However, the mid-19th century produced something new: the ideology of socialism based on the writings of Karl Marx (an economist) and Friedrich Engels (a social scientist).
Using the necessity to organize redistribution as the rationale (or excuse), socialist governments have flowered since then. Feeding on envy and catering to urges for dependency, the ideology allows politicians to accumulate and centralize power. Although socialism suffered a collapse in legitimacy near the end of the 20th century, that won't stop politicians from supporting it in disguised forms.
Socialism has a natural appeal: perhaps especially to the politically ambitious who seek to enter the ruling class. Both poor and well-off societies are equally exposed to politicians succumbing to the temptation. Developed societies with populist parties of the left or right are little different in this regard from countries openly claiming to be purely socialist.
Socialism in theory has a noble aim: equality for all—possibly re-badged as «fair shares for all» or «social justice».
In practice, this excludes, of course, the leading politicians and top officials who are entrusted with realizing this noble aim.
Socialism in practice is an elixir of pure primitive politics for one simple reason: It centralizes both power and wealth. This centralization is intrinsic to socialism, because re-distribution requires a great deal of power to be assigned to those in charge so that a great deal of wealth can be collected.
The rhetoric—helping people, serving people, protecting people, respecting people—covers the real-politik of expropriation (to ensure equality) and suppression or repression (to deal with protest).
For the avoidance of doubt: it should be recognized that most Western politicians are strongly socialist in their approach, regardless of the ideology they claim to represent.
Socialist-style equality turns out to require central control of the economy to ensure that everybody can be economically equal (impossible) as well as (possible).
However: while everyone can easily be made poorer, making everyone wealthier turns out to be far more difficult.
Under socialism, everyone learns very quickly that extra effort does not bring commensurate rewards—except on the black market.
Imagine a work group consisting equally of hard-workers and lazy slackers. Imagine that each is given an average wage based on group productivity.
After a while, the hard-workers realize they are being taken advantage of, so they work less; and the lazy slackers recognize they get paid more than they deserve for being lazy, so they also work less. So the average productivity falls. At this new lower level, the same logic exists, and so productivity falls again. And falls. And falls. And falls…There is nothing to push the output in any other direction.
Can this ever be a sensible way to organize economic life?
As a result, grand agricultural plans cause starvation, and grand industrial programs result in scarce and shoddy goods.
The need for effective government does not disappear. In striving to be effective, the government makes widespread, intrusive, and even brutal efforts to enforce compliance and suppress complaints and criticisms. If resentment keeps building, political elites identify scapegoats to convert popular frustration and anger into hostility directed elsewhere—perhaps a wealthy hard-working ethnic group like Jews or Chinese, or a nearby country.
The elites must organize intense and continuous efforts to socialize and indoctrinate the population. They need to maintain control over independent activities and introduce close police supervision to maintain loyalty to the leadership and to prevent civil unrest. It's a lot of hard work for those in charge.
Originally posted: July 2009; Last updated: 27 Mar 2014