So, is socialism compatible with liberty? There are many who claim that it is. There are others (few, admittedly) who claim that some form of socialism is ESSENTIAL to liberty.
Before diving in, let us be perfectly clear: we at The Price of Liberty believe that liberty must always and forever prevail. No matter what economic system. No matter what political system. No matter what, liberty is essential.
In Part 1, we tried to define socialism, and I think we see:
a. Socialism describes a fairly broad range of economic systems but there are some common features – primarily how involuntary government is involved in the economy.
b. Socialism involves widespread ownership of means of production (both goods and services) and distribution by some large group: employees, consumers, even entire communities (in scale up to and including entire nation-states). Whether it is ALL or PART of those economic activities, it is still socialism: a difference in degree, not kind.
c. As in capitalism, in socialism ownership can be (and usually is) separate from control or management. That control and management is either government itself or organizations in turn controlled and supported/empowered by governments. Therefore, participation by consumers or providers is mostly mandatory. (To put it another way, even for statists, government regulation beyond that essential to protect people from physical harm due to actions by others should be considered a type of control and therefore ownership – and therefore a form of socialism.)
d. A “mixed system” of free enterprise and socialism is still socialist. Simply put, socialism means at least a part of an economy – and therefore a society – is under government control. For the individual, this means that some decisions are made for the person by OTHERS. That is perhaps the ultimate point to be made: our personal decisions are made by other people – however those other people are given that power.
That said, what is the relationship of socialism and liberty? Can a system (economic and social – therefore political) ensure liberty (short- or long-term) and still be socialist? Can liberty – personal and economic – survive and thrive – in a socialist economy?
I submit that it cannot. When other people are making decisions that you have the innate ability to make for yourself, and forcing you to abide by their decision, that is NOT liberty. You are being denied liberty – you are not free. At least not to some degree. That amount of residual liberty you are “permitted” by the government may be quite a bit or very little – but it is still not the liberty we are given by God.
People usually argue over how those people are chosen, or what decisions are taken away from some or all people. Usually, in the cause of human liberty, those are the wrong topics. If we accept ANY person to make decisions for us – however minor – with no ability to revoke that authority or reject their decisions, we have accepted that someone has the inherent power to make any and all decisions for us for however long they want to exercise that power.
Socialism supposedly limits that power to economic decisions and has no control over “personal freedoms.” But history demonstrates that there is no effective barrier to the breadth of control that the entity (government, church, company, institution, etc.) can exercise. The more socialist an economy is (the more economic decisions are made for us by others) the more quickly such control over personal liberties is likely to come.
For a short time, some personal social and even economic liberties can survive in a mixed society in which socialism is limited. But the long term shift is to less and less liberty.
It works both ways. Denial of personal freedoms (of speech, of religion, of self-defense) corrupts and leads to loss of economic liberties. Most people who love liberty recognize that. But claiming that some decisions are so important to preserving society and protecting the safety and health of others – usually tied to what can be sold, bought, owned, etc. – and from whom and under what circumstances – can impact on exercising liberty in the areas of religion, communication, and travel.