Saving Socialism from the Socialists

Socialism and its near cousin Communism were the scourge of the 20th century and whilst its influence as an ideology is no longer as disastrous as it once was, it is perhaps more insidious today. Wikipedia in its article on Socialism introduces it as follows:-

Socialism refers to group of ideologies and political movements with the goal of a socio-economic system in which property and the distribution of wealth are subject to control by the community. This control may be either direct—exercised through popular collectives such as workers’ councils—or indirect—exercised on behalf of the people by the state. As an economic system, socialism is often characterized by state, worker, or community ownership of the means of production, goals which have been attributed to, and claimed by, a number of political parties and governments throughout history.

This definition fits with my understanding of the term. The key characteristic being that property is controlled communally not privately. In the worst case the community seeks to exert control over the very body and being of individuals. Generally it just involves pushing people around.

Lindsay Tanner writing in The Australian recently, seeks to divorce what he calls producerism from socialism. Here is part of what he says:-

Some would call this approach mercantilism. Others wrongly regard it as a core component of socialism. I see it as a distinct phenomenon in its own right that can best be described as producerism.

Producerism exists wherever the state implements regulatory and ownership arrangements that favour or protect particular producer groups at the expense of society as a whole. Tariffs, monopolies and other distorting regulatory regimes are the most obvious examples of the producerist philosophy at work.

So for Lindsay Tanner community control of property and wealth distribution is only socialism if it is done for the good of society as a whole. In other words Tanner believes socialism is not socialism unless it is utilitarianism. If community control of property and wealth distribution is done for narrow sectional interests then Tanner calls it producerism and regards it as a different animal to socialism. Socialism according to Tanner is something done for the greater good and if it is not for the greater good then it’s not socialism. A cynical libertarian might suggest that this is like saying that socialism is not socialism.

I don’t agree with the idea that socialism, or community control of property, is routinely good for society as a whole. However if clarifying socialism in this way allows Tanner and the ALP to conclude that we need lower taxes, lower tariffs, less corporate welfare and deregulation of markets and prices then I hope they spend quite a bit of time clarifying socialism to the mass of socialists out there.

13 thoughts on “Saving Socialism from the Socialists

  1. I think we need to distinguish between voluntary and involuntary socialism and communism, and then we can distinguish between socialism and communism in both cases and then define each.

    I don’t see why socialism “needs” tariffs etc any more than Bush incorrectly supports tariffs for “American Capitalism” either. I wish utilitarian economic principles were applied to all Government policy – my estimation is that we would see less socialism and progress towards free enterprise.

  2. If it is voluntary then it is generally called society and community not socialism and communism. Although I agree that separating voluntary from involuntary is indeed an important distinction. So long as voluntary means individual choice and not collective choice. If a nation becomes communist through democratic means that does not make it a voluntary system.

  3. Tanner’s article in the Australian is very encouraging – arguing in favour of less regulation, lower tariffs and greater simplicity. I hope his vision is allowed to hold sway within the ALP. For today, we read about Senator Carr’s renewed attempts to erect trade barriers around the car industry.

    good for Mr. Tanner.

  4. The first line of the Wikipedia article could apply to any country in the world! We’re all Socialists!!! HELP!

  5. yes.

    “financial support to industry and firms has gone up by 15% in real terms over five years to June 2007. That is significant.”

    says the productivity Commission.

    it is indeed.

  6. Tanner’s article should be interpreted within the context of the ALP and its traditional sympathy for socialism. What he is attempting to do is eliminate socialist policies without abandoning the symbolism of socialism. Carr represents the old guard.

    I hope he manages to turn producerism into a big nasty that the ALP is determined to eliminate. Who cares if they think socialism is still sacred.

  7. DavidL – I don’t disagree. Your comment essentially paraphrases my article. I do however find it amusing that some are so keen to retain the socialist brand even whilst endeavoring to abandoning the product. It would be fantastic to witness the day when the difference between Socialism and Libertarianism has become like comparing Coke with Pepsi so long as it is due to Socialism changing and not due to Libertarianism faltering.

  8. Tanner’s war on Mercantilism, by the name Producerism, has two targets. One is coincidental and possibly unintentional: the elements within the Nationals who make persistent calls for a special case in agriculture protectionism.

    The other is deliberately intentional: the elements in the ALP who want general industry protectionism and specific labour protectionism. In the case of the latter, because the two components are so closely intertwined with the raison d’etre of the ALP, he will not be successful in reforming the ALP.

    In the case of the former, I hope the Nationals in reviewing their future abandon this part of their economic policy.

  9. http://willrich354.blogspot.com/2008/05/my-political-and-philosophical-view.html

    “I don’t agree with the idea that socialism, or community control of property, is routinely good for society as a whole. However if clarifying socialism in this way allows Tanner and the ALP to conclude that we need lower taxes, lower tariffs, less corporate welfare and deregulation of markets and prices then I hope they spend quite a bit of time clarifying socialism to the mass of socialists out there.”

    Making any of those arguments to a real socialist (i.e. not a reformist social democrat) would fail because your aiming to extend the reach of capitalism. Too why wouldn’t the community controlling production be good for society? If theres a democratic structure as in socialism then the majority in other words “society as a whole” will be better off. Basic logic man.

  10. The arguments aren’t aimed at communists. So we’re not worried.

    Okishio showed that the communist critique of free enterprise is bunk.

    There is no “basic logic” that communism makes people better off. It is a non sequitur that defies history and the mathematical impossibilities of Marx’s ideas, but also the work of Mises and Hayek on prices and information.

  11. producerism is a social system without institutionized force, ie government. Producers provide all the goods and services that man requires. Looters and moochers are not needed.

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