When discussing the merits of a libertarian society, you will often hear someone say “you can have voluntary socialism in libertarianism.”
But is this actually true, or is this just a Libertarian Party dog whistle to try to get more Bernie supporters to think they are already libertarians?
To begin, let us define our terms. According to the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, socialism is defined as,
any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done
Libertarianism, on the other hand, links back to the word libertarian, which is defined as,
an advocate of the doctrine of free will
a : a person who upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action b capitalized : a member of a political party advocating libertarian principles
While libertarians often have a tough time coming to a consensus over what individual liberty may entail, private property rights, self-determination, self-defense, and non-aggression are generally recognized to be fundamental libertarian principles. Libertarians also recognize that resources are scarce, have a deep veneration for capitalism, and despise Keynesian and Marxist economics.
Libertarianism then is the antithesis of socialism, since the abolition of individual liberty and property rights is inherent in socialism. The two are simply not compatible, just as being an atheist Christian would be contradictory.
Those that say socialism can be libertarian if it is voluntary are simply wrong. If it is voluntary, it is not socialism. It may be a poor economic decision that would lead to your ruin, but it defies all definitions and historical understandings of socialism.
People will often argue that households are an example of voluntary socialism since they share resources. This is untrue, since property rights still exist. There is still a proper owner of the resources, and permission to use them can be revoked at any time. Socialism, on the other hand, infers the abolition of private property, therefore there would be no rightful owner of the resources, and you would have no such ability to revoke permission since the resources would never truly be yours.
Furthermore, in a household, the users still treat resources as scarce. You wouldn’t overuse your water or electricity because it would run up the cost, and you wouldn’t buy more food than you need while grocery shopping, so that you may have more money left to use towards something else. Since property rights still exist, you bear the cost of additional units of utility you seek to enjoy. Whereas under socialism, others bear the cost of additional units of utility you seek to enjoy. Resources are not treated as scarce and goods cannot be priced, therefore leading to an overuse of scarce goods, and eventually a shortage of resources. This is known as the tragedy of the commons.
Charities are not examples of voluntary socialism either. Charities, like households, still recognize resources as being scarce, and respect property rights. Since resources are scarce, charities must provide a quality product or service in order to fight for donations, otherwise consumers will turn to their competitors. Nor do charities receive their donations simply because the money in the economy belongs to the collective, as socialism infers, but because private property owners find personal value in voluntarily exchanging their dollars for the benefit it may provide themselves or their loved ones. Charities receive donations because of property rights, not in lieu of them.
As long as property rights exist, socialism cannot. And while you can give up your title to property you presently own through contracts and voluntary exchange, you cannot, however, voluntarily give up your inalienable right to own property. Since socialism requires the latter, anything which is voluntary cannot be considered socialism.
Moreover, even if you voluntarily enter into a contract, you still must acknowledge property rights, which socialism does not.
On top of this, socialism cannot be practiced voluntarily because taken to its conclusions, there would be zero incentive to produce. Without the profit motive, there would be little to no reason for innovators and entrepreneurs to enter into the market to meet demand. A student who is assured an A by his professor, regardless of how he does on his exams, is going to have no motive to show up to class. Likewise, Bill Gates would have no incentive to continue expending his precious time and resources selling computers if he wasn’t able to make a profit, and made no more than a janitor.
Socialism, therefore, necessarily requires coercive force to be able to implement. For property rights to be abolished and for goods and services to be provided in the absence of profit, man must be violently coerced to act. Voluntary socialism is, and always will be, an oxymoron.
Please join Liberty Hangout in declaring May Communism Awareness Month, and help us to spread the truth about this dangerous ideology.
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