Socialism is immoral at a fundamental level. Before I proceed, I am going to assume some basic moral premises upon which I will build my argument. First, I am assuming that theft and envy are immoral, and that liberty, fairness, justice, and compassion are morally good. I am assuming that most Americans would agree with these as general ethical principles. The premise of socialism is that fairness and justice can be achieved through the forced redistribution of wealth to provide social services. Socialism sounds like a system that will result in everyone’s needs being met for goods and services such as food, shelter, and healthcare. In a utopian world, socialism would provide an economic system that ensures that everyone is happy in their work, find fulfillment, and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. However, while this may sound good in theory, socialism cannot and will not ever function in this way due to the means by which this redistribution is hypothetically achieved.
Some individuals claim that there is a moral obligation for humans to help one another, and therefore, socialism ought to be a proper means of fulfilling that. Even if you accept this responsibility as true, it is difficult to justify socialism as the most effective way to improve the lives of all members of society. While the government is a necessary resource for services that protect individuals from harm, such as first responders and the military, the government is not, and should not be, responsible for providing all desirable commodities for a lifestyle.
Essentially, the government is a referee for a nation, overseeing the fairness of the game. They make sure that there’s no cheating or unfairness according to the rules, and they ensure that the arena and equipment meet certain standards. However, the referee doesn’t get involved in the outcome or plays of the game itself. They don’t favor one team over another. They don’t provide snacks or water, and it certainly wouldn’t be fair for them to give out any undeserved points. If the referee gave one team advantages such as more breaks or snacks, then they would not be acting in accordance with their role.
Similarly, the government oversteps its own moral duties by implementing social programs. This philosophy of the government’s role as a referee is a derivation of Adam Smith’s influential work, “The Wealth of Nations.” In this piece, Smith describes the basic services provided by a limited government, which he believes are national defense, a judicial system, and some public goods such as education and transportation. Although Smith’s ideas weren’t perfect — and I certainly don’t agree with all of them — I do believe that his perspective on the government’s limited role in peoples’ lives has moral value when it comes to evaluating the value of modern social programs.
Furthermore, forcing wealth redistribution for social programs impedes the constitutional, God-given right to liberty. When the government forces this money from citizens through taxes, individuals are forced to choose between allowing their money to be stolen or losing their freedom. A socialist government creates the potential for a tyrannical one. Specifically, if citizens refuse to contribute a certain amount in taxes for social programs, the government could potentially use military force to coerce the individual to comply with the government’s theft. This scenario of socialism is a large-scale robbery. If a group of individuals were to force others to give up their money or else face the punishment of violence and removal of freedom, few would call it a just action. Socialism is this situation exactly, except the group of individuals is the government.
If the government forces redistribution of wealth for any social service, then an individual’s labor belongs to the community rather than himself. At face value, this idea may sound peachy; however, upon further evaluation, this concept of ownership sounds frighteningly close to slavery, in which a man’s labor is taken from him without fair reward. Even if an individual is willing to work as a slave, isn’t slavery still morally wrong? Similarly, even in an idealized situation, if the governed agree to socialist principles, the government taking an individual’s property or money is still morally wrong in principle. If citizens desire to contribute to a social welfare program, they ought to do so through voluntary donations rather than forced “charity” through taxation. The peoples’ acceptance of a morally wrong principle for seemingly good reasons does not make it morally right. In this case, the general will of accepting socialism does not make the forced distribution a moral principle.
Some socialists attempt to avoid accusations of theft by claiming that redistribution of wealth, specifically through the government, ends with a right to resources such as healthcare. The individual may also argue that redistribution is the same as charity. However, standards of a lifestyle (food, shelter, healthcare), while good, are a right secured by the government, not provided by the government. This means the government secures the opportunity to work for a desired lifestyle instead of providing for the lifestyle itself.
This philosophy of the government’s role is rooted in John Locke’s “Two Treatises of Government,” in which he describes the rights that each individual holds regardless of the culture surrounding them. Among these rights, Locke discusses the importance of the right to property, which he believes the government does not have the right to seize without the owner’s consent. In the United States’ Constitution, this concept was shaped into the phrase “pursuit of happiness.” Ironically, this phrase was initially a protection of the liberty to maintain one’s ownership and freedom to pursue their desires independent from the government. However, in recent years, the pursuit of happiness has become interpreted as a right to happiness itself through government-mandated social programs.
Additionally, charity is moral because of the personal nature of voluntary compassion shown towards another individual. Socialism removes the moral aspect to charity and replaces it with often resented, forced theft by the government. An individual giving up money from a charity has moral value; however, the government forcibly taking an individual’s earnings to give to someone else is the government stealing what an individual earned and giving his earnings to someone who did not earn it. For example, if a person is checking out a grocery store and cannot afford to purchase their milk, it might be morally commendable to offer to pay for that person’s bread for their family to avoid starvation. However, this voluntary donation is very different from the government legally requiring that tax dollars pay for that person’s bread.
A common objection to capitalism is that it promotes greed, which is typically regarded as immoral. On the contrary, capitalism does not promote greed, but it incentivizes individual work ethic. Government-mandated social programs are true greed because they are rooted in the entitlement of individuals who feel entitled to take from those who have earned more so that they can have the same lifestyle and comforts without working for it. The cultural sentiment that an individual deserves “free” things (through government sponsored social programs) and calls them “rights” without earning them is morally corrupt. These commodities are free to the individual who does not put in equal work, but to the individual who has created growth and progress, these things are far from free as the upper-middle class and wealthy members of society are forced to fund these free things. Socialism is unjust because it gives to those who did not earn rewards, and it takes from those who have taken risks and worked hard. Labor ought to be awarded proportionally to the fruit of that labor.
Individuals who claim that the spread of wealth is moral because it “levels the playing field” often claim to be acting out of compassion for disadvantaged individuals, but the people making these claims are not compassionate. Instead, they use envy disguised as compassion or a desire for equality as an excuse to steal the money that other individuals earned. Unfortunately, most current young adults were raised in a society that embraces the “participation award” philosophy, which is a simplified version of socialism. This attitude is that everyone deserves an award for participating, even if they are not as skilled or did not perform as well, if at all. It sounds moral because it develops a warm feeling inside someone to be recognized for work they did not perform or success that they did not achieve. However, this behavior is immoral because it affirms and encourages envy.
The “participation award” should really be renamed the “don’t feel bad that you failed” award. Success must have potential rewards. Without rewards, working hard loses its incentive. When success loses its incentive, the society becomes morally inept as the motivation for growth is no longer present. The principle of rewarding failure is not fair or just, and therefore, it is not moral. Thus, socialism does not accomplish its own goal of fairness or justice because individuals taking risks do not receive the just consequences, whether a benefit or a punishment.
One of the confusions that socialists have is one between rights and entitlements. As previously mentioned, they feel entitled to a certain lifestyle, but since entitlement sounds bad and disputable, they instead call the provision of resources rights. While there are self-evident rights (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness) and rights to protection from endangerment by others, there is no inherent right that an individual has to certain resources. They have a right to access resources as they earn the ability to access them, but not a right to demand them for free or with other payers’ tax dollars. Other people being forced to provide a good or service for someone without a fee for the recipient is not fulfilling the recipient’s right, but it is stealing a resource that they did not earn.
A simple example of this is school grading systems. Everyone in a class does not get an A because everyone did not put in the same effort to reap the same fruit from their labor. It would be unjust for a professor to give an individual, the “lazy student,” who never comes to class and never does an assignment a B, and another individual, the “hard worker,” who scores perfectly on all assignments, completes every reading, and attends every class the same grade. Without a value on success, hard work does not have value because the outcome is the same. Even though a B might be a decent grade for both the hard worker and the lazy student, the hard worker deserved a better reward than the lazy student since they put in effort and received better grades on the work they completed throughout the semester. In this metaphor, the professor is acting as the government authority and the students are citizens. This scenario brings to light how immoral a socialist system is.
The socialist philosophy is fundamentally immoral in so much that it encourages theft, satisfies envy, and rewards failure. The growth, success, and innovation in America has been driven by individuals’ grit and motivation to overcome desperate situations in order to build a superior system in many social efforts, such as healthcare. Ultimately, to accept socialism is to effectively abandon, or at the very least challenge, basic moral principles and an individual’s right to liberty.