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100 ?’s for Gov’t: Surely communism has its merits?

March 16, 2013

This is Question 13 from “100 Questions for Government” series

As mentioned when we discussed the need for redistribution of funds[1], pure capitalism, which is an economic system, is based on a survival of the fittest (SOTF) approach which provides no minimum standard of living for the unfit. In the mid-nineteenth century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels suggested the bourgeoisie (the wealthy middle and upper class) would use capitalism for their own benefits and ignore the needs of the proletariat[2]. Fortunately, he was wrong and those with financial power have been seen to act consistently in the interests of the common good and…

Oh sorry, for a moment there I was taken to a parallel universe and,… where was I?

Fascinatingly, Marx and Engels thought the workers would eventually get so peeved with the self-interest of the rich that they’d rise up and take control of government – leading to socialism and ultimately to an economic system called pure communism. In this society, all property would be communal and all work and production would be directed towards the greater good of the community.

It turns out the two German theorists were quite insightful on two fronts:

1)   The proletariat was grumpy enough to take on the bourgeoisie in Russia and China at different stages of the 20th century

2)   A lot of people who had nothing were inspired by the conceptual fairness of communism

The Russians were the first to give it a go in 1917. Led by Vladimir Lenin, it’s quite possible the life of the average Russian peasant improved as Lenin genuinely tried to implement a communist state. Unfortunately, he died six years after the revolution and the whole exercise wandered off in a less endearing direction.

Just over a quarter century later, Mao Tse-Tung led the Chinese to embrace another modified version of communism, and consistently hid their followers under American beds[3].

While Marx was a great thinker and saw the appeal of a caring, sharing community, it appears he missed two key points:

1)   People like to achieve great things

2)   Given the chance of earning an equal share or a larger share, many people will take the larger share

So, after less than one hundred years of trying to implement a genuine communist regime, both of the big hitters have capitulated and adopted some sort of capitalist supplement to what’s left of any communist tendencies. Unfortunately, this has also been accompanied by varying levels of corruption and nepotism, leading to imperfect regimes and extremes of wealth in these countries as well.

While communism may yet make a comeback, it’s fair to say Americans would be particularly bad at it – with pride in individual achievement and entrepreneurship as foundations of their cultural identity, dividing everything up in equal shares is highly unlikely to be accepted.

Even if communism is dead, there are probably key observations we can make that have never been considered before:

a)    There are some people who appreciate moving from having nothing to having something
b)   Communism won’t work if the people in charge are corrupt or driven by self-interest
c)   Rich people have a tendency to keep their wealth to themselves unless systematically encouraged to do otherwise

Initial Opinion:

Americans and communism don’t seem like a great match. However, the reasons for the Russian revolution and the ultimate failure of the Soviet Union might be worth taking note of.

[1] See Question 4

[2] Working class

[3] “Reds under the bed”

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