Socialism is not about sharing, it is about coercion

Socialism is having a moment, apparently. And, as I’ve written before, much of this popularity depends on today’s socialists not actually knowing what socialism is.

Socialism is not about sharing

There is a common argument that socialism is about sharing (which is good), and capitalism is about not sharing (which is bad).

But there is nothing inherently socialist about sharing. You can just as easily share under capitalism. Indeed, the latest World Giving Index produced by the Charities Aid Foundation listed the United States, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, all seven of them capitalist countries, in the top 10 most charitable countries over the last five years.

By contrast, Venezuela, formerly Bernie Sanders’ poster boy for ‘democratic’ socialism ranked 115th in 2017. In 2011, the year when Sen. Sanders was boosting Venezuela, it ranked 118th compared to first place for the capitalist USA.

But then, according to the World Bank, in 2011 GDP per capita in the US was $49,000 compared to just $14,000 in Venezuela.* Under capitalism, you have something to share. As Margaret Thatcher put it, “No-one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well.”

Socialism is about coercion

Giving your money freely – what most people would think of as sharing – is not what socialists mean by the word. Their idea of sharing is that the government takes money off of somebody else to hand it out as it sees fit. We already have a degree of this in capitalist societies. Today’s socialists want to increase the amount of people’s wealth which passes through the hands of the government. You don’t have to believe that taxation is theft to recognize that the socialist notion of ‘sharing’ is nothing of the kind. Sharing is voluntary, this is coerced. Coercion is the essence of socialism. As the British author Kingsley Amis put it, “if socialism is not about compulsion, it is about nothing.”

Socialism vs sharing

Socialism, in fact, replaces sharing with government redistribution. You might think it is a good thing for politicians to take ever greater amounts of people’s money to hand out. But you should not call it sharing.

*In constant 2010 dollars

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.