The ever erudite conservative commentator P.J. O’Rourke wrote,
“Collectivism doesn’t work because it’s based on a faulty economic premise. There is no such thing as a person’s ‘fair share’ of wealth. The gross national product is not a pizza that must be carefully divided because if I get too many slices, you have to eat the box. The economy is expandable and, in any practical sense, limitless.” — P. J. O’Rourke
O’Rourke’s comment is right on. The primary difference between collectivists of any stripe and those who favor a free market is whether they believe (or admit) that the economy can be expanded.
The collectivist belief that the economy is a zero-sum game always leads to some form of deprivation. At first, it may be only deprivation of a given commodity; if there are 1,000 loaves of bread available, but 1,500 people who want it, obviously some are going to have to go without. This is a microcosm of the larger economy, e.g. where there is a limited amount of resources, some people may get more than others.
Enter “Social Justice.” Collectivism being egalitarian in its philosophies, it is unjust that one of the collective have more than another. The limited wealth must be divided up as equally as possible. As more and more members of the collective community make demands on the available resources, the amount being redistributed gets smaller and smaller unless a way is found to increase the portion of each member.(1)
Otherwise, the collectivist soon realizes that the only way to ensure that everyone gets a practical share of the economic pie is to reduce the number of people making demands. At some point the elimination of 500 mouths becomes justifiable in the mind of the collectivist and, ultimately, even necessary. Deprivation of existence is transferred from the commodity to the consumer. Collectivist economies claim to make no value judgments between consumers and commodities–either are of equal value to society. And because the consumer is of equal value with the commodity, and the consumer is the source of demand that exceeds the capacity of the system to provide the commodity, the consumer can be forcibly eliminated as a threat to society. In effect, one could argue that the commodity actually has more value than the consumer, and a value judgment is made.
Collectivist economies also create deprivation at another level. An individual has the right to obtain food, clothing, and shelter–the necessities to preserve life. Collectivist economies cannot meet these demands in every instance. What’s worse, individuals are prohibited by law from obtaining those necessities outside of the system (which has already failed to provide). Thus, collectivist systems deprive individuals of the basic right of self-preservation. The death of a certain portion of the population, either through active or passive government policy, is the natural result of a philosophical belief in a zero-sum economy.
What, then, is the purpose of a collectivist government? Can we say that a collectivist government protects the people? How can it, when it can casually eliminate them or simply let them starve as a matter of economic policy? What does such a government protect?
The answer is it doesn’t protect anything. Collectivist government’s raison d’être is the promotion and establishment of an imaginary society. Socialism, Communism, Marxism, etc. are all attempts at creating a new society based on social theory and untested principles. All the old institutions (the societal realities) must be destroyed to make way for the new.
But those old institutions have upheld society for generations and are, in varying degrees, directly responsible for the prosperity of society. When you take those old ways away and replace them with new ways that have not been tried, the process of wealth creation stops and everyone suffers…except, of course, for those who control the new system. They make out like the bandits they really are.
(1) Barack Obama believes he has found the secret to overcoming this fatal flaw of collectivist philosophy: if you own or control the printing presses that create bank notes, you should be able to print as many of them as you want. He doesn’t understand that in a healthy economy, those notes represent actual wealth, not abstract wealth.