noted earlier, the concept of property rights is one of the most basic
things which makes us civilized. At a very early age, we attempt to
teach our children the basics of property rights and economic activity.
Concepts like "mine" and "yours" are taught, along with the notion of
"buying" rather than simply "stealing." It is not the place of the
Agnostic Church to remove this basic "first lesson" on how to care for
other people from the training which our young receive.
Just as important to a society based upon economic activity is the concept of the receipt of property rights as a "reward" for our contribution to that economic activity. If there is one simple reason for the collapse of overly Socialist economic systems, it is the failure to more directly link the reward received by individuals to their contribution to the economic activity which they create. Until such time as science can develop alternative forms of motivation which are not harmful to the individuals to which they are applied,7 we must continue to rely upon that old "tried and true" concept of pay which is proportionate to the benefit conveyed.
Perhaps you remember the famous line from the movie "Wall Street" where Michael Douglas preaches to the brokers working for him: "Greed is good!" From my perspective, greed is neither good nor bad, per se. Instead, greed is good only to the extent which it represents the motivation necessary to create good forms of economic activity. When greed goes beyond that point, it becomes bad (and thereby begins to create bad forms of economic activity). The end result of excessive greed is everything evil which the Socialists can point out about the Capitalistic economic system. You end up with a few wealthy capitalists who are living off of the excess profits earned due to their paying "slave wages" to their workers.
As Will and Ariel Durant point out in their 1968 book, "The Lessons of History," Socialism only arises when there is too much greed among the ownership class, and it never stays around for long (at least so long as an alternative exists).8
As with many issues addressed by the Durants, the "right answer" appears to be some sort of "middle ground" between Capitalism and Socialism. There must be just enough greed allowed to provide the necessary motivation to the entrepreneurs and workers to create the best sorts of economic activity, and no more than that amount (because you do not wish to go one step farther than necessary down the road where greed is used to oppress people).
The difficulty with our present system here in the United States is that the very wealthy are not taxed enough! And the direction in which things are headed is towards lowering taxes for the wealthy (at least unless there is a change back to the Democratic control of Congress in November of 1996). It seems clear that people should be penalized for excessive greed, and the best way to exact such a penalty is with the tax code. Again, you need to allow just enough greed to get the desired level of economic activity, and no more. When someone steps over that boundary, the tax code should intervene with income and/or inheritance taxes to ensure that the excessive wealth gathered at the expense of society as a whole is returned for the benefit of society as a whole.
I don't see this as being radically different than what we have accepted as being "right" for a long time now. However, like so many things about which I have need to complain herein, we fail to teach fundamental principles to our young, and thus they gain no understanding whatsoever about the true issues which are being discussed right under their very noses!
7 For example, fear is probably the greatest motivator of mankind. But as the history of each Socialist dictatorship clearly shows, fear will not stimulate people to willingly be creative and "over contribute" to the total economic activity. Instead, motivation by fear has the opposite effect of stimulating people to seek out ways of "under contributing" while still receiving the same basic compensation. Similarly, turning the entire work force into a mass of drug addicts might very well tie the workers into working for minimal wages, but the very fact of addiction will also inhibit performance and promote the same dishonesty which you get from fear. (It may well be that attempting to motivate with drug addiction is merely a variation of motivation with fear: you are basically using the "fear of withdrawal" of the supply of drugs.) You need to find ways to motivate people by adding to their happiness. Right now, the only way to do that in any sort of acceptable way is to pay them money. That may not always be the only way, but it is the only way which is presently practical.
8 The Durants do note that the Incas apparently had a long-lasting Socialist economy. However, we know little or nothing about the organization of Inca society. Perhaps it was maintained only through an oppressive military dictatorship. Until (and unless) we find out more about how the Inca society actually operated, it would be wrong to hold it up as the one and only example of a successful Socialist economy.
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