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Davis, California

Friday, June 9, 2023

Column: Progressive Philalethist

Imagine, if you will, a utopia. What do you see? Do you see an industrious commune devoid of property rights, where everyone works according to his ability and receives an equal payout, as Thomas More and Karl Marx proposed?

Or do you see an individualist society, one in which those who work the hardest get the most handsome rewards and laziness results in poverty, as Ayn Rand and other libertarian and objectivist thinkers suggested?

All of these philosophers set forth ideas for bettering society, and their ideas have influenced nations around the world. Every tidbit of public policy takes its ideas from some philosophical principle.

Vladimir Lenin, in attempting to build a perfect society, borrowed heavily from Marx’s Capital. His goal, of course, was to create a classless society like the one Marx theorized.

When implemented, however, Lenin’s Marxist policies created a dearth of resources and a general sentiment of discontent among the people.

Let us make an abrupt jump to America, 1981, where charismatic, pro-business Republican Ronald Reagan has just been elected president. Reagan introduces new, laissez-faire economic policies known collectively as “Reaganomics”, which take root in Rand’s classic conservatism. If implemented properly, they should result in industrial growth, efficient spending, and smaller government.

Yet, in practice, these policies slowed growth, accrued the largest national debt the country had ever seen, and significantly increased taxes on all but the richest Americans.

Of course, neither Lenin nor Reagan intended for their policies to harm their respective nations. So why did they? Because they were rooted in theory instead of fact.

When philosophers, economists or other respected figures devise theories on how society should work, they almost always fail to account for some hidden variable.

Marx, when creating his ideal society, didn’t account for human behavior. It never occurred to him that, when class mobilization ceases to exist, people lose their incentive to work.

Conversely, Reagan believed that business owners and CEOs would use their new tax breaks to create jobs; instead, they hoarded the capital themselves and widened the income gap to unprecedented levels.

Here is another seemingly unrelated example: I support capital punishment. If someone murdered a family member of mine, I would want to see the bastard fry. Wouldn’t you say the same?

If you answered yes, then great! Let’s vote in favor of the death penalty! But here’s the catch: you just voted for a policy that has killed at least 13 innocent people (and likely more, given the 138 death row inmates who have been exonerated since 1976), and cost California alone an estimated $4 billion in taxpayer dollars.

Herein lies the problem with arguing ideologies: ideologies can achieve what they set out to do, but the side effects can prove more detrimental than the problem itself.

Lenin’s policies did create an egalitarian society: they made everyone equally poor and miserable. Reaganomics successfully combated inflation and unemployment, but left the nation in a massive debt hole, vastly increased the concentration of wealth and disparity of income, and raised the poverty rate.

So how should you determine which ideology to believe in if you can’t base your opinion on general principle? Study history. Much of politics consists of hypotheticals: when we vote, we vote for the candidate whose policies we believe will benefit our country more.

Perhaps next time you vote, see if these policies have been tried in the past, and to what degree they experienced success.

Don’t discount a seemingly illogical policy that hasn’t been tried before. Keynesian economics brought the country out of the Great Depression and resulted in prosperity, despite initial criticism from pundits that its fundamental logic was flawed. They quickly rescinded their comments when they realized that what failed in theory succeeded in the real world.

Keynesianism soon became a staple of modern economic thought, proving the critics wrong. Its success forced academics to rethink their fundamental beliefs on how the world worked. In order to make progress, they needed to have their tenets destroyed to pave the way for new ideas.

This is how society becomes more efficient: when a historically accepted idea begins to fail, we must scrap it for a new, often untried one. Either this idea fails miserably and politicians learn never to implement such stupid legislation again, or the idea enjoys success and we have a new standard of thought.

Without trying and failing, progress is impossible, and even the most resounding successes leave room for improvement.


If you want to accuse ZACH MOORE of being brainwashed by the filthy liberal media, email him at zcmoore@ucdavis.edu.