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The communist path

I was born in communist Romania, and yet, only at the age of 35 I started to fully understand where the horrors of communism come from.

Everybody knows about them: millions of deaths, gulags, starvation and poverty. But it is not obvious how a system that sounds so good in theory can lead to such disasters.

Most people think communism is a good idea that just never happened to be correctly implemented. And I used to think the same way. But then eventually I understood that communism, no matter how it is implemented, will always lead to human suffering.

Why communism sounds like a good idea

The basic promise of communism is that resources will be evenly distributed. This sounds good because in theory it will eliminate poverty.

Who would not want a system that takes care of the poor? Who would disagree with having a safety net for the most unfortunate members of a society?

OK, if we put it this way it may already sound suspicious to some. But let’s rephrase.

Who would not help the poor? Very few, in fact. Sure, we generally don’t give money to beggars because we know they are usually just posers. But given the chance to help a person that is genuinely in need I would argue that most humans would do so.

This is the main promise of communism: a fairer world.

Beautiful idea, and yet, there are two main reasons why communism is not just a good idea with bad implementations, but rather an idea that cannot lead to anything good.

Why communism will always lead to totalitarianism

I see two reasons for this. Let me start with the most obvious one.

Power corrupts, therefore centralization of power leads to tyranny

The higher levels of a communist society will attract power hungry individuals that will take advantage of this power once they get their hands on it.

This is indeed one of the most widely held views about the communism’s drawbacks, and it is certainly true. It’s just not the whole story.

This does not explain how communism can corrupt the society on every level. How can a society become so morally corrupted that people think snitching on neighbors is a virtue? Also, how can people agree with having a power-hungry tyrant get to power in the first place?

Externalization of the good

I have no evidence for this, but as noted above, I believe most people live in a way where they try to maximize the good they do in society or at least to minimize the harm. Hence most people would rather help the poor and would rather not steal or kill unless pressured by extreme circumstances.

However, this behavior is a choice. Everybody has a choice to do good, and yes, I think most people choose to do so.

Communism on the other hand messes up with this natural state of affairs by moving the choice one level above the individual. An individual living in a communist society does not help the poor because he thinks that that is a good way to live, but rather because the system mandates it. The individuals in this case do not need to have the responsibility of fairly distributing resources, but rather they delegate this responsibility to the state.

I think that here lies the fundamental issue with communism: by delegating one’s choice of helping others or working towards a fairer society to an external entity, people simply end up behaving in a way or another because that external entity mandates certain behaviors rather than because they genuinely believe in their actions.

Giving up free will

One of the fundamental features of a human being is the free will.

We can always choose: I am hungry, what am I going to do about it? To take it to an extreme, if we were to act on the highest time preference, we would just kill the first creature we would encounter and start devouring it regardless of the consequences, whether that creature is the neighbor’s dog or even the neighbor itself. At the other extreme, if acting on a very low time preference, we would probably work for the neighbor, save some money, start a small business, save more money, buy some land, plant a food forest, grow some cattle and pigs in semi-wilderness and employ some lesser off neighbors to help us with all this while paying them a fair share so they can eventually start their own business later on.

The reality is of course somewhere in the middle but the truth is the palette of choices is enormous and it involves a huge number of factors and micro-decisions which are different for every individual.

If we choose to outsource these choices to an external entity — the state — we not only limit our own free will but we essentially assume that there is only one universally correct solution. And that may be true if we humans were all the same. But we are not. So that one solution we will be given by the state will undoubtedly be the one that works best from the system’s perspective rather than from our perspective. Which I believe is the solution that feeds the system disproportionally more than the people underneath. And the more power the system has, the higher its time preference will be, because it can outsource the consequences of its choices on everybody else.

By giving up free will, even if in the name of a beautiful idea, we managed to build our own prison.