Socialism and the Pessimistic Induction Problem
Thanks to the wonderful staff at Being Libertarian, I’ve published two articles (here, and here) which, while libertarian in tone and intent, came up with conclusions that were rather counter to the mainstream of libertarian thought. This time, I hope to post something which is more ecumenical amongst us.
I think we can all agree that socialism is a flawed system, so I figured I’d present a new objection to this naïve economic ideology. First, a definition which I believe will serve our purposes:
Socialism: A system where the economic means of production (tools and machines) are owned by the masses, and what these produce is equally distributed according to the needs of the people.
I believe this is a charitable definition of socialism which most socialists (be they of a statist, Marxist or anarchist bent) can agree with.
As an argument, I propose taking a longstanding argument applied in the philosophy of science, and giving it application in economic thought. The problem of induction asks, ‘given that all past scientific theories have failed, based on what reason must we suppose that our current models won’t either?’ However, whereas philosophers of science do have various responses to the problem, I don’t think there is much by the way of answer when we pose a similar problem with socialism.
This argument uses induction, and applies it to past falsifications of scientific theories. Induction refers to reasoning that takes place by way of looking at patterns and reasoning that they will be regular and predictable occurrences. For example, I know that the sun will rise tomorrow because that’s how we’ve always observed it.
P1 – All socialist societies in the past have led to either failed states, co-opted states, capitalistic states, or crushed states in the past.
C – Therefore, there is good reason to suppose that current socialist societies will be either failed states, co-opted states, capitalistic states, or crushed states.
To justify the first premise, we need only point to the various nations we consider oppressive, unstable, flawed, or corrupted, and have our socialist interlocutor tell us that they weren’t socialistic. This is essentially using their own excuse against them.
Unlike socialist societies, there are plenty of capitalist nations today since the dawn of the philosophy. Consider England, Canada, the United States, and France. These are countries in which most people would want to live. However, I have no doubt that there are some small and obscure socialist societies that still exist today which some socialists will defend as being successful.
At this point, the burden of proof should be on them to show us why they are in fact successful. It should be no problem to do a comparative analysis of these societies which are capitalistic, and give a point by point analysis on why they fail (or at the very least, are desirable to live in).
Another objection is that they might make this a problem for all economic systems. After all, feudalism failed, mercantilism, palace economics failed, who’s to say capitalism won’t fail? The response here is that, unlike socialism, economic theories in general do not provide us with much of a sample size of other systems other than capitalism and socialism.
I believe that this argument not only shows the irrationality of doing the same thing over again to get a different result, but also that I’m capable of providing an argument more in line with libertarian thought.
* Edouard Karam is a Lebanese-Canadian Catholic, aspiring philosopher, and libertarian (following in the political tradition of John Locke). He has a bachelor of arts, and a master’s degree in religious studies; currently looking to contribute those academic skills to the libertarian movement.
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