The simple truth of the matter is that human beings have not adapted to the changes we have made in our environment over the past 1000 years.
Despite what we may like to believe, and in spite of our superior intelligence, we are still animals driven by our instincts.
When it comes to the need to ensure a certain degree of prosperity and stability for society in general, what in the title I called “socialism” this is no different.
The truth is, as I have said before, that human beings are social creatures who thrive and prosper in society. Of course, human beings are also selfish, but that is the duality of the human condition and what makes life beautiful. It is the ying and the yang.
Now as I was saying, it is part of our nature to want our societies to prosper as a whole and we are even willing to give up some of our “individual” prosperity to aid in such a cause. Whether it is by giving up your time to help a friend in need, or simply by redistributing wealth, this is a natural condition of human beings necessary for survival and not in fact the product of our higher intelligence or superior morality.
So after this drawn out introduction to the topic let me get to the actual point I’m trying to make.
Human beings are not adapted to live in societies or tribes as big as the ones we have today. Historians and evolutionary psychologists would put the optimal number at around 150 people. Much like in other aspects of our modern lives, we have not yet had time to adapt to this new condition of our existence. How we handle “welfare” is no different.
Now here’s a question. What defines or rather limits a society? Is it as simple as saying that within the arbitrarily defined borders of Spain there are 46 million people so there is a society of 46 million people in Spain? Obviously not, even across a small though densely populated territory such as Spain, we can observe very different cultures and customs.
So what is the the right answer?
I don’t know and it doesn’t actually matter, because the point I’ve decided to prove is not what the optimum number of people in a society is. It is, through no accident, a much simpler task, which is to prove that modern socialism fails.
And this is in fact true, because though we may not even consider a country such as Spain a uniform society, we do indeed run welfare programs at a nation wide level through our central government.(And the same is true for all developed countries). That means a “mutual help group”(socialist initiative),in Spain, of 46 million people. Of course, for both practical and theoretical reasons, this is just crazy.
I have touched on this subject in other posts, but it’s a point worth making again.
When it comes to giving help there are two sides to the equation, the giver and the receiver.
Under “normal” circumstances, when both are part of a tightly knit community, it is clear how each side is going to feel. The giver, from his privileged position is often happy to help his neighbour. This happiness lies not only in the actual fact that he is helping, but more so perhaps on the fact that he can see how he has helped his neighbour. He can see how his neighbour can now feed his children or put a roof over their head.
The recipient of the help, on the other hand, is ever so grateful and I guarantee that he will do anything and everything in his hands to limit the amount of help (nobody likes feeling like a burden) and if he can, reciprocate. Just think about how you would feel taking money from a relative. Though there may be no contractual obligation to return the favour our own instincts make us feel obliged. What instincts? Our need to survive, of course, which makes us want to belong to the group. It makes us feel the need to be accepted and please others.
Needless to say someone who was constantly in need of help and making no attempt to contribute to societywould be quickly ostracised. But that is not to say some people may not fall on hard times and need outside help at times.
The system described above sets the right incentives (benefactors know the recipients) and also acts as a control mechanism in itself to identify those who actually need and deserve help and those who may actually not need nor deserve help.
The kind of scenario is possible when the “welfare programme” is organized at a much smaller local scale. This is what t some libertarians and anarchists argue would occur in a properly free society, and examples of this can be found in the friendly societies of England which I talk about here.
Basically, benevolence works best with a stronger feeling of community. Without this, the system is susceptible to being perverted and causing people to be both less generous and more easily “in need” of help, shall we say.
This is because the whole system becomes more impersonal and so the moral pressure is less compelling.
On one hand, people are less willing to give money to an unknown and unseen cause. Moreover, those receiving help are far less concerned with bettering their situation independently and perhaps coming to a point where they don’t actually need the money. Thus the paradox that in trying to fund people out of poverty you actually perpetuate poverty by making it a viable life choice.
And so, in trying to recreate the best in ourselves we manage to bring out the worst. Generosity and kindness are instead replaced by a selfish parasitic behaviour.