While browsing through Medium a few days ago, I found a post by a guy who calls himself Alexei Stell titled I Can Make You A Socialist In Four Minutes.
Really? Well I haven’t done a blind read/line-by-line commentary in quite awhile. So you know what, let’s see if this fellow can make me a socialist. Alexei, give me your best arguments.
ALEXEI: People who work harder and longer should get paid more than others, right? Nobody should get something for nothing, should they? And it isn’t fair when people take the fruits of others’ labor, is it?
Wait, what do you mean by “harder”? Pure strength needed to do a job? Amount of education someone needs to do said job? How many people could do the job compared to the total population?
Being, say, a farmer is an example of hard work. Being a college professor is also quite hard, albeit in a very different way. Which one of these jobs counts as “harder” in your mind, and as such should be paid more?
This is the same issue with the phrase “something for nothing.” Wait, is someone literally getting a large amount of wealth from doing no work whatsoever? Is somebody getting no form of compensation for doing back breaking labor? I assume not, and you’re being highly hyperbolic, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
For that matter, what do you mean by “take”? Who is “taking” “the fruits of others’ labor”? Is someone literally running up to another person and stealing — the metaphysical concept of “the fruits of others’ labor”? (And before somebody compares this to what libertarians say about taxation, that can be physically demonstrated, this cannot be.)
I’m not the only one who sees all three of these questions as really loaded right?
ALEXEI: Those might seem like commonsense ideas, or even conservative ideas. But they’re actually socialist ideas, and if you agree with them, you might just be a socialist. I can show you why in four minutes.
Yep, called it. Okay, you have my undivided attention, hit me with your best shot.
ALEXEI: First, it’s pretty obvious that people aren’t currently paid according to their relative efforts. The average American is paid 31k per year. But the top 1% of earners make 737k per year, and the top 0.1% make 2.8m annually.
Again, where do “their relative efforts” start and end? Someone who spends forty hours a week working for a fast food company is obviously working hard when they’re on the clock. However, someone who works as a professor, or a scientist, or a lawyer, even if their working less hour by hour, put much more work into getting that job than the person working in fast food.
For that matter, are we taking age into account? Dough McMilon, the CEO of Walmart since 2014, has been working for or with Walmart in one form or another for almost forty years. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, has been with Amazon since he founded it in 1994. Compare that to someone who was hired in an Amazon warehouse, who, I assume, has not been working for Amazon since it was founded.
ALEXEI: For those incomes to be proportional to effort, the top 1% would have to work 24 times harder than the average American, while the top 0.1% would have to work 91 times harder than average. And clearly, that isn’t possible. It would be incredible if someone could work 3 times harder than average, let alone 24 or 91 times.
Wait, why is that impossible? What is “average work”? Again, if we’re going just by time, this is utter nonsense. Someone who preforms brain surgery obviously works harder than a chef, even if both the operation and the creation of a meal take an equal amount of time to preform.
Are we counting the stress of a job that, if preformed poorly, could result in the collapse of a local (and even global, as we saw in 2008) economy? I have to continue to guess because the author of this article keeps refusing to define terms in anything other than the vaguest way possible.
ALEXEI: So people aren’t currently paid according to relative effort. But, on closer inspection, capitalism itself is the problem here.
Again, you’ve never defined “relative efforts,” or “efforts” in general. Therefore, you’ve never actually proven this.
ALEXEI: Any economist will tell you that, under capitalism, wages are not determined by effort. They are determined by the supply of, and demand, certain kinds of labor. Basically, the more money a company can make by employing you, and the fewer other people there are with your particular skills, the more that company will pay you. So, in capitalism, wages are determined by the rarity and value of your skills, not by your effort.
You’re treating these two thinks as separate when they simply aren’t. The reason why their might be a lower supply of workers in one field is because the general amount of “effort” to enter that field is simply more than the average person either can do or is willing to do.
For example, few people are willing to go through the schooling needed to be something like a general physician. This is not insulting general physicians, of course, they do work very hard and deserve all the money that they make. However, most of the hardest work they do (assuming they are not going to preform surgery, at least) is simply getting the qualifications needed to become a physician in the first place.
The general physician is being compensated for how hard he works, make no mistake. However, he is not being compensated at all for many years until after he starts the course of becoming a general physician. When he does finally get a job, he is being paid, not just what his work is currently worth, but also what his work was worth to make it that far.
ALEXEI: This explains why a CEO might be paid 100 times more than the average American. A CEO has very specific and rare management skills that can make the company shareholders a lot of money. They might also work hard; but that’s not why they are paid so much.
Again, I still do not agree with the distinction you keep making. A CEO didn’t just go up to some rich dude and say “hey, I have skills, make me CEO.” They either founded a corporation or have worked for a corporation for such a long time that the board (who picks the CEO of a company, for those who don’t know) trusts them and believes they will act in the best interest of the company.
ALEXEI: And what about those shareholders? What do they do? Well, nothing really. Shareholders own shares, and are paid for owning them. They are paid in ‘dividends’, which are essentially parts of company’s profits. Shareholders also make money by eventually selling shares at a higher price than they bought them.
Shareholders actually do a lot for the company they own shares in. As mentioned above, for example, they pick who is going to be the CEO. They also help the company make profits through deciding what the best course of action is for that company and convincing other members of the board to go along with it. The board has actually has a large amount of say in what a corporation does, which you seem to be ignoring for the sake of this argument.
ALEXEI: Certainly, there is ‘risk’ involved in being a shareholder. There is always the possibility that your shares will become worthless overnight if the company fails. But just risking your money isn’t work. We don’t see gambling as work, do we?
Again, shareholders, especially big ones on the board, do way more than just own shares, but I covered that above.
Also, what kind of gambling are we talking about? Someone who mindlessly puts money into a slot machine really isn’t “working,” I guess, and neither are people who buy tickets for a raffle or play crane games. (Although if you figure out how to make a profit on doing any of those things, especially considering they’re all designed to pay out as little as possible, then you are working quite hard — but that’s besides the point.) However, someone who plays competitive Poker, which is a form of gambling, is at least doing some work, is he not? Surely that takes a decent amount of skill to preform, even if the game is mostly based on luck.
For that matter, what about those who play online fantasy sports? Some of which have gone so far as to create complicated algorithms that take into account things as specific as weather conditions. Clearly, that man, while gambling, is working harder than the rest of us.
ALEXEI: However, in capitalism, there is an entire class of people who live off of their investments. In fact, they are the wealthiest group of all, even wealthier than high-paid CEOs!
Okay, who are they? People who are CEO’s of nothing, on no company board, and yet not just live off their investments, but also are “even wealthier than high-paid CEOs”?
ALEXEI:Take the case of billionaires. It is literally impossible to make a billion dollars through work alone. Even if you were paid 2.8m per year, it would take you 357 years to make a billion dollars. No. That kind of money only comes from investing. And, as we have seen, investing is not work. So capitalism is a system in which a whole group of people gets paid millions and billions, for doing nothing at all.
You have failed to prove “investing is not work.” Again, even gambling can be quite hard work, so why isn’t investing? And again, even if this were the case, shareholders do much more than simply “invest” and call it a day.
For that matter, much of the top 1% (where he got the $2.8 million a year number) are also CEO’s, who you say are less wealthy than investors. Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet (the first, second, and forth richest people in the world respectively) either are currently CEOs as well as investors or first got their wealth as CEOs.
ALEXEI: Where does this money all come from? Well, from the rest of us, of course! While shareholders get paid for owning shares in companies, the rest of us have to work for those companies, generating all of their profits.
Again, shareholders do much more than just hold shares. The only reason I insist on continuing to repeat this point is because you continue to pretend the opposite is the case.
ALEXEI: What’s more, as any economist will also tell you, capitalistic companies only employ people when it is profitable for them to do so. In other words, you must be worth more to the company than your wage, or else they wouldn’t have employed you in the first place. But this means that the company is taking part of the money that you made away from you.
This is true, but misleading. Under capitalism, the worker still must accept the job at the salary he is offered. If the worker is not getting what he is worth, then he can walk or apply for a different job while working for the man not giving him what he deserves.
The employer will only employ someone if its profitable for them, that is true. However, the worker will only take a job if they’re making a profit as well. Even the most desperate person would not work $1 an hour (in current dollars, at least) for any even mildly challenging job.
ALEXEI: What do socialists propose we do about this? Very simply, they propose that we let the workers own their companies. That way, there would be no separate class of shareholders; the workers and the owners would be the same people.
So every worker would just make money from owning shares? After all, that’s what you spent the vast majority of this article saying shareholders do. Why then are we to assume you do not wish the workers to do the same?
ALEXEI: Socialists disagree about how exactly we should achieve worker ownership. But one simple proposal is a cooperative system. In a cooperative business, every worker owns a proportion of the company, and so is given dividends when the company performs well. Furthermore, as shareholders, the workers could elect their own managers, and collectively decide their own pay scale. The end result would be a system in which people are paid according to the difficulty of their role.
Wait a minute, how would a cooperative system lead to pay being based on difficultly of job? This article is almost over and, ignoring the fact that you have failed to prove such a thing doesn’t happen under capitalism, you have also failed to prove socialism would by default allow the same thing. Why couldn’t my comrades and I vote to make it so the man who works the hardest is paid no more than anyone else?
For that matter, how would this apply to chains or large corporations? Would a McDonald’s worker be a shareholder for that specific McDonald’s or McDonald's in general? If the second one, would the entire work force — all 1.9 million of them — have to come together to elect a CEO?
ALEXEI: So, unlike capitalism, a cooperative-based socialism would actually be consistent with commonsense moral principles. People would be paid according to their effort. No one would get something for nothing. No one would be parasitic upon the work of others.
— I think you skipped a few steps in your argument.
For that matter, wouldn’t a worker cooperative still be interested in making a profit? Wouldn’t they still have to hire and pay people based on supply and demand and not based on how hard they’ll work on the clock? There are a million issues with this article, the biggest one being it refuses to prove the point its making.
ALEXEI: Is it practical? Well, there are already some immensely successful cooperatives around the world. For example, the Basque company Mondragon is a multi-billion dollar cooperative with 74k employees. There are also hundreds of socialist economists around the world, who have developed many practicable policies. For example, the LSE economist Thomas Picketty has developed the idea of a global wealth tax, to tackle the issue of undeserved income from investments. The issue, then, isn’t so much whether socialism can work, but when it will be given the chance to work.
For the record, the overall wealth of Mondragon (including assets) of $27 billion would not even put in on the Fortune 500 list. The lowest of which, #500, is Huntington Bancshares with just over twice the wealth.
As for the claim that there are “hundreds of socialist economists,” so what? There are also tons of capitalist economists — including Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman, Robert Murphy, Thomas Sowell, F.A Hayek, Ludwig Von Mises, Lew Rockwell, Hans Hermann Hoppe, and many, many others. In fact, if you want to include Keynesian economics as capitalist then you can also include John Maynard Keynes and Paul Krugman. There is no idea out their that is so ridiculous that you can’t find someone who has respected credentials that agrees with it.
So I gave you four minutes, and you failed to make me a socialist. I want my money back.