Socialism’s appeal is largely moral, not economic – not just because it doesn’t work economically, but because few people find economics compelling. Among their exaggerated claims, socialists argue that redistribution of wealth will create more moral people, not merely better living conditions.
“We must develop among Soviet people Communist morality,” said Nikita Khrushchev in 1959, “at the foundation of which lie … the voluntary observation of the fundamental rules of human communal life, comradely mutual help, honesty, and truthfulness.”
But does socialism make people more truthful? A team of five researchers from the U.S. and Germany, led by Dan Ariely of Duke University, conducted an experiment to find out.
The team rewarded Germans with payouts based on predicting dice rolls, but it gave them an option to lie about their answer. Then they compared the outcomes of those raised in socialist East Germany with those raised in capitalist West Germany. They published their findings in the European Journal of Political Economy last month.
Their results? Those raised under socialism “cheat significantly more” than those raised under the capitalist/free enterprise system.” Moreover, our results indicate that the longer individuals had experienced socialist East Germany, the more likely they were to cheat on the behavioural task,” they found.
The team speculated the reasons behind this discrepancy in a similar 2014 study. “In many instances, socialism pressured or forced people to work around official laws.” Only the black market provided life’s necessities, and those who failed to toe the party line in public disappeared.
“In East Germany, the secret service (Staatssicherheit) kept records on more than one third of the citizens,” they wrote. “Unlike in democratic societies, freedom of speech did not represent a virtue in socialist regimes, and it was therefore often necessary to misrepresent your thoughts to avoid repressions from the regime.”
Lying is the least of Marxism’s failures. Yet this study proves, once again, how comprehensively wrong Karl Marx was. Marx wrote to his father that people living under socialism would gladly make “sacrifices for the benefit of all; then we shall experience no petty, limited, selfish joy, but our happiness will belong to millions.” But those reared under his philosophy would not even forsake goods they had never earned.
From either a utilitarian or a moral perspective, deceit harms human flourishing. In fact, Friedrich von Hayek said that prosperity – which is inextricably linked with honesty – sped the adoption of traditional morality.
“We do not owe our morals to our intelligence: we owe them to the fact that some groups uncomprehendingly accepted certain rules of conduct — the rules of private property, of honesty, and of the family — that enabled the groups practicing them to prosper, multiply, and gradually to displace the others,” Hayek said during a lecture at the Heritage Foundation. “It was a process of cultural selection, analogous to the process of biological selection, which made those groups and their practices prevail.”
Even in the inculcation of virtue, organic development beats central planning. Socialism encourages dark impulses, while the free market restrains our passions. In a free economy, being known as an honest broker furthers the seller’s self-interest.
Lies, which cripple social interaction, have an eternal significance in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Proverbs 6:16-19 states:
These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.
Any society interested in its own success, much less the moral fabric of its citizens, must jettison socialism.
(Photo credit: GotCredit. This photo has been cropped. CC BY 2.0.)