This section is from the "Elementary Principles of Economics" book, by Richard T. Ely and George Ray Wicker. Also available from Amazon: Elementary Principles Of Economics: Together With A Short Sketch Of Economic History
In considering socialism as a scheme for social reconstruction, a number of difficulties suggest themselves. Prominent among these is (1) the probable numbing effect of the system upon individual initiative and energy. What motive to activity can take the place of the desire for individual and family advancement through the accumulation of private property? Another very grave difficulty lies in (2) the introduction of the requisite unity in the organization and management of industry. In some industries where the work is of a routine nature, the problem of organization may not be impossible of solution. But what shall we say of such industries as agriculture, which has hitherto resisted all efforts at centralization? In the third place, (3) the socialist state would have the herculean task of apportioning work of all conceivable degrees of difficulty and disagreeableness among the workers. How could this be accomplished without engendering a universal discontent that would be fatal to the plan at its very inception ?
Again (4) the danger to personal freedom under the proposed system seems a very real one. Up to a certain point, it is true, government seems to improve as its functions increase in number and importance. But would this hold true indefinitely? We may even grant, for argument's sake, that as our very livelihood would depend on the efficiency of government, all the force and energy that are now expended in private service would be diverted into public channels. But what would happen if, in spite of all precautions, some unscrupulous combination should secure control of government ? Would there remain, inside or outside of the government, standing ground for effective, yet peaceful, opposition ? It is to be feared that there would not. Dissatisfaction would exist, for human nature is such that man cannot be thoroughly satisfied with his surroundings. The danger is that without proper means for its expression, this dissatisfaction would grow and spread beneath the surface of society until, having no other vent, it would at last break out in revolution.
Finally, we may lay it down as a general rule that (5) the domination of a single industrial principle is dangerous to civilization. Many writers have pointed out that it was the domination of a single social principle that led to the downfall of older civilizations; and a distinguished American the Hon. Andrew D. White, in an excellent address entitled "The Message of the Nineteenth Century to the Twentieth " has expressed the fear that the private business principle, with the " mercantilism " that naturally attends it, seriously threatens American civilization. What is needed is a coordination of the two principles, the principle of private and of public business. It is desirable that some should serve the public in an official capacitysome men are specially adapted to that work; but it is equally desirable that an ample field should be left for those who prefer private initiative and activity. Our present system, much as it may need reform, offers opportunity for the coordination of the two principles ; socialism would not do so.
But it is as difficult to predict the ways in which socialism would fail as it is for the socialist to say definitely just how it would work, and this suggests their real weakness: they venture to predict the course of economic evolution too far in advance. Certainly we must have ideals and look to the future, but we are unable to say very far in advance what will be the best means for attaining them. The hope that a juster distribution of wealth will prevail and that income will more and more represent social service, is cherished by many who do not call themselves socialists, and who believe it wise to concentrate their efforts on practicable social reform.
Our Debt to Socialists. Socialists have rendered society a real service by calling attention to pressing social problems ; by forcing us to reflect upon the condition of the less fortunate classes; by quickening our consciences; by helping us to form the habit, not yet generally acquired, of looking at all questions from the standpoint of public welfare and not merely from that of individual gain; and finally, by calling our attention to the industrial functions of government, thus leading us and aiding us to separate rationally the sphere of private industry from that of public business.
Socialism not Anarchism.Socialism has been described as industrial democracy established and controlled by government. It is evident, therefore, that the socialist would give to government the greatest possible power. At the opposite extreme stands a proposed system which is strangely enough often confused by the ignorant with socialism. Anarchism would do away with government entirely, leaving all activity to individuals acting volunta--rily: socialism, as we have seen, would lessen the sphere of individual initiative, leaving the greater part of industrial activity in the hands of government. In the main, therefore, anarchism and socialism are antithetical. Yet there are some anarchists who believe that were government abolished, individuals would freely and of their own accord form cooperative groups which, federated, would manage all production. Anarchy is, in the minds of most thinking people, repulsive and inconceivable. Events of recent years have given a certain morbid interest to the cult which it is not well to encourage.
Communism and Socialism. Communism is a term not much used in recent writings. In the past it was employed to designate an extreme kind of socialism. Communism called for equality of possessions and income, without much regard to the matter of the regulation of production. Some writers have used the word "communism " to designate violent schemes of radical social reform in distinction from more peaceful and conservative plans of reconstruction, which they designate by the name socialism. Yet all the communistic societies in the United States are composed of peace men, who do not believe in war, and even preach non-resistance to aggression. It is as well, perhaps, to abandon the attempt to make a distinction between communism and socialism, by simply dropping the word " communism."
Other Names for Socialism. Collectivism is a name which many socialists of recent years have favored to designate their programme. They have sometimes chosen the name in order to escape the odium which the ignorance of past years has laid upon the older word. Other names used to describe socialists in one or another of their groups are : Fabian Socialists, the name applied to a group of English socialists and their followers who have as their rule of action "Make haste slowly"; Christian Socialists, the name applied to those who base their argument and their hope upon the Christian gospel; Scientific Socialists, the name applied to the followers of Karl Marx, who in his great work, Capital, aimed to show that socialism is destined to come in its time, whether we will or no, through the evolution of great underlying forces in industrial society.
Perhaps the greater part of political socialists in Europe and America socialists who have a political programme and regularly support their socialist candidates for office are Marxists. But the name under which the political movement has made the greatest progress in Europe, and especially in Germany and Belgium, is Social Democracy, the partisans being known as Social Democrats.