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Socialism and Gambling

Understanding the appeal of gambling may help us understand why socialism remains popular despite numerous failed socialist states.

Socialism and Gambling
Dave Dyer

The durable popularity of Socialism ought to be a surprise given its long string of failures when implemented. In fact, the more rigorously it is implemented, the more certain it is to produce poverty and totalitarian dictatorships. East Germany, North Korea, the Soviet Union, Cuba, and, more recently, Venezuela are good examples of failed socialist societies. Something about the concept of Socialism makes it easy to accept despite its history of failure. What is it?

For the purpose of this discussion, I lump Socialism, Marxism, Liberalism and Progressivism together as one common view based on the following core principles:

a. Fairness should be the main objective of public policy.
b. Fairness is defined as equality in the distribution of goods and services
c. Central planning of the economy by the government is the best way to assure fairness
d. Central planning is done best when the government controls the means of production through regulation or outright ownership.

These principles help make Socialism an easy idea to sell. Who could be against fairness and equality? And central planning certainly makes sense for a factory, so the economy ought to be as efficient as a well-run factory.

Of course, most people who reflect seriously on socialism understand that its deficiencies show up in the production, not the distribution, of goods. Why work if you are going to get your fair share of the goods and services available in the society even if you don’t work? Socialism might produce a fair distribution of goods and services but it does a very poor job of promoting the production of new goods and services. Wealth can’t be distributed unless it is first created.

However, people can understand the pitfalls of socialism and yet still support socialism. How can this be? Well, if things are distributed evenly, some people in a socialist economy will actually get more out of it than they put in. In socialism, you might be a winner, and the appeal of getting something for free that you might not be able to afford on your own (health care, housing, education, etc.) is a strong inducement to endorse socialism. Under socialism, you might get some things that you don’t have now. What have you got to lose? Why not take a chance on benefiting from the re-distribution of wealth?

It seems to me that the attraction of socialism is similar to the attraction of gambling, i.e., you might win and get something for free. Most gamblers would probably admit that, in the long term, they know they can’t win. But they think they might get lucky. Some people will win, at least in the short term, and it might be them. The odds are with the house and if you play long enough you will lose everything. In the same way, most socialists would probably admit that re-distributing the wealth to the poorer folks will not create long term prosperity, but they think they might get lucky and get something for free in the near term. Gambling and socialism are both popular because people are eager to believe that they might be the lucky ones. Both are destructive, but the natural thrill of winning is enough for many people to ignore the obvious facts.

However, there is one important difference that makes socialism even more destructive than gambling: with socialism, you are gambling with someone else’s money. It is much more appealing and carries little personal risk. That is why socialism is so insidious and hard to eradicate. Gamblers at least feel some pain along the way when the first bet doesn’t work out, but socialists don’t feel any pain until they have done great harm to the society. By the time they run out of toilet paper, as in Venezuela, it is too late. Gamblers only hurt themselves. Socialism hurts everyone.