by Kiran Subramanian ’21
Published Apr. 14th, 2021
The youth is starting to gravitate towards socialism. They feel that it can correct the injustices present in the system and see the government as a benevolent actor in instituting equality and justice. There is a disconnect between what people think socialism is and what it actually is, however.
According to Gallup, “Since 2010, young adults’ positive ratings of socialism have hovered near 50%, while the rate has been consistently near 34% for Gen Xers and near 30% for baby boomers/traditionalists.”
Ideas like single-payer healthcare and free college cross the minds of those who think favorably about socialism. However, looking at what socialism is, one of the most defining aspects of it is that land should be owned by the government rather than by private individuals, a detriment to economic growth and development.
According to Evan Zilber (‘22), the term private property is a “cryptic” term. As a result, I am going to be very clear about my definitions. For this article, the definition of private property, as stated by Cornell Law School, is “…property owned by private parties – essentially anyone or anything other than the government. Private property may consist of real estate, buildings, objects, intellectual property (for example, copyrights or patents).”
When land is owned by individuals rather than the government, the incentive structures cause the property to gain in value and quality. For example, when a person owns property, they have an incentive to make the land better in quality. As Mr. Miller, an Economics teacher at MHS explains, “When it is your car, you treat it better than a rented car.”
Modern day readers may recognize this as the Tragedy of the Commons, popularized by ecologist Garrett Hardin, but it goes much further back. In 1833, British economist William Forester Lloyd created the idea of the Tragedy of the Commons during his Oxford lectures where he, according to the History of Economic Thought, “…observed that when a pasture field (the “commons”) is available to all, individual cattle-owners have a short-term interest in increasing the size of their herds. But, unchecked, the size of the herds on the commons will soon exceed its carrying capacity. The commons will be doomed by overgrazing.”
Lloyd definitely had reasoning behind the dangers of common land ownership. Around this same time, countries like the United Kingdom were going through the enclosure movement, where rather than having villages own the land communally, each person would own a part of the land. What this did was incentivize farmers to adopt better practices if they wanted to turn a profit rather than relying on some sense of community to pick up the slack if they failed.
As a result, according to Lumen Learning, “Enclosed land was under control of the farmer, who was free to adopt better farming practices. There was widespread agreement in contemporary accounts that profit making opportunities were better with enclosed land. Following enclosure, crop yields and livestock output increased while at the same time productivity increased enough to create a surplus of labor. The increased labor supply is considered one of the factors facilitating the Industrial Revolution.”
Countries that were not as quick as the United Kingdom to adopt private property rights did not see as much growth. For example, while most of the enclosures in the UK started in the 12th Century and accelerated in the 17th century, Russia was not able to have private property rights instituted until 1861 when serfdom was abolished. As a result, Russia had much slower economic growth.
Simply put, private property is one the world’s greatest wealth creators and idea generators. While socialism’s community based organization and central planning seems to have caught more popularity in recent years, the successful implementation of it has continued to be non-existent. In the end, history has shown that when individuals are given power over their own lives and not have to deal with excessive governmental meddling and bloated bureaucracies, the results tend to be much better.
Editor’s Note: To hear a different perspective on this issue, check out Evan Zilber’s (’22) article: https://themontgomerypawprint.com/socialism-works/