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A bad person under capitalism would be bad under socialism, too
On LinkedIn backlash, potato farmers, and why markets can be decent systems for containing the damage done by bad souls
An Australian real-estate developer has attempted to apologize and walk back comments he made to an investing summit, during which he said that "we need to see pain in the economy" and "employees feel the employer is extremely lucky to have them, as opposed to the other way around...we've got to kill that attitude".
■ The backlash is understandable: The words were condescending and inhumane. But there are all too many people responding to those words by blaming capitalism and "neoliberals" for one person's bad attitude. They are the usual suspects, of course, who profess perpetual faith in socialism -- including its harshest variants.
■ The mystery in the overreaction is why socialists assume that under their system, a person like this developer would turn out to be a harmless potato farmer instead of a party apparatchik with the very same attitude problem. Ambition is a human trait, and it fits into whatever socioeconomic system surrounds it.
■ The people who tend to dehumanize others to serve their own interests under capitalism would do the same in a Marxist-Leninist state, too. The question is what power we grant them to do it. Within a market economy, public outcry and backlash carry weight. People can choose to snub the developer and his company -- as employees, customers, or suppliers.
■ The same cannot be done in the command economies of the world. An ambitious person raised in a market economy would likely be an ambitious person in a Marxist-Leninist economy, too. Instead of accumulating wealth, the ambitious tend to accumulate privileges and proximity to power.
■ The property developer with a bad attitude under capitalism might become a factory manager instead -- with greater power to abuse and berate his underlings (who, in a command economy, have fewer alternatives and less freedom to fight back), and a much more severe set of consequences to face if his performance failed to impress those above him in the power structure. And the politically powerful can make those who fall out of favor simply "disappear".
■ Ambition can be exercised with goodwill, or it can be carried out by rotten souls. And some bad apples will find their way into powerful positions, no matter what socioeconomic system they occupy. What we should care about most is how much power they have to compel others to go along when they go wrong.