Combining Coercion: Communism Explained

Matt Yglesias has a great post in which he succinctly describes how communism ends up being incredibly, brutally coercive:

In a capitalist economy, a worker’s boss is in a position to exert a great deal of control over the worker’s life. The coercive nature of this relationship is mitigated by the possibility of obtaining alternate employment or of relying on private savings or a social welfare state to survive a spell of unemployment. In the Soviet bloc, private saving on the necessary scale was impossible, the state operated as a monopsony employer, and there were no real avenues for self-employment or entrepreneurial activity. So the system of privatized economic coercion that exists in capitalist societies was greatly intensified, and then woven into the larger apparatus of political coercion.

He does this with a gloss of “explaining why the government creating a make-work program is not communism.”  Which is true, but I think buries the more important point.  The essential difference between capitalism-with-(perhaps-a-great-deal-of)-wealth-redistribution versus communism is the one in which the government either explicitly or implicitly takes on that kind of central role in your life.  If, as in the communist bloc, you explicitly were employed by the government, or as we might imagine in a scenario in which some kind of creeping, revolution-less socialism went completely unchecked, you didn’t technically work for the government but actually it was impossible to prosper without getting bureaucratic permission, then that’s the point where life turns exceptionally brutal.

I do think it’s possible to get there without an explicit communist revolution or explicit government employment monopsony — and that Yglesias perhaps is overly blasé about this possibility.  But ultimately, he’s on the side of the angels.  And a question I wish I could ask everyone who says something about how we need to get past capitalism is — do they really believe that?  Or are they just asking for a little more wealth redistribution?

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