Socialists Without a Plan

If I met a four-star general and he told me he was a socialist, I’d understand where he’s coming from.  After all, this is a man who lives and breathes logistics.  He leads for a living.  His job is to make master plans, then carefully monitor his underlings so they actually implement said master plans.  Location, timing, manpower, supplies, margins of error – a general takes all of them into account.  Sure, he knows the proverb that “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”  But a general still strives to craft systems that run like clockwork.

What’s the socialist connection?  After a lifetime of daily experience as a planner, it’s easy to see why a general would be appalled to realize that our society has no plan at all.  There’s got to be a plan.  And who better to give society its much-needed plan than the general and his colleagues?

Yet strangely, none of the socialists I’ve personal encountered has a military background.  Quite the opposite.  Virtually 100% of the socialists I’ve met are “free spirits.”  They live in the moment – and act from the heart.  They’re not the kind of people who obsess over master plans.  Instead, they’re the kind of people who would casually crash the best of plans with a last-minute bad hair day.

Don’t get me wrong; most of the socialists I’ve met seem like nice people.  But they radiate incompetence.  I doubt their families would trust them to plan a simple trip to Sea World.  So what on Earth convinces these socialists that people like themselves should run not only the government, but the economy as well?

I’d like to offer a charitable resolution of this puzzle, but have none to offer.  The socialists of today aren’t experienced logisticians who fail to see the disanalogies between running an organization and running a whole society.  They’re dreamers who want to lead before they learn to follow.  So while I’d gladly give a socialist general a lecture on the economics of socialism, today’s typical socialist needs to hear a simpler message: They should learn to make solid mundane plans for their own lives before they think about imposing grandiose plans on the rest of the world.

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Bryan Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He is the author of The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies, named “the best political book of the year” by the New York Times, and Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. He has published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and has appeared on 20/20, FoxNews, and C-SPAN.