Families vs socialism

There is a talking point by some wishy-washy somewhat lefty “classical liberals” to the effect that families are socialist:

We’ve talked on here–I think it’s a Walter Williams quote; maybe it’s somebody else–but, a family is a Socialist institution. It’s a top down institution, as well. As I’ve said many times on the program: I don’t sell the last cookie to the highest bidder among my children. I make an estimate of who got a treat more recently; I might decide who looks hungriest. I might let them chat for a bit and gain knowledge about it. But, that system works. It’s stood the test of time–the family–although it’s a little bit different today than it was 50 years ago, and certainly different than it was 5000 years ago. But that stood the test of time.

I’m going to point out a couple of problems with this idea.

The first is that socialism is a system of political economy. That means it is largely about the rules for dealing with people you don’t know. So there is no direct way to apply it to your family.

The second problem is that socialism is an anti-rational, anti-freedom, pro-violence ideology. Every variant of socialism and interventionism involves threatening people with violence unless they obey some particular group of people. The original definition of socialism sez the means of production should be controlled by society or the workers or the poors. Usually the government actually controls the means of production on behalf of the workers. But leaving that detail aside, the key idea is that some particular group of people get to control production and everyone else gets to fuck off and die. In substance socialism means that the most ruthless person gets to be in charge and to murder anyone he dislikes by saying they’re not a worker or whatever.

Socialism is also based on self sacrifice. You’re supposed to be willing to sacrifice yourself for the good of the proletariat or whatever. So you’re not supposed to do what’s good for yourself. You’re only supposed to help other people. This is an authoritarian idea since it excludes using a particular source of knowledge about what you should do – your own preferences. Also, you can learn to understand your own preferences more easily than you can learn to understand those of other people since you can test your own preferences more easily.

Russ Roberts sez he doesn’t sell the last cookie to the highest bidder among his children. Deciding who gets the last cookie using the highest bidder system would be immoral since the parent decided to have a child and should be willing to help the child. If you don’t like helping children, you shouldn’t have children. Having a child puts that child in a position of being dependent on you for several years. Putting somebody in that position and then requiring him to pay you for food is stupid and wrong.

To the extent that this story is accurate, Roberts chose to buy an amount of cookies that wasn’t satisfactory, so there was a dispute about who should get the last one. And now he sees his role as being similar to a socialist planner, i.e. – a dictator. There are many ways to avoid coercing your children over cookies. You could consult them about many cookies to buy so they can know how many are available. You could buy more cookies when the cookies run out. You could come up with something more interesting than cookies for the children to do. More generally, it’s not necessary to coerce your children over other stuff either. Being a dictator doesn’t work as a solution to any problem of dealing with other people. Being a dictator requires ignoring other people’s preferences, which hurts them. It also involves suppressing criticism of your ideas, which is bad for you since it stops you from improving. So families shouldn’t be socialist. Parents should reduce the extent to which they act like dictators rather than coming up fancy excuses for bad ideas.

About conjecturesandrefutations
My name is Alan Forrester. I am interested in science and philosophy: especially David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, Karl Popper and William Godwin.

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