Why I Am Not a Communist

Last summer, I wrote a three-part post series, “Why I Am Not a Libertarian“, which explained my disagreement with this political philosophy. However, I’ve realized that despite writing an essay addressing the crimes of communist regimes as they reflect on atheists, I’ve never written a post on my differences with communism per se. This one will do that.

I have many objections to communism, not least of which is last year’s news that, in Russia, the Communist party is now teaming up with the Russian Orthodox Church to outlaw homosexuality – a fitting illustration of the similar dogmatic, irrational attitudes that prevail in both ideologies. But my differences go deeper than that, and this post will outline three of the most serious.

Communism lacks a good mechanism to allocate resources to where they are most needed, resulting in waste, shortages and inefficiency. In a capitalist economy, price serves as both a vital signal of demand and also the means of meeting that demand. When a product or service is demanded in excess of current supply, the price rises, attracting people to produce that product or service in order to make a greater profit. Conversely, when supply outstrips demand, the price drops and people are naturally discouraged from producing more of the excess commodity until the imbalance resolves itself. This “invisible hand” of the market, an organizational force at the macro-level emerging from thousands of independent decisions, is often an extremely efficient way of balancing supply with demand and resulting in a society where there is neither wasteful excess nor shortage.

Communism, however, has no such balancing mechanism. In a communist society, the state sets the price of all commodities, and this decision can be completely arbitrary. In theory, if a shortage occurs, the state simply orders the appropriate entities to produce more, but this decision is insufficiently sensitive to price signals and has no necessary link to supply or demand. No group of centralized bureaucrats has the information or the intelligence to make such perfect decisions affecting the price of every transaction in society. This “top-down” approach will inevitably result in inefficiency and misallocation of resources, wasting commodities that are produced in excess of demand and causing shortages of commodities that are not produced in sufficient quantity to meet demand. The “bottom-up” approach of capitalism is a far superior means of dealing with this problem.

Communism discourages productive effort and innovation. In a communist society, no one is richer than anyone else; the state allocates goods to all people based only on need. This means that there are no material rewards for invention, innovation, or greater productivity. It also means that those who are less productive than the average have no incentive to work harder or increase their output.

What this inevitably leads to, in the real world, is a vicious spiral of decreased effort and decreased production, as people slacken their efforts so as to work no harder than the least hardworking member of society (whom they’ll be paid the same as anyway, so why work any harder than them?). This is the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma in action, and means that such a system cannot compete against a capitalist economy that tangibly rewards good ideas and hard work.

Communism necessarily denies the freedom of the individual. Of all the shortcomings of communism, I consider this one to be the most serious. A communist economy necessarily denies people the freedom to seek happiness in whatever career they choose. In such a system, decisions regarding what job a person will take must be made by the state. When the bureaucracy perceives a shortage, their only response is to order more people to join the effort of producing the desired commodity. Thus, a communist society is intrinsically a tyranny where people’s lives must be controlled in minute and exacting detail by a faceless and distant central committee. This alone should make communism repugnant to all lovers of freedom and liberty, and bring us to the realization that no such system could ever succeed in reality without massive and widespread violations of the human right to choose our own destiny and pursue happiness as we see fit.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.