Socialism’s needy and lasting appeal

Rodney Hide


We live perfectly socialistically. It’s simply not true that it can’t be done. Or that it doesn’t work. It actually works rather well.

No one is complaining. Well, not much. And everyone gets fed.

We have no property rights, no prices, no market, no profit and no loss. No one is getting rich but no one is missing out.

It’s “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

Baby Grace is the neediest. Mum’s got the ability to feed her. Little Liberty is demanding … I give her just about everything she wants.

We understand socialism in our household. We are driven by needs and fairness. Willingness to pay has nothing to do with it.

That it works shouldn’t be a surprise. Socialism has been the way of life for most human history. The hunter-gatherer band was an extended family of 30-40. That’s how we evolved. 

Evolutionary tightrope

We walked an evolutionary tightrope balancing selfishness and selflessness. We are here today because our hunter-gatherer ancestors successfully mated and their offspring survived because our ancestors belonged to a successful band.

Successful group living meant evolving rules for communal living. Not everyone hunted. Some stayed behind to look after the children and guard the women. There was a primitive division of labour.

But how to decide who got what? The hunter-gatherer rule is to “share and share alike”. Humans have lived socialistically for 99.5% of our evolutionary history.

Language developed. The ability to think and converse symbolically.

Property was recognised and bands began to trade. The division of labour no longer occurred just within the group. It extended to people we didn’t know.

Trade exploded and the division of labour it enabled allowed us to prosper beyond anyone’s imagination. We now work with and depend on millions of people we have never meet and could never, ever know.

Our interaction is anonymous and distant. We don’t agree on means or ends. We don’t even discuss it. We can’t. We have no overall plan.

Agree on basic rules

But we agree on basic rules. We recognise property rights, contracts and we trade. That’s enough. The price mechanism invisibly mobilises and organises the world.

And that’s the problem, really. We don’t see it. It’s faceless and lacks humanness.

Deep within us is the call of the family and the group. We want to plan, co-ordinate, discuss and agree. The market doesn’t allow us to. Our desires and wants are signalled by the price mechanism that then invisibly motivates and organises. 

The result is a tension between living now in our families, and historically in the group, and living, today, in the big wide, faceless and soulless world.

That primitive yearning is the one politicians feed. It’s why we love government. It’s Dad, Big Chief and Momma, all rolled into one.

The impulse for government action is atavistic. It’s a need deep within us harking back to when we lived primitively in a small family group, able to plan and to agree on what we were to do.

To live free, and to prosper, we must live anonymously in the larger group bound together by abstract rules, not agreed plans or plans handed down from on high.

The appeal of socialism, fascism and communism is the appeal from our evolutionary past. There’s nothing progressive about them.

The opposition to capitalism is the primitive’s fear of what he doesn’t understand.

We can live socialistically but only in the small group where everyone is known and division of labour and sharing of resources can be agreed. And where there is dispute, Mum and Dad rule despotically.

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Had to chuckle at the very end "Mum and Dad rule despotically". Therein lies all the teenage angst and rebellion. A nice comfortable read to start the year. Thanks, Mr Hide.


Socialists and big business have the same goal and methodology - to corrupt the market to benefit themselves using government powers of coercion.

Socialists bribe their voters; big business bribes politicians and bureaucrats.

I'm not sure evolutionary tribes are necessary to explain this behaviour.


"The impulse for government action is atavistic." nicely put :)


There is no perfect solution, as capitalism suffers from corruption as much as socialism. The balancing of each other is also imperfect, but infinitely more desirable.


Yes, but under capitalism we can at least identify the corruption, expose it and boycott its perpetrators. Try doing that with corruption in a socialist society.


Thanks Rodney. Now, how about an article on the evolution of "ethics".
What role did they play in the past? And now?? G'luck


Hi John. Good idea. I will give it some thought. I have just finished reading E O Wilson's The Social Conquest of the Earth, which is a fascinating read. All the more so, given he published it aged 83.

He argues that humans were so dependent of the group that we evolved under group selection pressure just like the social insects of which he is the expert.

He makes a compelling case.

Best, Rodney.


As we have come to expect. Well said, Rodney.
Keep them coming.


So charity begins and ends at home, then.

Outside the home, we "... recognise property rights, contracts and we trade. That’s enough. The price mechanism invisibly mobilises and organises the world".

A good reason not to sell publicly owned assets that are performing well for their current owners, perhaps?


Rodney, if you believe that the invisible hand of the market does anything useful, organising, or mobilising, you clearly haven't been paying attention.

The only way this assertion can possibly be true is in the sense that the market benefits most those who control it. Economic inequalities are increasing in New Zealand and elsewhere, in direct correlation with decreased market regulation.


Kimlian, I am afraid you are wrong. Freer countries are more prosperous than less free ones. And the greatest inequalities occur in controlled socialist countries where those with political power and political connections hoover up what little wealth gets eked out of their groaning systems.

Rich people and big companies don't have power in free economies - consumers do.

Rich people are rich and big companies are big precisely because the likes of you and I choose to buy what they produce.

The empirical studies on the comparisons among countries and over time are clear, as is common experience and observation.

The problem is socialists are driven by theory and a world view that harkens back to our evolutionary pre-history, not facts, and not science.



"Rich people are rich and big companies are big precisely because the likes of you and I choose to buy what they produce."

Very simplistic (maybe opportunistic, too). The very wealthy can recession-proof their financial assets so that they grow their wealth even in a falling market. Also, it's more profitable to be a net lender than a net borrower.

In a polarised socialists vs capitalists argument, you are probably correct. Russia didn't win the cold war. But there are degrees of socialism, and, forgive me if I'm wrong, but I didn't think the tone of your article was referring to a communist-type dictatorship when you referred to socialism in the home.

I thought you were referring to the more moderate use of the term, where focusing on the average increase in a country's prosperity is matched by a focus on ensuring that all wealth-percentiles got to share in that prosperity.

Forbes has at least one article (search Brutal Recession Destroyed Americans' Wealth) that shows how the different wealth sectors fared over the Great Recession. Interesting reading.


Ah, the capitalists are all hugging and applauding each other, but let us understand a few simple truths that you capitalist libertarians are reluctant to admit. Capitalism only works where the state has the power to adjudicate over the market to ensure fairness and a certain ethical playing field. And that is why any healthy market is also part of a powerful government with certain socialist aspects and a strong rule of law.

The rest of us prefer that the law is just and so prefer social democracies to fascism or libertarianism/anarchy. In the law of the jungle the strongest will ultimately eat everyone else, the big oligarchs will corrupt the market, leading to its decay into oligarch and monopoly.

So our system isn't as foolish as you make it out to be.


Oh! So you applaud our Gov. creating Fonterra? Zespri?

There is nothing more honest than nature's laws.


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