It pains me to admit it, but I am a socialist. For the past nineteen years my family has operated as a pure socialist, centrally planned monarchy: from each according to his ability; to each according to his needs. All assets have been controlled by the central government (that is, my wife), for the benefit of the collective group. (That is, my wife, kids and me.) For the most part, I made all the money and my wife spent most of it on our children.
This has not been democratic socialism. We didn’t vote on how many pairs of shoes a teenage girl should have or whether a teenage boy always needed the newest iPhone. The central government rationed all items.
The system has worked remarkably well.
Smaller economic ecosystems are more likely work well under socialism, especially if the central government is led by a trusted, invested and benevolent dictator. Socialism is perfect for a family. Adults make the money and decide on its proper allocation. Kids don’t get to vote for what they think is a fair distribution of family resources. They must trust their benevolent, invested dictator to make those choices.
In college, my friends and I practiced a type of voluntary social collectivism. There was no dictator to decide on resource allocation, but if one of us had money, we all had money. My friends and I would go to Ivy’s and drink beer or Good Times Deli and eat sandwiches until everyone’s stomach was full or pockets empty. It worked because we knew and trusted each other. No one compelled us to do it.
At the national level there are too many pitfalls for socialism to work as effectively. Federal decision-makers aren’t personally benevolent; they are giving away other people’s assets. A presidential candidate’s “investment” lies in getting elected; thus, elections can become contests to see who can promise the most goodies to the combination of people who will result in 270 electoral votes. And since the federal government borrows 30 percent of the money it spends, taxpayers never feel the current and true cost of the government’s largess.
If people want college to be free, they can implement socialism at the state level. Tennessee can raise taxes enough to fully fund the entire UT system. Taxpayers could easily and quickly evaluate the cost and benefit of paying for free college. I have long suggested that if people want free health insurance, cities could provide it. Cities and states can’t print money; they have to run balanced budgets. If Knoxvillians think single-payer health care is wonderful, increase local taxes enough to fund premiums for everyone. Call it Medicare for All in Knoxville.
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. A version of this piece originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.