What characterizes any really big logistical disaster is that no one person can be reliably pinned with the blame. Who’s to blame for the Holocaust, the Holodomor (spell check recommends “morphology” here), the Gulag? Everyone is following orders and acting reasonably within their constraints, as if the orders and constraints are coming from thin air. Stalin and Hitler did not have the prerequisite charisma or intelligence to be assigned the proper blame for the millions and millions who died under their nominal leadership- they were just riding the wave a little better than the rest. Lenin and Mao were apparently pretty clever, but they weren’t millions of times more clever than the average murderer who eludes the detectives. It is natural that we assume that orders came from somewhere, after a long game of Telephone.
It’s been said that nothing straight can be made from crooked timber. I say further that no death camp was ever constructed by a carpenter with a clean conscience. Did the randomness of waves and wind build Dachau? Did Stalin hammer every nail required to build the hundreds and thousands of prisons that would, at times, hold tens of millions of people at a time? How calloused his hands would have been! But no, he merely had to speak to his timbers: “Shoot him, or I will order him to shoot you.” As you can see, this requires no cunning beyond the understanding that the nation was filled with men who would sell their souls for a slice of black bread, if they were hungry enough, and the idealists could simply be starved all the more easily.
Let’s take a moment to recognize, tangentially, that only a line’s breadth separates capitalism from communism. The idea of capitalism is that men ought to be allowed to achieve their hearts’ desires as efficiently and effectively as possible. And so we have: whips and chains and ballgags have never been cheaper, or more freely available. The poor have never been so far from revolt because they are fat and satisfied merely to hold the moral and cultural high ground.
We capitalists will have our own Gulag, and it will be the most bloodthirsty in all of history, merely because the pricing mechanisms are more efficient. It will also be the slowest, because the money changers have greater patience than the proletariat hordes; we may not even notice the great game of Solitaire being played out until we are caught up in the shuffle ourselves. It is our fate to starve under the care of hospital orderlies who have neither time nor food enough to feed us, oblivious and unable to resist because we are sedated by doctors who review our cases for five seconds every six months. Pain? Vicodin. The morphine will flow long after the water runs dry.
The mobs of proletariat Soviets repeatedly cried “Death!” outside the courthouses, until they themselves were in the defendant’s seat. We will cry “Sedation!” instead. The Soviet executioners would drink to escape their horror, but we orderlies will deliver ourselves to the doctors to be sedated.
Mises describes economics as the science by which acting men quiet their psychological distress. A perfectly happy man does not act, because to act is to substitute one psychological state for another, and what could be better than perfect satisfaction? What then is the difference between communism and capitalism? The capitalists can tell you: we attain more of our goals, where the Soviets could not, through the efficiency of pricing mechanisms. Rather than enlisting 80% of the population to kill the 20%, we will enlist everyone to commit righteous suicide. There are two sorts of perfectly satisfied economic actors: the sedated, and the dead. Neither acts to quiet psychological distress.
What is the acme of material desire? A full belly, a warm hearth, a good job, a beautiful family, and to be a devil while believing I am an angel. The latter is to commit murders and believe I am a doctor, a priest, and a martyr.