Awkwardly, both Eden, as a religious construct, and the (quasi-religious) socialist Elysium imagine all men similarly endowed. While it is then inevitable that both these versions of utopia would struggle with the multiplicity of outcomes that is the bane of every human society, I suppose this conceit comes from presuming each one of us created equal.


Plato’s philosopher-king’s rule; balancing politics (of representation, gender, etc.) at the intersection where the torrent of ideas is upset by calm facts. And there, Stakhanovite citizens work tirelessly ― giving from each according to her ability. With the wise and prudent leaders able to guarantee a steady flow of goods and services to each citizen according to his need, not only is want eliminated. Both desire and private property become illegitimate. Even as the Gini coefficient, as a measure of wellbeing, is rendered nugatory. As are crime and dung heaps.

A return to Eden? Not quite. Instead, this is the fiction that socialists and communists have peddled since Marx (his cohort, and followers) tried to explain how extremes of need and material comfort could sit cheek by jowl in society, even as mankind grew richer; and ended up proffering the immiseration of the affluent as a solution. That this ideal survived the implosion of the Soviet experiment is no more remarkable a fact than that extremes of want and affluence have remained with mankind, even as the globalisation experiment promised to buoy all leaky boats ― and, then, failed remarkably.

Yet, the Soviet example was not without its lessons. It became clear, after a while, that to remain legitimate, government has of necessity to regularly return to the people ― there to renew its tenure for a fixed period. Dictatorships, especially by a praesidium of workers, woefully fails this test ― Potemkin-type elections, notwithstanding. Further, we also learnt that an economy comprised of discrete agents does not readily lend itself to central planning. And unable to lobotomise all of its people at once, a government may only direct them via changes in the law (valid only when a majority agree to this), and/or through the use of incentives, whose validity, again, depends on a general conviction of the latter’s rectitude.

…just as there would be in a community, persons more proficient in the use of the violin than others. And others better able to tell a story than most. There would also be those far more adept than the rest in making money.


Sadly, the distance from the realisation that man will strive only if she has a clear sense of the gains derivable from such exertions, to recommending that societies aim to remove as many obstacles in the path of its citizens as possible, is far more easily travelled than that from the socialist Eden to a realisation of man’s relative rationality. Still, the creation of an environment that conduces to both innovation and enterprise nearly always requires that the people be given a leg up, especially through access to the best education and healthcare services possible; and provision of the infrastructure without which man would use up more energy at work than is justified by the gain from her exertion.

Put differently, man strives when it profits him so to do. Awkwardly, both Eden, as a religious construct, and the (quasi-religious) socialist Elysium imagine all men similarly endowed. While it is then inevitable that both these versions of utopia would struggle with the multiplicity of outcomes that is the bane of every human society, I suppose this conceit comes from presuming each one of us created equal. But just as there would be in a community, persons more proficient in the use of the violin than others. And others better able to tell a story than most. There would also be those far more adept than the rest in making money.

…it is safe to demand that if society is to thrive, it is therefore bound to encourage the difference that thus falls to man after each has been created equal.


Ought society to be organised in restraint of any such talent? Yes, when all such talent imposes costs on society far beyond the gains from its exercise. So, quite obviously must a thief be restrained from plunder, even when he be the most gifted practitioner of his craft. Absent, then, those crafts that impose burdensome externalities on others, it is safe to demand that if society is to thrive, it is therefore bound to encourage the difference that thus falls to man after each has been created equal.

Instead, those who rail at capitalism would readily rein in the knack of those who quite easily turn a good penny from organising labour and capital in production processes that deliver values desired by the market. The problem, though, with granting the state the right to act in restraint of trade and commerce (as would all who fear that otherwise the filthily rich might emerge from amongst us) is that the logic of such restrictions exercised in the name of the people (or of God) nearly always know no bounds. As when the Soviet State asked of Boris Pasternak who permitted him to be a poet.

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.