Thomas Sowell, Socialism sounds good while capitalism does good

The economic advantages of a market economy are accompanied by political disadvantages. Its over-all operations are seldom understood, even by those who are successful at running their own individual businesses, and their articulation seldom matches that of intellectuals, who usually have neither experience in business nor expertise in economics.

More fundamentally, the main incentive of capitalism is self-interest, which is by no means an attractive quality, however effective it may be for producing economic results-—for others as well as for oneself. The very expression “the market” suggests something impersonal, when in fact what is involved are simply all the very personal individual choices which are reconciled with one another through the competitive processes which are summarized as “the market.”

When a newspaper headline asks, “Should the Internet be Left to the Market,” what this question really amounts to is: Should individuals be free to use the Internet as they wish or should some collective body restrict or direct what they do? A case can be made for or against restrictions on using the Internet, but that is the real issue. Alternatives to a market economy may express nobler sentiments but the bottom line is whether this in fact leads to better behavior in terms of better serving their fellow human beings.

For example, a conscientious Soviet worker who was loading bread began to notice that the bread had bird droppings on it. She returned it to the bakery but was later told by a driver that this bread was not thrown out. It was simply ground up with the flour used to bake fresh bread and the finished product was then delivered to the stores, with the bird droppings now on the inside instead of on the outside.

A capitalist enterprise doing such a thing would not only be liable to lawsuits and prosecution, it would risk losing its customers to its competitors if word ever got out, and could be ruined economically even before legal processes ran their course. But a government monopoly has less to fear. Environmental degradation was likewise worse in the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe than in capitalist countries, and the worst environmental disaster of all occurred in the Soviet Union at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Moreover, the ability of a totalitarian government to keep information secret meant that local Soviet officials could evacuate their own families first, while leaving the local population wholly uninformed and exposed to thousands of times more radiation than normal. Only after foreign countries detected the increased radiation in their own atmospheres and foreign radio broadcasts then began reaching the Soviet Union did ordinary people in the contaminated area learn that they were in danger.