Bryan Caplan asked why socialism turned out evil and proposed three competing explanations. Volokh Conspiracy followed up, and a horde of socialists appeared out of the wood work, objecting to the premise of the question, claiming that socialism was just fine.
So time to re-run my golden oldie: Why socialism needs killing fields. The reason, like the reason for most things in human affairs, is economic.
Throughout the twentieth century the introduction of socialism has always involved killing fields, facilities for the mass production of murder by specialized labor.
Although this institution has been widely used throughout the twentieth century, we did not create a word for it until close to the end of the twentieth century, when Pol Pot organized approximately 20 000 separate killing fields, a world record, thanks to his firm commitment to decentralized government.
Though the word is new, the system is as old as socialism.
The basic problem of socialism is the relationship between production and consumption. It is likely that the number seven widget collective might want to produce fewer widgets, or a different kind of widget, to that which certain users of widgets desire. Furthermore some users of widgets will want widgets for one purpose, and others for a different purpose, and there probably will not be as many widgets as they all desire, or the varieties that each diverse user of widgets desires.
Now under capitalism, no problem. You want widgets? You pay for widgets. You get the widgets you want or you refuse to buy widgets. And if you do not want to pay, then you probably do not need the widgets as much as the guy who is willing to pay. And if the price is high, then making widgets must be hard, and if it is not hard, you go into business making widgets, and you do not have to ask anyone’s permission to do that.
But under socialism, the number seven widget collective is producing widgets for free, or at a “socially desirable price”, which usually might as well be free, since when goods are produced at “socially desirable” prices money rapidly becomes unspendable. So who gets to decide what widgets to produce? Those who produce them, or those who consume them?
Well obviously “the community” must decide.
And then “the community” must impose its decision on the producers and consumers of widgets.
Whereas in capitalism, the community can go jump in the lake. It is nobody’s business but that of a willing seller and a willing buyer.
This means that under socialism, issues of production and consumption have to be dealt with in the same way that capitalists deal with issues such as a stolen handbag.
Under capitalism there is a positive incentive to produce, since if you produce something you own it, until you trade if for something you want more, and you cannot consume, except you have produced something that someone else values more than what you consume.
This of course makes it possible in capitalism for one person to wind up owning vastly more than another due to the accidents of luck, opportunity, ability, and ambition.
Under socialism it is necessary to use negative incentives, to punish people for “parasitism” “hoarding”, “black marketeering”, and suchlike “crimes”, “crimes” which are unknown in capitalism, or rather honored as virtues.
A socialist economy must employ negative incentives, the kind of incentives that law abiding people apply only to muggers and the like, in order to get light bulbs in the light sockets and toilet paper in the toilets. Thus the entire socialist country must be run as a prison, and all the citizens are lifers, and the nomenclatura are merely trusties.
Needless to say, when this system is introduced, a great many people misbehave. You cannot send them to prison, they already are in prison.
You have to murder them.
Hence the need for efficient methods for the mass production of murder.