The title comes from an old line of Ronald Reagan’s, where he said, “Socialism only works in two places: Heaven where they don’t need it and hell where they already have it.”

Let that suffice for a rudimentary introduction, setting both tone and direction.


Socialism is, at root, not a math problem. It is an envy problem, with math splotches on the skin. Socialism is not an economics problem. It is an envy problem, with a symptomatic swelling of the economic lymph nodes. Socialism is not a political problem. It is an envy problem, with a few skirmishes over who has to pay for the political motorized wheel chair. Those subsidized wheelchairs are advertised, incidentally, on Fox News, bastion of opposition to government handouts.

Socialism is, at the heart, a disease of the heart. It is a spiritual problem.

As such, the problem cannot be solved in a math class, or a course in sound economics. The problem can be solved there in theory, on paper (“See? You cannot spend what you have not earned.” “Ooohhh . . .”). But solving the problem on paper is not the same thing as solving the problem.

Upton Sinclair, an outspoken socialist, at least understood the principle—or at least when it applied to others. He said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Isn’t that the way? We all understand the problems with other people’s socialism. Margaret Thatcher made the famous quip about the problem with socialism being the fact that “sooner or later, you run out of other people’s money.” This is exactly true, but we also have to deal with the fact that many Americans are afraid of other people’s socialism, but not at all bothered by their own. Ostensible conservatives have completely rolled over on any number of socialistic programs (e.g. government education), and have quietly acquiesced on others, albeit with some grumbling (e.g. Social Security). But whether or not you think it is politically feasible to address the problems with any form of economic redistribution (which is simple theft, fueled by envy), the envy is still there, doing its destructive work.

Because this is not an intellectual problem, because it is a spiritual disease, there is only one possible solution—and that is the cross of the Lord Jesus, the place where all envy must go to die.


I began with the assertion. Here is the argument.

You have heard a great deal about the nefarious 1%—you know, those fat cats who look like that top hatted guy on the Monopoly board? Those slick daddies who are suffocating all us ordinary people with their toxic, greasy, smoky greed? Let me kick start the envy part of this discussion.

In our country, that top 1% earned about 20% of all the income earned. Boo, hiss, right? Income inequality is thought to be such a terrible thing.

But out of the total amount of taxes paid, that same group paid about 40% of them. The bottom 50% of our population paid about 2.7% of all the tax revenues. The remainder, and a big remainder it is (97.3%) was paid by the top 50%. Slice it up another way and you discover that the top 1% pay more taxes (around 40%) than all the taxpayers in the entire bottom 90% combined (around 30%). And then, if you want to compare tax rates, the top 1% pay an average rate of 27%, which is more than seven times greater than the average rate paid by the taxpayers in the bottom 50%.[1]

Now glance over those figures again. And then reflect on the fact that we live in a country, in a time—shoot, let’s just call it a fun house—where it is possible for a politician to stand up in the broad light of day in order to opine that it is his opinion that the rich need to be made to pay their fair share. Not only can he do this, but he can do this without being laughed out of public life forever.

Fair share? Stop saying fair share. Give us a number. When will we have arrived at a truly equitable solution? What is the mystical number that constitutes an actual fair share? The answer, of course, is when all the plain girls are pretty, and all the figs trees are dropping their diamonds on the ground. The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

This is spiritual blindness. It is spiritual stupor. It is judicial stupidity. It is heart disease.

If someone is in the grip of this delusion, and you try to fix it by going over math facts with him, you are healing the wound lightly. And besides, he probably did better in math back in school than you did. That is not the problem.


Socialists want the right to want absolutely anything that belongs to others. They disguise what they are doing by pretending they want it for others, taking from the rich to give to the poor, but that is not what is going on at bottom. They want it for themselves, and they want it now. They have a permanent case of the gimmees.

But I do need to correct one thing.

There is one thing belonging to another that they really don’t want. They don’t want the righteousness that belongs to another. They want a free lunch, not free grace.

And so here is the basic alternative. I have said it before, and will say again as many times as they will let me. Here it is: free grace > free men > free markets. You cannot get to the third in any kind of sustained way without the second, and you cannot ever get the second without the first.

So what does that mean? It means that atheist libertarians are a big part of the problem. That’s one thing. Another is that Christian communitarians are the other part. The libertarians love apple harvests while hating orchards. The communitarians love the trees but hate the fruit.

Either men will cry out for free grace, or they will cry out for free lunches.

If you will not have the grace of God on His terms, then you will try to supply your counterfeit version of grace by pouring out your largesse on the people. But of course, unlike God, who is rich and abounding in whatever He gives by nature, we have to steal what we give. Thomas Sowell put it like this: “The welfare state is the oldest con game in the world. First you take people’s money away quietly and then you give some of it back to them flamboyantly.”

I said earlier that the cross of Christ is where envy must go if it is to die. And it must die if all the follies that proceed from it are to die. The reason the rising generation is so attracted to socialism, the wasting disease of the entire twentieth century, has been primarily a failure of evangelism.

The fact that all our gospel-centered this n’ thatism has missed this point should be a grief and embarrassment to us.

via Douglas Wilson



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