"Socialism is a great idea, but people are naturally greedy."
This is one of the most common objections to socialism.
People often act in a greedy manner, taking more than their fair share at the lunch line or stealing bicycles. Yet, if people are greedy by nature, then every act of generosity would have to be forced. After all, if greed is natural, generosity must be unnatural.
Clearly, this is not the case. How many parents work extra long hours to give their children nice Christmas presents? How many people volunteer to tutor children in math and reading? How many decide to do something rewarding with their lives, like teaching, rather than being some yes-man on the corporate ladder?
Think about the workers who stayed on the job at the Fukushima reactors as they melted down. Was TEPCO, their employer, paying them massive amounts of money to endure radiation poisoning and certain death? No. Think about the paramedics, cops, and firemen on 9/11 who inhaled a lot of toxins in order to rescue complete strangers. Did they receive bonuses for their actions? No. (In fact, Congress took a decade to give them any kind of health care what so ever.)
People have the capacity to be greedy and generous, selfish and self-sacrificing, depending on the situation they're in. Someone who gives money to the homeless one day might backstab a co-worker the next to keep their own job. A person who is only concerned with their own job and their own family might see a natural disaster unfold somewhere in the world and be moved by the images of human suffering they see on T.V. to donate money to the Red Cross.
Rather than capitalism being created by "natural greed", capitalism has made greed seem natural.
If you are born into a world where you told, "You must get the highest grades in the class so that you can make more money than everyone else", of course you are going to strive to beat your schoolmates academically. If people are born into a society that encourages, breeds, and rewards greed it is no wonder that many people become greedy!
But as we have shown, how people behave is not an iron law. While capitalism pits working people against one another for jobs, financial aid, affordable housing, etc. it also pushes them to band together to struggle against the system that forces them to compete.
Capitalism, the systematic exploitation of the majority for the benefit of a tiny minority, is a system that forces people to fight back collectively, whether they like it or not.
Because the bosses at a given factory or office push the same wage cut onto the same group of workers, workers come to realize that they have a common interest in fighting the bosses. Even though some are black, some are gay, some are women, all the workers realize through their own experience either 1 of 2 things: 1, that we can let things get worse and worse or 2, we can unite and fight back.
One of the unspoken ideas underpinning the "human beings are too greedy for socialism" argument is the notion that working-class people will have to make sacrifices in their standard of living so that there is enough for everyone. "Socialism as sacrifice" is most likely rooted in the stereotypes and misconceptions about socialism that came from the experience of the U.S.S.R., China, North Korea, Cuba, where there were continual shortages of consumer goods allegedly due to the inability of a planned economy to meet people's needs efficiently.
The fact of the matter is that in these countries workers were forced to sacrifice because party bureaucrats chose to prioritize arms spending above the needs of workers due to military competition with the capitalist West. This wasn't socialist planning because it wasn't democratic planning by workers themselves.
The U.N. did a study that showed that if all of the world's wealth were evenly divided, the entire world's population would live what is the equivalent of a Western "middle class" lifestyle. In other words, for the vast majority of the world's population, the equitable distribution of wealth would mean a tremendous increase in their standard of living, not sacrifice. For example, half of the world's population lives on $2 a day, while there are over 900 billionaires around the world. Socialism would not mean taking a single red cent from those making $2 a day.
To put it another way, socialism is in the rational self-interest of the working class.
Capitalism distorts human nature and breeds greed. Socialism will do the opposite, ensuring that everyone has enough to eat and a decent place to stay. Resources will be devoted to developing the creative abilities that are suppressed under capitalism in the struggle to get by. In the struggle for a socialist society, solidarity with their fellow workers, black, white, gay, straight, men, women, within this nation and without, is the key to winning that struggle.