You are the only one who owns your life. You are the only one who owns your property, the result of your productive actions. You can trade with others what you have produced. No-one can tell you what you must produce, and no-one can tell you, whom you can trade your product with, as long as you are not initiating violence against your fellow men. You are free to associate or not associate with anyone around you for any purpose whatsoever, according to your own judgement.
This is a crude version of the set of individual rights. All the rights, if they are to be valid, pertain to individual liberty. Violation of individual rights is equivalent to enslavement of men.
A slave is someone who continues to produce, while others consume his product without his consent. No-one in his right mind would want to live in a slave society. Slaves are not happy people. Slaves do not innovate.Slaves do not initiate production. Slaves do not trade. Slaves do not prosper.
Capitalism is the only political-economic system that is based on the principle of upholding individual rights. It doesn’t recognise any form of enslavement.
To answer your question, in a society that doesn’t recognise slavery, you are not at liberty to force your fellow men to guarantee your livelihood. You only have the liberty to earn your livelihood, if others are willing to trade with you what they have, for what you have produced. Be it a tomato, or your ability to teach a theorem by spending your time. There’s dignity in trade.
If you think your fellow poor man is a good person, and that he deserves your help in his hard times, so that he can be a more productive trader at a later date, you are at liberty to donate your own wealth. You are at liberty to start a campaign and ask others to donate their wealth, if they are willing to do so. Many will do so, out of generosity. The poor man will respect their generosity and there’s some dignity in that. Because he is respecting others’ right to their own property and respectfully seeking their help with a forthright attitude. Only such a man deserves generosity.
But if you try to amend the rules of civilised association by proclaiming that the poor man must own a so called “fair share” of everyone’s wealth, so that he can live with a basic level of dignity, you’ll achieve the opposite. Everyone who is sane, will start hating the poor man. They won’t be generous anymore. And he won’t feel dignified anymore. He’ll start feeling like a robber, because he is. He has no right to other’s wealth. And taking another person’s wealth by force is stealing, even if it is sponsored by the state. There’s no dignity in stealing, or worse, trying to enslave others by institutionalising slavery. If you force generosity, you’ll only succeed in achieving cruelty. A penny donated with generosity is different from a penny taken by force. The difference is the liberty to spend one’s own wealth in the way they see fit.
So that is the problem with socialism, whose alleged goal is to guarantee a basic level of dignity to the poor: 1. You propose to do it with others’ wealth without their consent. 2. Another person’s dignity is not yours to guarantee. He has to earn it.
Originally answered on Quora for the same question.