President Obama recently called a House Republican budget plan “thinly veiled social Darwinism.” This, incidentally, from a man whose own budget plan was voted down last week in the House by a vote of 0-414. (The vote was on a bill, that, according to The Hill, was “based on President Obama’s 2013 budget plan.”)

But Obama is a social Darwinist too. So is everybody. Let me explain.

Here’s an excerpt from the Encyclopedia Britannica on social Darwinism:

social Darwinism, the theory that persons, groups, and races are subject to the same laws of natural selection as Charles Darwin had perceived in plants and animals in nature. According to the theory, which was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the weak were diminished and their cultures delimited, while the strong grew in power and in cultural influence over the weak. Social Darwinists held that the life of humans in society was a struggle for existence ruled by “survival of the fittest,” a phrase proposed by the British philosopher and scientist Herbert Spencer.

So that takes us to the next question: what is “fit?” The answer to that will depend on the context; it will depend on what is rewarded.

Take the Soviet Union. Please. Was Joseph Stalin particularly fit? He certainly didn’t produce much that other people valued, yet he thrived. He did so by lying, manipulating, intimidating, and murdering, all on a massive scale. In the Soviet Union, the fittest got the best food, houses, cars, etc., but fitness meant the ability and willingness to be untrustworthy and bloodthirsty. In that environment, Stalin was indeed one of the fittest.

Or take a street gang. The fittest street gangs are those whose members know how to fight the best and who are the least scrupulous about using physical violence. In this way, a neighborhood policed by street gangs is similar to the Soviet Union: the most ruthless succeed in each.

That shouldn’t be surprising. In both environments, the most important rule is, Kill or be killed. There is no protection of the rights of someone who simply wants to go about his or her business peacefully. Peaceful, productive people are, in fact, sitting ducks waiting to be picked off by the violent.

The environment selects for success those who are best at working within its rules. You tell me the environment and the rules, and I’ll tell you the kind of people who will emerge as the fittest.

So the interesting and substantive question is not whether one thinks the fit will survive and thrive better than the unfit. They will. The interesting question is what the rules are that determine what is “fit.” Obama is a strong supporter of crony capitalism: rigging the rules to help his cronies. So in his system, the fit are people like Tim Geithner, the backers of Solyndra, the United Auto Workers union, and various other beneficiaries of the spoils system.

So the question is whether you want the rules under which these people thrive. Or do you want rules under which people who produce good products and services for others survive and thrive?