I received a thoughtful response to my recent post of a friend’s parody song lyrics about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“I’m Just A Wide-Eyed Socialist”), defending socialism and using Finland as an example of a place where socialism works. To show that I do read the comments and appreciate the chance to have a friendly discussion with people who disagree, I thought I would write about the rise in popularity of socialism among American Democrats, particularly young ones.
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First, I’d note that one of the most shocking things about Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is not that someone who’s an avowed socialist would win a Democratic Congressional primary in New York (sadly, not a surprise at all), but that someone with an economics degree (!) would not only embrace socialism, but prove to be so clueless on so many aspects of Econ 101, such as thinking that the unemployment rate is only low because “everyone has two jobs” (A. They don’t; and B. Having multiple jobs doesn’t affect how your employment is counted.)
There’s also a popular meme going around the Internet that claims that if you like Social Security, Medicare, public education, infrastructure, police, firefighters and the military, then you already like socialism. Putting aside the fact that the first two are in desperate financial straits, the third is widely criticized, and even liberals are always attacking the fourth, none of those things are particularly “socialist.” Using taxes to pay for common societal needs is a characteristic of virtually all forms of government.
I think all this provides pretty solid evidence of the low quality of economics education that today’s students are receiving. Don’t forget, college freshmen in 2018 have never even known a world in which the pound sign wasn’t called a “hashtag,” much less lived through the horrors of 20th century communism. If their only knowledge of socialism came from their biased leftist professors, no wonder they think it’s just peachy. It’s always easier to convince people that socialism can work when they’ve never seen with their own eyes how it really, really doesn’t.
It’s also easier to get someone to swallow poison if you put chocolate frosting on it. Hence the current popularity of the term, “Democratic Socialism.” As in, “Oh, this isn’t the kind of socialism that has Venezuelans going without medicine or toilet paper or being forced to eat zoo animals. This is ‘Democratic Socialism!’’’ That mindset inspired a great Internet meme showing a doctor telling a patient, “The bad news is, you have herpes. The good news is, it’s ‘Democratic Herpes!’” Adding a meaningless adjective doesn’t make it more palatable. When the government is so big it controls every aspect of your life, democracy becomes irrelevant. Or as one fed-up Finn put it, what choice of education do parents have when all the schools you can choose from are run by the same government?
Defenders of socialism usually point to the Scandinavian nations, where the so-called “Nordic model” of “socialism lite” allegedly works so well that Bernie Sanders wants America to become Sweden West. In fact, those nations are not socialist: they are capitalist nations that thought their economies were so strong, they could afford to experiment with high taxes (around 45% on every level of income) in exchange for free health care, college, etc., for everyone, regardless of income. As any Garrison Keillor fan will recognize, they had largely homogeneous populations of Nordic Lutherans who believed it was their duty in life to work hard and demand little in return, and that should be the perfect lab for socialism.
But even these nations are abandoning the limited elements of socialism they adopted, because they’ve found that even small doses of socialism prove toxic over the long haul, like adding just a little pinch of arsenic to your spouse’s oatmeal every morning. It’s still deadly, it just takes a while. Letting government take half your income, make all your decisions and provide all your needs with no options was destroying the fabled Scandinavian work ethic, exacerbated by the decline in traditional religious beliefs and an influx of migrants who realized they could enjoy the same handouts whether they worked like dogs or slept like cats.
I recently ran a link to an article about how Swedes are getting fed up with ever-rising taxes while the quality of public services keeps declining. Also, Finland is ending a failed experiment in giving people a guaranteed monthly income after two years. While it was still income redistribution, the hope was that giving people cash to make their own consumer choices would allow the government to cut the expensive social services bureaucracy that now employs a third of the population, and encourage people to take lower-paying entry level jobs. Instead (surprise!) handing out free money just encouraged more sloth, dependence and entitlement.
The excuse when socialism inevitably fails is that the “wrong people” were in charge, or that other countries prevented it from succeeding (a popular excuse for Venezuela), or that it didn’t go far enough and “real socialism” hasn’t been tried yet. This is all nonsense. While socialism has many definitions, it’s basically “the workers control the means of production,” which is Marxism. Naturally, “the workers” can’t run all the industries that government is meddling in or do all that redistributing of wealth themselves, so politicians and bureaucrats must do it “on their behalf.” And that, in a nutshell, is why it will never…NEVER…succeed. Because socialism, communism and all such collectivist isms fail to take into account human nature. It doesn't matter who's in charge; if humans are in charge, it's destined to fail.
Ronald Reagan articulated one of the immutable laws of human nature that socialism violates when he said that if you want more of something, subsidize it; if you want less of something, tax it. This is why I think we should have a consumption-based Fair Tax instead of an income tax: we punish people for working harder, being more productive and creating jobs. Socialism punishes productivity and innovation and gives equal rewards both to those who work hard and those who do the bare minimum. Guess what the results are?
Another reason socialist systems always fail (there are many such variations, but they all have this in common) is that they violate the law of human nature that the people who are most attracted to government positions involving great power over others tend to be the worst people to whom to entrust them (or as I call that: the Hillary Clinton Rule.) Capitalism has its flaws, and it does require government to insure a level playing field and free markets and to police unfair business practices. But at least the ultimate power of the purse rests in the hands of consumers. If the people really decide that a company isn’t acting in their interests, they can withhold their patronage and kill it overnight. That’s real “power to the people!”
But when you have a government system that redistributes vast amounts of wealth, the power inherent in that job attracts the most corruptible people. This insures that under a socialist system, the only people who are rich are the existing tycoons who are able to buy government influence and crush any rising competitors (hence the saying, “Only the very rich can afford socialism”) and the politicians who control the redistributing and snip off a piece of every transaction for themselves. The late Hugo Chavez, who infamously brought socialism to Venezuela, loved to rail that “being rich is bad.” Yet miraculously, his daughter ended up as the nation’s richest woman with an estimated $4.2 billion in foreign banks. Baaaad daughter! She claims she made it by selling hand creams. That’s right, blame capitalism!
In fact, many young Americans have been taught to blame capitalism for everything. They pull on their Nikes, hop in their Priuses, and head down to Starbucks to use the free wi-fi to connect their iPads and iPhones to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and post about how capitalism has never done anything to improve the lives of people like them. They’ve been misled into believing they’re living in the worst of all possible times when, thanks to capitalism, they’re actually blessed to be in the cleanest, safest, most abundant, best-fed, most medically- and technologically-advanced era in history, a time when even Americans below the poverty line enjoy benefits that royalty of a century ago couldn’t imagine. And they believe that only by replacing capitalism with socialism can things change.
Well, they’re right about that. It would change things for sure. But to quote yet another piece of eternal wisdom they probably never learned from their college professors, “Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.”