Learn from History
How soon we forget. How quickly collective memory fades. How poorly schooling covers recent history.
How shameful that the country’s youngest voters gravitate towards an economic theory that has never once worked.
Voters between 18 and 29 years of age view socialism – which has resulted in countless failed experiments that doomed countries and resulted in millions of death – more favorably than capitalism.
This aligns well with the recent Democratic primary: Self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders dominated among young leftists whereas Hillary Clinton thrived with middle-aged and older liberal Democrats better versed in the fatal conceit of socialism.
What is socialism?
Socialism, which involves the government centralizing, nationalizing, and controlling the means of production, never works in practice. The Soviet Union should be the most glaring example of socialism’s discontents. While the USSR never implemented true communism – they settled for a derivation of Marxism, further perverted by despotic repression – it fully implemented collectivism. And its economy utterly failed.
An initial postwar boom driven by massive fiscal investments in heavy industry – economic growth can be attained even in collectivist environments when enormous resources are thrust upon a given sector; however, that growth is neither efficient nor sustainable – led to epic economic stagnation that the Soviet Union tried to alleviate through market-based reforms. In other words, the world’s greatest socialist experiment turned to capitalism to salvage its state (and, in the end, it still could not). This also says nothing of the unfathomable human cost, both in terms of death, poverty, and suffering, that accompanied the failed endeavor.
Incentives matter and under true socialism, with government owning property and the means of production, there are no productive incentives. Individuals have no reason to innovate or search for profit – a quest that does create jobs and drives down costs while boosting the standard of living for a nation and all its inhabitants. China, though ostensibly socialist, has realized the need for incentives and thus has implemented many market reforms.
Communist Cuba has entirely failed, resulting in unspeakable poverty and a continuing flood of refugees escaping the villainous regime.
Venezuelan socialism has destroyed the once-vibrant Latin American country.
Scandinavian countries, often touted as socialist successes, are not, in fact, socialist. Sweden and Finland are among the world’s most competitive countries. Socialism spurs no competition (and competition drives employment and high standards of living). Denmark, which Bernie Sanders esteems as the dream socialist state, takes offense at such a label and prides its market economy. Another tidbit: the public services provided by Denmark are not exemplary, Denmark has privatized many infrastructural elements, and there’s much doubt about the welfare state’s sustainability. Denmark’s welfare state doesn’t replace the (labor) market – it furthers it.
Socialism vs. Social Welfare
Perhaps favorable views of socialism stem from ignorance
Socialism is not a robust welfare program, but rather the centralization and state-ownership of the means of production. Government controls capital and industry; the economy is planned centrally with no regard to individual desires, profit incentives, or human capital.
Welfare is not socialism. A social safety net through services such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit provide for seniors and the poor, helping the latter compete – and hopefully thrive – in a robust labor market. Welfare is not about stripping from individuals the means of production but rather by helping labor market entrants and ensuring an equal starting (but not finishing) ground for all.
The younger generations who favorably view socialism may well confound the two concepts. Couple this with fading collective memories of the Soviet Union’s economic failure, massive human toll, and ultimate dissolution, and today’s youth may yearn for a theoretically appealing – but in reality appalling – economic program. The Great Recession and general income stagnation makes many lust for change of any sort. Unfortunately, critical thought rarely accompanies such lust.
Capitalism is imperfect, no doubt. But capitalism – and capitalism only – has led to remarkable economic growth and a breath-taking rise in our standard of living. It’s produced wealth unimaginable just 200 years ago and product creation in so rapid a pace that the size of a computer dropped 99 percent in just four decades, while simultaneously becoming many orders of magnitude more powerful.
Embracing an economic ideology that has always failed over markets and competition is simply foolish. Today’s left must not ever embrace socialism.