I should know better, especially at my age. While I don’t spend any time surfing the net, I do get a few news headline feeds that I review regularly. I saw one a few days ago from NBC News entitled “Millennials Support Socialism Because They Want to Make America Great — but for Everyone.”
To the network’s credit this piece was on an opinion page and signed by Nathan Robinson, editor of Current Affairs magazine and self-styled Millennial socialist. Having just reviewed several books on socialism, I decided to read Robinson’s essay.
Suffice it to say, the column decried the unfairness in today’s world and demanded what he calls “worker control.” This phrase reminds one of that erstwhile workers’ paradise of the Cold War era, now blessedly assigned to Ronald Reagan’s ash heap of history.
What is truly astounding in Robinson’s arguments, the same ones we hear daily on the campaign trail and elsewhere, is that somehow free enterprise is inherently unfair, hence evil, while socialism is Eden restored.
While everyone is entitled to his opinion, to paraphrase Daniel Patrick Moynihan, he is not entitled to his own set of facts. Here are the facts on the ground.
Begin with Tom Bethell’s seminal work on property rights, “The Noble Triumph: Property and Prosperity through the Ages.” Starting with ancient Rome and continuing into the late 20th century, Bethell walks through historical example after example of the failure of central planning, redistributionist economics and confiscatory government action. He is quite clear in his conclusion: Nowhere at no time has socialism at a national level worked for the good the citizenry. Bethell’s book is heavy on data and theory but still tells a compelling story in language that non-economists can understand.
Another book, one that is largely anecdotal yet supported with data, is “Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way through the Unfree World” by Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell. The two economists, loudly proclaiming their radical libertarianism, visit seven socialist countries and describe life there in rather earthy terms.
They are quite candid in their dislike for these nations, all but the one which has reversed course and become a free market economy. There is just no getting around the fact that these countries — Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea being the most stridently socialist — are among the worst places on the planet to live or to visit.
Theirs is a serious book written in an unserious style. That’s what makes it so useful. You don’t need a Ph. D. in economics to understand things in glorious black and white. For example, they have their own ranking scale for these economies, one based on the quality and quantity of the beer selection. Hint to travelers: You don’t want to go to North Korea on a beer-tasting excursion.
An economic ranking system based on beer? How great is that!
For the coup de gras they end the book attending a convention of American socialists and discover, no surprise here, that most don’t have a clue as to what socialism really is. Nathan Robinson at least understood that ownership of the means of production is the essential foundation for socialism, even if most of his fellow Millennials don’t. Still, he fell back on tired canards of worker control and redistribution of wealth to everyone. But how does that happen, if it isn’t an omnipotent government that coerces it?
The inconvenient truth is simply that socialism has failed everywhere and every time it has been tried at a national level. Consider this current data point. Chile, once South America’s richest nation as a free-market democracy, now has slid into quasi-anarchy as unemployment rises and real wage growth stagnates due to socialist policies implemented since 2014. There is violence in the streets and mob-like demonstrations in public places, all the while the new government there is being cheered on by the intellectual and media elitists.
“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard,” quipped H. L. Mencken in 1915. He could have been speaking of today’s neo-socialist movement. What he did say in 1916 before any nation of his time had gone into socialist captivity was this: “Socialism is the theory that the desire of one man to get something he hasn’t got is more pleasing to a just God than the desire of some other man to keep what he has got.”
Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar and of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.