That socialism is on the rise in America has become well-established over the last few months. Polls have repeatedly reflected this, with almost half of young Americans saying they would prefer to live in a socialist country as members of the Democratic Party look more favorably upon socialism than capitalism—heck, even some conservatives are demanding big government now. All of this is coming at a point when the Democrats have moved rapidly to the left with the emergence of new figureheads like AOC, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris. These days, the Democratic Party is, indeed, in many regards much farther to the left than normal center-left parties in Europe, something unimaginable just a few years ago.
Bill Maher's "Capitalism PLUS"
The next bigshot who has found his love for socialism is HBO's Real Time host Bill Maher, who (mature content warning) presented his new vision of “Capitalism PLUS” on Friday’s show. Don’t be confused by the term “capitalism” in his concept, as it has little to with that. He himself admitted as much, calling it “Capitalism PLUS” because “socialism” has kind of a negative connotation.
Maher starts off his five-minute monologue by accusing Republicans of constantly putting up a strawman argument by referring to Venezuela as a prime example of what happens under socialism, subsequently referring to the UN’s new World Happiness Index:
Republicans have to explain, if socialism is such a one-way ticket to becoming the nightmare of Venezuela, then why do all the happiest countries in the world embrace it?
As you might have guessed, the top countries in the index are the infamous Scandinavian countries like Norway, Denmark, and Finland, all of which are, per Maher, “socialist-friendly.” The myth of Nordic socialism is one that seems to die particularly hard even though it has been rebuked by political leaders of those countries themselves. For instance, the Danish Prime Minister called out Bernie Sanders, clarifying that “Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy.” Besides that, it should be clear at this point that Scandinavia is, in fact, not socialist at all (see one of my articles summarizing this here).
It seems as though Bill Maher has no idea what is happening in these Scandinavian countries and is simply assuming that they are socialist.
Even more curiously, in his list of “socialist-friendly” countries where people are happier than in the US, Maher includes Iceland, a country that has focused on reducing its debt on a massive scale in recent years by posting budget surpluses, Sweden, a country that partly privatized the health care system after the government version caused too many problems, and Switzerland of all places, one of the economically freest countries in the world. It seems more as though Bill Maher has no idea what is happening in these countries and is simply assuming that any country doing better than the US has to be socialist.
Now, one has to wonder what makes these countries so great for Maher, anyway. Again, we could talk about semi-privatized health care and school education in Sweden, the freest and least-regulated labor market among OECD countries in Denmark, or the centuries-long story of a small, decentralized Switzerland, which has possibly the longest tradition of a private property-based market economy and a political climate focused on individual liberty in the world.
False Equivocation Fallacy
Instead, Maher emulates Bernie Sanders and presents Finland’s universal health care system—where it is much cheaper to have a baby than in the US—as a great socialist policy that America should adopt. That is, the health care system that, as Ben Johnson explained at the Acton Institute, recently brought down the Finnish government as it tried to introduce a market-based approach:
Prime Minister Juha Sipilä of Finland and his cabinet members have resigned after failing to rein in the nation’s health care costs and provide greater competition. This comes as reports show private citizens in Finland increasingly turning to the free market to meet the shortfalls of the nationalized system. … the system’s failures often deny citizens access to lifesaving care, leaving private doctors to heal the sick in Finland.
Of course, Maher is correct that most Western European countries, both those that are doing well and those that aren’t (France, Italy, and Greece, anyone?) have some type of universal health care, “free” education, somewhat strong labor unions, and pensions. And it is true that those systems are not doing too badly in comparison to the American versions. But the explanation for that is not that Europeans have it perfect. Those systems come at a major cost, both in higher tax rates now, worse service in some regards, fewer elite universities, and in the form of a major burden for future generations who will be forced to pay off a welfare system that is close to bursting in most countries. Instead, the problem with the American system is precisely that it is not a capitalist system but one mired in crony capitalism.
With that, we are back in Venezuela. Maher says at the start of his talk that “the right has a hard time understanding the concept that we don’t want ‘Long lines for bread’ socialism, we want ‘You don’t have to win the lotto to afford brain surgery’ socialism.” I am sure that this is the case—that most advocating for socialism today only want the best for America (I myself had a socialist period and certainly did not want people to starve).
Those calling for socialism should instead embrace individual liberty and the very system that brought us the prosperity we enjoy today.
But intentions don’t count. Results do. And it is here where socialism has always failed spectacularly, where it has caused misery and millions of deaths in the worst case scenarios. It creates stagnating or sometimes even regressing economies always on the brink of disaster—like in today’s southern Europe—and if we want to call it “socialism,” at least less prosperity and less freedom than otherwise possible in the case of Western and Northern European countries.
There are undoubtedly many problems in today’s economy, politics, and society—on both sides of the Atlantic. But the ideas of the likes of Bill Maher's would only worsen it. Instead, those calling for socialism should embrace individual liberty and the market economy—the very system that has ushered in the prosperity we enjoy today. Bill Maher almost did so a few years ago when he flirted with Rand Paul. Maybe he should reconsider his latest drift to the left.