Socialism On My Mind: Reed’s Feed

A weekly roundup of thoughts on the passing scene by FEE president Lawrence W. Reed.

A weekly roundup of thoughts on the passing scene by FEE president Lawrence W. Reed.

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What’s my problem with socialists? Just for starters: Socialists promise peace and harmony (when they’re not preaching envy and theft) but they deliver strife and conflict. They pit class against class. They cynically buy off one faction at the expense of another. They thrive on victimology. They shun personal responsibility. They encourage groupthink and mob mentalities. They sacrifice individuality in a communal blender and strip humans of their humanity.

Socialists make offers of favors, subsidies and security that they can’t ultimately keep and then blithely dismiss their own failures. They elevate mere expressions of good intentions over actual outcomes and reality. They make war on human nature. They are the intellectual equivalent of dope pushers, foisting dependency and paternalism on others. They seem to value bureaucracy for its own sake because they never reduce it.

Socialists concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the people whose character and naiveté make them the most susceptible to corruption. They steal stuff and push people around allegedly "for their own good." Their schemes are always compulsory, never voluntary. They spurn the most elemental lessons of history and economics because they think if they just try hard enough the next time, they can somehow overcome them.

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Capitalism: Two Girl Scouts show up at your door and ask, “Would you like to buy some cookies?” You get to say yes or no.

Socialism: Two Girl Scouts show up at your door with an armed SWAT team behind them. They say, “You’re gonna eat these damn cookies and you’re gonna pay for ‘em too.”

Fascism: See “Socialism” and add a few politically well-connected corporate cronies, some jack boots and a dash of nationalism.

Communism: See “Fascism,” subtract the nationalism and add another SWAT team.

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Jesus Christ was no socialist, let alone a Marxist, but a man known to socialists as “the Jesus Christ of Marxism” just got a new job. Instead of being exploited by a private employer, Alfredo Serrano is now exploiting everybody in Venezuela as the top economic adviser there to president Nicolás Maduro.

Serrano is a 40-year-old professor (what else?) from Spain who has long depended on Venezuelan government subsidies to help him promote his toxic brew of property confiscations and price controls. He wrote a book in 2014 in which he labeled Maduro’s lunatic predecessor, Hugo Chavez, “a virtuoso planner.” He now advises even more police power over what’s left of a devastated “planned” economy.

The great French economist Frederic Bastiat wisely observed more than a century and a half ago, “And now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty.” Alfredo Serrano, in effect, is saying something very different, more akin to this: “And now that socialism has wrought utter disaster, let us learn nothing from the experience and double the dosage.”

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“But what about socialism in Scandinavian countries?” you ask. “Doesn’t it work fine there?” It turns out that there’s a lot less socialism in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark than you might think, and what pays its bills is the capitalism those countries haven't destroyed. See my essay, “Socialism: Force or Fantasy?”, especially the list of recommended readings at the bottom.

A new book by the Swedish researcher Nima Sanandaji shows that “Nordic socialism” is mostly smoke and mirrors. Titled Debunking Utopia: Exposing the Myth of Nordic Socialism, it proves that socialism and its welfare-state variant have been “anything but a success” in the countries Bernie Sanders thought he understood.

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“Laws were most numerous when the commonwealth was most corrupt,” wrote the First Century Roman historian Tacitus in a biography of his father-in-law, Julius Agricola. “Step by step,” speaking of his fellow citizens seduced by the redistributive State, “they were led to things which dispose to vice: the lounge, the bath, the elegant banquet. All this in their ignorance they called civilization, when it was but a part of their servitude.”  

The book, “Agricola,” includes powerful critiques of the repressive “surveillance state” under Emperor Domitian, barely a century and a half after the demise of the old Republic.

Lots of good stuff here on how socialism worked out in ancient Rome.

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One of the under-emphasized arguments against socialism concerns the inescapable connection between big government and lousy character. As I wrote in this article in 2013, “The bigger government gets, the less likely it will attract men and women who possess those traits we all say we want.”

All across the political spectrum, well-meaning people lament the decline of positive character and the increasing coarseness of both politics and the broader culture. Everyone says they want more honesty, responsibility, civility and respect for others. But how many really understand that those things are fundamentally at odds with the politicization of life and the concentration of power?

Maybe the government schools will decide to teach us this one of these days. While you’re waiting, you can read here about five ideas at the core of socialism.

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Quotables:

A man who chooses between drinking a glass of milk and a glass of a solution of potassium cyanide does not choose between two beverages; he chooses between life and death. A society that chooses between capitalism and socialism does not choose between two social systems; it chooses between social cooperation and the disintegration of society. Socialism is not an alternative to capitalism; it is an alternative to any system under which men can live as human beings – Ludwig von Mises in Human Action.

Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain -- Frédéric Bastiat in The Law.

Nothing has spread socialistic feeling in this country more than the use of automobiles. To the countryman, they are a picture of arrogance of wealth with all its independence and carelessness -- Woodrow Wilson, who did far more to spread socialism than my Mazda ever did, at the North Carolina Society dinner in March 1906.  

More by Lawrence W. Reed

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