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Archive for the ‘Communism’ Category

In recent weeks, I’ve mocked socialism, both as a general concept and as the ideology of Crazy Bernie.

Today, let’s focus on communism, which is socialism’s authoritarian cousin.

We’ll start with an unusual article from Babylon Bee, a must-read satire site. There’s nothing but a headline and an image.

Though this story is only partly satire.

Given the staggering death toll of communism (a body count somewhere between the Spanish Flu and the Black Death), it is far deadlier than the coronavirus.

Readers in the boomer demographic doubtlessly remember the Beatles. After the band broke up, John Lennon had several solo hits, including Imagine, which became an anthem for some leftists in part because it included the line, “Imagine no possessions.”

The clever folks at Babylon Bee have revised the lyrics in the interests of accuracy.

Have you ever tried to imagine living in a perfect world ruled by communism, but previously only received the information from catchy folk songs which praise the system? Well, lucky for you, it is now easier than ever to understand what a full-blown communist utopia actually looks like. …”Imagine” has been rereleased with more realistic lyrics to reflect the harsh realities of communism. Lennon, long dead—though not by way of communism, since he was blessed to live in a capitalist country—would be proud of the change… While the classic folk song does do a fantastic job of laying out the basics of communism—no religion, no possessions, no food—it never invites the listener to imagine all the people in their true form, which is dead—usually by firing squad, but often by way of starvation as well.

Here are some of the updated lyrics.

Since we just traveled back to the 1970s, let stay in that decade by sharing a sketch from Monty Python.

Last but not least, here’s the utopian vision of communism (embraced by 36% of millennials) compared to the grim reality of communism.

P.S. Apologists for Marxism routinely try to dodge accountability by claiming all the real-world examples “weren’t real communism.” Which creates additional opportunities for satire.

P.P.S. Like modern leftists who talk one way and live another way, John Lennon did not put his money where his mouth was. He preached leftism while enjoying a life of luxury thanks to personal earnings of several hundred million dollars.

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Last week, I shared a 24-question quiz that ostensibly determines whether you’re a communist.

Though it might be just as accurate to ask one simple question: Do you have warm feelings about the Marxist dictatorship in Cuba?

On that basis, Bernie Sanders fails.

At best, he’s an ignorant dupe and apologist. At worst, he’s a true believer.

Regardless, his views are wrong and easy to debunk.

Writing in the Washington Post, Francisco Toro opines about Bernie Sanders and Cuba.

…you can begin to glimpse the enormous concern Venezuelans and Cubans feel when we hear Bernie Sanders praise Fidel Castro’s education system. …Cuba’s overall educational performance is middling for the region: roughly similar to that of many other Latin American countries… There was never any need to build a police state to bring people to school — an insight so obvious, it’s ludicrous to even have to write it. …To Cubans and Venezuelans — who have witnessed much the same kind of propaganda — talk of Cuban educational prowess grates not because it’s wrong, exactly, but because it serves as a simple way to identify who’s ready to be duped by regime apologists. …When Sanders parrots Fidel’s propaganda, he fails the test.

What’s especially grating is that the propaganda is either false or misleading.

Marian Tupy and Chelsea Follett summarize just a few of the problems with fawning claims about Cuba’s performance.

…in a recent 60 Minutes interview on CBS. Senator Sanders applauded Cuba’s education and healthcare system. Potential Sanders supporters should know that Cuba’s literacy rate and healthcare system are nothing to lionize. First, consider literacy. …Cuba’s literacy rate rose by 26 percent between 1950/53 and 2000. But literacy rose even more, by 37 percent, in Paraguay. Food consumption in Cuba actually declined by 12 percent between 1954/57 and 1995/97. It rose by 19 percent in Chile and by 28 percent in Mexico over the same time period. …Next, consider healthcare. Sanders has repeatedly extolled Cuba’s healthcare system… Life expectancy is the best proxy measure of health. According to Cuba’s official data, it rose by 25 percent between 1960 and 2017. Yet life expectancy increased even faster in comparable countries: in Mexico it improved by 35 percent, in the Dominican Republic by 43 percent, and in impoverished Haiti by 51 percent.

For what it’s worth, President Obama’s favorable comments about Cuban health care also were embarrassingly inaccurate.

The bottom line is that Cuba performs poorly when looking at education, health, nutrition, and other variables.

But none of that should be a surprise since poor countries generally can’t afford good things or deliver good outcomes.

And the lesson we should learn is that Cuba is poor because government is far too big. Simply stated, the absence of capitalism has been a recipe for misery.

The most shocking statistic is that living standards in Cuba and Hong Kong were very similar when Castro first imposed his version of Marxist socialism.

Yet now there’s a giant gap, with people in Hong Kong enjoying unimaginable prosperity compared to the impoverished residents of Cuba.

Let’s close with two additional items. First, here’s a video from four guys who traveled to Cuba for an up-close view of socialism.

And if you liked that video, here’s another first-hand account of the (nonexistent) glories of Cuban socialism.

Our final item is this look at a street, both as it looked before communism and how it looks today.

The lesson, of course, is similar to the one that we get when examining North Korea from outer space. Communism simply doesn’t work.

P.S. On the topic of silly propaganda, Jeffrey Sachs actually rates Cuba above the United States for meeting development goals, and Cuba also was placed above the United States by a radical environmental group.

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Because of his extremist views, I often refer to Senator Sanders as “Crazy Bernie.”

You can argue I’m being unfair. After all, I pointed out during the last campaign that his voting record in the Senate was almost identical to the voting records of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (his vote rating also was similar to supposed moderate Joe Biden when he was a Senator).

But that doesn’t necessarily mean they think the same or have the same agenda. As the cartoon illustrates, Bernie wants to travel at a faster rate in the wrong direction.

And it’s quite likely that he wants to travel farther in the wrong direction. And he may even want to get to a very unpleasant destination.

You don’t have to believe me. You can simply listen to what Bernie Sanders has said, in this video narrated by Maxim Lott.

And if that’s not enough, here’s a video from Reason that has more of Crazy Bernie’s extremist statements.

So what should we think when we examine Bernie’s past statements, review his voting record in Congress, and also analyze his current platform?

Is he a radical? Crazy? A Marxist? A democratic socialist? A socialist democrat? Some combination of all those options?

We obviously have no way of knowing what his real motives and thoughts are, but James Pethokoukis of the America Enterprise Institute speculates whether Sanders has learned anything.

What lessons have the events of the last half century taught Bernie Sanders? …He’s certainly seen a lot that would seem to have direct bearing on his ideology, especially the collapse of the Soviet Union… Was he “very distressed” at the failure of the centrally planned Soviet economy? He certainly should have been, but only offers a condemnation of the authoritarian political system. …No wonder he’d rather talk about Scandinavia as his socialist success story. Those tiny economies score well on just about every economic metric. But there’s more to them than universal healthcare and generous paid leave. The Nordic model, according to a recent JPMorgan report, “entails a lot of capitalism and pro-business policies…” That’s stuff antithetical to the Sanders democratic socialist agenda. Indeed, the report concludes, “A real-life proof of concept for a successful democratic socialist society, like the Lost City of Atlantis, has yet to be found.”

For what it’s worth, Ryan Bourne points out that his agenda is more extreme than Jeremy Corbyn’s (which is not an easy task).

…some commentators are downplaying his socialist credentials, painting the veteran Senator as no more than a moderate social democrat. …To simply label him a socialist, without any caveats, is misleading. But it’s even more grossly misleading to suggest his “democratic socialist” ambitions stop at a Scandinavian-style welfare state. More redistribution is central to his agenda, sure, but he also proposes massive new market interventions, including the Green New Deal, a federal jobs guarantee, expansive price and wage controls… Sanders’ platform goes far beyond any modern social democracy in terms of government size and scope. Indeed, his policies can only be considered moderate if some three-way lovechild of the economics of 1970s Sweden, Argentina, and Yugoslavia’s market socialism is the baseline. …compare Labour’s 2019 manifesto against the Sanders’ economic platform. Doing so makes clear that Bernie is more radical than Corbyn on economics, both in absolute terms and relative to their countries’ respective politics. …Combined with national insurance, Labour’s top marginal income tax rate would have been 52%. Sanders’ top federal income taxrate alone would be 52%, bringing a top combined top rate of around 80% once state and payroll taxes are considered. Sanders wants a new wealth tax too, another option Labour shirked. …where there are differences, it’s because Sanders is offering the more radical leftwing policies. He and Labour both proposed big minimum wage rises, national rent control, mandated employee ownership, and workers on boards, for example. But where Labour proposed 10% worker ownership stakes in large companies, Sanders would mandate 20%… on the role of government, the declared economic platforms are instructive. Call it “democratic socialism,” or just plain old “interventionism,” Bernie Sanders is, in many respects, putting a more radical interventionist offer to the electorate than Jeremy Corbyn did.

Interestingly, social democrats from Nordic nations think Bernie Sanders is too far to the left.

Johan Hassel, the international secretary for Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats, visited Iowa before the caucuses, and he wasn’t impressed with America’s standard bearer for democratic socialism, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “We were at a Sanders event, and it was like being at a Left Party meeting,” he told Sweden’s Svenska Dagbladet newspaper… “It was a mixture of very young people and old Marxists, who think they were right all along. There were no ordinary people there, simply.” …Lars Løkke Rasmussen, then the prime minister of Denmark, made a similar point in a speech at Harvard in 2015, when Sanders was gaining national attention. “I know that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism,” he said. “Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy”.

Giancarlo Sopo, opining for the Washington Examiner, worries that Sanders actually is an unrepentant Marxist.

Sanders is not the nice, Nordic-style “democratic socialist” he claims to be. At his core, Sanders is almost certainly an all-out Marxist. …The man has no business being anywhere near the Oval Office — not even on a guided tour. …Sanders has been an unabashed apologist for communism, an evil ideology with a body count of 100 million people dead in its wake. …While people such as my grandfather were languishing as political prisoners in Cuba, Sanders said that he was so “excited” about the island’s communist revolution that watching JFK get tough on Fidel Castro made him want to “puke.” …The 78-year-old presidential candidate even honeymooned in the Soviet Union and came back full of praise for it. Some may not grasp how bizarre this was during the Cold War… Sanders’s platform, which openly calls for nationalizing major industries such as higher education, healthcare, and even the internet, falls well outside the mainstream of U.S. politics and more closely resembles the central planning committees in Cuba and Venezuela.

Last but not least, in a column for the Wall Street Journal, Elliot Kaufman compares Sanders’ radical past with his modern rhetoric.

Campaigning for U.S. Senate in 1971, he demanded the nationalization of utilities. In 1973 he proposed a federal takeover of “the entire energy industry,” and in 1974 he wanted a 100% tax on all income above $1 million. In 1976 he asserted that workers needed to “take immediate control of the economy if we are to survive” and called for “public ownership of utilities, banks and major industries.” He had a plan for “public control over capital.” As late as 1987 he asserted that “democracy means public ownership of the major means of production.” …He had also begun a dalliance with the Socialist Workers Party, a communist group that had followed Leon Trotsky. Mr. Sanders endorsed the SWP’s presidential nominee in 1980 and 1984, spoke at SWP campaign rallies during that period, and in 1980 was part of its slate of would-be presidential electors. …After three decades in Congress, he has settled on a populist vision that fits in on the Democratic left. In a major speech last June elaborating his idea of socialism, he cast himself in the tradition of Franklin D. Roosevelt… He enumerated a series of positive rights—to “quality health care,” “as much education as one needs,” “a good job that pays a living wage,” “affordable housing,”… But he said nothing about state control over the means of production or Fidel Castro’s revolution.

So who’s the real Bernie Sanders?

I have no idea whether he still wants government ownership and control of the means of production (i.e., pure socialism with state-run factories, collective farms, etc). I also don’t know whether his past support for awful Marxist dictatorships meant he actually was a Marxist.

But I can confidently state that his current policy agenda is nuts.

A few years ago, I created a three-pronged spectrum in an attempt to illustrate the various strains of leftism.

I’ve decided to create a more up-to-date version. It shows that the Nordic nations are part of the rational left. A bit further to the left are conventional leftists such Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and then Barack Obama.

At that point, there’s a divergence, with Hitler and Stalin representing totalitarian socialism at the top and pure socialists (such as the U.K.’s Clement Attlee, who nationalized industries and sectors after World War II) at the bottom.

Without knowing what he truly thinks, I’ve put Bernie Sanders in a middle category for “Crazies.”

I suspect he has sympathies for the two other strains of leftism, but the real-world impact of his policies is that America would become an even-worse version of Greece (though hopefully not as bad as Venezuela).

P.S. Given that he’s now the leading candidate to win the Democratic Party’s nomination, and given that he’s ahead in some national polls, I’m very thankful that America’s Founders bequeathed to us a system based on separation of powers. If Sanders somehow makes it to the White House, he’ll have a very difficult time pushing through the radical parts of his agenda. Yes, it’s true that recent presidents (both Obama and Trump) have sought to expand a president’s power to unilaterally change policy, but I feel confident that even John Roberts and the rest of the Supreme Court would intervene to prevent unilateral tax increases and nationalizations.

P.P.S. More than 10 years ago, I speculated that America’s separation-of-powers system would save the country from Obamacare and cap-and-trade. I was half right.

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I’ve shared lots of quizzes – some simple, some complex – that tell you whether you’re a libertarian.

I pass with flying colors, needless to say.

What about the other end of the philosophical spectrum? Is there a test that tells you whether you’re a communist?

To be snarky (and I do enjoy anti-communism humor), I could point out that this simply requires a low IQ, no knowledge of history, and a twisted soul.

But I’m biased.

So, in the interest of fair play and equal time, here’s a test that purports to tell you whether you’re actually a communist.

Here’s the short description.

Communism is a social and political ideology whose ultimate goal is the establishment of a communist society, which is defined as a socioeconomic order based on common ownership and the absence of social classes, inequality, and private property. While Communism encompasses several of schools of thought, this test uses the classical Marxist texts and history as its foundations to determine whether you qualify as a Marxian communist.

By the way, I can’t resist commenting on the ludicrous assertion that communism is a “socioeconomic order based on…the absence of…inequality”.

That may be part of communist rhetoric, but communist regimes inevitably feature a gilded ruling class overseeing mass poverty for the other 99 percent.

But I’m digressing.

Let’s focus on the quiz, and I’ll simply note that not all of the questions have easy answers.

For instance, how should Question #8 be interpreted? There are plenty of nations in Europe that have very large governments, yet very high levels of political freedom. So is the correct answer to “disagree”?

But that requires us to decide what is meant by “absence of a free market economy.” Does this imply the technical meaning of socialism, involving government ownershipcentral planning, and price controls? If so, then world history suggests the correct answer is “agree.”

Or should one “partly agree” or “partly disagree,” meaning the choices closer to the middle?

 

I also have mixed views about the correct answer to Question #12.

I’d like to strongly disagree, but would that answer simply be a reflection of society as I’d like it to be?

In reality, some people do see themselves of members of groups.

The wording in Question #14 is rather sloppy.

For example, confiscatory tax rates on income over $250,000 obviously will cause some people to change their behavior.

But if tax rates are low for people making $65,000, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t work hard.

It would have been better if the question asked whether people “would work hard in countries where they cannot improve their living standards from their work.”

Last but not least, I’m also not sure how to interpret Question #15.

Who determines an “individual’s best interests”? For some people, that may mean stealing money from the elderly. If so, the answer is disagree.

But if we’re operating in a moral framework and asking whether the pursuit of self interest makes society better, the answer is agree.

I mention these caveats because I want a good excuse for the fact that I didn’t get a perfect score.

According to the quiz (here’s another link to it), the bad news is that I’m 6-percent commie.

Though the good news is that means I’m in the “Not Communist” grouping.

My bottom line is that I would be 0-percent commie if the questions were designed properly!

P.S. Instead of bothering with the quiz, you can use two cows to determine whether you’re a communist.

P.P.S. If you prefer vapid analysis, read Teen Vogue.

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Politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez say that their goal of “democratic socialism” is very different from the socialism of Cuba, North Korea, and Venezuela, as well as the socialism of the former Soviet Union.

And they doubtlessly would get very upset if anyone equated their ideology with the “national socialism” of Hitler’s Germany.

Such angst would be understandable. There are profound differences among the various versions of socialism. At the risk of understatement, a politician who wants to take my money is much better than one who wants to take my life.

From the perspective of economic policy, though, there’s a common link. All strains of socialism reject free enterprise. They want to replace capitalism with some sort of regime based on government planning and coercion.

This observation gets some people rather upset.

In a column for the Washington Post, Ronald Granieri of the Foreign Policy Research Institute expresses dismay that some people are pointing out that Hitler’s National Socialist Workers’ Party was, well, socialist.

Did you know that “Nazi” is short for “National Socialist”? That means that Hitler and his henchmen were all socialists. …There is only one problem: This argument is untrue. Although the Nazis did pursue a level of government intervention in the economy that would shock doctrinaire free marketeers, their “socialism” was at best a secondary element in their appeal. …The Nazi regime had little to do with socialism, despite it being prominently included in the name of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. …The NSDAP’s 1920 party program, the 25 points, included passages denouncing banks, department stores and “interest slavery,” which suggested a quasi-Marxist rejection of free markets. But these were also typical criticisms in the anti-Semitic playbook …linking socialism and Nazism to critique leftist ideas became a political weapon in the post-World War II period, perhaps unsurprisingly given that the Cold War followed directly on the heels of World War II. Scholars as diverse as Zbigniew Brzezinski and Hannah Arendt used the larger concept of “totalitarianism” to fuse the two. …National Socialism preserved private property, while also putting the entire resources of society at the service of an expansionist and racist national vision, which included the conquest and murderous subjugation of other peoples. It makes no sense to think that the sole, or even the primary, negative aspect of this regime was the fact that it used state power to allocate financial resources.

Mr. Granieri makes some very good points. I’m not a historian, but I assume he’s correct in stating that Nazis hated capitalism in large part because it was associated with Jews.

And he’s definitely correct in stating that there are much more important reasons to despise Nazis other than their version of socialism (private ownership, but government control, often referred to as fascism).

But none of that changes that fact that all forms of socialism involve hostility to capitalism. Especially among the most repugnant forms of socialism.

Indeed, Nazism and communism are like different sides of the same coin. Joshua Hofford, in a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, examines the commonalities and differences between the two ideologies.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels are the fathers of both…the swastika and the hammer-and-sickle. …The platform for Soviet socialism was nearly identical to that of National Socialism under the Nazi Party. Though the application of Soviet socialism was Marxian in nature—committed to international socialist revolution and the elimination of class enemies—and National Socialism under the Nazi Party was instituted to the elimination of racial enemies, both were dedicated to the remaking of mankind… Endemic to both Soviet and Nazi socialism, the destruction of class and racial enemies was a literal, not figurative, stage of revolution. …both versions of socialism were dedicated to constructing a new social reality by any means necessary… In addition to belonging to the shared brotherhood of worldwide socialism, clearly, both communism and Nazism were equally totalitarian. …The Nazis rejected the call to international revolution and the class warfare of their Soviet Marxist kin, however, this made them no less socialist. All substantial power and ownership of German business under the Third Reich, while managed and owned by individuals, was in the hands of the state. Price controls, salary caps, and production quotas were set by the nation and left owners to navigate a glut of bureaucracy.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Juliana Pilon shares a historical tidbit to illustrate the disdain for capitalism that characterized Nazis and communists.

Known officially as the Treaty of Non-Aggression Between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Hitler-Stalin pact…stunned the world. …As German negotiator Karl Schnurre had observed…, “there is one common element in the ideologies of Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union: opposition to the capitalist democracies. Neither we nor Italy have anything in common with the capitalist West. Therefore it seems to us rather unnatural that a socialist state would stand on the side of the Western democracies.” …capitalist democracy was their common enemy.

And Michael Rieger, writing for FEE, notes that there are genuine differences among different strains of socialism, though all involve a powerful state.

The Nazis didn’t call their ideology “national socialism” because they thought it sounded good. They were fervently opposed to capitalism. The Nazi Party’s chief propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, even once remarked that he’d sooner live under Bolshevism than capitalism. …why…would the Nazis call themselves “socialists”? In part, it’s because the term “socialism” has been constantly evolving and changing since its inception. …Marxist-Leninists came to more narrowly define “socialism” to mean the intermediary period between capitalism and communism where the state owned the means of production and centrally managed the economy. In establishing national socialism, the Nazis sought to redefine socialism yet again. National socialism began as a fusion of socialist ideas of a technocratically-managed economy with Völkisch nationalism, a deeply anti-Semitic form of German nationalism. …The Nazis also distinguished themselves from Marxists in their support for private property, although this came with some caveats. The Nazi government did not own the means of production in Germany, but they certainly controlled them. They set up control boards, cartels, and state-sponsored monopolies and konzerns, which they then carefully planned and regulated. …democratic socialists don’t believe in total government ownership of the means of production, nor do they wish to technocratically manage the economy as the Nazis did. …The wide variance between utopian socialism, communism, national socialism, and democratic socialism makes it remarkably easy for members of each ideology to wag their fingers at the others and say, “That wasn’t real socialism.” …all self-described socialists have shared the belief that top-down answers to society’s problems are superior to the bottom-up answers created by the free market.

To add to the above excerpts, here are two passages from Paul Johnson’s Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties.

  • Page 133: “Hitler took over a small proletarian group called the German Workers’ Party…and reorganized its economic aims into a radical twenty-five point programme: …abolition of unearned incomes, state to take over trusts and share profits of industry, land for national needs to be expropriated without compensation. he also added the words ‘National Socialist’ to its title. …the radical and socialist element in his programme always remained strong.”
  • Page 293: “He regarded himself as a socialist, and the essence of his socialism was that every individual or group in the state should unhesitatingly work for national policy. So it did not matter who owned the actual factory so long as those managing it did what they were told. …’Our socialism reaches much deeper. …Why should we need to socialize the banks and the factories? We are socializing the people.”

I’ll close by re-sharing my humble contribution to this discussion, which is a triangle to replace the traditional right-vs-left line.

My triangle acknowledges that there are differences between communists and Nazis (as well as between populists and democratic socialists, and between Republicans and Democrats).

But it makes the key point that there are ever-greater losses of economic liberty as one descends from libertarianism.

And the closer you get to the bottom of the triangle, the greater the likelihood that you lose political liberty as well.

P.S. I also recommend reading what Friedrich Hayek, Dan Hannan, and Thomas Sowell have written on this topic.

P.P.S. I also think we can learn something from this tweet by Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

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Back in 2014, I compared Hong Kong’s amazing growth with Cuba’s pitiful stagnation and made the obvious point that free markets and limited government are the right recipe for prosperity.

Especially if you care about improving the lives of the less fortunate.

Communists claim that their ideology represents the downtrodden against the elite, yet the evidence from Cuba shows wretched material deprivation for most people.

In Hong Kong, by contrast, incomes have soared for all segments of the population.

Today, let’s update our comparison of Cuba and Hong Kong. Law & Liberty has posted a a fascinating review of Neil Monnery’s book, A Tale of Two Economies, authored by Alberto Mingardi from Italy’s Bruno Leoni Institute.

As Alberto explains, the book is about how developments in both Hong Kong and Cuba were shaped by two individuals.

How important are key individuals in shaping the success or failure of economies? …Neil Monnery’s A Tale of Two Economies is in some sense a polemic against historical determinism, at least insofar as promoting economic reforms is concerned. It stresses the importance of two single individuals, one a great man for many, one an obscure official and political unknown to the most, in shaping the destiny of their respective countries. …Ernesto “Che” Guevara and John Cowperthwaite. …Monnery insists that both of them were “deep and original thinkers.” …The key difference between the two was perhaps that Cowperthwaite had a solid education in economics… Neither the way in which Hong Kong progressed, nor Cuba’s, were thus inevitable.

I’ve written previously about the noble role of John Cowperthwaite.

Here’s what Alberto culled from the book.

Monnery points out that Hong Kong’s success happened not because Cowperthwaite and his colleague were trying “to plant an ideological flag,” but because they were “professional pragmatists.” …Then the success of relatively libertarian arrangements in Hong Kong perpetuated itself. …Cowperthwaite tested what he knew about classical economics when he “first arrived in Hong Kong, in 1945” and “was put in charge of price control.… He soon realized the problems with attempting to set prices low enough to meet consumer needs but high enough to encourage supply, and in a dynamic environment.” He opposed subsidies that he saw as “a brazen attempt to feed at the trough of government subsidies.” …Cowperthwaite is a hero to Monnery, who emphasises his competence, and even more, his integrity.

And I’ve also written about Che Guevara, but only to comment on his brutality.

It turns out he was also a lousy economic planner.

Guevara held office in a variety of capacities related to economic matters and took them seriously. In 1959, he took a three months trip to countries as different as India, Japan and Burma, to learn “how they managed their economy.” He was struck by examples of countries that succeeded in developing heavy industries and thought Cuba could do the same. …Guevara, who, once converted to Marxism, had swallowed the whole thing. Since he maintained that “the sine qua non for an economic plan is that the state controls the bulk of the means of production, and better yet, if possible, all the means of production,” he acted accordingly.

So what’s the bottom line?

Hong Kong and Cuba were roughly equal at the start of the process. Today, not so much.

To the reader of A Tale of Two Economies, it is rather obvious which lessons ought to be taken: “in the late 1950s, both economies had a GDP per capita of around $4,500 in today’s money. By 2018 Cuba had slightly more than doubled its GDP per capita to around $9,000 per person. But Hong Kong reached $64,000 per capita”—seven times Cuba’s, and even exceeding the UK’s as well.

Here’s my modest contribution to the discussion, based on the Maddison database.

P.S. Hong Kong still ranks as the world’s freest economy, though there are increasing worries about whether China will allow economic liberty in the long run.

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Yesterday, most of us celebrated Christmas.

Today, all of us should celebrate the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which officially happened on this date in 1991 (aided and abetted by a Texas grocery store).

A 2016 FEE column by Richard Ebeling documents the relentless evil of Soviet communism.

…the curtain was lowered on the 75-year experiment in “building socialism” in the country where it all began following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, led by Vladimir Lenin in November 1917. Some historians have estimated that as many as 200 million people worldwide may have died as part of the 20th century dream of creating a collectivist “paradise on earth.” The attempt to establish a comprehensive socialist system in many parts of the world over the last 100 years has been one of the cruelest and most brutal episodes in human history. …as many as 68 million innocent, unarmed men, women, and children may have been killed in Soviet Russia alone over those nearly 75 years of communist rule in the Soviet Union. …This murderous madness never ended. In the 1930s, during the time of the Great Purges instituted by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to wipe out all “enemies of the revolution” through mass executions, millions were sent to the Gulag prisons that stretched across all of the Soviet Union to be worked to death as slave labor to “build socialism.” …Soviet central planning even had quotas for the number of such enemies of the people to be killed in each region of the Soviet Union, as well as the required numbers to be rounded up to be sent to work in the labor camps in the frigid wastelands of the Siberia and the Arctic Circle… The nightmare of the socialist experiment, however, did not end with Stalin’s death in 1953. Its form merely changed in later decades. As head of the KGB in the 1970s, Yuri Andropov (who later was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union after Leonid Brezhnev’s death in 1982), accepted a new theory in Soviet psychiatry which said opposition to the socialist regime was a sign of mental illness.

Based on the sheer number of victims, Stalin understandably has the worst reputation of all Soviet dictators.

But let’s not forget that Lenin was a horrible human being as well.

Lenin’s streak of cruelty began long before he came to power. By his early 20s, his zealous dedication to Marxism led him to believe that anything justified revolution. When a famine broke out in the Volga region in 1891—one that would kill 400,000 people—Lenin welcomed the event, hoping that it would topple the Czarist regime. …Later, in 1905, when Czarist forces killed hundreds of striking workers and 86 children in Moscow, Lenin refused to mourn for the dead and, instead, hoped the event would further enflame class antagonisms. In his eyes, human lives were expendable… While in exile, Lenin railed against the imperial government for its oppressive ways—for instance, its censorship of the opposition and dismissal of parliament. Of course, once in power, Lenin repeated these policies and usually exceeded their cruelty, imprisoning and confiscating the property of his opponents. …Lenin appointed the homicidal Felix Dzerzhinsky to head up the Cheka (the secret police)… In less than a year, hundreds, if not thousands, were executed… He marked wealthy peasants, or kulaks, as enemies of the revolution and encouraged violence against them. He imposed fixed grain prices at low rates, straining peasants who already were living on the margins, seized their grain, and left them to starve. When the peasants began resisting, Lenin ordered government officials to torture them or apply poison gas.

By the way, it’s not directly relevant to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but I can’t resist sharing this story from the BBC.

Karl Marx’s Grade I-listed memorial in Highgate Cemetery has been “mindlessly vandalised”. The marble plaque on the imposing sculpture’s base has been attacked, seemingly with a hammer. A cemetery spokesman said they did not know when it had happened, but believed it was within the last couple of days. No witnesses have come forward. …Ian Dungavell, chief executive of Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust, said: “This is mindless vandalism, not political commentary. …This is not the first time the monument has been damaged. In 1970 a pipe bomb blew up part of the face, swastikas have been painted on it and emulsion paint has been thrown at it.

My only comment it that the memorial wasn’t “mindlessly vandalised.” There were 100 million reasons why it was defaced.

Now let’s look at the economic performance of the Soviet Union.

I’ll start with the simple and near-tautological observation that there’s no longer a Soviet Union in large part because its economy became so anemic.

Yet some people believed that the Soviet Union’s version of socialism could be economically successful. I wrote about their naivete as part of my collection of essays on the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution.

I suppose we can partially forgive them because much of the economic misery in the Soviet Union was hidden from outsiders.

What’s less forgivable is that some people still make absurd claims about the Soviet economy. Consider this screenshot of the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on the economy of the Soviet Union. I’ve highlighted in red the parts that are laughable.

Though, to be fair, there wasn’t a problem with unemployment and job security in the Soviet Union. Just like slaves in Alabama in 1830, Soviet workers were victims of state coercion. They were forced to show up at the collective farms and state-run industries.

And state coercion was the basis of a failed system. Contrary to whoever authored that Wikipedia entry, the Soviet Union did not enjoy high growth rates.

A 1994 World Bank study by William Easterly and Stanley Fischer exposed the Soviet Union’s very poor track record.

Soviet growth from 1960 to 1989 was the worst in the world after we control for investment and human capital; the relative performance worsens over time. …The declining Soviet growth rate from 1950 to 1987 can be accounted for by a declining marginal product of capital with a constant rate of growth of total factor productivity. The Soviet reliance on extensive growth (rising capital-to-out-put ratios) was no greater than that of market economies, such as Japan and the Republic of Korea, but a low elasticity of substitution between capital and labor implied especially acute diminishing returns to capital compared with the case in market economies.

“Worst in the world” is quite an achievement.

Not that any sentient being should be surprised. Politicians are bureaucrats don’t do a good job of allocating labor and capital.

If you want prosperity, it’s not a good idea to have central planning and other features of socialism.

Here’s a fascinating look at the world’s largest economies (by overall size, not on a per-capita basis) from 1961-1989.

Here’s a chart based on the Maddison database, so we can make comparisons based on per-capita economic output.

As you can see, even though convergence theory says poor countries should grow faster than rich countries, the gap between the United States and the Soviet Union grew ever larger.

Last but not least, here’s a chart that compares the Soviet Union’s claims about growth (blue) with both CIA estimates (red) and later revisions from a Russian economist (green).

There are two lessons to be learned.

That latter point may be relevant for people who think China is an economic powerhouse.

P.S. The Soviet Union is gone, but most of the countries that emerged from the wreckage are still struggling with a legacy of statism and intervention.

P.P.S. In addition to celebrating today, we also should celebrate November 9.

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