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Archive for the ‘Fascism’ Category

I wrote last week about evil of totalitarian ideologies such as communism and fascism and pointed out that both antifa and Nazis should be treated with complete disdain and ostracism.

And that led me to find common ground with my left-of-center friends, even though I don’t like many of their policies.

I don’t like redistribution…programs are financed with taxes and that the internal revenue code is enforced by coercion…if you catch me in a cranky mood, I’ll be like the stereotypical libertarian at Thanksgiving dinner and wax poetic about what’s wrong with the system. That being said, I much prefer the coercion found in western democracies compared to the totalitarian versions of coercion found in many other parts of the world. At least we have the rule of law, which limits (however imperfectly) capricious abuse by government officials. …our Constitution still protects many personal liberties, things that can’t be taken for granted in some places. Moreover, there is only a trivially small risk of getting abused by the state in western nations because you have unpopular views. And there’s little danger of persecution by government (at least nowadays) based on factors such as race and religion. This is what makes liberal democracy a good form of government (with “liberal” in this case being a reference to classical liberalism rather than the modern version). Unfortunately, there are some people in America that don’t believe in these principles.

Now let’s look at an aspect of this issue from a left-of-center perspective.

Writing for the New Republic, John Judis analyzes the different types of socialism. He starts with some personal history of his time as a socialist activist.

In the early 1970s, I was a founding member of the New American Movement, a socialist group… Five years later, I was finished with…socialist organizing. …nobody seemed to know how socialism—which meant, to me, democratic ownership and control of the “means of production”—would actually work… Would it mean total nationalization of the economy? …wouldn’t that put too much political power in the state? The realization that a nationalized economy might also be profoundly inefficient, and disastrously slow to keep up with global markets, only surfaced later with the Soviet Union’s collapse. But even then, by the mid-1970s, I was wondering what being a socialist really meant in the United States.

He then notes that socialism has made a comeback, at least if some opinion polls (but not others) and the campaign of Bernie Sanders are any indication.

…much to my surprise, socialism is making a comeback. The key event has been the campaign of self-identified democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, who almost won the Democratic nomination and is now reputedly the most popular politician in America. Several opinion polls have also found that young people now think favorably of socialism and ill of capitalism… For the first time since the ‘60s, socialism looks like a politics with a future in the United States.

But Judis notes that it’s unclear what socialism means.

The old nostrums about ownership and control of the means of production simply don’t resonate in 2017. …In the 2016 campaign, however, Sanders began to define a socialism that could grow… I think there is an important place for the kind of democratic socialism that Sanders espoused.

He says there are many flavors of socialism, but ultimately puts them in two camps.

There is no scientific definition of socialism… It’s a political tradition with many different flavors—Marxist, Christian, social-democratic, Fabian, Owenite, Leninist, Maoist. In looking at the choices facing American socialists now, …a choice between a socialism rooted in Marx’s apocalyptical promise of revolution, or the abolition of capitalism and a socialism that works more gradually toward the incorporation of public power and economic equality within capitalism. One could be called “Marxist socialism” and the other “social democratic”—or, to borrow from John Maynard Keynes, “liberal socialism.”

And “liberal socialism” basically means capitalism combined with European-style redistributionism.

In Western Europe, …socialists were forced to define their objectives more clearly. And what has emerged is a liberal conception of socialism. …social democracy has probably reached its acme in the Nordic countries, where the left has ruled governments for most of last half-century. …That’s not Marx’s vision of socialism, or even Debs’s. In Europe, workers have significant say in what companies do. They don’t control or own them. Private property endures. …private capital is given leave to gain profits through higher productivity, even if that results in layoffs and bankruptcies. But the government is able to extract a large share of the economic surplus that these firms create in order to fund a full-blown welfare state.

Which means “liberal socialism” is, well, liberalism (the modern version, i.e., statism, though Thomas Sowell has a more unflattering term to describe it).

By the standards of Marxist socialism, this kind of social democracy appears to be nothing more than an attenuated form of capitalism. …But…As the Soviet experiment with blanket nationalization showed, it can’t adjust to the rapid changes in industry created by the introduction of automation and information technology. …the market is a better indicator of prices than government planning. …the older Marxist model of socialism may not even be compatible with popular democracy. …What’s the difference between this kind of socialist politics and garden-variety liberalism? Not much. …American socialists need to do what the Europeans did after World War II and bid goodbye to the Marxist vision of democratic control and ownership of the means of production. They need to recognize that what is necessary now—and also conceivable—is not to abolish capitalism, but to create socialism within it.

For what it’s worth, the leftists I know are believers in “liberal democracy,” which is good, and they also are believers in “liberal socialism,” which is good, at least when compared to “Marxist socialism.” Sort of like comparing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to Nicolás Maduro and Kim Jong Un.

I disagree with Obama and Clinton, of course, and I would argue that what they want is bad compared to small-government capitalism.

But I utterly despise the totalitarian regimes in Venezuela and North Korea.

Let’s conclude by highlighting a key difference between “liberal socialists” and supporters of small government. My leftist friends are content to allow capitalism so long as they can impose high taxes on “economic surplus” to finance lots of redistribution.

They think that such policies don’t cause significant economic harm. I try to explain to them that punishing success and subsidizing dependency is not a good recipe for long-run prosperity. And I also tell them that demographic changes make their policies very unsustainable.

But at least these decent people on the left are not totalitarians. So when I look at this amusing image from Reddit‘s libertarian page, I agree that everyone who supports big government is a collectivist of sorts. But “Social Democracy” (assuming that’s akin to “liberal socialism”) is not really the same creature as the other forms of collectivism (assuming “social justice” is akin to antifa).

Which is why this image is more accurate.

The bottom line is that Nordic-style big government is misguided, but state-über-alles totalitarianism is irredeemably horrible.

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At the risk of making myself unpopular with some of my fellow libertarians, not all forms of government coercion are created equal.

I don’t like redistribution in the United States. I recognize that such programs are financed with taxes and that the internal revenue code is enforced by coercion (if you don’t believe me, see what happens when you choose not to comply with our supposedly voluntary system). And if you catch me in a cranky mood, I’ll be like the stereotypical libertarian at Thanksgiving dinner and wax poetic about what’s wrong with the system.

That being said, I much prefer the coercion found in western democracies compared to the totalitarian versions of coercion found in many other parts of the world.

At least we have the rule of law, which limits (however imperfectly) capricious abuse by government officials. That’s not the case in many countries. Our courts also are generally independent and our Constitution still protects many personal liberties, things that can’t be taken for granted in some places.

Moreover, there is only a trivially small risk of getting abused by the state in western nations because you have unpopular views. And there’s little danger of persecution by government (at least nowadays) based on factors such as race and religion.

This is what makes liberal democracy a good form of government (with “liberal” in this case being a reference to classical liberalism rather than the modern version).

Unfortunately, there are some people in America that don’t believe in these principles. They call themselves all sorts of names, from white nationalist to antifa, but they share the common bond of totalitarianism.

J.D. Tuccille has an article for Reason that elaborates on this link.

Take a side? You bet. …advocates of a free, open, and liberal society are a side—the correct side—and the left-wing and right-wing thugs battling in the streets are nothing more than rival siblings from a dysfunctional illiberal family.

Losers who march with Nazi flags unquestionably deserve scorn. They represent a totalitarian ideology that subjugates individual rights to state power.

And Tuccille is rightly critical of Trump for giving even a shred of aid and comfort to such people.

But that doesn’t mean the counter-protestors (or, to be more accurate, a subsection of them) are praiseworthy. Indeed, some of them are similarly violent and evil. Tuccille lists some of the totalitarian efforts by folks on the hard left.

In June, James Hodgkinson opened fire on Republican members of Congress gathered for a baseball practice. …the supporter of Occupy Wall Street and former Bernie Sanders volunteer sent six people, including Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), to the hospital… Before that, left-wing protesters violently shut down a Middlebury College speech by Charles Murray, injuring Professor Alison Stanger in the process, rioted over a speech by professional provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, and forced the cancellation of a Republican parade in Portland, Oregon, with promises that “the police cannot stop us from shutting down roads.” They boast of their contempt for free speech.

He closes with a rejection of the “whataboutism” argument, which is being used by some to suppress criticism of the violent left.

…for those of us already calling out the violent bigots flaunting Nazi imagery, it’s not whataboutism to point out that an alleged alternative isn’t actually an alternative at all—it’s just another version of the same thing. …There’s no reason to favor one illiberal force over another when our country has a long history based on much different, and much better, political principles. …Despite our many differences over specific policies, most Americans have traditionally supported the side of liberty, tolerance, free speech, and peaceful political change, within broad parameters. That side is in opposition to the violent, authoritarian thugs of the right and of the left.

Here’s an Imgur image from Reddit’s libertarian page that sums up my thinking.

In the interests of accuracy, I am partly sympathetic to the folks involved with Black Lives Matter. I get very upset when I read about low-income minorities suffering because politicians at the local level use cops to generate revenue rather than to protect against bad guys.

And maybe some of the other groups happen to be on the right side of some random issues (for all I know, maybe Nazis and commies oppose Trump’s foolish choice to expand U.S. intervention in Afghanistan).

But as a general rule, what animates the groups in the above photo is that they want to impose – even by violence – some form of totalitarian government. Yes, they may hate each other, but only in the sense that two street gangs may be vicious rivals because they each want control over some turf.

Here’s a video that examines the preposterous (and presumably politically motivated) assertion that there’s some sort of common ground between Nazis are liberty-oriented groups such as the Tea Party.

Let’s look at an example at the common link between socialism and fascism. The Library of Economics and Liberty has a very insightful article on Mussolini’s hostility to capitalism.

Consider some of the components of fascist economics: central planning, heavy state subsidies, protectionism (high tariffs), steep levels of nationalization, rampant cronyism, large deficits, high government spending, bank and industry bailouts, overlapping bureaucracy, massive social welfare programs, crushing national debt, bouts of inflation and “a highly regulated, multiclass, integrated national economic structure.” …Benito Mussolini identified his economic policies with “state capitalism”—the exact phrase that Vladimir Lenin used to usher in his New Economic Policy (NEP). …Lenin’s revised Marxism culminated in “socialist-lite” policies that helped inspire Mussolini to craft his own Italian-style fascism with a right-wing socialist twist. Thus, one could argue that Lenin’s politics were the first modern-day version of fascism and state-corporatism. Economist Ludwig von Mises, who fled the Nazi conquest of Europe, contended that the “economic program of Italian Fascism did not differ from the program of British Guild Socialism as propagated by the most eminent British and European socialists.”

Want more proof? Well, let’s look at what Mussolini actually wrote.

Interestingly, Mussolini found much of John Maynard Keynes’s economic theories consistent with fascism, writing: “Fascism entirely agrees with Mr. Maynard Keynes… In fact, Mr. Keynes’ excellent little book, The End of Laissez-Faire (l926) might, so far as it goes, serve as a useful introduction to fascist economics. There is scarcely anything to object to in it and there is much to applaud.” …In his “Doctrine of Fascism,” Mussolini wrote: “The Fascist conception of life accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with the State. . . . Fascism reasserts the rights of the state. If classical liberalism spells individualism, Fascism spells government.” …In May 1934, …Mussolini declared, “Three-fourths of [the] Italian economy, industrial and agricultural, is in the hands of the state.”

To be fair, it is possible to believe in lots of statism without being a totalitarian. For example, there are true-believing socialists in western nations who believe in confiscatory taxation, nationalization of industry, and all sorts of other wildly misguided policies. But, to their credit, they accept election results and don’t believe in killing, or even assaulting, their political opponents.

The bottom line is that well-meaning people from the right, left, and center should be united in their defense of liberal democracy.

On a practical level, there are a couple of implications.

It would be good if people on the right and left argued within the bounds of decency. Yes, I’ll call my opponents big-government statists and they’ll call me a heartless capitalist. I’ll say they’re trying to create dependency for political advantage and they’ll say I’m a tool of the Koch brothers. That’s normal fun and games.

But we should reserve our really negative rhetoric for the thugs who genuinely favor totalitarianism. And the two big political parties should be especially vigilant about disowning and criticizing the groups that are perceived as being indirectly on their side. As such, Republicans should condemn Nazis and like-minded groups. And Democrats should condemn antifa and like-minded groups.

As for the rest of us, we should try to be like Daryl Davis and Matthew Stevenson.

P.S. Since I believe in freedom and the rule of law, I don’t think totalitarian-minded groups should be randomly persecuted. If some nutty leftists want to set up a commune based on “from each according to ability, to each according to needs,” that’s fine with me so long as they aren’t trying to oppress others. Similarly, if some dumb rednecks decide to set up an Aryan compound in some isolated forest, that’s none of my business so long as they don’t try to infringe upon the rights of other. We can and should criticize such people, of course, but don’t arrest them for having warped hearts.

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Having become interested in public policy because of Ronald Reagan’s message of limited government and individual liberty, I’m understandably depressed by the 2016 election.

But we can at least learn something from the process.

Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution savages Donald Trump in a column for the Washington Post. Here’s a particularly brutal excerpt.

…what Trump offers his followers are not economic remedies — his proposals change daily. What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger. His public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of “others” — Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees — whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision.

Since I don’t know what actually motivates Trump or his voters, I have no idea whether the above passage is fair, but it is true that Trump’s policy agenda oftentimes doesn’t make sense.

But here’s the part of the column that caught my attention.

…what he has tapped into is what the founders most feared when they established the democratic republic: the popular passions unleashed, the “mobocracy.” Conservatives have been warning for decades about government suffocating liberty. But here is the other threat to liberty that Alexis de Tocqueville and the ancient philosophers warned about: that the people in a democracy, excited, angry and unconstrained, might run roughshod over even the institutions created to preserve their freedoms.

I’m tempted to send Mr. Kagan a card that says “Welcome to the Club.” Libertarians and small-government conservatives for decades have been warning against the dangers of untrammeled majoritarianism.

We revere the Constitution because we believe that our freedoms and liberties should not be decided by 51 percent of the population. We cherish the fact that our Founding Fathers put limits on the power of the federal government.

But I don’t think Kagan deserves a card because his opposition to mobocracy is very selective. Has he ever criticized the Supreme Court for acquiescing to the New Deal and abandoning its obligation to limit Washington to the enumerated powers listed in the Constitution?

Did he condemn Chief Justice John Roberts and the Supreme Court for deciding that the “power to tax” somehow gave the federal government the authority to force citizens to buy government-approved health insurance plans?

I don’t recall seeing Kagan fret about these majoritarian steps that eroded constitutional liberties, so it’s hard to take seriously his complaints now.

I’m also unimpressed by his concerns about potential abuse of power by a Trump Administration.

Trump will…have ridden to power despite the party, catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only to him. …In addition to all that comes from being the leader of a mass following, he would also have the immense powers of the American presidency at his command: the Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence services, the military. Who would dare to oppose him then? …is a man like Trump, with infinitely greater power in his hands, likely to become more humble, more judicious, more generous, less vengeful than he is today, than he has been his whole life? Does vast power un-corrupt?

He raises some very legitimate concerns. I don’t trust Trump with lots of power. That being said, the hypocrisy is staggering.

Did he write any columns about Obama’s sordid misuse of the IRS to target political opponents?

Has he complained about Operation Chokepoint? Fast and Furious? NSA spying? Efforts to undermine the 1st Amendment and restrict political speech?

Why is abuse of power okay for Obama but not for Trump?

Notwithstanding Kagan’s glaring hypocrisy, his conclusion may be correct.

This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes…but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities.

Except it needs to be expanded. Because fascism already has a foothold in America.

And it might expand not just because of a “television huckster,” but also because of a corrupt former presidential spouse or an envy-riddled Vermont crank, both of whom tap into resentments and insecurities.

Indeed, Kagan’s description of Trump sounds a lot like Clinton or Sanders if you replace “Muslim” and “Mexican” with “banker” or “top 1 percent.”

Charles Cooke of National Review wonders whether Trump will lead leftists to change their minds about government power. He starts by highlighting conservative opposition to an all-powerful presidency.

…progressives tend not to buy the argument that a government that can give you everything you want is also a government that can take it all away. For the past four or five years, conservatives have offered precisely this argument, our central contention being that it is a bad idea to invest too much power in one place because one never knows who might enjoy that power next. And, for the past four or five years, these warnings have fallen on deaf, derisive, overconfident ears. …we have argued that Congress ought to reclaim much of the legal authority that it has willingly ceded to the executive, lest that executive become unresponsive or worse; that, once abandoned, constitutional limits are difficult to resuscitate; that federalism leads not just to better government but to a diminished likelihood that bad actors will be able to inflict widespread damage.

So are statists about to get religion on the issue of big government, albeit belatedly?

Time and time again, Trump has been compared to Hitler, to Mussolini, to George Wallace, and to Bull Connor. Time and time again, self-described “liberals” have recoiled at the man’s praise for internment, at his disrespect for minorities and dissenters, and at his enthusiasm for torture and for war crimes. …If one were to take literally the chatter that one hears on MSNBC and the fear that one smells in the pages of the New York Times and of the Washington Post, one would have no choice but to conclude that the progressives have joined the conservatives in worrying aloud about the wholesale abuse of power. …Having watched the rise of Trumpism — and, now, having seen the beginning of violence in its name — who out there is having second thoughts as to the wisdom of imbuing our central state with massive power? …I would genuinely love to know how many “liberals” have begun to suspect that there are some pretty meaningful downsides to the consolidation of state authority. …When Peter Beinart warns that Donald Trump is a threat to “American liberal democracy” — specifically to “the idea that there are certain rights so fundamental that even democratic majorities cannot undo them” — he is channeling the conservative case for the Founders’ settlement, and taking square aim at the Jacobin mentality that would, if permitted, remove the remaining shackles that surround and enclose the state. Does he know this?

I suspect the answer to all these questions is “no.”

There is nothing genuinely liberal about most modern leftists. They will act hysterical about the prospect of Trump holding the reins of power, but I predict they will fall silent if Hillary is in the White House.

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It’s not often that I disagree with the folks who put together the Wall Street Journal editorial page. For instance, they just published a great editorial on that cesspool of cronyism and corruption that is otherwise known as the Export-Import Bank.

Isn’t it great that the voice of capitalism actually supports genuine free markets!

That being said, a recent editorial rubs me the wrong way.

It’s about the presumably quixotic presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders. These excerpts will give you a flavor of what the WSJ wrote.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an avowed independent Socialist, has decided to run for the Democratic presidential nomination… He thinks the American economy is fundamentally unfair, and that government must tax and spend even more heavily… He thinks Social Security should increase benefits, no matter that it is heading toward insolvency. Higher taxes can make up the difference. …He wants single-payer health care, though his own state gave up the experiment as too expensive.

So what’s my disagreement?

I realize I’m being a nit-picker, but I don’t like the fact that the WSJ editorial is entitled “An Honest Socialist.”

My gripe is that Sanders isn’t honest. A genuine socialist believes in government ownership of the means of production. In other words, nationalized factories, government-run businesses, and collective farms. If Sanders believes in these policies, he’s remarkably reluctant to share his perspective.

In reality, Sanders is like Obama. You can call him a statist, a corporatist, or even (as Tom Sowell correctly notes) a fascist.

In other words, lots of redistribution and lots of back-door government control of the private sector, but not a lot of People’s Factory #58 or People’s Farm #91.

Though it is true that Sanders wants the government to directly run the healthcare system (akin to the horrifying U.K. approach), but at most that means he’s a “partial socialist” (or, to modify the WSJ‘s title, a “mostly dishonest socialist”).

Moreover, he doesn’t bring anything new to the presidential race, at least from a policy perspective.

There’s only a trivially small difference, for instance, between Hillary Clinton’s lifetime rating of 10.6 from the National Taxpayers Union and Bernie Sanders’ lifetime rating of 9.4. They both earned their failing grades by spending other people’s money with reckless abandon.

Though it’s worth noting that both Clinton and Sanders are “more frugal” than Barack Obama, who earned a lifetime rating of 9.0. I guess this is why the phrase “damning with faint praise” was invented.

The only difference between Hillary, Obama, and Sanders is tone. Here’s some of what Charles Cooke wrote for National Review.

Sanders does not play games with words…he steadfastly refuses to pretend that he represents moderation. …Sanders is to public policy and professional politicking what Joe Biden is to personality. He is open, blunt, unapologetic, compelling, ready to debate.

Which is in stark contrast to Hillary Clinton’s pabulum.

…the Democratic primary is being dominated by a corrupt, controlling, soulless, cynical, entitled, and mostly synthetic avatar named Hillary Clinton, and, in consequence, it is almost entirely devoid of ideas. …Hillary and her team stick to meaningless and saccharine banalities, almost all of which, one presumes, have been poll-tested within a fraction of an inch. …At no time does she stake out a vision. At no time does she adopt a controversial or momentous position. Instead, she hides behind corporately assembled strings of mawkish, semi-literate tosh.

So the difference between Clinton and Sanders is that he’s proud of his statism and she wants to hide her radical agenda.

But it doesn’t matter what they say or what they call themselves, the bottom line is that their policies are destructive, both economically and morally.

P.S. Since Senator Sanders is from Vermont, it’s both amusing and ironic that the Green Mountain State’s government-run healthcare system self destructed.

P.P.S. Since we’re on the topic of socialism, it’s worth pointing out that Jesus wasn’t in that camp. Though I’m not sure we can say the same thing about the Pope.

P.P.P.S. Heck, Jesus may have been a libertarian.

P.P.P.P.S. If you like socialism humor, click here, here, and here.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Switching to another topic (and one where there’s zero humor), you may remember that I wrote a few days ago about the horror of so-called civil asset forfeiture.

This happens when the government arbitrarily seizes your money and/or property without convicting you of a crime. Or even without charging you with a crime.

Well, here’s a video from the Institute for Justice about a new tragic example of theft by government.

If this doesn’t get you angry, you probably need counseling. This story reminds me of the Michigan family that was similarly victimized.

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As a fiscal policy economist who believes in individual liberty and personal responsibility, I have two goals.

1. Replace the corrupt and punitive internal revenue code with a simple and fair flat tax that raises necessary revenue in the least-destructive and least-intrusive manner possible.

2. Shrink the size of the federal government so that it only funds the core public goods, such as national defense and rule of law, envisioned by America’s Founding Fathers.

Needless to say, I haven’t been doing a great job. The tax code seems to get worse every year, and even though we’ve made some progress in recent years on spending, the long-run outlook is still very grim because there’s hasn’t been genuine entitlement reform.

But I continue with my Sisyphean task. And part of my efforts include educating people about the Rahn Curve, which is sort of the spending version of the Laffer Curve. it shows the non-linear relationship between the size of government and economic performance.

Simply stated, some government spending presumably enables growth by creating the conditions (such as rule of law and property rights) for commerce.

But as politicians learn to buy votes and enhance their power by engaging in redistribution, then government spending is associated with weaker economic performance because of perverse incentives and widespread misallocation of resources.

I’ve even shared a number of videos on the topic.

The video I narrated explaining the basics of the Rahn Curve, which was produced by the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

A video from the Fraser Institute in Canada that reviews the evidence about the growth-maximizing size of government.

A video from the Centre for Policy Studies in the United Kingdom that explores the relationship between prosperity and the size of the public sector.

Even a video on the Rahn Curve from a critic who seems to think that I’m a closeted apologist for big government.

Now we have another video to add to the collection.

Narrated by Svetla Kostadinova of Bulgaria’s Institute for Market Economics, it discusses research from a few years ago about the “optimal size of government.”

If you want to read the research study that is cited in the video, click here. The article was written by Dimitar Chobanov and Adriana Mladenova of the IME

The evidence indicates that the optimum size of government, e.g. the share of overall government spending that maximizes economic growth, is no greater than 25% of GDP (at a 95% confidence level) based on data from the OECD countries. In addition, the evidence indicates that the optimum level of government consumption on final goods and services as a share of GDP is 10.4% based on a panel data of 81 countries. However, due to model and data limitations, it is probable that the results are biased upwards, and the “true” optimum government level is even smaller than the existing empirical study indicates.

Two points in that excerpt are worth additional attention.

First, they understand that not all forms of government spending have equal effects.

Spending on core public goods (rule of law, courts, etc) generally are associated with better economic performance.

Spending on physical and human capital (infrastructure and education) can be productive, though governments often do a poor job based on a money-to-outcomes basis.

Most government spending, though, is for transfers and consumption, and these are areas where the economic effects are overwhelmingly negative.

So kudos to the Bulgarians for recognizing that it’s particularly important to restrain some types of outlays.

The other point that merits additional emphasis is that the growth-maximizing size of government is probably far lower than 25 percent of economic output.

Here’s what they wrote, citing yours truly.

…the results from the above mentioned models should not be taken as the “true” optimal level of government due to limitations of the models, and lack of data as already discussed. As Dan Mitchell commented, government spending was about 10% of GDP in the West from the end of the Napoleonic wars to World War I. And we do not have any data to think that growth would have been higher if government was doubled or tripled. However, what the empirical results do show is that the government spending should be much less than is the average of most countries at the moment. Thus, we can confidentially say the optimum size of general government is no bigger than 25% but is likely to be considerably smaller because of the above-mentioned reasons.

And here’s their version of the Rahn Curve, though I’m not a big fan since it seems to imply that government should consume about one-third of economic output.

I much prefer the curve to show the growth-maximizing level under 20 percent of GDP.

Though I often use a dashed line to emphasize that we don’t really know the actual peak because there unfortunately are no developed nations with modest-sized public sectors.

Even Singapore and Hong Kong have governments that consume about 20 percent of economic output.

But maybe if I someday achieve my goal, we’ll have better data.

And maybe some day I’ll go back to college and play quarterback for my beloved Georgia Bulldogs.

P.S. Since I shared one video, I can’t resist also including this snippet featuring Ronald Reagan talking about libertarianism.

What impresses me most about this clip is not that Reagan endorses libertarianism.

Instead, notice how he also explains the link between modern statism and fascism.

He had a much greater depth of knowledge than even supporters realize. Which also can be seen in this clip of Reagan explaining why the Keynesians were wrong about a return to Depression after World War II.

And click here if you simply want to enjoy some classic Reagan clips. For what it’s worth, this clip from his first inauguration is my favorite.

Given my man crush on the Gipper, you also won’t be surprised to learn that this is the most encouraging poll I’ve ever seen.

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Is Obama a socialist?

If you’re asking whether he’s a big-spending interventionist, the answer is yes.

But if you’re asking whether the President believes in government ownership of the means of production (which is the defining issue in the socialist economic platform), the answer is no (though the White House surely won’t like how Thomas Sowell describes Obama’s ideology).

But I generally don’t care about these word fights. Big government is bad because it hurts people and relies on coercion, and that’s true whether we’re talking about socialism, communism, Nazism, corporatism, or other forms of statism.

But I do care for historical accuracy and honesty.

Writing for the U.K.-based Telegraph, Dan Hannan of the European Parliament explains that the German National Socialists of the Hitler era were….well, socialists.

Goebbels never doubted that he was a socialist. He understood Nazism to be a better and more plausible form of socialism than that propagated by Lenin. Instead of spreading itself across different nations, it would operate within the unit of the Volk. So total is the cultural victory of the modern Left that the merely to recount this fact is jarring.

Anti-capitalist propaganda from the Nazis

Not that today’s leftists should be surprised. Unless, of course, they’re historically illiterate. After all, the Nazi political vehicle was the National Socialist German Workers Party.

Subsequent generations of Leftists have tried to explain away the awkward nomenclature of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party as either a cynical PR stunt or an embarrassing coincidence. In fact, the name meant what it said. Hitler…boasted, adding that “the whole of National Socialism” was “based on Marx”. Marx’s error, Hitler believed, had been to foster class war instead of national unity – to set workers against industrialists instead of conscripting both groups into a corporatist order. His aim, he told his economic adviser, Otto Wagener, was to “convert the German Volk to socialism without simply killing off the old individualists” – by which he meant the bankers and factory owners who could, he thought, serve socialism better by generating revenue for the state. …authoritarianism was the common feature of socialists of both National and Leninist varieties, who rushed to stick each other in prison camps or before firing squads. Each faction loathed the other as heretical, but both scorned free-market individualists as beyond redemption. Their battle was all the fiercer, as Hayek pointed out in 1944, because it was a battle between brothers.

In other words, Soviet-style socialism and Nazi-style socialism were both evil forms of statism, but one attracted people by fomenting class envy and the other sought recruits by demonizing non-Aryans.

Hannan hastens to add that he doesn’t think that modern self-proclaimed socialists are closet Nazis, but he does object to leftists who try to put National Socialists on the right side of the political spectrum.

The idea that Nazism is a more extreme form of conservatism has insinuated its way into popular culture. …What is it based on, this connection? Little beyond a jejune sense that Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty and fascists are nasty. When written down like that, the notion sounds idiotic, but think of the groups around the world that the BBC, for example, calls “Right-wing”: the Taliban, who want communal ownership of goods; the Iranian revolutionaries, who…seized industries and destroyed the middle class; Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who pined for Stalinism. The “Nazis-were-far-Right” shtick is a symptom of the wider notion that “Right-wing” is a synonym for “baddie”.

Citing the comprehensive work of Jonah Goldberg, Hannan’s column then makes a key point about government coercion.

Authoritarianism – or, to give it a less loaded name, the belief that state compulsion is justified in pursuit of a higher goal, such as scientific progress or greater equality – was traditionally a characteristic of the social democrats as much as of the revolutionaries. Jonah Goldberg has chronicled the phenomenon at length in his magnum opus, Liberal Fascism. Lots of people take offence at his title, evidently without reading the book since, in the first few pages, Jonah reveals that the phrase is not his own. He is quoting that impeccable progressive H.G. Wells who, in 1932, told the Young Liberals that they must become “liberal fascists” and “enlightened Nazis”.

To be fair, this doesn’t mean Wells was a horrible person, at least in the sense of embracing Hitlerism. In the early 1930s, the fascist policies of Mussolini and Hitler were simply about government intervention. At that point, few people recognized that racism and anti-Semitism were part of the fascist program.

I’m much more likely to be critical of people who make excuses for communism still today. Do they really want to romanticize an ideology that killed tens of millions of innocent people?!?

And it’s disgusting that people wear Che Guevara t-shirts when he was a brutal enforcer of Cuba’s totalitarian regime.

P.S. On a lighter note, here’s the “bread-ish” difference between socialism and capitalism.

P.P.S. Regarding European socialism, we have great (although technically inaccurate) cartoons from Glenn Foden and Michael Ramirez.

P.P.P.S. Here’s socialism for kids, though it’s really class warfare for kids.

P.P.P.P.S. And here’s what happens when you try socialism in the classroom.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Closing on a serious note, John Mackey and Steve Horwitz agree with Thomas Sowell about Obama’s real economic ideology.

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Regular readers may have noticed that I generally say that advocates of big government are “statists.”

I could call them “liberals,” but I don’t like that using that term since the early advocates of economic and personal liberty were “classical liberals” such as Adam Smith, John Locke, and Jean-Baptiste Say. And proponents of these ideas are still called “liberals” in Europe and Australia.

I could call them “socialists,” but I don’t think that’s technically accurate since the theory is based on government ownership of the means of production. This is why I’ve been in the strange position of defending Obama when some folks have used the S word to describe him.

I could call them “fascists,” which Thomas Sowell explains is the most accurate way of describing the modern left’s economic ideology, but that term also implies racism. But while leftists sometimes support policies that hurt minorities, they’re not motivated by racial animus.

I could call them “corporatists,” and I actually have used that term on occasion, but I think it’s too narrow. It’s not really an ideology, but rather a description of the sleazy alliance of the left and big business, such as we saw for TARP and Wall Street, or Obamacare and Big Pharma.

I’m motivated to write about my favorite way of expressing opprobrium because I just read a very interesting column in the U.K.-based Telegraph by Tim Stanley, an American historian.

He delves into the issue of whether it’s right to call Hitler a socialist.

…the Nazis did call themselves National Socialists. But…labels can be misleading. …Hitler wasn’t a socialist became apparent within weeks of becoming Chancellor of Germany when he started arresting socialists and communists. He did this, claim some, because they were competing brands of socialism. But that doesn’t explain why Hitler defined his politics so absolutely as a war on Bolshevism… Marxism is defined by class war, and socialism is accomplished with the total victory of the Proletariat over the ruling classes. By contrast, Hitler offered an alliance between labour and capital in the form of corporatism… It is true that the economy was socialised in the latter part of the 1930s, but not for the sake of building socialism. It was to prepare for war. Politics came before economics in the fascist state to the degree that it’s hard to conceive of Hitler as a coherent economic thinker at all. …Marxism defines history as a class struggle. Hitler saw it as a racial conflict… he was sometimes prepared to use socialist economics to pursue his agenda.

These all seem to be valid points, but I wonder whether it makes a difference.

Tarantulas, black widows, and brown recluses are all different species of arachnids, but it’s also correct to say that they are all poisonous spiders.

And I sure as heck wouldn’t want any of them to bite me.

Similarly, socialism, Marxism, and fascism may have specific motivations and characteristics, but they’re all forms of statism.

And I definitely don’t want to acquiesce to any of those coercive ideologies.

Which seems to be Tim Stanley’s conclusion as well.

The moral lesson is that power corrupts everyone: Left, Right, men, women, gay, straight, black, white, religious, atheist. The best countries have constitutions that limit the government, cherish the private sphere and largely leave the individual to make their own mistakes.

Now let’s look at a real-world example of a country that is suffering because of statism.

Allister Heath of City A.M. in London explains what is happening in Venezuela.

IF you want to see how to destroy an economy and a society, look no further than Venezuela. …the country is on the verge of total collapse… Food is running out, as are other essentials, even though the country claims the world’s largest oil reserves. There are shortages of toilet paper and soap, empty shelves and massive crowds queuing for hours in front of supermarkets. …The reason? A brain-dead rejection of basic economics, and a hardline, anti-market approach of the worst possible kind. There are maximum prices, other prices controls, profit controls, capital controls, nationalisations, expropriations and every other statist, atavistic policy you can think of. An extreme left wing government has waged war on capitalism and won; and as ever, ordinary people are paying the price. …The lesson from all of that is clear. Socialism doesn’t work. Price controls don’t work. Stealing people’s property doesn’t work. Chasing away foreigners doesn’t work. Destroying the supply-side of an economy doesn’t work. …It is a spectacularly horrible case of what FA Hayek called the Road to Serfdom.

For all intents and purposes, Venezuela is sort of like France, but without the rule of law. Which means bad policies become catastrophic policies.

And Allister is right. It is ordinary people who suffer. Venezuela’s long-term experiment with statism has resulted in stagnation and chaos. Once one of the richest nations in Latin America, it is now falling behind nations that have liberalized.

The Venezuelan government can’t keep food on the shelves, and it is moving closer and closer to Cuban-style rationing of basic necessities.

And people familiar with the history of statist regimes won’t be surprised to learn that Venezuela also is disarming the citizenry.

P.S. One business leader got a lot of heat for observing that Obamanomics was more like fascism than socialism. And another caught a bunch of grief for using an analogy about tax hikes and the Nazi invasion of Poland.

If they used “statism” instead, they would have been more accurate and avoided criticism.

P.P.S. This image is a funny but accurate illustration of the difference between socialism and capitalism. And here’s a socialism-for-kids image, but it’s really a parody of Obama’s class-warfare mentality.

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