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Archive for the ‘Statism’ Category

I was in Bratislava earlier today as part of the Free Market Road Show, where I spoke about how European nations are in trouble because of excessive spending and aging populations.

But I’m not going to write about my presentation because Peter Gonda of the Konservatívny Inštitút M.R. Stefánika shared some data on the post-World War II economic performance of Czechoslovakia that is far more interesting.

As you can see from his chart (the English title would be “The Economic Reality of Socialism”), Czechoslovakia, West Germany, Austria, and Finland all had very similar levels of income in 1948. But over the next 40 years, the socialist Czechoslovakian economy (CZ) fell further and further behind the market-oriented economies of those other countries.

Indeed, after just four decades, the market-oriented nations averaged twice as much per-capita economic output at the beleaguered Czechoslovakian economy.

By the way, things have improved since the collapse of communism.

Czechoslovakia in the early 1990s peacefully split into two nations, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. And both of them have since adopted a decent amount of pro-market reforms and have begun to converge with Western Europe.

So our story has a semi-happy ending (though I wrote last year that I’m worried about Slovakia backsliding a bit).

P.S. If you want other compelling examples that show – over multiple decades – the superior performance of market-oriented nations, click here and here.

P.P.S. Under Soviet rule, Czechoslovakia was genuine socialism (i.e., government ownershipcentral planningprice controls), which obviously is more damaging than what many people think of today as socialism (i.e., punitive taxes and a big welfare state).

P.P.P.S. Ludwig Erhard deserves much credit for West Germany’s post-war recovery.

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I listed the collapse of Venezuela’s socialist dictatorship as one of my “hopes” for 2018.

That didn’t happen, so I included the same hope in my list for 2019.

But will it happen? David Asman seems very confident in this clip from a recent interview.

I was a bit less hopeful. Or at least more guarded in my ability to predict.

But one thing I can state with full certainty is that I hope it happens as soon as possible.

Though I have become a bit jaded. I no longer share lengthy compilations of everything that is going awry in the country.

As far as I’m concerned, the real debate is now whether a new government will adopt the right policies when Maduro is finally evicted (in other words, is there any hope for Chilean-style economic liberation?).

But there are a couple of stories and columns about the ongoing crisis that caught my eye.

Especially ones written by Venezuelans.

Andres Malave wrote for Investor’s Business Daily about what has happened to his country.

Hugo Chavez took power, promising to usher in shared prosperity for all with his “21st century socialism.” …So, when Teen Vogue tweeted recently, “Can’t #endpoverty without ending capitalism!” my initial reaction was, “Let them come to Venezuela.” Venezuela was once the most prosperous country in Latin America, but today almost 90% of its population lives in poverty. Venezuela’s economy is in shambles. …Venezuela’s misery means that it is not uncommon to see children rummaging through the garbage for food. And as basic medical supplies and medicine run dangerously low, newborns and the elderly die unattended in Venezuelan hospitals. …In a 2006 column, Sen. Sanders wrote: “These days, the American Dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina,” all practitioners of 21st century socialism. …What’s particularly galling about Sen. Sanders waxing poetic about the virtues of socialism is that he looks the other way as socialist leaders live in opulence while the masses starve.

A retired professor who still lives in Venezuela explained the wrenching descent of his nation in the U.K.-based Spectator.

The descent began in the early 2000s when the Hugo Chavez government began to take control of…private companies, the judiciary and the police. The descent turned into a nosedive when Nicolas Maduro came to power and the state tightened its grip on oil production, our country’s main source of revenue. Investors fled and skilled workers emigrated. As living standards plummeted, the response was to print more money. Hyperinflation has been the result. …my friends and relatives have lost a lot of weight. We call it the ‘Maduro diet’. …Not so long ago, I lived as you do. I would have thought it impossible that my country, with its hard-won progress, could fall so quickly into the abyss. The wrong politicians with the wrong ideas can have a bigger effect than anyone can imagine.

I don’t want to discriminate against non-Venezuelans, so let’s look at excerpts from some other authors.

In a column for CapX, Kristian Niemietz points out that Venezuela was supposed to be an example of modern “democratic socialism.”

Chávez fans frequently emphasised the many ways in which Venezuela differed from the old Eastern Bloc. They were especially proud of the fact that there was no apparent conflict between socialist economics and political democracy. They also pointed out that the Chavez government, rather than just nationalising lots of big companies like the socialists of yore, was experimenting with lots of different models of social ownership, looking for alternatives to both private enterprise and conventional state-owned enterprises. And they were right. Chávez and Maduro never tried to imitate the former Soviet Union or any of its allies. They tried, really hard, to build something new. And look how that turned out. …Previous socialist experiments have gone through the same honeymoon period as Venezuela, during which they were widely and enthusiastically praised by Western intellectuals.

Notwithstanding, I’m sure we’ll still hear about how “real socialism hasn’t been tried.”

Actually, I’m open to the argument that what happened in Venezuela was a different form of statism.

Though the end result is always the same.

In the case of Venezuela, it’s like Atlas Shrugged in real life.

Francisco Toro opined in the Washington Post about the recent collapse of Venezuela’s power system.

In a country already trudging through a serious humanitarian crisis, the collapse of the electric grid is a final catastrophe. Venezuelans were already chronically hungry, with large numbers reportingthey lost weight because they could not afford enough food. …The stories coming out of hospitals up and down the country have been harrowing. Only some had working back-up generators, and virtually none were designed to carry a whole hospital over many days. A video of a nurse using a hand pump to try to keep an infant alive has been circulating on social media. Thousands of kidney dialysis patients, unable to receive treatment, may face a slow and agonizing death. …the Maduro government has blamed U.S. sabotage for the power crisis. …sabotage accusations against the United States lack any semblance of credibility: Venezuela’s power grid has been in gradual decline for over a decade. …over the past 12 years, the government has run the grid into the ground. After nationalizing the utility companies, the government simply stopped investing in routine maintenance of power stations or transmission lines, setting off a slow deterioration that has made the grid unstable for years.

A story from Fox looks at the wretched circumstances of ordinary Venezuelans.

Thousands upon thousands of Venezuelans pour into Colombia over the crowd cross-country bridge, their faces gaunt, carrying little more than a backpack. Rail-thin women cradle their tiny babies, and beg along the trash-strewn gutters. Teens hawk everything from cigarettes to sweets and water for small change. …the Venezuelans – many with university degrees or decent jobs in what was once the wealthiest nation in Latin America – are now resorting to whatever it takes to survive. …Women sell their locks to local wigmakers in Colombia for around $10-30, depending on length and quality. Other women sell their bodies. Girls as young as 14 line the Cucuta streets available “for hire,” earning around seven dollars “per service.” …more than 55 percent of the healthcare professionals – doctors, nurses, and others – have left the country. Resident doctors who have stayed in Venezuela earn the equivalent of $24 a month, while specialists make just a little more, at $30.

I’ve saved the worst for last.

BBC reports that Venezuela has become such a basket case that graves are being robbed.

At Caracas’s largest cemetery, Cementerio del Sur, most of the graves have been looted, for jewellery, gold teeth, or even bones, which can be sold for use in rituals. For grieving relatives like Eladio Bastida, who checks on his wife’s grave every week to make sure it’s not been looted, the situation is a metaphor for that of embattled Venezuela as a whole.

As far as I know, Venezuela has yet to experience cannibalism, so I suppose things can still get worse.

But that begs the question. Why did Bernie Sanders and other leftists and socialists lavish so much praise on Venezuela?

And now that the chickens have come home to roost and the economy has collapsed, why are they dodging questions about their past support?

Most important of all, why do they want similar policies for the United States?!?

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I’ve written about how totalitarian ideologies such as communism and Nazism have a lot in common. Both subordinate the individual to the state and both give the state power over the economy.

And both slaughter millions of people.

My buddy from grad school, Matt Kibbe, has a great video on this issue.

Needless to say, I agree with Matt’s characterization.

The battle is not right vs. left. It’s statism vs. individualism.

Let’s look at some writings on this issue.

We’ll start with an article by Bradley Birzer, published by Intellectual Takeout. He worries that totalitarianism on the left is making a comeback.

In 1936, you had three choices: National Socialism, international socialism, or dignity. In 2018, we find ourselves in similar circumstances… Why is this happening now…?  First, we scholars have failed to convince the public of just how wicked all forms of communism were and remain. …Almost all historians ignore the most salient fact of the 20th century: that governments murdered more than 200 million innocents, the largest massacre in the history of the world. Terror reigned in the killing fields, the Holocaust camps, and the gulags. …Second, an entire generation has grown up never knowing such things as the Soviet gulags or even the Berlin Wall. …most younger defenders of communism buy into the oldest propaganda line of the Left—that real communism has never been tried.

He explains that fascism and socialism are two sides of the same coin.

That the National Socialists embraced socialism is factually accurate. …they did nationalize very vital industry in Germany, even if by outright intimidation rather than through the law. In his personal diaries, Joseph Goebbels wrote in late 1925: “It would be better for us to end our existence under Bolshevism than to endure slavery under capitalism.” Only a few months later, he continued, “I think it is terrible that we and the Communists are bashing in each other’s heads.” Whatever the state of the rivalry between the two camps, Goebbels claimed, the two forces should ally and conquer. …The Italian fascists had even closer ties to the Marxists, with Mussolini having begun his career as a Marxist publicist and writer. A few Italian fascists even held positions in the Comintern.

Richard Mason makes similar points in a piece he wrote for the Foundation for Economic Education.

…how do we react to the hammer and sickle? I don’t have to write an article explaining the millions of deaths that occurred at the hands of communist regimes; like the Holocaust, the gulags of the Soviet Union and killing fields of Cambodia are widely known. Yet journalists in the UK openly and proudly advocate communism. Statues of Karl Marx are erected. …there is no justifiable way a fascist could argue ‘That wasn’t real Nazism.’ The same is not true for communism. …Since Karl Marx never implemented communism himself, the leaders of communist states always have that get-out-of-jail-free card. Any shortcomings, tragedies, or crises a communist regime faces can always be blamed on a misapplication of Marx’s infallible roadmap… The communist ideology in its purest form might be separated from its implementations, but at what point does its awful track record discredit any attempts to advocate it? …The history of communism is as bloodstained as that of Nazism; much more so, actually. It’s time we treated it as such.

Amen. I’ve weighed in on that issue, and I strongly recommend what Jeff Jacoby wrote on the issue as well.

And Sheldon Richman expands on this theme.

…fascism is socialism with a capitalist veneer. The word derives from fasces, the Roman symbol of collectivism and power: a tied bundle of rods with a protruding ax… Where socialism sought totalitarian control of a society’s economic processes through direct state operation of the means of production, fascism sought that control indirectly, through domination of nominally private owners. …Where socialism abolished all market relations outright, fascism left the appearance of market relations while planning all economic activities. Where socialism abolished money and prices, fascism controlled the monetary system and set all prices and wages politically.

He explains the vast gulf between capitalism and fascist economics.

…Entrepreneurship was abolished. State ministries, rather than consumers, determined what was produced and under what conditions. …Fascism is to be distinguished from interventionism, or the mixed economy. Interventionism seeks to guide the market process, not eliminate it, as fascism did. …Under fascism, the state, through official cartels, controlled all aspects of manufacturing, commerce, finance, and agriculture. Planning boards set product lines, production levels, prices, wages, working conditions, and the size of firms. Licensing was ubiquitous; no economic activity could be undertaken without government permission. …“excess” incomes had to be surrendered as taxes or “loans.” …since government policy aimed at autarky, or national self-sufficiency, protectionism was necessary: imports were barred or strictly controlled…fascist governments also undertook massive public-works projects financed by steep taxes, borrowing, and fiat money creation.

These are not new observations. Here’s what Ludwig von Mises wrote on this topic back in the 1940s.

The Marxians have resorted to polylogism because they could not refute by logical methods the theories developed by “bourgeois” economics, or the inferences drawn from these theories demonstrating the impracticability of socialism. As they could not rationally demonstrate the soundness of their own ideas or the unsoundness of their adversaries’ ideas, they have denounced the accepted logical methods. …The German nationalists had to face precisely the same problem as the Marxians. They also could neither demonstrate the correctness of their own statements nor disprove the theories of economics and praxeology. Thus they took shelter under the roof of polylogism, prepared for them by the Marxians. Of course, they concocted their own brand of polylogism. …Neither Marxian nor Nazi polylogism ever went further than to declare that the logical structure of mind is different with various classes or races. …Polylogism is not a philosophy or an epistemological theory. It is an attitude of narrow-minded fanatics.

And those fanatics are motivated by hate. The Nazis hate people of different races and religions, while the Marxists hate people of different incomes and classes.

Given the various articles cited above, this meme from The Matrix is spot on.

Well, we now know what happens when someone learns about the common characteristics of statist ideologies. The Daily Caller has a report on a student who got very upset after learning that the National Socialist Workers Party was…yes, socialist.

Social justice warrior and history major Shelby Shoup was arrested for throwing chocolate milk at a fellow student and College Republican tabling at Florida State University while saying “nazis weren’t socialists.” She has been charged with battery.

Since we’ve detoured into humor, this is a good opportunity to share this satire from the clever folks at the Babylon Bee.

At a press conference on Thursday, American Nazi Party leader Emmett Scoggins told reporters that his group is not trying to instate full-on Nazism, but a much better system called “democratic Nazism.” …Scoggins was questioned about the use of the word “democratic” and how democratic Nazism was any different from plain-old Nazism. “The main difference is we add the word ‘democratic’ on there because people like that word a lot more than just plain ‘Nazi,’” Scoggins said. …The conference ended with a long speech from Scoggins about…how “real” Nazism has never been tried.

I’ll close with my amateur attempt to classify various ideologies.

In the above video, Matt used a circle.

I’m wondering if a triangle makes more sense, with freedom at the top and totalitarianism at the bottom.

Here are a couple of additional observations on the triangle.

  • Back in 2017, I differentiated between liberal socialism and Marxist socialism. The same is true across the board. We could add a line right above authoritarian, collectivism, and socialism and assert that ideologies above the line are democratic and that ideologies below that line are dictatorial.
  • Given the difference between the technical definition of socialism (government ownership, central planning, price controls) and the everyday definition (lots of redistribution), I’m wondering whether I should use “welfare state” rather than “democratic socialism”? The end result isn’t pretty, regardless.
  • If we just focus on economic policy, I think my “statism spectrum” suffices.
  • If we just focus on the left, my Bernie-inspired classification system still holds up.

P.S. I like to think that there aren’t any civilized people willing to tolerate the Nazi ideology. But I do worry the same can’t be said about communism. The head of the European Commission recently helped celebrate Marx’s birthday, companies like Mercedes-Benz glorify racist murderers in their advertising (part of the Che death cult), and even symphonies use communist symbols.

How high does the death toll need to get before people realize that communism, like its sister ideology of Nazism is despicably evil?

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I relentlessly mock socialism, in part because it’s such a target-rich environment. But I’m also hoping that humor is a way of debunking this wretched ideology. I’m worried, after all, that socialism may triumph thanks to a combination of “public choice” and diminishing societal capital.

Today, let review the case against socialism. We’ll start with this short clip from a recent interview, where I recycled my argument that greater levels of socialism produce greater levels of economic misery.

I now have some new evidence on my side, thanks to the just-released Economic Report of the President.

Here are some excerpts from the socialism chapter (begins on page 381), including some analysis about how to define the term.

…economists generally agree about how to define socialism, and they have devoted enormous time and resources to studying its costs and benefits. …we review the evidence from the highly socialist countries showing that they experienced sharp declines in output, especially in the industries that were taken over by the state. We review the experiences of economies with less extreme socialism and show that they also generate less output, although the shortfall is not as drastic as with the highly socialist countries. …Whether a country or industry is socialist is a question of the degree to which (1) the means of production, distribution, and exchange are owned or regulated by the state; and (2) the state uses its control to distribute the country’s economic output without regard for final consumers’ willingness to pay or exchange (i.e., giving resources away “for free”). …we find that socialist public policies, though ostensibly well-intentioned, have clear opportunity costs that are directly related to the degree to which they tax and regulate.

The chapter looks at totalitarian forms of socialism.

…looking closely at the most extreme socialist cases, which are Maoist China, the USSR under Lenin and Stalin, Castro’s Cuba… Food production plummeted, and tens of mil-lions of people died from starvation in the USSR, China, and other agricultural economies where the state took command. Planning the nonagricultural parts of those economies also proved impossible. …Venezuela is a modern industrialized country that elected Hugo Chávez as its leader to implement socialist policies, and the result was less output in oil and other industries that were nationalized. In other words, the lessons from socialized agriculture carry over to government takeovers of oil, health insurance, and other modern industries: They produce less rather than more. …A broad body of academic literature…finds a strong association between greater economic freedom and better economic performance, suggesting that replacing U.S. policies with highly socialist policies, such as Venezuela’s, would reduce real GDP more than 40 percent in the long run, or about $24,000 a year for the average person.

For what it’s worth, the International Monetary Fund published some terrible research that said dramatically reduced living standards would be good if Americans were equally poor.

So I guess it makes sense that Crazy Bernie endorsed Venezuelan economic policy.

But I’m digressing. Let’s get back to the contents of the chapter, including this table that shows the collapse of agricultural output in Cuba following nationalization.

The chapter also looks at what is sometimes referred to as “democratic socialism” in the Nordic nations.

These countries don’t actually practice socialism since there is no government ownership of the means of production, no central planning, and no government-dictated prices.

But they do have bigger government, and the report echoes what I said in the interview about this leading to adverse consequences.

…the Nordic countries’ policies now differ significantly from policies that economists view as characteristic of socialism. …Nordic taxation overall is greater… Living standards in the Nordic countries, as measured by per capita GDP and consumption, are at least 15 percent lower than those in the United States. …a monopoly government health insurer to provide healthcare for “free” (i.e., without cost sharing) and to centrally set all prices paid to suppliers, such as doctors and hospitals. We find that if this policy were financed through higher taxes, GDP would fall by 9 percent, or about $7,000 per person in 2022.

The report notes that Nordic nations have cost sharing, so the economic losses in that excerpt would apply more to the British system, or to the “Medicare for All” scheme being pushed by some Democrats.

But Nordic-style fiscal policy is still very expensive.

It means higher taxes and lower living standards

I’ve previously shared AIC data, so regular readers already know this data.

And regular readers also won’t be surprised at this next chart since I wrote about Nima Sanandaji’s work back in 2015.

Here’s the bottom line from the report.

Highly socialist countries experienced sharp declines in output, especially in the industries that were taken over by the state. Economies with less extreme forms of socialism also generate less output, although the shortfall is not as drastic as with the highly socialist countries.

In other words, lots of socialism is really bad while some socialism is somewhat bad.

Let’s close by citing some other recent publications, starting with this editorial from the Wall Street Journal.

Democrats are embracing policies that include government control of ever-larger chunks of the private American economy. Merriam-Webster defines socialism as “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.” …consider the Democratic agenda that is emerging from Congress and the party’s presidential contenders. …Bernie Sanders’ plan, which has been endorsed by 16 other Senators, would replace all private health insurance in the U.S. with a federally administered single-payer health-care program. Government would decide what care to deliver, which drugs to pay for, and how much to pay doctors and hospitals. Private insurance would be banned. …The Green New Deal…, endorsed by 40 House Democrats and several Democratic presidential candidates, would require that the U.S. be carbon neutral within 10 years. …this would mean a complete remake of American electric power, transportation and manufacturing. …as imagined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, all of this would be planned by a Select Committee For a Green New Deal. Soviet five-year plans were more modest.

The column also mentions government-guaranteed jobs, Washington imposing controls on businesses, and confiscatory tax rates, all of which are terrible policies.

Whether this is technically socialist can be debated.

What can’t be debated is that this agenda would make the U.S. – at best – akin to Greece in terms of economic liberty.

Here’s a look at some excerpts from a column in the Weekly Standard.

…more and more people, particularly young people, tell pollsters they’re open to the idea of voting for a socialist. In a poll this summer, Democrats by a 10-point margin said they prefer socialism to capitalism. …The tide has certainly shifted against free enterprise, an economic system that has lifted countless masses out of abject poverty, and toward socialism, whose track record is far worse, to put it charitably. …The younger generation also seems curiously unwilling to credit capitalism with the creation of modern conveniences they hold so dear. There’s a reason text messaging and Netflix didn’t emerge from Cuba or North Korea. Socialism is traditionally defined as the government owning the means of production, and it just as traditionally leads to authoritarianism. …With a body count in the millions, you’d think “socialism” would be hard to rebrand. But thanks to Bernie, being a socialist is in vogue. …The Sandernistas say that “democratic socialism” is a more benign variant, akin to what is practiced in Scandinavia. Yes, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark are clean, prosperous, and beautiful countries…and not particularly socialist. Their tax rates may be high, but they have thriving private sectors and no minimum wage laws. Their economies rank as “mostly free,” the same category as the United States

Most interesting, we also have a column by Cass Sunstein, a former Obama appointee.

President Donald Trump was entirely right to reject “new calls to adopt socialism in our country.” He was right to add that “America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion,” and to “renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.” …socialism calls for government ownership or control of the means of production. By contrast, capitalism calls for private ownership and control — for a robust system of property rights. In capitalist systems, companies and firms, both large and small, are generally in private hands. In socialist systems, the state controls them. …Socialist systems give public officials a great deal of authority over prices, levels of production and wages. …Whether we are speaking of laptops or sneakers, coffee or candy bars, umbrellas or blankets, markets establish prices, levels of production and wages on the basis of the desires, the beliefs and the values of countless people. No planner can possibly do that. …Those who now favor large-scale change should avoid a term, and a set of practices, that have so often endangered both liberty and prosperity.

Last but not least, here’s a video about socialism.

Narrated by Gloria Alvarez, it looks at the grim evidence from Cuba and Venezuela.

And she also points out that Nordic nations are not socialist.

Indeed, most of them would be closer to the United States than to France on this statism spectrum.

In other words, the real lesson is not that socialism is bad (that should be obvious), but rather that there’s a strong relationship between national prosperity and economic liberty.

Simply stated, the goal of policy makers should be to reject all forms of collectivism (including communism and fascism) and instead strive to minimize the footprint of government.

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Over the past four days, I’ve looked at the supposed socialism of Venezuela, the Nordic nations, Greece, and France.

And I chose those nations deliberately because I used them as examples in this clip from a recent interview.

All of them are sometimes labeled as socialist countries, but if you look at the rankings from Economic Freedom of the World, you notice that this analysis doesn’t make much sense.

For example, the Nordic nations have a lot of economic liberty and are only slightly behind to the United States, which is why I explained last year that if those nations are socialist, then so is America.

And there is a big gap between the Nordic nations and France. And then another big gap before getting to Greece, and also a big gap before reaching Venezuela at the bottom. Should all of those nations get the same label?

So where do we draw the line to separate socialist nations from non-socialist nations?

I confess that I don’t have an answer because (as I’ve noted many times) we don’t have a good definition of socialism.

If socialism is central planning, government-determined prices, and government ownership of the means of production, then the only nations that really qualify are probably Cuba and North Korea. And they aren’t even part of the rankings because of inadequate economic data.

But if having a welfare state is socialism, then every jurisdiction other than Hong Kong and Singapore presumably qualifies.

Given this imprecision, I’m very curious to see where people think the line should be drawn.

P.S. This is why I usually just refer to statism or statists.

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My multi-part series on Socialism in the Modern World has featured Venezuela, the Nordic nations, and Greece.

But no discussion of dirigiste policy would be complete without a look at France.

After all, not only does France have a history of imposing 100-percent-plus tax rates, it also hold the dubious honor of being Europe’s biggest welfare state.

And it has the highest overall burden of government spending.

These are not good numbers, especially when you consider the demographic changes that are happening in Europe.

Sadly, there’s a long history of French statism. Andras Toth of the Carl Menger Institute explained some of the France’s grim economic history.

If there is an example of a dirigiste, interventionist state, then that is France in Europe. France was the birthplace of the mercantilist, absolutist monarchy in the early modern period. …the practice of mercantilist protection and monopolization of key industries, including the state-mandated “industrial development policies” …Under the rule of the famous finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert… France sank into a series of crises and lost her preeminent position in Europe. …The modern French state is the stepchild of the political culture of the Bourbons. It is the prime example of dirigisme. It redistributes as much as 56 percent of annual GDP and imposes the highest tax burden in Europe. The French state directly manages key industries and sustains one of the largest welfare states in Europe. It also imposes complicated bureaucratic red tape on economic actors, trailing way behind the Scandinavian states and Germany as far as ease of business is concerned.

Though he also explains that the current president seems to understand that France needs less government and more economic freedom.

Macron was the first French politician to build his election campaign on reform and competitiveness in order to keep up France’s position in the world. Those who voted for him knew what to expect. As a member of Hollande’s team, he proposed increasing the work week from 35 to 37 hours to lessen the tax burden on higher incomes, and the competitiveness package he developed aimed to lessen the protection of workers and companies in order to promote growth. …France is again at a crossroads: She has to choose between the policies of Jean-Baptiste Colbert and those of Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, the great French liberal economist who was the economic minister of France between 1774 and 1776 and who argued for free trade, less taxation, and less regulation.

I also sympathize with what Macron is trying to achieve (at least with regard to domestic reforms).

But I fear it may be too little and too late.

Especially since the New York Times reports that Macron is increasingly unpopular.

…attacks…that Mr. Macron is a self-seeking servant of society’s fortunate… The undisguised hostility has made clear that, less than a year into this new presidency, anti-Macron sentiment is emerging as a potent force. It is being fueled by a pervasive sense that Mr. Macron is pushing too far, too fast in too many areas — nicking at the benefits of pensioners and low earners, giving dollops to the well-off and slashing sacred worker privileges.

Though he does deserve some of his unpopularity. He imposed green taxes late last year that triggered nationwide riots from motorists and other unhappy citizens.

But he’s also unpopular for some of his good policies, which leads me to fear that France may be past the tipping point, meaning that genuine and meaningful reform no longer is possible because too many voters are on the government teat.

I hope that’s not the case. France used to be one of the most wealthy and powerful nations in the world. But now its living standards are barely average according to the OECD’s AIC numbers.

Because of the ongoing debate about what the term actually means, it’s unclear whether France’s tepid economic performance can be blamed on socialism.

But we shouldn’t doubt that the country is paying a considerable price for having too much government.

P.S. My favorite cartoon about French socialism actually features Barack Obama.

P.P.S. One of the world’s greatest economists was French, but politicians in France obviously ignored Bastiat just like they ignored Turgot.

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In Part I of this series, we examined the horrific tragedy of Venezuelan statism, and in Part II of this series, we looked at the Scandinavian “free-market welfare state.”

Today, Part III will look at the ongoing deterioration of Greece.

I’ve written many times about how the mess in Greece was caused by an ever-rising fiscal burden.

Let’s look at two charts, drawing from the government spending section of Our World in Data, that confirm my argument.

This first chart shows the overall burden of government spending starting in 1880. As you can see, spending generally consumed a bit more than 20 percent of the nation’s economy (other than during wars) all the way from 1880 to the mid-1960s.

And then the spending burden exploded.

What drove that unfortunate increase in the spending burden?

We get that answer in our next chart, which shows that redistribution outlays have skyrocketed in recent years.

In other words, the welfare state is 100-percent responsible for the Greek fiscal crisis, whether you look at short-run data or these long-run numbers.

Has all this additional spending generated any good results?

Hardly.

As government has become larger and crowded out the private sector, that has dampened hopes for the Greek people. As reported by the Washington Post, they are responding with fewer children and more emigration.

During the country’s deep and prolonged crash, which began in late 2009 and worsened in 2011 and beyond, an already low birthrate ticked down further, as happened throughout the troubled economies of southern Europe. Greece was also hit by a second factor, with half a million people fleeing the country, many of them young potential parents. …Greece’s fertility rate, of about 1.35 births per woman, is among the lowest in Europe, and well below the rate of 2.1 needed for a stable population… In 2009, just before the fiercest parts of the crisis, there were 117,933 births in Greece. The number has since fallen steadily, becoming well eclipsed by the number of deaths. The birth total in 2017, 88,553, was the lowest on record.

This chart from the story is amazing, though in a very grim way.

This demographic implosion might not be a big problem if Greece was like Hong Kong and had a privatized system for Social Security.

But that’s obviously not the case. Instead, Greece is a morass of expensive entitlements.

Notwithstanding all the bad news, special interests in Greece continue to lobby for more spending and favors.

And they have allies in Europe, as indicated by this report in the EU Observer.

Dunja Mijatovic, the CoE’s commissioner for human rights, told EUobserver that Greeks are still suffering from the aftermath of international bailouts and imposed economic structural reforms. …Her comments follow the publication of her 30-page report on the impact of austerity measures in Greece, which says the fallout has violated people’s right to health, enshrined in the European Social Charter, and eroded the quality of schools. …Mijatovic, who toured Greece over the summer, says she was struck at the large cuts in areas like maternal and child health services.

Though I want to be fair.

There is occasional progress in the country, as indicated by another story from the EU Observer.

Greece has taken one step closer to the separation of church and state by removing 10,000 church employees off the public payroll. A deal agreed between prime minister Alexis Tsipras and archbishop Ieronymos II also includes a settlement of a decade-old property dispute between the Greek state and the Orthodox Church – which is one of the country’s largest real estate owners.

I consider this a small step in the right direction.

The Israeli government may even want to learn something from this reform.

And there are other hopeful signs, as illustrated by this story from Der Spiegel.

Olga Gerovasili, …administrative reform minister…is overseeing an administrative overhaul that could transform the country like nothing else has since Greece joined the EU. She wants to abolish Greek clientelism. …For centuries, the Greek administration was little more than an excuse for legal nepotism. …Relationships were more important than skills for filling official positions. …Job appointments are no longer to be in the hands of powerful local politicians… The aim of the system is also to use it to remove incompetent officials. …Another revolution. The Greek administration was legendarily labyrinthian. Files could travel for years through dozens of official offices. When bureaucrats aren’t hired for their skills, they need to justify their existence by signing as many things as possible. …Much like the nepotism, this is also to become a thing of the past.

I hope these reforms are real and permanent.

After all, a bloated and inefficient bureaucracy is one of the primary causes of excessive spending in Greece. But time will tell.

After all, it’s not easy taking away goodies from an entitled population.

“Greece finally needs to open its markets — that’s the most important thing,” says Aristides Hatzis, 51, a law professor at the University of Athens. Hatzis has written one of Greece’s most surprising bestsellers of the past few years: an introduction to laissez-faire thinking. It’s surprising because economic liberalism doesn’t have any deep roots in Greece. …”In the past decades, the governments have so overwhelmingly failed that Greeks blame everything that goes wrong on the state,” says Hatzis. …”It’s difficult to take away the privileges of influential lobby groups.” As long as that doesn’t happen, he says, the country won’t recover.

Having looked at the evolution of Greece’s economy, let’s now look at how the nation’s politicians have been responding to the crisis.

Are they liberalizing, or are they digger the hole deeper? In other words, are the good reforms larger than the backsliding, or vice-versa?

Naomi Klein will be happy with the answer. Here are two more charts, based on numbers from Economic Freedom of the World, both of which show that Greece is moving in the wrong direction.

First, we see that Greece’s score has dropped over the past 10 years.

And why has economic freedom declined?

The main cause is that fiscal policy has become much worse, thanks in large part to the IMF and various bailouts (which actually were designed to bail out irresponsible banks in nations such as France and Germany).

In any event, the nation’s politicians gladly accepted bad advice and used bailout money as an excuse to impose higher taxes, followed by higher taxes, and then decided to push taxes even higher.

The bottom line is that it is difficult to be optimistic about Greece.

Yes, there are some signs of hope. More and more people realize that big government has been bad for Greece.

But it’s not easy to get good reforms in a nation where most voting-age adults are directly or indirectly mooching off taxpayers.

P.S. Democratic socialism is better than totalitarian socialism, but it doesn’t produce good results.

P.P.S. Folks on the left argue that Greece is not a good example of socialism. They say it’s a cronyist economy rather than a socialist economy. Given the various definitions of socialism, they’re both right and wrong. I’ll simply note that there are many state-owned enterprises in Greece and the government has been dragging its feet about auctioning them to the private sector. So Greece is definitely closer to socialism than Sweden.

P.P.P.S. Here’s some Greek-related humor. This cartoon is amusing, but this this one is my favorite. And the final cartoon in this post also has a Greek theme.

We also have a couple of videos. The first one features a video about…well, I’m not sure, but we’ll call it a European romantic comedy and the second one features a Greek comic pontificating about Germany.

Last but not least, here are some very un-PC maps of how various peoples – including the Greeks – view different European nations. Speaking of stereotypes, the Greeks are in a tight race with the Italians and Germans for being considered untrustworthy.

P.P.P.P.S. If you want some unintentional humor, did you know that Greece subsidizes pedophiles and requires stool samples to set up online companies?

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