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Posts Tagged ‘Collectivism’

Donald Trump is an incoherent mix of good policies and bad policies.

Some of his potential 2020 opponents, by contrast, are coherent but crazy.

And economic craziness exists in other nations as well.

In a column for the New York Times, Jochen Bittner writes about how a rising star of Germany’s Social Democrat Party wants the type of socialism that made the former East Germany an economic failure.

Socialism, the idea that workers’ needs are best met by the collectivization of the means of production… A system in which factories, banks and even housing were nationalized required a planned economy, as a substitute for capitalist competition. Central planning, however, proved unable to meet people’s individual demands… Eventually, the entire system collapsed; as it did everywhere else, socialism in Germany failed. Which is why it is strange, in 2019, to see socialism coming back into German mainstream politics.

But this real-world evidence doesn’t matter for some Germans.

Kevin Kühnert, the leader of the Social Democrats’ youth organization and one of his party’s most promising young talents, has made it his calling card. Forget the wannabe socialism of American Democrats like Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The 29-year-old Mr. Kühnert is aiming for the real thing. Socialism, he says, means democratic control over the economy. He wants to replace capitalism… German neo-socialism is profoundly different from capitalism. …Mr. Kühnert took specific aim at the American dream as a model for individual achievement. …“Without collectivization of one form or another it is unthinkable to overcome capitalism,” he told us.

In other words, he wants real socialism (i.e., government ownership). And that presumably means he also supports central planning and price controls.

What makes Kühnert’s view so absurd is that he obviously knows nothing about his nation’s history.

Just in case he reads this, let’s look at the evidence.

Jaap Sleifer’s book, Planning Ahead and Falling Behind, points out that the eastern part of Germany was actually richer than the western part prior to World War II.

The entire country’s economy was then destroyed by the war.

What happened afterwards, though, shows the difference between socialism and free enterprise.

Before…the Third Reich the East German economy had…per capita national income…103 percent of West Germany, compared to a mere 31 percent in 1991. …Here is the case of an economy that was relatively wealthy, but lost out in a relatively short time… Based on the official statistics on national product the East German growth rates were very impressive. However, …the actual performance was not that impressive at all.

Sleifer has two tables that are worth sharing.

First, nobody should be surprised to discover that communist authorities released garbage numbers that ostensibly showed faster growth.

What’s really depressing is that there were more than a few gullible Americans – including some economists – who blindly believe this nonsensical data.

Second, I like this table because it confirms that Nazism and communism are very similar from an economic perspective.

Though I guess we should give Germans credit for doing a decent job on product quality under both strains of socialism.

For those who want to read further about East German economic performance, you can find other scholarly articles here, here, and here.

I want to call special attention, though, to a column by an economist from India. Written back in 1960, even before there was a Berlin Wall, he compared the two halves of the city.

Here’s the situation in the capitalist part.

The contrast between the two Berlins cannot miss the attention of a school child. West Berlin, though an island within East Germany, is an integral part of West German economy and shares the latter’s prosperity. Destruction through bombing was impartial to the two parts of the city. Rebuilding is virtually complete in West Berlin. …The main thoroughfares of West Berlin are near jammed with prosperous looking automobile traffic, the German make of cars, big and small, being much in evidence. …The departmental stores in West Berlin are cramming with wearing apparel, other personal effects and a multiplicity of household equipment, temptingly displayed.

Here’s what he saw in the communist part.

…In East Berlin a good part of the destruction still remains; twisted iron, broken walls and heaped up rubble are common enough sights. The new structures, especially the pre-fabricated workers’ tenements, look drab. …automobiles, generally old and small cars, are in much smaller numbers than in West Berlin. …shops in East Berlin exhibit cheap articles in indifferent wrappers or containers and the prices for comparable items, despite the poor quality, are noticeably higher than in West Berlin. …Visiting East Berlin gives the impression of visiting a prison camp.

The lessons, he explained, should be quite obvious.

…the contrast of the two Berlins…the main explanation lies in the divergent political systems. The people being the same, there is no difference in talent, technological skill and aspirations of the residents of the two parts of the city. In West Berlin efforts are spontaneous and self-directed by free men, under the urge to go ahead. In East Berlin effort is centrally directed by Communist planners… The contrast in prosperity is convincing proof of the superiority of the forces of freedom over centralised planning.

Back in 2011, I shared a video highlighting the role of Ludwig Erhard in freeing the West German economy. Given today’s topic here’s an encore presentation.

Samuel Gregg, writing for FEE, elaborates about the market-driven causes of the post-war German economic miracle.

It wasn’t just Ludwig Erhard.

Seventy years ago this month, a small group of economists and legal scholars helped bring about what’s now widely known as the Wirtschaftswunder, the “German economic miracle.” Even among many Germans, names like Walter Eucken, Wilhelm Röpke, and Franz Böhm are unfamiliar today. But it’s largely thanks to their relentless advocacy of market liberalization in 1948 that what was then West Germany escaped an economic abyss… It was a rare instance of free-market intellectuals’ playing a decisive role in liberating an economy from decades of interventionist and collectivist policies.

As was mentioned in the video, the American occupiers were not on the right side.

Indeed, they exacerbated West Germany’s economic problems.

…reform was going to be easy: in 1945, few Germans were amenable to the free market. The Social Democratic Party emerged from the catacombs wanting more top-down economic planning, not less. …Further complicating matters was the fact that the military authorities in the Western-occupied zones in Germany, with many Keynesians in their contingent, admired the economic policies of Clement Atlee’s Labour government in Britain. Indeed, between 1945 and 1947, the Allied administrators left largely in place the partly collectivized, state-oriented economy put in place by the defeated Nazis. This included price-controls, widespread rationing… The result was widespread food shortages and soaring malnutrition levels.

But at least there was a happy ending.

Erhard’s June 1948 reforms…abolition of price-controls and the replacement of the Nazi-era Reichsmark with much smaller quantities of a new currency: the Deutsche Mark. These measures effectively killed off…inflation… Within six months, industrial production had increased by an incredible 50 percent. Real incomes started growing.

And Germany never looked back. Even today, it’s a reasonably market-oriented nation.

I’ll close with my modest contribution to the debate. Based on data from the OECD and Wikipedia, here’s a look at comparative economic output in East Germany and West Germany.

You’ll notice that I added some dotted lines to illustrate that both nations presumably started at the same very low level after WWII ended.

I’ll also assert that the blue line probably exaggerates East German economic output. If you doubt that claim, check out this 1990 story from the New York Times.

The bottom line is that the economic conditions in West Germany and East Germany diverged dramatically because one had good policy (West Germany routinely scored in the top 10 for economic liberty between 1950 and 1975) and one suffered from socialism.

These numbers should be very compelling since traditional economic theory holds that incomes in countries should converge. In the real world, however, that only happens if governments don’t create too many obstacles to prosperity.

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Every Thanksgiving, I share the story of how the Pilgrims nearly starved to death because of their experiment with collectivized agriculture.

Once the settlers shifted to a system based on private ownership, however, their problems disappeared.

The obvious moral of the story is that incentives matter. Socialist systems encourage slackers (see this cartoon strip) and market systems encourage productivity.

A column by X in the Wall Street Journal tells a similar story about China.

It’s actually the story of an important anniversary.

The People’s Republic of China turns 70 in October and will celebrate with flag-waving and fireworks. …2019 also marks the anniversary of the result of a smaller, quieter but just as defiant protest—one that will receive little attention in or out of China, even though it launched the economic reforms that kick-started the country’s rise.

Here’s the background.

After taking power in 1949, China’s Communist Party had effectively abolished private land ownership, grouping farms into “people’s communes” subservient to the state. By 1978 villages were crippled by quotas that seized most of what they grew for redistribution. …there was no food. Xiaogang’s farmers dug up roots, boiled poplar leaves with salt, and ground roasted tree bark into flour. Families left their thatched-roof homes and took to the road to beg.

By the way, the Chinese system of collective farms was an example of hardcore socialism – i.e., government ownership and control.

So it’s hardly a surprise that it produced awful results. Including mass starvation.

But desperate times were the motivation for desperate measures.

…a farmer named Yan Hongchang summoned the heads of the village’s desperate families to a clandestine meeting. On paper torn from a child’s school workbook, the farmers wrote a 79-word pledge to divide the commune’s land into family plots, submit the required quota of corn to the state, and keep the rest for themselves.

And what happened?

Incentives and property rights worked. Spectacularly.

…farmers…reported a grain yield of 66 metric tons. This single harvest equaled the village’s total output between 1955 and 1970—but for once the figure was not exaggerated. In fact, villagers underreported their actual yield by a third, fearing officials would not believe their record haul.

And the really good news is that the successful experiment in Xiaogang led to market-based reform for the entire nation.

The grass-roots experiment did spread. In Beijing, three years after Mao Zedong’s death, Deng Xiaoping urged the Chinese to ignore political dogma and instead “seek truth from facts.” Now came news that dissenting farmers were actually growing food. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Deng’s decision to scrap collective farming. In its place came one of the country’s most popular reforms, the Household Contract Responsibility System, or chengbao, which allows families to farm their own allocation of land and sell most of the harvest at unregulated prices.

Indeed, China now celebrates Xiaogang’s rebellious shift to markets.

Xiaogang village is a “red tourism” attraction, albeit the only one whose “patriotic education base” (museum) celebrates local defiance of government policy. Its exhibition hall displays a copy of the farmers’ pledge—the original was lost years ago—and floor-to-ceiling photographs of its signatories. The men are lauded as heroes, and Xiaogang celebrated with a slogan: “The origin of our nation’s economic rise!”

Maybe future historians will look upon the events in Xiaogang the same way some people look at 1356 in Europe?

In any event, what began forty years ago already has yielded great results for the people of China. Grinding poverty has virtually disappeared.

To be sure, China still needs a lot of reform. It’s only ranked #107 according the latest edition of Economic Freedom of the World.

But if some good reform yielded some good results, just imagine how much prosperity China could enjoy with a lot of good reform?

P.S. Just as the village of X helped to rescue China from hardcore socialism, there’s a grocery store in Texas that played a role in rescuing Russia’s economy.

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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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When talking with people who dislike free enterprise, it’s quite common that they will admit (at least once I share some of the evidence) that markets produce more prosperity than statism.

But that generally doesn’t convince them. In part, this is because they believe it is wrong to have significant income disparities. Especially if they’ve been snookered into thinking that the rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor.

To be fair, they generally don’t favor rabid redistribution. And I rarely find anyone who agrees with the twisted IMF prescription to hurt the poor so long as the rich suffer even more. But it bothers them that some people are poor and others are rich.

They’re also skeptical about capitalism because they think it implies the stereotype of a Randian world of ultra individualism where people are so fixated on making money that family and community are afterthoughts.

It is true that individualism-based societies generate much more prosperity than collectivism-based societies, at least according to research from scholars at the University of California at Berkeley.

But does that additional growth come at a cost? Are individualism-based societies cold, harsh, and disconnected?

We have the answer, thanks to a study authored by academics at the University of Tartu in Estonia. They investigated this very issue.

Many social scientists have predicted that one inevitable consequence of modernization is the unlimited growth of individualism, which poses serious threats to the organic unity of society. Others have argued that autonomy and independence are necessary conditions for the development of interpersonal cooperation and social solidarity. We reanalyzed available data on the relationship between individualism-collectivism and social capital within one country (the United States) and across 42 countries.

They considered the hypothesis that individualism corrodes community.

…many theorists have seen the unlimited growth of individualism as a threat to the organic unity between individuals and society. Particularly in France, the concept of individualism has historically carried a negative meaning, denoting individual isolation and social dissolution… For many critics, individualism mainly fosters social atomization, which, in its turn, leads to the disappearance of social solidarity and to the dominance of egoism and distrust. …Thus, in the opinion of communitarians, society should exert a balancing force to excessive individualism, which endangers both individual rights and civic order.

And they also considered the opposite hypothesis, which says that individualism builds social capital.

…individualism does not necessarily jeopardize organic unity and social solidarity. On the contrary, the growth of individuality, autonomy, and self-sufficiency may be perceived as necessary conditions for the development of interpersonal cooperation, mutual dependence, and social solidarity. …normative or ethical individualism even elevates social welfare by promoting trust as well as by encouraging people to work creatively, from which others can benefit…individualism (as it is conceptualized in psychology) is also associated with higher self-esteem and optimism…individualistic cultures are higher on subjective wellbeing…and they report higher levels of quality-of-life… People in individualistic cultures tend to have more acquaintances and friends…they are more extraverted and open to new experience…and they are more trusting and tolerant toward people of different races.

The authors crunched numbers for states and nations.

Here’s what they found in American states.

…states with higher levels of social capital tend to be more individualistic. According to Figure 1, high levels of both community-based social capital and individualism prevail in the states that belong to the Plains region: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska. Low social capital and collectivistic tendencies, on the other hand, can be found in the area of the former Confederacy, in the states of South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and so on.

As you can see, there’s a clear correlation showing that more individualism is associated with higher levels of social capital.

And the same is true for countries.

Figure 2 shows that the countries with the highest levels of interpersonal trust are the countries most characterized by high levels of individualism: Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada, and the United States.

As you can see from the chart, interpersonal trust and individualism are correlated.

As is so often the case, it’s interesting to look at the outliers.

The authors note that Utah and Nevada are outlier states. I’m assuming those results may have something to do with Mormonism and gambling, respectively. But maybe there are other explanations.

Looking at nations with high levels of interpersonal trust, China is a big outlier at one end and the Nordic nations are outliers at another end. For what it’s worth, the authors admit that the Chinese results are counterintuitive.

Now let’s circle back and consider policy implications.

I’ve argued that big government undermines charity, it undermines civil society, and that it undermines societal capital as well.

In a free society, by contrast, people have the ability to strive and prosper in order to have the time and resources to enjoy the things – such as family, neighborhood, friendship and community – that are the sources of happiness and contentment.

Though I confess I’m not sure how to best explain this to skeptics.

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As an economic system for a nation, socialism is a miserable failure. Especially real socialism (government ownership of the means of productions, government-dictated prices, etc).

But that doesn’t stop some people from defending socialism. They claim the theory is noble since it is based on sharing and equality.

And they even say that many things we like in society – such as the family, neighborhoods, community groups – are based on socialist principles.

I think it would be more accurate to say those institutions are based on non-market principles rather than socialist principles, but that raises an interesting question.

Would socialism be okay if it was voluntary?

In a column for FEE, Tim Worstall explains that we shouldn’t object to socialism – so long as it isn’t coercive.

…voluntary socialism does work sometimes, and it’s habitual now to mention Mondragon as an example of industrial companies that succeed as worker-owned organizations. But the two important words there are voluntary and sometimes. …worker ownership works better sometimes and that more capitalist organizational forms work better elsewhere. What we need is a method of sorting through what works best when—and that’s where the market comes in. …an interesting observation to make about that claimed superiority, of performance at least, of the socialist form. If it were truly more productive always and everywhere, then it would have taken over the economy already.

In the real world, though, it’s hard to find examples of successful socialist entities.

Consider what just happened to Panera Cares.

…after nine years of being in business, Panera Bread’s socialist pay-what-you-want restaurant, Panera Cares, will officially be closing shop on February 15 due to the business model’s unsustainability. …Panera tried to create a socialist system in which meals were offered at a suggested donation price. That means some people would pay more while others would pay less based on what they felt like or could afford. …Panera completely removed any incentive for patrons to meet even the lowest standards of consumer/retailer exchange. The result: some people paid their fair share while others enjoyed a “free lunch.” …company founder Ron Shaich said the cafe was designed as a quasi-test on human sensibility… “In many ways, this whole experiment is ultimately a test of humanity.”

If it was “a test of humanity,” then we failed.

None of the restaurants were self-sustaining, with some locations reportedly being “mobbed” by students along with homeless people looking for a free meal. “The Portland-based Panera Cares was reportedly only recouping between 60 and 70 percent of its total costs,” reports Eater. “The losses were attributed to students who ‘mobbed’ the restaurant and ate without paying, as well as homeless patrons who visited the restaurant for every meal of the week…” Though Shaich said the restaurants tried to educate people about “sharing responsibly, people ultimately came to the locations for a handout.” …As with every socialist experiment, the natural harmony between the commoners and the power-brokers devolved into hostility. “Patrons reported security guards roaming the entrance and ‘glaring at customers,'”… Shaich stepped down as CEO in 2017. He admitted to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2018 that “the nature of the economics did not make sense.”

Interesting confession by Shaich. I wonder if we’ll ever see Bernie Sanders of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez admit socialism doesn’t make sense.

The Kibbutz in Israel were perhaps the most famous example of voluntary socialism. The late Gary Becker explained their collectivist structure.

…nowhere is the failure of socialism clearer than in the radical transformation of the Israeli kibbutz. …Kibbutzniks, as they were called, replaced those fundamental features of modern societies and set up agricultural collectives in which all property was owned by the kibbutz, adults were treated equally regardless of productivity… The kibbutz movement was motivated in part by the Marxist dictum of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

But this system has basically disappeared.

By abolishing capitalistic organization, the founders expected members to live in contentment and harmony and to work for the common good. From what I was told and could observe during my brief visit, there was little harmony. Jealousy abounded, directed at those who were only a little better off… Kibbutzniks were also angry at slackers who appeared to be living off the labor of others. …the socialist zeal that propelled the kibbutz movement in its early days has now largely disappeared. …Many were forced into bankruptcy… Self-interest and family orientation are products not of capitalism but of a human nature developed under evolutionary pressure over eons. They will outlive any utopian experiment. …Utopian socialistic experiments like the kibbutz movement, and countries that tried to create large-scale efficient socialism, all failed for the same reasons.

Indeed, not only have the Kibbutz faded away, but the entire nation of Israel has moved significantly in the direction of free markets. Some stories do have happy endings.

I’ll close with this cartoon, which perfectly illustrates why socialism doesn’t work, regardless of the level of coercion.

P.S. I can’t resist sharing an unrelated excerpt from Tim Worstall’s column.

One of the primary objections to capitalism is the boilerplate insistence that in a capitalist system, the worker doesn’t gain the full value of her labor. This is exploitation, and something must be done about it. The argument has a major logical fault: It is a two-way street, for the capitalist doesn’t gain the full product of the use of their capital, either, meaning the capitalist is equally exploited.

Amen.

Labor and capital are complementary factors of production. Labor helps capital generate a return, and capital helps labor generate income.

Which is why it is in the best interest of workers to get rid of capital gains taxes, lower the corporate tax rate, eliminate the death tax. The more investment we have, the more productivity goes up, and the more wages increase.

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The most persuasive data, when comparing the United States and Scandinavia, are the numbers showing that Americans of Swedish, Danish, Finnish, and Norwegian descent produce much more prosperity than those who remained in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway.

This certainly suggests that America’s medium-sized welfare state does less damage than the large-sized welfare state in Scandinavian nations.

But maybe the United States also was fortunate in that it attracted the right kind of migrant from Scandinavia.

Let’s look at some fascinating research from Professor Anne Sofie Beck Knudsen of Lund University in Sweden.

If you’re in a rush and simply want the headline results, here are some excerpts from the abstract.

This paper examines the joint evolution of emigration and individualism in Scandinavia during the Age of Mass Migration (1850-1920). A long-standing hypothesis holds that people of a stronger individualistic mindset are more likely to migrate as they suffer lower costs of abandoning existing social networks. …I propose a theory of cultural change where migrant self-selection generates a relative push away from individualism, and towards collectivism, in migrant-sending locations through a combination of initial distributional effects and channels of intergenerational cultural transmission. …the empirical results suggest that individualists were more likely to migrate than collectivists, and that the Scandinavian countries would have been considerably more individualistic and culturally diverse, had emigration not taken place.

If you’re interested in more detail, here are passages from the study.

We’ll start with the author’s description of why she studied the topic and what she wanted to determine.

People of Western societies are unique in their strong view of themselves… This culture of individualism has roots in the distant past and is believed to have played an important role in the economic and political development of the region… differences in individualism and its counterpart, collectivism, impact processes of innovation, entrepreneurship, cooperation, and public goods provision. Yet, little is known about what has influenced the evolution of individualism over time and across space within the Western world. …I explore the relationship between individualism and a common example of human behavior: migration. I propose a theory, where migration flows generate cultural change towards collectivism and convergence across migrant-sending locations.

Keep in mind, by the way, that societies with a greater preference for individualism generate much more prosperity.

Anyhow, Professor Knudsen had a huge dataset for her research since there was an immense amount of out-migration from Scandinavia.

During the period, millions of people left Europe to settle in New World countries such as the United States. Sweden, Norway, and Denmark experienced some of the highest emigration rates in Europe during this period, involving the departure of approximately 25% of their populations. …Total emigration amounted to around 38% and 26% in Norway and Sweden respectively.

Here are some of her findings.

I find that Scandinavians who grew up in individualistic households were more likely to emigrate… people of individualistic mindsets suffer lower costs of leaving existing social networks behind… the cultural change that took place during the Age of Mass Migration was sufficiently profound to leave a long-run impact on contemporary Scandinavian culture. …If people migrate based, in part, on individualistic cultural values, migration will have implications on the overall evolution of cultures. Emigration must be associated with an immediate reduction in the prevalence of individualists in the migrant-sending population.

Here is her data on the individualism of emigrants compared to those who stayed in Scandinavia.

As an aside, I find it very interesting that Scandinavian emigrants were attracted by the “American dream.”

…historians agree that migrants were motivated by more than hopes of escaping poverty. Stories on the ‘American Dream‘ and the view of the United States as the ‘Land of Opportunities‘ were core to the migration discourse. Private letters, diaries, and newspaper articles of the time reveal that ideas of personal freedom and social equality embodied in the American society were of great value to the migrants. In the United States, people were free to pursue own goals.

And this is why I am quite sympathetic to continued migration to America, with the big caveat that I want severe restrictions on access to government handouts.

Simply stated, I want more people who want that “American dream.”

But I’m digressing. Let’s now look at the key result from Professor Knudsen’s paper.

When the more individualistic Scandinavians with “get up and go” left their home countries, that meant the average level of collectivism increased among those remained behind.

Several observations are worth mentioning in light of the revealed actual and counterfactual patterns of individualism. First, one observes a general trend of rising individualism over the period, which is consistent with accounts for other countries… Second, the level of individualism would have been considerably higher by the end of the Age of Mass Migration in 1920, had emigration not taken place. Taking the numbers at face value, individualism would have been between 19.0% and 20.3% higher on average in Sweden, 17.8% and 27.9% in Norway, and 7.6% and 12.5% in Denmark, depending on the measure considered.

These charts capture the difference.

To wrap this up, here’s a restatement of the key findings from the study’s conclusion.

I find that people of an individualistic mindset were more prone to migrate than their collectivistic neighbors. …Due to self-selection on individualistic traits, mass emigration caused a direct compositional change in the home population. Over the period this amounted to a loss of individualists of approximate 3.7%-points in Denmark, 9.4%-points in Sweden, and 13.6%-points in Norway. …The cultural change that took place during the Age of Mass Migration was sufficiently profound to impact cross-district cultural differences in present day Scandinavia. Contemporary levels of individualism would thus have been significantly higher had emigration not occurred. …The potential societal implications of the emigration-driven cultural change are of great importance. The period of the Age of Mass Migration was characterized by industrialization, urbanization, and democratization in Scandinavia. Individualism was generally on the rise, in part due to these developments, but it seems conceivable that the collectivistic turn caused by emigration played a role in subsequent institutional developments. While economic freedom is high in contemporary Scandinavia, the region is known for its priority of social cohesion and collective insurance. This is particularly clear when contrasting the Scandinavian welfare model with American liberal capitalism.

This is first-rate research.

Professor Knudsen even understands that Scandinavian nations still have lots of economic freedom by world standards.

Imagine, though, how much economic freedom those countries might enjoy if the more individualism-minded people hadn’t left for America? Maybe those nations wouldn’t have dramatically expanded their welfare states starting in the 1960s, thus dampening economic growth.

The obvious takeaway is that migration from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway to the United States was a net plus for America and a net minus for Scandinavia.

P.S. When she referred in her conclusion to “American liberal capitalism,” she was obviously referring to classical liberalism.

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Ever since 2010, I’ve been pointing out that Venezuela is a horrifying and tragic example of what happens when the private sector in a country is almost completely suffocated by excessive government.

And with the country now in a death spiral, you would think it’s a perfect time for further commentary. I sometimes wonder, though, what I can write that isn’t ridiculously repetitive.

But a couple of recent conversations have convinced me of the need to address two points.

First, it’s important to emphasize that not all statism is created equal. When writing recently about Denmark, I created a chart to show how that country was much more pro-market than France. And that same chart showed that France was much more capitalist than Greece.

And guess which country was the most statist? If you said Venezuela, you’re right.

And the lesson from this data is that the degree of statism matters. Venezuela is a total mess because of total statism, Greece is in trouble because of lots of statism, France is anemic because of run-of-the-mill statism, and Denmark does okay because it’s only statist in one area (fiscal policy).

Imagine you were a teacher and these countries were students. Here are the grades you’d assign for economic policy.

F – Venezuela
D – Greece
C – France
B – Denmark

Second, I want to answer a question that often gets asked, which is how long can the current government survive?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer. That’s partly because bad policy doesn’t cause overnight collapse (Adam Smith noted more than 200 years ago, “there is great deal of ruin in a nation”).

Venezuela historically has propped up its statist regime with oil revenue, but that’s shrinking as an option because of government incompetence.

Thousands of workers are fleeing Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, abandoning once-coveted jobs made worthless by the worst inflation in the world. …Desperate oil workers and criminals are also stripping the oil company of vital equipment, vehicles, pumps and copper wiring, carrying off whatever they can to make money. The double drain — of people and hardware — is further crippling a company that has been teetering for years yet remains the country’s most important source of income. …Venezuela is on its knees economically, buckled by hyperinflation and a history of mismanagement. Widespread hunger, political strife, devastating shortages of medicine and an exodus of well over a million people in recent years have turned this country, once the economic envy of many of its neighbors, into a crisis.

At the end of the day, the regime can rely on force. And Venezuela’s politicians cleverly have put the army in charge of graft and shakedowns, thus earning at least temporary loyalty.

Venezuela’s military has come to oversee the desperate and lucrative water trade as reservoirs empty, broken pipes flood neighborhoods and overwhelmed personnel walk out. Seven major access points in the capital of 5.5 million people are now run by soldiers or police, who also took total control of all public and private water trucks. Unofficially, soldiers direct where drivers deliver — and make them give away the goods at favored addresses. President Nicolas Maduro’s autocratic regime has handed lucrative industries to the 160,000-member military as the economic collapse gathers speed, from the mineral-rich region of the Arco Minero del Orinoco to top slots at the state oil producer to increasingly precious control over food and water.

Moreover, it’s difficult for people to revolt since the regime has followed the totalitarian playbook and banned private guns.

So it’s no surprise that many disaffected people (the ones who otherwise might revolt) are simply escaping the country.

Hundreds turn up each day, many arriving penniless and gaunt… Once they cross, many cram into public parks and plazas teeming with makeshift homeless shelters, raising concerns about drugs and crime. The lucky ones sleep in tents and line up for meals provided by soldiers — pregnant women, the disabled and families with young children are often given priority. …this is happening in Brazil, where a relentless tide of people fleeing the deepening economic crisis in Venezuela… The tens of thousands of Venezuelans who have found refuge in Brazil in recent years are walking proof of a worsening humanitarian crisis that their government claims does not exist. …more Venezuelans are leaving home each month than the 125,000 Cuban exiles who fled their homes during the 1980 Mariel boat crisis.

And the ones who haven’t left still have some options besides starve or revolt.

A few years ago, there were so many donkeys, or burros, in the Venezuelan state of Falcón that they were a problem — herds everywhere, causing highway crashes and blocking airport runways. But over the past three years, the herds have shrunk dramatically as thousands of burros have been slaughtered for their meat by Venezuelans suffering through a near-famine. …The collapse of the Venezuelan economy is radically changing the eating habits in the oil-producing country, where large sectors of the population are being forced to pick through garbage and slaughter domestic animals to sate their hunger. …The clandestine slaughter of the animals also has become a sanitary and environmental problem, Stefaneli added. There are no sanitary controls, and the burro has been disappearing from its native habitats. …Years back, residents of Paraguana used to eat goat, fish and beef. And when those were in short supply they ate rabbits, grains and even iguanas. Burro meat was not liked because it’s tough and smells, even from far away, according to residents who have eaten it. But it has become a necessity for many people.

The bottom line is that Venezuela is in free-fall, but I don’t know where the bottom is. And I don’t know what will happen when the country hits rock bottom.

But if you hold a gun to my head, I’ll predict that the regime somehow collapses in 2020.

P.S. The silver lining of Venezuela’s dark cloud is that we have some grim humor from inside and outside the country.

P.P.S. Venezuela is such a disaster that even the World Bank acknowledged Chile’s market-oriented system is far superior.

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