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Posts Tagged ‘Collectivism’

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

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

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

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

This observation gets some people rather upset.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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I expressed my disapproval yesterday about the pro-Stalin propaganda in Gori, Georgia.

Yes, I realize he’s the most noteworthy person to be born in that town, but that’s hardly a reason to acknowledge – much less celebrate – the life of a totalitarian butcher.

In response, I thought about writing a column documenting Stalin’s awful crimes against humanity, but perhaps mockery is a more appropriate response.

So let’s start with this news report from the Onion.

…a group of Johns Hopkins University researchers released a report Tuesday indicating that the late Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin was only one great purge away from creating a communist utopia. “Our research demonstrates that if Stalin had shipped a mere 100,000 more people to Siberia, the whole communist experiment would have worked out perfectly,” said historian and report co-author Franklin Morrison, adding that all of the USSR’s corruption, hunger, and disease would have disappeared overnight if Stalin had simply been able to let a few million more Ukrainians starve to death. “It’s a shame, because in 1953 the Soviet Union was really on the precipice of becoming a perpetual workers’ paradise devoid of all poverty and want. Unfortunately, Stalin passed away before he could round up just one last group of intellectuals and make them dig their own mass graves.”

Sadly, some leftist academic probably believe this satire.

They need a copy of this book.

Of course, some statists (like these dopes) will trot out their usual excuse that “real communism hasn’t been tried.”

Speaking of dopes, I wrote last month about the loathsome decision by the President of the European Commission to honor Karl Marx. Well, it appears he’s also going to authorize having Marx on the currency.

But the sensible folks at the European Central Bank intervened and insisted on an appropriate denomination.

I’ve saved the best for last.

Those of you familiar with the silly fuss over “cultural appropriation” will definitely appreciate this gem.

Marx must be very proud of the starvation caused by his ideas since he also tweeted on the topic back in March.

For additional examples of communist satire, click here, here, and here.

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In 2016, I toured the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia, which memorializes the victims of communist butchery in that nation.

Earlier today, I was lucky enough to get a tour through the House of Terror, a museum in Budapest that commemorates the horrors that Hungary endured during both Nazi occupation and Soviet occupation

Some of the exhibits are uplifting, such as the photo from the 1956 uprising that shows a toppled statue of Stalin.

Other parts are downright depressing.

Or, in the case of these torture instruments, certain exhibits are utterly horrifying (you can use your imagination to figure out what the communists did with the glass tubes).

If you go to Hungary, the House of Terror should be on your list of things to do.

I was particularly gratified to learn that it’s the most-visited museum in Budapest. Not simply because it’s filled with interesting material, but because it helps people understand that all forms of statism are wrong.

The House of Terror has exhibits on the brutality of Nazi rule and the brutality of Marxist rule.

Which is a good excuse for me to share excerpts from a couple of columns on the common thread between fascism and socialism.

In a column last November for the Foundation for Economic Education, Brittany Hunter shared some of Friedrich Hayek’s analysis of the philosophical link between national socialism and international socialism.

F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, …in chapter twelve, …Hayek highlights the very important connection between the socialist and Nazi intellectuals by profiling a handful of prominent German Marxist supporters… Hayek points out that contrary to what many think, Nazism did not simply appear out of thin air and infect the minds of docile German people. There were academic roots that, while grown in the soil of socialist thought, grew into a philosophy that praised German superiority, ultimate war, and the degradation of the individual. …Beginning his list of influential thinkers prior to WWII, Hayek begins with the dedicated Marxist who later embraced nationalism and dictatorship, Werner Sombart (1863-1941). …He seethed with criticism for the English people, who, in his mind, had lost their warlike instincts. …His other main criticism of English culture was the emphasis placed on the individual. For Sombart, individual happiness was hampering societies from being truly great. …Professor Johann Plenge (1874-1963) was another leading intellectual authority on Marxist thought during this time. He also saw war with England as a necessary struggle between two opposite principles: emphasis on the individual and organization and socialism. …Interestingly enough, many…socialist philosophers eventually abandoned Marxism in favor of National Socialism… while Prussian militarism was seen to be the enemy of socialism, Spengler helped bridge that gap. Both schools of thought require an abandonment of the individual identity. …This hatred and fear of the individual is the worldview espoused by these thinkers and it continues on with those who claim to be socialists today. Unless the concept of individualism is completely eradicated, the glorified state cannot come into existence.

Earlier this year, Byron Chiado echoed this analysis of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom in another FEE column, pointing out that all forms of socialism reject classical liberalism.

The bulk of the book makes the argument that central planning and interventionism inevitably lead to authoritarianism… Towards the end of the book, he deals with the undeniable authoritarians of his time and casts the national-socialist movement as one built on disgust with liberalism. …Sombart, like many Germans in the early 20th century, was compelled by a case for war between the British and Germany on the grounds that the British…pursuit of individual happiness, which he saw as a disease contracted from a society built on commercialism. Laissez-faire was an unnatural anarchic order giving rise to parasites and dishonest merchants… another Marxist, Sociologist Johann Plenge…moved into the shamelessly totalitarian realm that attracted so many Marxist leaders… Hayek gives…a warning to England; that the “conservative socialism” en vogue at the time was a German export, which for reasons he details throughout the book, will inevitably become totalitarian. …This was not a sensationalist attempt to prove his point. Hayek was rather calmly pointing out an example of the type of government one could expect in a society that has discarded liberalism for planning.

Amen. Big government is coercive government, regardless of what label is applied.

Which is why libertarianism (what Hayek would have called liberalism, meaning classical liberalism) is the proper philosophy of government. Assuming, of course, one values individual rights and civil society.

P.S. I also visited the Solidarity Museum in Poland a few years ago. Maybe I could put together a guide-book on the horrors of totalitarianism.

 

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Yesterday’s column looked at the continued government-caused decay of Venezuelan society. To put it mildly, it’s a very sad story of how pervasive statism can destroy a country.

I also wondered whether leftists such as Bernie Sanders, Michael Moore, and Jeremy Corbyn will ever change their minds and (hopefully) apologize for giving aid and comfort to the evil Chavez-Maduro regime. (I’m not holding my breath.)

Today, let’s revisit the issue.

But instead of citing news reports, let’s look at four videos on the tragedy in Venezuela. We’ll start with Reason‘s excellent summary.

I like how the video concludes with a warning that America should avoid the same mistakes.

And that’s not just a throwaway line. Venezuela did not become a basket case overnight. There wasn’t an on-off switch that Chavez or Maduro used to turn the country from capitalism to statism.

Instead, it was the combined effect of decades of bad policy decisions.

In other words, gradual deterioration eventually turned into major disaster. Which may help explain why I’m so distressed about the creeping statism of the Bush and Obama (and perhaps Trump) years.

But I’m digressing. Let’s get back to the videos. Our next item is a report from the New York Times. It’s disappointing (but not overly surprising) that there’s no mention of the big-government policies that have reduced people to scouring for garbage, but you will learn about the horror of daily life for the poor.

Our next video, from Prager University, is a very straightforward description of how socialism has destroyed Venezuela.

I especially like how she concludes with a warning about how big government erodes societal capital, which then makes it very hard to restored liberty.

And the part about classifying involuntary weight loss as the “Maduro Diet” also was a highlight, at least if you like dark humor.

Our last video is an excerpt from a speech by a Venezuelan economist.

The part that grabbed my attention was the downward cycle of government-created inflation and government-imposed minimum-wage hikes. One bad policy leading to another bad policy, over and over again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And while he doubtlessly exaggerated when he said that every single person in Venezuela would be happy to eat out of America’s trash cans, it’s still horrifying that a big chunk of the population would welcome such an opportunity.

So where will all this lead? At the start of the year, I expressed hope that the people of Venezuela would rise up and overthrow their tyrannical government. I don’t know if I should turn that hope into a prediction, but it certainly seems like it is only a matter of time before something dramatic happens.

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I sometimes feel guilty when I mock communism. Should I really be joking about an ideology that directly or indirectly caused 100 million deaths? Are laughs appropriate when there is ongoing torture, abuse, and starvation in communist hellholes such as North Korea and Cuba?

Seems on the same level as cracking jokes about the holocaust.

But I think there’s a difference. Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Workers Party is gone and every single educated and civilized person agrees we never want something similar to reemerge.

By contrast, there are still modern-day Marxists. They’re in the Antifa movement. There are Marxist professors with tenure on college campuses. I certainly don’t think it’s a dominant ideology on the left, but there are far too many Marxists and Marxist apologists.

Indeed, this is why I think there’s a big difference between liberal socialism and Marxist socialism.

Anyhow, I’ll continue to share anti-communism humor for the simple reason that we still need to discourage this evil ideology from gaining more adherents. And since people don’t like to be mocked and ridiculed, it’s good to use humor to make Marxism toxic.

We have three items today, starting with some very clever Twitter satire.

The millions of people who starved to death under Mao’s reign in China and during the oppression of the Ukraine certainly wouldn’t laugh at this joke, but I found it amusing.

Next, we have one of Fidel’s chief butchers. Vapid college kids may put Che Guevara on a t-shirt, but the rest of us should put his image in urinals.

I’ve saved the best for the last.

Here’s the communist version of monopoly, featuring many chances to go the gulag. But if you’re lucky, you get food rations!

My only quibble is that “pay luxury tax” is a real thing in the real Monopoly. Certainly seem that it also belongs in the commie version.

P.S. Previous collections of ant-communism mockery can be found here, here, and here.

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In recent months, I’ve written two very lengthy columns about the deterioration of Venezuela’s evil government.

And I’ve also looked at long-run economic data to show how statism produces awful results for ordinary people.

But I sometimes think anecdotes are the most persuasive for the simple reason that ordinary people can relate. That’s why I shared last month the story about how the government has even made sex less pleasurable.

The Miami Herald has a story that underscores the horrible consequences of statism.

…on the streets, walking around with a bag of groceries can attract more thieves than a full wallet. The critical food shortages pummeling Venezuela have started to change the nature of crime in the country, at times increasing what some experts have started to call “hunger crimes” and at other times turning food into a valuable item to be taken by force. …The crisis has forced millions of Venezuelans to eat just once a day, and thousands of others to regularly search garbage cans in hopes of finding something to eat, according to recent surveys.

This is very grim, but it gets worse.

Not only are people committing crimes because of hunger, children are being recruited into gangs because that is the way to eat.

Venezuelan gangs are no longer recruiting youths in some poor areas by offering them easy money to buy clothes or the latest cell phones. Instead, they are offering food baskets. …Criminal gangs are also using food to recruit children and teenagers in Venezuela, a country with one of the world’s highest crime rates. …“The recruitment techniques, the bait that in the past used to be fashion or luxury goods, have been replaced by the offer of basic food items,” said the report, published this week. That’s how “crime gangs are gaining ground in conquering thousands of youths who are joining in the violence and whose destiny is death, prison and the frustration of so many dreams and hopes forged by their families and communities,” the report added.

As a parent, this is a horrifying story. Imagine not being able to feed your children and then watching getting lured into a life that almost certainly will not end well.

Utterly depressing. A very bad situation keeps getting worse.

The only good news is that leftists used to make excuses for Venezuela and now some of them are trying to disown that brutal regime.

P.S. In spite of the wretched state of the Venezuelan economy, some nutty leftists who put together a “Happy Planet Index” that ranked Venezuela above the United States. I still haven’t figured out whether that was crazier than the Jeffrey Sachs’ index that put Cuba above America.

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It’s time to continue our series on the 100th anniversary of Russia’s Bolshevik revolution, which unleashed a century of brutal, deadly, and oppressive communism.

But at least it’s a series that sort of has a happy ending. The Soviet Union collapsed and China is now only nominally communist.

Though there are a few holdouts. Cuba is still suffering from communist tyranny, for instance, and there are socialist hellholes like Venezuela that could descend into full-blown Marxist tyranny.

Speaking of tyranny, North Korea wins the prize for practicing the purest remaining form of communism. But that’s not a prize worth winning. Unless the goal is horrific poverty and suffering.

It’s such a horrible system that even Bernie Sanders has never said anything favorable about it.

We’re going to focus today on that unfortunate country.

Let’s start with a stomach-churning story from the BBC about the joy of communist life.

A North Korean soldier who was shot while fleeing across the border has an extremely high level of parasites in his intestines, his doctors say. The defector crossed the demilitarised zone on Monday, but was shot several times by North Korean border guards. Doctors say the patient is stable – but “an enormous number” of worms in his body are contaminating his wounds and making his situation worse. His condition is thought to give a rare insight into life in North Korea.

And he’s not an exception.

“North Korea is a very poor country and like any other poor country it has serious health problems,” Prof Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in Seoul told the BBC. “North Korea does not have the resources to have a modern medical system,” he says. “Its doctors are relatively poorly trained and have to work with primitive equipment.” In 2015 South Korean researchers studied the health records of North Korean defectors who had visited a hospital in Cheonan between 2006 and 2014. They found that they showed higher rates of chronic hepatitis B, chronic hepatitis C, tuberculosis and parasite infections, compared to South Koreans. …”I don’t know what is happening in North Korea, but I found many parasites when examining other defectors,” Professor Seong Min of Dankook University Medical School was quoted by the Korea Biomedical Review as saying. …Parasites, especially worms, are thought to be widespread in North Korea.

Defectors have helped inform us about the horrors of that nation. Here are some blurbs from a Washington Post story.

When Kim Jong Un became the leader of North Korea almost six years ago, many North Koreans thought that their lives were going to improve. …But the “Great Successor,” as he is called by the regime, has turned out to be every bit as brutal as his father and grandfather before him. …The Washington Post talked with more than 25 North Koreans from different walks of life who lived in Kim Jong Un’s North Korea and managed to escape from it. …in talking about their personal experiences, including torture and the culture of surveillance, they recounted the hardships of daily life under Kim Jong Un’s regime. They paint a picture of a once-communist state that has all but broken down, its state-directed economy at a standstill. …In theory, North Korea is a bastion of socialism, a country where the state provides everything, including housing, health care, education and jobs. In reality, the state economy barely operates anymore. People work in factories and fields, but there is little for them to do, and they are paid almost nothing. …Bribery and corruption have become endemic… Those working only in official jobs, whether they be on a state-owned ostrich farm or in a government ministry in Pyongyang, earn only a few dollars a month and get little in the way of rations.

But it’s not just poverty and deprivation. There’s also Orwellian spying.

North Korea operates as a vast surveillance state, with a menacing state security department called the Bowibu as its backbone. Its agents are everywhere and operate with impunity. The regime also operates a kind of neighborhood watch system. Every district in every town or city is broken up into neighborhood groups of 30 or 40 households, each with a leader who is responsible for coordinating grass-roots surveillance and encouraging people to snitch.

And the government isn’t spying simply to take people’s money, an odious tactic in some western nations.

The North Korean government is spying to see who should be killed or imprisoned.

Both of those options are terrible since the concentration camps are particularly horrific.

Escapees from North Korea’s gruesome political prisons have recounted brutal treatment over the years, including medieval torture with shackles and fire and being forced to undergo abortions by the crudest methods. …severe beatings and certain kinds of torture — including being forced to remain in stress positions for crippling lengths of time — are commonplace throughout North Korea’s detention systems, as are public executions. …Starvation is often part of the punishment, even for children. [A] 16-year-old lost 13 pounds in prison, weighing only 88 pounds when she emerged. …It is this web of prisons and concentration camps, coupled with the threat of execution, that stops people from speaking up. There is no organized dissent in North Korea, no political opposition.

The only good news, so to speak, is that the article explains that a black market economy has emerged.

And that’s better than nothing, as Richard Mason explains in a column for the Foundation for Economic Education.

From the state’s formation in 1948 up until the end of the 20th century, things were (relatively) unchanging; all industries were seized by the government and nationalized, with basic necessities such as food, clothing, and fuel all being provided by the state. This all changed following the fall of communism and the ‘Arduous March’ famine of the 1990’s. With the state no longer able to feed its people, a new system stepped in to take over. Black markets began to appear all over the country, where the distribution system’s failure hit especially hard, and effectively fed thousands of North Koreans. …Initially, these markets consisted of disorganized traders meeting in fields, facing seizure from police if they did not come up with a bribe. Today, the jangmadang practice has led to fully-fledged markets, complete with stalls selling street food, smuggled electronics, ingredients, and clothes; certain markets allegedly grew to encompass upwards of a thousand stalls. …the markets remain a crucial element of survival for many North Koreans, with some reports estimating that around 5 million (around a fifth of the overall population) are “directly or indirectly dependent on the markets”. …The regime has flip-flopped between giving official sanction to certain vendors (so long as they pay the state for the privilege) and imposing harsh restrictions.

In addition to saving lives, these black markets may be sowing the seeds of future liberalization.

…the rising prevalence of jangmadangs across the country has not only provided an effective alternative to the failed state distribution system, but is changing the attitudes of North Koreans as well. Since many now rely on the market for their dinner, rather than the state, old loyalties to the regime are slowly breaking down. Furthermore, increased smuggling into the country from China brings with it more outside media, such as American and South Korean movies and music. This means that more and more North Koreans have access to information not produced by the regime, allowing them a glimpse into the outside world.

Let’s hope exposure to the real world will help North Koreans eventually obtain freedom. Or at least a lesser form of oppression.

As part of my series on the 100th anniversary of communist brutality, I mocked the dupes and fellow travelers who pimped for totalitarianism (including a few economists, I’m ashamed to admit).

But if there’s a special place in hell for communist apologists, it will be occupied by the disgusting people who laud North Korea’s supposed success in fighting obesity when in reality people have starved to death in that wretched land.

The hottest spot hopefully will be reserved for the World Health Organization bureaucrat who got the ball rolling a few years ago. The Wall Street Journal explains.

World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan has returned from Pyongyang with wonderful news. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is making great strides in health care… Thanks to on-the-spot guidance from Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, North Korean doctors…have even conquered the decadent West’s problem of obesity! …Ms. Chan’s surreal statements last Friday, as reported by several wire services, really did include praise for North Korean health care and the lack of obesity. “They have something which most other developing countries would envy,” the global health administrator gushed.

The editorial points out that the WHO and UN have a long track record of covering up for communist health failure.

…this is nothing new for the WHO. In the 1970s, the United Nations agency promoted Mao Zedong’s vision of “barefoot doctors” to serve the rural poor—even as China’s health-care system was collapsing, along with the rest of society, under the strain of the Cultural Revolution. Today the WHO has become a cheerleader for Cuban health care. As long as a totalitarian state gives plenty of poorly trained people the title of doctor, fudges its health statistics and takes visiting officials on tours of Potemkin hospitals, the U.N. seems happy to give its seal of approval.

I’m surprised the WHO hasn’t been celebrating weight loss in Venezuela, another nation where people go hungry because of the failure of socialism.

Being an Olympic medalist and aspiring politician must not be a good combination. Here are some excerpts from a searing column in the Washington Examiner.

Famine can do wonders for your figure. Are you struggling to shed those stubborn final pounds? Food shortages, vitamin deprivation, and government rationing will help you get over the wall. You may die from it, but the weight loss will make you look fabulous. At least, that’s the takeaway from a Sky News interview this week featuring double Olympic gold medalist James Cracknell, a member of the Conservative Party who has aspirations of becoming a member of the U.K. Parliament. “If you think of the two countries in the world that got a handle on obesity, what do you think they are? Which two countries?” Cracknell asked. …”North Korea and Cuba. They’re quite controlling on behavioral change, so there is a place where it has to be worked..,” One host interjected with some fairly important background information, “Yeah, but people are starving in North Korea, aren’t they? You know, they’re not obese because they haven’t got any food.” …Cosmopolitan said basically the same thing a few years ago when it praised the “Cuban diet.”

Wow, if a potential Tory politicians says something this morally blind, the crazy leftism of Jeremy Corbyn no longer seems so out of place. Heck, they both think the suffering in Cuba should be celebrated.

Let’s close on a very grim note. The communist dictator of North Korea now has nuclear weapons.

I hope that he’s not sufficiently suicidal to use those weapons, but it’s unclear whether he’s crazy or simply brutal.

Though even if he’s “only” brutal, maybe he would launch a warhead if his hold on power was threatened by internal rebellion.

If which case, the final outcome of such a decision would be a country that is unlit at night because it’s been obliterated rather than because it has a Stone Age economy (see postscript).

P.S. That’s such an unpleasant thought that I feel compelled to add some good news. First, it is possible for North Korea to prosper if it does peacefully transition to capitalism. Second, we can at least laugh at communism, even though that seems morbid given the death and suffering it has caused.

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To “commemorate” the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution in Russian, I’ve been sharing a series of columns on the evil of communism.

Today, I’m going to target my profession.

But I’m going to bend over backwards to be fair. I’m not going to condemn the economists back in the 1920s and 1930s who were sympathetic to central planning. They were horribly wrong, but that was before economists from the Austrian School prevailed in the “Socialist Calculation Debate.” So we’ll give them an undeserved pass.

And we’ll even excuse the wrongheaded thinking of economists who sympathized with communism in the first couple of decades after World War II. After all, maybe they were just naive when they blindly accepted and regurgitated statistics from the Soviet Union (just as I think some people today are being somewhat gullible when they accept stats today from Beijing).

But there’s no excuse for any sentient being – especially an economist – to have praised the decrepit communist economic model by the time we got to the 1980s.

Yet some very prominent economists were guilty of whitewashing the sins of communism. I condemned Paul Samuelson two years ago (albeit only in a postscript) for his Pollyannish assessment of the Soviet economy. There was absolutely no excuse for him to write that, “…the Soviet economy is proof that…a socialist command economy can function and even thrive.”

Especially since he made that claim shortly before the Berlin Wall collapsed. That takes a special type of ignorance.

But Samuelson wasn’t the only academic economist to disseminate nonsense. Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution shares some additional examples of mal-education.

…an even more off-course analysis can also be found in another mega-selling textbook, McConnell’s Economics (still a huge seller today).  Like Samuelson, McConnell estimated Soviet GNP as half that of the United States in 1963 but he showed that the Soviets were investing a much larger share of GNP and thus growing at rates “two to three times” higher than the U.S.  Indeed, through at least ten (!) editions, the Soviets continued to grow faster than the U.S. and yet in McConnell’s 1990 edition Soviet GNP was still half that of the United States!

Professor Tabarrok speculates on why some economists were so wrong.

To make their predictions, Samuelson and McConnell relied heavily on the production possibilities frontier (PPF), the idea that the fundamental tradeoff for any society was between “guns and butter.”

To be sure, the production possibilities frontier is a useful analytical tool for economists.

But these economists erred in assuming that central planners could allocate resources efficiently. More specifically, they looked at high levels of supposed investment in communist nations and assumed that would mean faster rates of growth.

That theory is correct, but only if capital is being allocated by the private sector in a system governed by market prices. Government investment, by contrast, is a recipe for pork, inefficiency, corruption, and waste.

If we were constructing an Economist Hall of Shame, we’d also want to include Lester Thurow, who was basically the Paul Krugman of the 1980s. As recounted in this Hoover Institution interview, he also pimped for the Soviet Union right up until the point it collapsed.

ZINSMEISTER But why have persons proven to have been calamitously mistaken been allowed to wriggle away? For instance, here’s a quote from Lester Thurow—dean of MIT’s business school, for heaven’s sake—writing in 1989: “Can economic command significantly accelerate the growth process? The remarkable performance of the Soviet Union suggests it can. Today it is a country whose economic achievements bear comparison with those of the United States.” Why isn’t this fellow laughed out of court?

CONQUEST These people were had for suckers. They believed figures and images and statements about the Soviet Union that did not accord with reality. This was also enforced in the Soviet Union. You had to believe the place was happy, well fed, and so forth. …there were two different Soviet Unions, the real one and the one put forward in the West. Often the unreal one was backed by huge amounts of impressive, phony statistics. It takes two to sell the Brooklyn Bridge; you need both a crook and a sucker. The apologists in this country swallowed the rubbish about communism because they didn’t like the people putting forth the opposite view.

Let’s close with an amazing – and depressing – observation.

An article by Professor Bryan Caplan for the Foundation for Economic Education looks at Princeton Review‘s AP Economics and notes that there are still some economists suffering from moral blindness.

When I was first learning economics, I was surprised by how pro-communist many economics textbooks were. …textbooks were very positive relative to communism’s historical record. …Many textbook authors were, in a phrase, communist dupes.

Sadly, some communist dupes still exist and they work at Princeton Review. Caplan highlights this excerpt from the book.

Communism is a system designed to minimize imbalance in wealth via the collective ownership of property. Legislators from a single political party – the communist party – divide the available wealth for equal advantage among citizens. The problems with communism include a lack of incentives for extra effort, risk taking, and innovation. The critical role of the central government in allocating resources and setting production levels makes this system particularly vulnerable to corruption.

Bryan then explains why AP Economics is nonsense.

The official communist line was that collective ownership would lead to high economic growth – and ultimately cornucopia. And in practice, communist regimes made collective ownership an end in itself. Just look at their repeated farm collectivizations that caused horrifying famines in the short-run, and low agricultural productivity in the long-run. …Communist regimes began with the mass murder of their political enemies, businessmen, and their families. Next, they seized the peasants’ land, leading to hellish famines. …And no communist regime has ever tried to “divide wealth for equal advantage.” Bloodbaths aside, communist regimes always put Party members’ comfort above the very lives of ordinary citizens.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Good people rejected communism from its inception because it was based on the immoral notion that individuals should be subjugated to the state (the same ideology in fascism and other collectivist movements).

As I noted above, I’m willing to forgive others (at least in the early decades) for thinking that communism might be economically successful.

But I have nothing but scorn for those who were pimping for totalitarianism in the 1980s (or still today). Economists already are the subject of derision and it’s easy to understand why after seeing how some of them excused an evil system.

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There’s no way to sugarcoat the monstrous evil of communism. The death toll is simply too large.

But the silver lining to the dark cloud of Marxist socialism is that we have some clever jokes and satire.

We’ll start with the Gipper. Here are some of his anti-communism jokes that I should have included in my collection of Reagan videos.

Makes me miss Reagan even more. The only great president of my lifetime, and either the best or second-best president of the 20th century.

But let’s stay on topic. Here’s a cartoon that sums up the “success” of communist systems.

The folks at Redpanels, by the way, also have produced great cartoons on Keynesian economics, the minimum wage, basic income, and infrastructure.

Perhaps because of the rise of Antifa, even the Onion is mocking communism. Here are some excerpts, but the entire article is worth reading.

The filthy, disorganized apartment shared by three members of the Amherst College Marxist Society is a microcosm of why the social and economic utopia described in the writings of Karl Marx will never come to fruition, sources reported Monday. …Upon moving in together at the beginning of the fall 2001 semester, Dorff, Josh Foyle, and Tom Eaves sat down and devised an egalitarian system for harmonious living. Each individual roommate would be assigned a task, which he would be required to carry out on a predetermined day of the week. A bulletin board in the kitchen was chosen as the spot for household announcements, and to track reimbursements for common goods like toothpaste and toilet paper. “We were creating an exciting new model for living,” said Dorff, stubbing his cigarette into an ashtray that had not been emptied in six days. …Despite the roommates’ optimism, the system began to break down soon after its establishment. To settle disputes, the roommates held weekly meetings of the “Committee of Three.” …After weeks of complaining that he was the only one who knew how to clean “halfway decent,” Foyle began scaling back his efforts, mirroring the sort of production problems experienced in the USSR and other Soviet bloc nations. …The roommates have also tried to implement a food-sharing system, with similarly poor results. The dream of equal distribution of shared goods quickly gave way to pilferage, misallocation, and hoarding. “I bought the peanut butter the first four times, and this Organic Farms shit isn’t cheap,” Eaves said. “So ever since, I’ve been keeping it in my dresser drawer. If Kirk wants to make himself a sandwich, he can run to the corner store and buy some Jif.” …The lack of funds and the resulting scarcity breeds not only discontent but also corruption. Although collectivism only works when all parties contribute to the fullest extent, Foyle hid the existence of a $245 paycheck from roommates so he would not have to pay his back rent, in essence refusing to participate in the forced voluntary taxation that is key to socialism. Even worse, Dorff, who is entrusted with bill collection and payment, recently pocketed $30, a theft he claimed was “for the heating bill” but was put toward buying drinks later that night.

If you don’t want to read the entire story from the Onion, this cartoon basically has the same message.

Here’s a cartoon mocking the common excuse that Marxist socialism only fails because the right people haven’t been in charge.

There’s nothing subtle about this next bit of satire.

Though I wonder if the Occupy Wall Street crowd would even recognize that it’s a joke rather than serious.

Reminds me of this socialism poster.

Here’s a video from Reason‘s John Stossel. It makes very serious points, but has a mocking tone that I appreciate, so I decided to include it in today’s column.

Last but not least, let’s make fun of the guy who gave Marxism its name.

I have no idea if the various factoids in this image are true, but since Marx unleashed so much evil on the world, I’m more than willing to share unfair attacks on his “good name.”

At the risk of repeating myself, communism is an utterly evil system.

If you have some good anti-communist humor, please share in the comments section.

I’ll close by wondering whether the people who mocked communism when the Soviet Union still existed played a role in winning the Cold War. Yes, I realize that sounds like a bit of stretch, but I think mockery is an under-appreciated weapon. Anti-communism humor attacked the moral foundations of the Marxist system, something that was important since there were plenty of dupes and apologists who gave aid and comfort to tyranny.

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To observe the tragic 100th birthday of communism, I wrote  last week about Karl Marx’s legacy of death, suffering, destruction, and misery.

Along with its sister ideology of national socialism, communism was the most potent killer of the 20th century.

But what’s really disgusting is that there were people in free nations who made excuses for this evil, totalitarian ideology. I wrote last year, for instance, about the western politicians who favorably eulogized the former dictator of Cuba.

Now let’s take a look at another collection of despicable people in the western world who carried water for tyranny and overlooked the horrific death toll of communism.

The New York Times, as part of its nostalgic series about the joy of the “red century,” featured a column that romanticized an evil ideology.

The people who came to our Bronx apartment or were present at the fund-raising parties we attended, the rallies we went to, and the May Day parades we marched in were all simply progressives. At the kitchen table they drank tea, ate black bread and herring, and talked “issues.” …When these people sat down to talk, Politics sat down with them, Ideas sat down with them; above all, History sat down with them. They spoke and thought within a context that lifted them out of the nameless, faceless obscurity into which they had been born, and gave them the conviction that they had rights as well as obligations. They were not simply the disinherited of the earth, they were proletarians…the party was possessed of a moral authority that lent shape and substance, through its passion for structure and the eloquence of its rhetoric, to an urgent sense of social injustice. …the Marxist vision of world solidarity as translated by the Communist Party induced in the most ordinary of men and women a sense of one’s own humanity that ran deep, made life feel large; large and clarified. It was to this clarity of inner being that so many became not only attached, but addicted. No reward of life, no love nor fame nor wealth, could compete with the experience.

Gee, how nice that members of the Communist Part felt they were part of a mission. I imagine many Nazis experienced the same “clarity of inner being.”

To be fair, though, the column at least noted how revelations of Stalin’s brutality caused many to lose faith and abandon the Communist Party.

And I guess some of those people had an excuse. Up until the 1950s, very little was known about the horrors unleashed by communism. So I grant that some well-meaning leftists, with legitimate grievances about America’s shortcomings in areas such as race, might channel their passions in the wrong way.

But is there any excuse for modern-day communist sympathizers?

Consider the contemptible views of Tom Hayden. I would disagree with him if he was a liberal socialist, but he waded deep into the swamp of Marxist socialism.

In the 1960s, Hayden helped define and popularize Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)… Newspapers now have produced glowing and inaccurate accounts of Hayden’s life and politics. Most egregious was The New York Times, which started incorrectly by writing that he “burst out of the 1960s counterculture as a radical leader of America’s civil rights and antiwar movements.” …The worst claim in the Times’ obituary is that Hayden was a “peace activist”… He could be called a peace activist only if one views someone who supported a Communist victory in Vietnam as a proponent of “peace.” …On foreign policy, Hayden always supported America’s enemies, be it North Vietnam  or Castro’s Cuba. …he referred to the work of the AFL-CIO to fund labor unions in authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, which opposed free labor unions, as part of CIA “covert operations”…he bragged to one and all that he opposed “the secret pro cold-war element within liberalism, directly and indirectly tied to the CIA.”  In making these claims, Hayden was using the exact terminology created by the Communists and pro-Soviet fellow-travelers of the Old Left.

Here’s a truly bizarre argument from a column in Prospect.

The Bolsheviks’ attempt to create a soviet democracy was a bold leap into the future… They acted quickly to end the war, institute workers’ control, and reform land ownership… Within a year, amid counter-revolution and international intervention, the new state was engulfed in civil war, and the bases of terror and authoritarianism were being laid. That failure should be mourned, but the attempt should not. …As liberal democracy proves weak and crisis-ridden in the face of far right challengers, we could do worse than take Walter Benjamin’s “tiger’s leap into the past,” and recover this valuable tradition.

I’m a loss for words. The amorality and immorality of someone who pines for a replay of the Russian revolution is beyond comprehension.

Speaking of moral blind spots. imagine the twisted thinking that leads someone to write a book extolling communism to children?!?

Once upon a time, people yearned to be free of the misery of capitalism. How could their dreams come true? This little book…presents political theory in the simple terms of a children’s story, accompanied by illustrations of lovable little revolutionaries experiencing their political awakening. …Before they know it, readers are learning about the economic history of feudalism, class struggles in capitalism, different ideas of communism, and more. …With an epilogue that goes deeper into the theoretical issues behind the story, this book is perfect for all ages and all who desire a better world.

Wow.

For what it’s worth, I prefer the Obama version of socialism for kids.

Writing for National Review, John O’Sullivan mentions some of the morally blind people in the west, especially the awful crowd running the U.K. Labour Party.

…the West never confronted the radical evil of Communism as it confronted that of Nazism. …A recent series in the New York Times has treated Communism as — yes, you guessed it — a noble experiment conducted in less than ideal conditions. With the recent upsurge of quasi-revolutionary socialist politics in Britain, the Labour party now boasts leaders who have a relatively rosy view of the 1917 Revolution. Jeremy Corbyn’s senior aide, Seamus Milne, is on record as giving a low estimate that the USSR executed 799,455 people and going on to conclude: “For all its brutalities and failures, Communism in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialization, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality.”

Douglas Murray expands on this theme in another article for National Review.

…the celebrated historian Eric Hobsbawm, who remained in the Communist Party even after the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia and earned his place in infamy in 1994 by saying in an interview that, yes, if another 20 million deaths had been necessary to achieve the socialist utopia of his dreams, then 20 million deaths would have been fine by him. …It is over the genocide in Cambodia that America’s most cited public intellectual, Noam Chomsky, retains some notoriety. As reports of Pol Pot’s genocide emerged, Chomsky was one of those who wished to ignore the reporters accurately describing what was happening. …in Britain, Diane Abbott, a prominent Labour backbencher in Parliament…said in passing that “on balance Mao did more good than harm.” …shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, stood at the dispatch box in the House of Commons and waved a copy of Mao’s “Red Book” to give the Conservatives some lessons in economics.

Last but not least, consider the reprehensible decision of a senior minister from the Greek government.

A decision by Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis to turn down an invitation to participate in an international conference on crimes committed by communist regimes.

Understandably, an Estonia minister had a very strong response to the vapid preening of his Greek counterpart.

Let’s also not forget the morally bankrupt apologists for the quasi-Marxist Venezuelan dictatorship.

And I suppose Crazy Bernie deserves a mention as well.

I’ll close by observing that it should be the role of all decent people to condemn all forms of totalitarianism. Frankly, I’m not interested in the debate over whether communism was worse than Nazism, or vice-versa.

Why can’t we simply agree that both were awful and that those who make excuses for either should be shunned by all decent people?

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Just in case you didn’t realize, we’re “celebrating” an anniversary.

In 1917, at this time of year, the Bolshevik revolution was occurring in Russia. It resulted in the creation of the Soviet Union, followed in subsequent decades by enslavement of Eastern Europe and communist takeovers in a few other unfortunate nations.

This is a very evil and tragic anniversary, a milestone that merits sad reflection because communism is an evil ideology, and communist governments have butchered about 100 million people.

I’ve written about the horrors that communism has imposed on the people of Cambodia, Cuba, and North Korea, but let’s zoom out and look at this evil ideology from a macro perspective.

My view is that communism is “a disgusting system…that leads to starvation and suffering” and “produces Nazi-level horrors of brutality.”

But others have better summaries of this coercive and totalitarian ideology.

We’ll start with A. Barton Hinkle’s column in Reason.

…the Bolsheviks…seized power from the provisional government that had been installed in the final days of Russia’s Romanov dynasty. The revolution ushered in what would become a century of ghastly sadism. …it is hard even now to grasp the sheer scale of agony imposed by the brutal ideology of collectivism. …In 1997, a French publisher published “The Black Book of communism,” which tried to place a definitive figure on the number of people who died by communism’s hand: 65 million in China, 20 million in the Soviet Union, 2 million in Cambodia, 2 million in North Korea, and so on—more than 90 million lives, all told. …depravity was woven into the sinews of communism by its very nature. The history of the movement is a history of sadistic “struggle sessions” during the Cultural Revolution, of gulags and psychiatric wards in Russia, of the torture and murder of teachers, doctors, and other intellectuals in Cambodia, and on and on.

Here’s some of what Professor Ilya Somin wrote for the Washington Post.

May Day. Since 2007, I have defended the idea of using this date as an international Victims of Communism Day. …Our comparative neglect of communist crimes has serious costs. Victims of Communism Day can serve the dual purpose of appropriately commemorating the millions of victims, and diminishing the likelihood that such atrocities will recur. Just as Holocaust Memorial Day and other similar events help sensitize us to the dangers of racism, anti-Semitism, and radical nationalism, so Victims of Communism Day can increase awareness of the dangers of left-wing forms of totalitarianism, and government control of the economy and civil society.

In an article for National Review, John O’Sullivan explains the tyrannical failure of communism.

Those evil deeds…include the forced famine in Ukraine that murdered millions in a particularly horrible fashion; starting the Second World War jointly with Hitler by agreeing in the Nazi–Soviet Pact to invade Poland and the Baltic states; the Gulag in which millions more perished; and much more. …The Communist experiment failed above all because it was Communist. …Economically, the Soviet Union was a massive failure 70 years later to the point where Gorbachev complained to the Politburo that it exported less annually than Singapore. …it is a fantasy that the USSR compensated for these failures by making greater social gains than liberal capitalism: Doctors had to be bribed; patients had to take bandages and medicines into hospital with them; homelessness in Moscow was reduced by an internal passport system that kept people out of the city; and so on.

We’re just scratching the surface.

As an economist, I focus on the material failure of communism and I’ve tried to make that very clear with comparisons of living standards over time in Cuba and Hong Kong as well as in North Korea and South Korea.

But the evil of communism goes well beyond poverty and deprivation. It also is an ideology of mass murder.

Which is why this tweet from the Russian government is morally offensive.

Yes, the Soviet Union helped defeat the National Socialists of Germany, but keep in mind that Stalin helped trigger the war by inking a secret agreement with Hitler to divide up Poland.

Moreover, the Soviet Union had its own version of the holocaust.

I don’t know who put together this video, but it captures the staggering human cost of communism.

Meanwhile, Dennis Prager lists 6 reasons why communism isn’t hated the same way Nazism is hated.

The only thing I can add to these videos is that there has never been a benign communist regime.

Indeed, political repression and brutality seems to be the key difference between liberal socialism and Marxist socialism.

Let’s close with this chart from Mark Perry at the American Enterprise Institute.

All forms of totalitarianism are bad, oftentimes resulting in mass murder. As Dennis Prager noted in his video, both communism and Nazism are horrid ideologies. Yet for some bizarre reason, some so-called intellectuals still defend the former.

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Of the 4,000-plus columns I’ve produced since starting International Liberty in 2009, two of the most popular posts involve semi-amusing stories that highlight the failure of socialism, redistributionism, and collectivism.

The Tax System Explained in Beer” is the third-most-viewed post of all time, and “Does Socialism Work? A Classroom Experiment” is the fourth-most-viewed post. At the risk of oversimplifying, I think these columns are popular because they succinctly capture why it’s very shortsighted and misguided to have an economic system that punishes success and rewards sloth.

For those who want details, I have dozens of columns about real-world socialist failure, looking at both the totalitarian version in places like Cuba, China, Venezuela, and North Korea, as well as the majoritarian version in nations such as France, Italy, and Greece.

And for those that want to get technical, I even have several columns explaining that the pure version of socialism involves government ownership of the means of production (government factories, state farms, etc), whereas the “democratic socialism” in Europe is actually best viewed as extreme versions of redistributionism (while the pervasive interventionism favored by the left actually is a form of fascism).

Yet notwithstanding the horrible track record of every version of socialism, we actually have a presidential candidate in America who actually calls himself a socialist. Though, as pointed out by my colleague Marian Tupy in The Atlantic, he’s more of a redistributionist than a socialist.

Socialism was an economic system where the means of production (e.g., factories), capital (i.e., banks), and agricultural land (i.e., farms) were owned by the state. …Sanders is not a typical socialist. Sure, he believes in a highly regulated and heavily taxed private enterprise, but he does not seem to want the state to own banks and make cars. …Senator Sanders is not a proponent of socialism, and that is a good thing, for true socialism, whenever and wherever it has been tried, ended in disaster.

Here’s an article about real socialism by Mark Perry that’s more than 20 years old, but its analysis is just as accurate today as it was in 1995.

Socialism is the Big Lie of the twentieth century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery. …Socialism does not work because it is not consistent with fundamental principles of human behavior. …it is a system that ignores incentives. …A centrally planned economy without market prices or profits, where property is owned by the state, is a system without an effective incentive mechanism to direct economic activity. By failing to emphasize incentives, socialism is a theory inconsistent with human nature and is therefore doomed to fail.

Ben Domenech, writing for Commentary, analyzes the current version of socialism, which – particularly in the (feeble) minds of young people – is simply more middle-class entitlements financed by high tax rates on evil rich people.

Sanders holds massive events populated by kids who think what he is preaching is very cool. …When did it become acceptable for Americans to back an avowed socialist? …For Americans today, the visible and unmistakable connection between socialism and totalitarianism has faded dramatically. …For America’s young, socialism’s definition isn’t to be found in the desperate, sad reality of peoples held captive by regimes that proudly declare themselves socialist. It’s more of a vague ideal… This makes it easier for someone like Sanders to say that socialism just means middle-class entitlements… It is…Barack Obama…that we have to thank for socialism’s rise in 2016. Republicans…have been describing President Obama’s domestic program as socialist… The takeaway for today’s younger voters seems to be: If everything Obama is trying to do is socialism, …then perhaps we need to go full socialist to actually get things done.

The final part of the excerpt is very insightful.

Young people have no idea about the real nature of socialism. They don’t know that communism was an ideology of international socialism. They don’t know Nazism was a form of national socialism.

Heck, they don’t even understand the modern-day failure of socialism in Venezuela or North Korea.

To them, socialism is simply bigger government.

Which is very offensive to people who actually have suffered under socialism. Garry Kasparov, the chess champion turned Russian dissident, doesn’t mince words in his response to the Sanders crowd.

Let’s close with something amusing. Or at least ironic.

It’s the socialism version of this communism image.

And it’s something young people should think about because socialism fails every place it is tried. As Mark Perry explained, it’s grossly inconsistent with human nature.

That’s true whether we’re looking at the totalitarian version of the majoritarian version.

The latter version is preferable, of course, though the end result is still economic misery.

P.S. Here’s a very clever video that asks college kids whether they would like a socialist grading system. Unsurprisingly, they say no. Though the video was put together before Bernie Sanders attracted a cult-like following, so perhaps today’s students would answer differently.

P.P.S. Speaking of videos, I’m guessing this bit of satire won’t be very popular with Bernie’s supporters.

P.P.P.S. There are several rather amusing Obama/socialism cartoons. You can see my favorites here, here, and here.

P.P.P.P.S. You can also use two cows to teach about socialism, as well as other theories.

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If you want to pinpoint the leading source of bad economic policy proposals, I would understand if someone suggested the Obama Administration.

But looking to Europe might be even more accurate.

For instance, I’d be hard pressed to identify a policy more misguided than continent-wide eurobonds, which I suggested would be akin to “co-signing a loan for your unemployed alcoholic cousin who has a gambling addiction.”

And now there’s another really foolish idea percolating on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

The U.K.-based Financial Times has a story about calls for greater European centralization from Italy.

Italy’s finance minister has called for deeper eurozone integration in the aftermath of the Greek crisis, saying a move “straight towards political union” is the only way to ensure the survival of the common currency. …Italy and France have traditionally been among the most forceful backers of deeper European integration but other countries are sceptical about supporting a greater degree of political convergence. …Italy is calling for a wide set of measures — including the swift completion of banking union, the establishment of a common eurozone budget and the launch of a common unemployment insurance scheme — to reinforce the common currency. He said an elected eurozone parliament alongside the existing European Parliament and a European finance minister should also be considered. “To have a full-fledged economic and monetary union, you need a fiscal union and you need a fiscal policy,” Mr Padoan said.

This is nonsense.

The United States has a monetary union and an economic union, yet our fiscal policy was very decentralized for much of our nation’s history.

And Switzerland has a monetary and economic union, and its fiscal policy is still very decentralized.

Heck, the evidence is very strong that decentralized fiscal systems lead to much better outcomes.

So why is Europe’s political elite so enamored with a fiscal union and so opposed to genuine federalism?

There’s an ideological reason and a practical reason for this bias.

The ideological reason is that statists strongly prefer one-size-fits-all systems because government has more power and there’s no jurisdictional competition (which they view as a “race to the bottom“).

The practical reason is that politicians from the weaker European nations see a fiscal union as a way of getting more transfers and redistribution from nations such as Germany, Finland, and the Netherlands.

In the case of Italy, both reasons probably apply. Government debt already is very high in Italy and growth is virtually nonexistent, so it’s presumably just a matter of time before the Italians will be looking for Greek-style bailouts.

But the Italian political elite also has a statist ideological perspective. And the best evidence for that is the fact that Signore Padoan used to be a senior bureaucrat at the Paris-based OECD.

The Italian finance minister…served as former chief economist of the OECD.

You won’t be surprised to learn that French politicians also have been urging a supranational government for the eurozone. And presumably for the same reasons of ideology and self-interest.

But here’s the man-bites-dog part of the story.

The German government also seems open to the idea, as reported by the U.K.-based Independent.

France and Germany have agreed a new plan for closer eurozone political unionThe new Franco-German agreement would see closer cooperation between the 19 countries.

Wow, don’t the politicians in Berlin know that a fiscal union is just a scheme to extract more money from German taxpayers?!?

As I wrote three years ago, this approach “would involve putting German taxpayers at risk for the reckless fiscal policies in nations such as Greece, Italy, and Spain.

But maybe the Germans aren’t completely insane. Writing for Bloomberg, Leonid Bershidsky explains that the current German position is to have a supranational authority with the power to reject national budgets.

The German perspective on a political and fiscal union is a little more cautious. Last year, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and a fellow high-ranking member of the CDU party, Karl Lamers, called for a euro zone parliament (not elected, but comprising European Parliament members from euro area countries) and a budget commissioner with the power to reject national budgets if they contravene a certain set of rules agreed by euro members.

And since the German approach is disliked by the Greeks, then it can’t be all bad.

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, Schaeuble’s most eloquent hater, pointed out in a recent article for Germany’s Die Zeit that, in the Schaeuble-Lamers plan, the budget commissioner is endowed only with “negative” powers, while a true federation — like Germany itself — elects a parliament and a government to formulate positive policies.

But “can’t be all bad” isn’t the same as good.

Simply stated, any sort of eurozone government almost surely will morph over time into a transfer union. And that means more handouts, more subsidies, more harmonization, more bailouts, more centralization, and more bureaucracy.

So you can see why Europe’s political elite may be even more foolish than their American counterparts.

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I’ve had several reporters ask me to comment on the philosophical and policy differences between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

I’m always happy to oblige, yet I don’t think any of them have included my comments in their stories because I always give what seems to be a very unsatisfactory response.  My standard line is that Sanders and Clinton are two peas in a statist pod.

Yes, I realize that Sanders has a more aggressive us-vs-them approach, while Hillary is calculated and cautious, but those are merely differences in rhetoric and style.

What matters is action. And if you look at the Senate voting records of Sanders and Clinton, there’s almost no difference between them (or, for that matter, between them and Obama).

Let’s look at some of their policy proposals. Here are some excerpts from a Townhall column on Sanders’ statist agenda.

According to Bernienomics, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would prevent greedy capitalists from exploiting their workers and paying below a “living wage.” …Sanders…is…fighting for European style “free college”…Sanders supports the Environmental Protection Agency’s CO2 emission standards, even though these will raise the costs of energy and manufacturing. Sanders also supported allowing the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the internet as public utility… Sanders wants to raise taxes on the rich as much as possible…he has stated his desire to tax the rich at more than a 50 percent income tax rate. Sanders also recently proposed a massive increase in the estate tax… Sanders believes that Social Security is the “most successful government programs in American history,” so it only makes sense that he wants to expand it. …Sanders is also a major proponent of a single-payer health care system.

In other words, a typical statist agenda.

What about Hillary? Well, she’s must more guarded in what she says, but you can get a sense for her ideological mindset by looking at her new scheme to boost the capital gains tax.

Here’s some of what Ryan Ellis wrote for Americans for Tax Reform.

Hillary Clinton today proposed the most complex and Byzantine capital gains tax rate regime in history. …Under the Clinton plan, there would be six – yes, six — capital gains tax rates for those whose total taxable income puts them in the top 39.6 percent bracket. …or taxpayers not in the 39.6 percent bracket, we already have a graduated capital gains structure on assets held longer than a year. For taxpayers in this range, the rates could be 0, 15, 18.8, 20, or 23.8 percent. …her plan actually creates 10 different tax rates on capital gains, not counting those gains taxed as ordinary income due to their shorter duration of ownership. By anyone’s definition that’s really stupid tax policy. It will only serve to distort capital markets as investors will buy and sell not based on rational market signals, but on exogenous, arbitrary tax holding period considerations.

Not to mention that higher tax rates on investment will discourage risk-taking and entrepreneurship. And let’s not forget that it’s not a smart idea, from the perspective of competitiveness, to have the world’s highest capital gains tax rate. Or to pursue policies that will depress capital formation and thus lead to lower wages.

Now let’s get back to the main question. Is there a difference between Sanders and Clinton?

One could argue that Sanders has a more robust left-wing agenda. But that doesn’t make Clinton a moderate. Indeed, I challenge anyone to identify a single position she holds that would result in smaller government or less intervention.

The bottom line, as illustrated by this cartoon prepared by Jonathan Babington-Heina, is that Sanders and Clinton only differ in how fast they want to travel in the wrong direction.

P.S. This is the second cartoon from Jonathan I’ve shared. He also put together a superb cartoon that depicts the senseless damage caused by double taxation.

P.P.S. You also can get a sense of Hillary’s leftist mindest by looking at some of the crazy things she’s said over the years.

And to be balanced, Bernie also says crazy things. Let’s close with this example of political humor I saw on Twitter.

And here’s some more Hillary humor if you still haven’t received your recommended daily allowance.

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What does World War I have to do with Obamanomics?

There’s no real connection, of course, but it did give me an opportunity to present a good analogy. At a conference in London last week, I was discussing with some folks the state of the American economy and the role of public policy.

I was trying to explain what’s happened in the past few years, describing the avalanche of bad policy last decade, culminating with the faux stimulus in 2009 and the enactment of Obamacare in 2010.

I then said that Obama’s efforts to impose further statism have been largely stymied, particularly after the Tea Party election of 2010. There have been lots of skirmishes in recent years, to be sure, with Obama winning a few (such as the recent imposition of “net neutrality” regulations on the Internet) but also losing a few (such as spending restraint caused by policies like the sequester).

But the fact that Obama hasn’t been able to make additional “progress” is not really a victory. It’s simply a stalemate.

And that’s where the World War I analogy fits. As I was trying to get across my point, it occurred to me that it’s vaguely like World War I.

When the war started, the Germans gained considerable ground, overrunning much of Belgium and a lot of territory in northwestern France. That’s akin to Obama’s victories in 2009-2010.

But then the period of trench warfare began and neither side made much progress. And that’s a good description of what’s been happening in recent years in Washington.

This is a good news-bad news situation. To continue with my analogy, the good news is that Obama isn’t conquering more territory. The bad news is that we aren’t pushing Obama back into Germany and reclaiming territory.

And so long as we’re in this stalemate, it’s unlikely that we’ll enjoy robust economic growth. And that’s our topic for today.

In my actual speech, I dusted off my charts based on Minneapolis Fed data, and updated them to compare today’s weak recovery with what’s happened during previous business cycles. And I specifically focused on a comparison of the very strong growth of the Reagan years with the lackluster growth of the Obama years.

But it’s a pity that my speech wasn’t one week later, because I’ve just seen some really good contributions on the same topic from economists Robert Higgs and John Taylor.

Writing for the Independent Institute, Higgs looks at what’s been happening with a key measure of our prosperity.

Arguably the best single, currently available measure of the entire public’s payoff from economic activity is real disposable income per capita. This is the average amount per annum that Americans receive in exchange for the use of their labor and other input services, after taxes, corrected for changes in the purchasing power of the dollar. …this measure of economic well-being has scarcely increased at all since 2007.

Higgs also prepared a table to make it easier to compare performance of this important variable during various business cycles.

As you can see, the current “recovery” has been dismal compared to previous periods.

And here’s his analysis of why we’re suffering from sub-par growth.

These figures demonstrate that even though the rate of increase has varied substantially in the past, it has never remained so low as it has been in recent years. Even during the decade of so-called stagflation from the early 1970s to the early 1980s, real disposable income per capita grew more than twice as fast as it has grown in the past seven years. In the past, recessions were always followed by relatively brisk growth during the first several years of the ensuing recovery. Such has not been the case this time. Nor do forecasters anticipate any such surge of growth in the future. Might it be that the state’s burdens loaded onto the private producers of wealth—taxes, regulations, uncertainties, intrusions of all sorts, including demands for elaborate reports, asset seizures, and threats of felony prosecution for completely innocent and harmless actions—have finally become the “last straw” for these long-suffering camels? …the current situation is clear enough. The U.S. economy, though not yet completely stagnant, has made little headway for more than seven years, and there is little reason to foresee any great change in this regard.

Returning to my analogy, Higgs is basically saying that we’ll be mired in trench warfare for the foreseeable future.

Not exactly a rosy projection.

Now let’s look at the analysis of Professor John Taylor of Stanford University. He starts by walking through a timeline of the current “recovery.”

At the time of the first anniversary of current recovery in 2010, it showed clear signs of weakness compared to the recovery from the recessions in the early 1980s and from all other deep recessions in American history.  …By the recovery’s second anniversary in 2011, it was weak for long enough that I called it “a recovery in name only, so weak as to be nonexistent.” …By the recovery’s third anniversary in 2012, it was now the worst recovery from a deep recession in American history. …By the recovery’s fourth anniversary in 2013, few disputed any more that it was unusually weak and disappointing.  …By the recovery’s fifth anniversary, we were so far away from the recession that linking the terrible performance to the recession became increasing far-fetched.

Professor Taylor has a couple of charts of his own that bolster his argument.

Here’s a comparison of quarterly growth during the Obama recovery and Reagan recovery.

If you’re keeping score, Reagan’s economy out-performed Obama’s economy (often by a very wide margin) in 19 out of 22 quarters.

If this was a boxing match, it would have been stopped long ago.

Taylor also looks at the performance of the labor market during the Obama recovery and Reagan recovery.

Once again, there’s no comparison. During the Reagan years more people were working and adding to the productive capacity of the nation.

During the Obama years, by contrast, the most optimistic assessment is that we’re treading water.

Here’s more of his analysis about the ongoing stagnation.

With the recovery now approaching its sixth anniversary, there is more optimism that we are finally coming out the excruciating slow growth. There is also some wishful thinking that the drop of people out of the labor force—which has made the unemployment rate come down—is due to demographic factors not the slow growth itself. And we are not as bad as Europe. But as these charts show there is still not much in this recovery to write home about. Growth over the four quarters of 2014 looks to average only 2.2% compared with 4.4% in the corresponding quarters of the 1980s recovery. And as of January 2015 the employment-to-population ratio is still lower than at the start of the recovery.

So what’s the bottom line?

To be blunt, you can’t make America more like Europe and then be surprised that our economy isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Returning to our analogy, we need to defeat the enemy of statism and reclaim our lost territory.

But that won’t happen until 2017 at the earliest. And it’s possible it will never happen, particularly if we don’t implement genuine entitlement reform.

P.S. The bad news is that we’re becoming more like Europe. The good news is that we’re not there yet. Our overall burden of government has expanded, but we still have considerably more economic liberty than the average European nation. And that helps to explain why our recovery (even though anemic by American standards) is far more impressive than what’s been happening across the Atlantic.

P.P.S. Based on insightful analysis from Thomas Sowell, John Mackey, and Ronald Reagan, it may have been more accurate (albeit snarky and inappropriate) to have used a World War II example, with Obama’s first two years being akin to the Nazi blitzkrieg and the conquest of France, and recent years being akin to the period between the Battle of Britain and D-Day.

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To save the nation from a future Greek-style fiscal meltdown, we should reform entitlements.

But as part of the effort to restore limited, constitutional government, we also should shut down various departments that deal with issues that shouldn’t be handled by the central government.

I’ve already identified some low-hanging fruit.

Get rid of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Shut down the Department of Agriculture.

Eliminate the Department of Transportation.

We need to add the Department of Education to the list. And maybe even make it one of the first targets.

Increasing federal involvement and intervention, after all, is associated with more spending and more bureaucracy, but NOT better educational outcomes.

Politicians in Washington periodically try to “reform” the status quo, but rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic never works. And that’s true whether you look at the results of GOP plans, like Bush’s no-bureaucrat-left-behind scheme, or Democratic plans, like Obama’s Common Core.

The good news, as explained by the Washington Examiner, is that Congress is finally considering legislation that would reduce the federal government’s footprint.

There are some good things about this bill, which will serve as the reauthorization of former President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law. Importantly, the bill removes the Education Department’s ability to bludgeon states into adopting the controversial Common Core standards. The legislative language specifically forbids both direct and indirect attempts “to influence, incentivize, or coerce” states’ decisions. …The Student Success Act is therefore a step in the right direction, because it returns educational decisions to their rightful place — the state (or local) level. It is also positive in that it eliminates nearly 70 Department of Education programs, replacing them with more flexible grants to the states.

But the bad news is that the legislation doesn’t go nearly far enough. Federal involvement is a gaping wound caused by a compound fracture, while the so-called Student Success Act is a band-aid.

…as a vehicle for moving the federal government away from micromanaging schools that should fall entirely under state and local control, the bill is disappointing. …the recent explosion of federal spending and federal control in education over the last few decades has failed to produce any significant improvement in outcomes. Reading and math proficiency have hardly budged. …the federal government’s still-modest financial contribution to primary and secondary education has come with strings that give Washington an inordinate say over state education policy. …The Student Success Act…leaves federal spending on primary and secondary education at the elevated levels of the Bush era. It also fails to provide states with an opt-out.

To be sure, there’s no realistic way of making significant progress with Obama in the White House.

But the long-run battle will never be won unless reform-minded lawmakers make the principled case. Here’s the bottom line.

Education is one area where the federal government has long resisted accepting the evidence or heeding its constitutional limitations. …Republicans should be looking forward to a post-Obama opportunity to do it for real — to end federal experimentation and meddling in primary and secondary education and letting states set their own policies.

Amen.

But now let’s acknowledge that ending federal involvement and intervention should be just the first step on a long journey.

State governments are capable of wasting money and getting poor results.

Local governments also have shown that they can be similarly profligate and ineffective.

Indeed, when you add together total federal/state/local spending and then look at the actual results (whether kids are getting educated), the United States does an embarrassingly bad job.

The ultimate answer is to end the government education monopoly and shift to a system based on choice and competition.

Fortunately, we already have strong evidence that such an approach yields superior outcomes.

To be sure, school choice doesn’t automatically mean every child will be an educational success, but evidence from SwedenChile, and the Netherlands shows good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

P.S. Let’s close with a bit of humor showing the evolution of math lessons in government schools.

P.P.S. If you want some unintentional humor, the New York Times thinks that government education spending has been reduced.

P.P.P.S. And you’ll also be amused (and outraged and disgusted) by the truly bizarre examples of political correctness in government schools.

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Back in 2012, I shared a sadly amusing image about how the modern political process has degenerated into two wolves and a sheep voting what to have for lunch.

I was making an argument in that column against majoritarianism (and that is a critical issue, as explained in this video), but there’s also a very important moral component to this debate.

Walter Williams addresses this issue in his latest column. He starts by asking a hypothetical question.

Suppose I saw a homeless, hungry elderly woman huddled on a heating grate in the dead of winter. To help the woman, I ask somebody for a $200 donation to help her out. If the person refuses, I then use intimidation, threats and coercion to take the person’s money. I then purchase food and shelter for the needy woman. My question to you: Have I committed a crime? I hope that most people would answer yes. It’s theft to take the property of one person to give to another.

In other words, it doesn’t matter how Person A wants to spend money, it’s wrong for Person A to steal from Person B.

Walter than asks some critical follow-up questions, all of which are designed to make readers realize that theft doesn’t magically become acceptable simply because several people want to take Person B’s money.

Would it be theft if I managed to get three people to agree that I should take the person’s money to help the woman? What if I got 100, 1 million or 300 million people to agree to take the person’s $200? Would it be theft then? What if instead of personally taking the person’s $200, I got together with other Americans and asked Congress to use Internal Revenue Service agents to take the person’s $200? The bottom-line question is: Does an act that’s clearly immoral when done privately become moral when it is done collectively and under the color of law? Put another way, does legality establish morality?

Amen. Walter is exactly right.

And this is a point I need to internalize.

I’m often writing about the economic evidence for smaller government, but I suspect advocates of economic liberty and smaller government won’t win the debate unless we augment our arguments by also making the moral case against government-sanctioned theft.

And perhaps one way of getting this point across is to educate people about the fact that we used to have a very small federal government with little or no redistribution. Walter elaborates.

For most of our history, Congress did a far better job of limiting its activities to what was both moral and constitutional. As a result, federal spending was only 3 to 5 percent of the gross domestic product from our founding until the 1920s… James Madison, the acknowledged father of our Constitution, said, “Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.” In 1794, when Congress appropriated $15,000 to assist some French refugees, Madison stood on the floor of the House of Representatives to object, saying, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”

Here’s the bottom line according to Professor Williams.

We’ve become an immoral people demanding that Congress forcibly use one American to serve the purposes of another. Deficits and runaway national debt are merely symptoms of that larger problem.

Though I would slightly disagree with the way Walter phrased it.

I would argue that a bloated government is the symptom of growing immorality. Deficits and debt are then symptoms of that problem.

P.S. I want to quickly address another issue.

When I quote Art Laffer, I’m almost always going to be in agreement with what he says.

But, as I wrote last year, we’re in disagreement on the issue of whether states should be allowed to tax sales that take place outside their borders.

And now Art has a short video that rubbed me the wrong way.

He endorses legislation that would create a sales tax cartel and says – right at the start of this video – that this is because “states should have the right to be able to tax whatever they want to within their state.”

I agree, but this is why I’m against the so-called Marketplace Fairness Act. That legislation would allow state governments to tax outside their borders.

Simply stated, a merchant in one state should not be forced to collect taxes for a government in another state.

P.P.S. This also explains why FATCA is such horrible legislation. It is an effort by the U.S. government to coerce banks in other nations to enforce bad IRS law.

If we care about liberty, we should make sure the power of government is constrained by borders.

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We’re supposed to believe that President Obama is some sort of expert on constitutional law.

Richard Epstein was not overly impressed by his track record as a lecturer at the University of Chicago, and here’s a good parody of the President’s selective view of the Bill of Rights.

Likewise, we now have a Michael Ramirez cartoon that captures the spirit of the President inaugural address earlier this week.

Collective Action Cartoon

If you’re amused – in a tragic way – by cartoons showing the huge gap between Obama’s ideology and America’s founding principles, you’ll doubtlessly enjoy this and this.

And in the spirit of cooperation, I even drafted a new Declaration of Dependency to help Obama explain his vision.

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Like Sweden and Denmark, Germany is a semi-rational welfare state. It generally relies on a market-oriented approach in areas other than fiscal policy, and it avoided the Keynesian excesses that caused additional misery and red ink in America (though it is far from fiscally conservative, notwithstanding the sophomoric analysis of the Washington Post).

Nonetheless, it’s difficult to have much optimism for Europe’s future when the entire political establishment of Germany blindly thinks there should be more centralization, bureaucratization, and harmonization in Europe.

The EU Observer has a story about the agenda of the de facto statists in the Christian Democratic party who currently run Germany.

“Harmonization über alles!”

…what Merkel and her party are piecing together is a radical vision of the EU in a few years time – a deep fiscal and political union. The fiscal side involves tax harmonisation, a tightly policed Stability and Growth Pact with automatic sanctions for countries that breach debt and deficit rules, and the possibility of an EU Commissioner responsible for directly intervention to oversee budgetary policy in a crisis-hit country. …On the institutional side, the CDU backs a directly elected President of the European Commission as well as clearly establishing the European Parliament and Council of Ministers as a bi-cameral legislature with equal rights to initiate EU legislation with the Commission.

Keep in mind that the Christian Democrats are the main right-of-center party in Germany, yet the German political spectrum is so tilted to the left that they want tax harmonization (a spectacularly bad idea) and more centralization.

Heck, even the supposedly libertarian-oriented Free Democratic Party is hopelessly clueless on these issues.

Not surprisingly, the de jure statists of Germany have the same basic agenda. Here’s some of what the article says about the agenda of the Social Democrat and Green parties.

…its commitments to establish joint liability eurobonds and a “common European fiscal policy to ensure fair, efficient and lasting receipts” would also involve a shift of economic powers to Brussels. While both sides have differing ideological positions on the political response to the eurozone crisis – they are talking about more Europe, not less.

The notion of eurobonds is particularly noteworthy since it would involve putting German taxpayers at risk for the reckless fiscal policies in nations such as Greece, Italy, and Spain. That’s only a good idea if you think it’s smart to co-sign a loan for your unemployed and alcoholic cousin with a gambling addiction.

All this makes me feel sorry for German taxpayers.

Then again, if you look at the long-run fiscal outlook of the United States, I feel even more sorry for American taxpayers. Thanks to misguided entitlement programs, we’re in even deeper trouble than Europe’s welfare states.

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As part of his campaign to expand the size and scope of the federal government (and to justify his advocacy of class-warfare taxation), President Obama has been asserting that all of us benefit from government spending.

It’s why he now echoes Elizabeth Warren’s claim that entrepreneurs owe their success to government programs and activities.

It’s also why he cites the Internet as an example of wise, prudent, and far-seeing government intervention.

Sounds like a powerful example. The kind of anecdote that leaves libertarians momentarily speechless.

But there’s just one small, tiny, itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny problem with Obama’s example. It ain’t true.

Here are some excerpts from a first-rate column by Gordon Crovitz in the Wall Street Journal.

It’s an urban legend that the government launched the Internet. …The truth is a more interesting story about how innovation happens—and about how hard it is to build successful technology companies even once the government gets out of the way. …If the government didn’t invent the Internet, who did? Vinton Cerf developed the TCP/IP protocol, the Internet’s backbone, and Tim Berners-Lee gets credit for hyperlinks. …But full credit goes to the company where Mr. Taylor worked after leaving ARPA: Xerox. It was at the Xerox PARC labs in Silicon Valley in the 1970s that the Ethernet was developed to link different computer networks. Researchers there also developed the first personal computer (the Xerox Alto) and the graphical user interface that still drives computer usage today. …So having created the Internet, why didn’t Xerox become the biggest company in the world? The answer explains the disconnect between a government-led view of business and how innovation actually happens. Executives at Xerox headquarters in Rochester, N.Y., were focused on selling copiers. From their standpoint, the Ethernet was important only so that people in an office could link computers to share a copier. …As for the government’s role, the Internet was fully privatized in 1995, when a remaining piece of the network run by the National Science Foundation was closed—just as the commercial Web began to boom. Economist Tyler Cowen wrote in 2005: “The Internet, in fact, reaffirms the basic free market critique of large government. Here for 30 years the government had an immensely useful protocol for transferring information, TCP/IP, but it languished. . . . In less than a decade, private concerns have taken that protocol and created one of the most important technological revolutions of the millennia.”

It’s nice to see this urban legend of effective government punctured weakened, but let’s close out this post with a thought experiment. Let’s assume that the federal government deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the Internet.

Our Tax Dollars at Work?

Or we’re sometimes told that NASA generated big benefits, such as Tang and microwave ovens, and maybe those claims are true.

Would any of this justify Obama’s proposals to expand the size and cost of the federal government?

Since I’ve actually explained in one of my videos that there are some forms of government spending – such as capital spending – that can generate positive rates of return, this is an empirical question.

But here’s where Obama’s argument breaks down. If you look at federal outlays for “major public physical capital investment” and “conduct of research and development,” they add up to less than 10 percent of the federal budget.

So the parts of the budget that theoretically might generate some positive spin-offs are trivial. The vast majority of spending, by contrast, is consumed by inefficient tax-and-transfer entitlement programs.

And what are Obama’s two biggest “accomplishments” since taking office? The so-called stimulus and Obamacare, two pieces of legislation that expand the unambiguously unproductive portions of the federal budget.

In other words, like most other politicians, Obama is like an unethical used car salesman. He lures the unsuspecting onto the lot with glib talk of good roads and the Internet, but they wind up driving away with a lemon known as the welfare state.

P.S. Speaking of Elizabeth Warren, here’s an amusing parody of her views as they apply to the world of intimacy. And here’s a video mocking her “Soul Man” claims of Indian ancestry.

P.P.S. Just like I recently apologized to hyenas and gang members, I now apologize to used car salesmen for putting them on the same level of politicians.

P.P.P.S. The government may not have invented the Internet, but it sure is anxious to tax it, with everyone from state politicians to U.N. bureaucrats trying to stick their hands in the cookie jar.

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Addendum: My Cato colleague Jim Harper and others tell me that government played a bigger role than argued by Crovitz, so the first part of this post overstates the argument against government as incubator. But that underscores the importance of what I wrote in the concluding part of the post.

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Being a libertarian, I’m used to disappointment. So when something actually goes according to plan, I get very happy.

On that basis, I should be utterly and deliriously overjoyed about my endorsement of Francois Hollande to be President of France.  I wanted him to win, in part because he would engage in statist experiments that would help discredit bad policy.

Well, all my dreams are being fulfilled. Here’s some of a new report in the Wall Street Journal.

French Socialist President François Hollande is set to increase the minimum wage by more than inflation, betting consumers will help revive the country’s stalling economy, while his government levies more taxes on the wealthy and large corporations in a bid to reduce the budget deficit. …The government also is preparing to unveil tax increases to make good on its pledge to reduce the budget deficit to 4.5% of yearly output this year and 3% in 2013. The list includes a new tax on dividends, a new top income-tax bracket of 75% for people earning more than €1 million a year, and increases in the wealth and inheritance taxes.

It’s not terribly surprising that Hollande’s going the fully Monty with higher taxes. Indeed, I’ve already mocked those plans.

But I’m surprised that he’s pushing a higher minimum wage as well, particularly with unemployment already at high levels. This video explains why minimum wages undermine job creation and hurt the less fortunate, but Hollande apparently thinks his plan will stimulate growth.

Other European nations have become more rational and now understand that labor markets need to be more flexible.

The Smic increase and the fiscal plan are in line with Mr. Hollande’s election promises but position France at odds with most other euro-zone nations, which are seeking to keep a lid on labor costs to improve their competitiveness and rein in their budget deficits through spending cuts rather than tax increases.

The comment about “spending cuts” is nonsensical, however. Even though traditionally left-leaning organizations such as the World Bank have concluded that government is far too big in Europe, most governments have imposed huge tax increases. Only the Baltic nations have focused on spending cuts.

As such, we can expect more news like this in France.

In France, economic growth has evaporated, with national statistical office Insee forecasting a further rise in the jobless rate, from 10%. Flag carrier Air France last week said it needs to shed more than 5,000 jobs, around 10% of its workforce, by the end of next year.

The nation’s dwindling productive class, meanwhile, will get even smaller since we’re already seeing evidence that investors and entrepreneurs are going to escape to other nations with less punitive tax regimes.

I joked last month that Obama would never be able to make America as socialist as France, and Hollande is confirming that tongue-in-cheek prediction with his crazy policies.

But I should state that I don’t actually want the French people to suffer. But if they elect bad people who impose bad policy, then I want to make lemonade out of lemons and at least help the rest of the world learn from their mistakes.

As my friend (and soon-to-be American citizen) Veronique de Rugy explained in a video, we don’t want America to become more like France.

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Haiti may be the poorest nation in the Americas. Cuba may have the dictator with the longest lifespan. But Venezuela arguably has the worst government.

Not the clownish dictator, Hugo Chavez, is trying to repeal the laws of economics. How’s that working out for him?

Well, here’s some of what the New York Times wrote.

By 6:30 a.m., a full hour and a half before the store would open, about two dozen people were already in line. They waited patiently, not for the latest iPhone, but for something far more basic: groceries. …Venezuela is one of the world’s top oil producers at a time of soaring energy prices, yet shortages of staples like milk, meat and toilet paper are a chronic part of life here, often turning grocery shopping into a hit or miss proposition. Some residents arrange their calendars around the once-a-week deliveries made to government-subsidized stores like this one, lining up before dawn to buy a single frozen chicken before the stock runs out. Or a couple of bags of flour. Or a bottle of cooking oil. The shortages affect both the poor and the well-off, in surprising ways. A supermarket in the upscale La Castellana neighborhood recently had plenty of chicken and cheese — even quail eggs — but not a single roll of toilet paper. Only a few bags of coffee remained on a bottom shelf. Asked where a shopper could get milk on a day when that, too, was out of stock, a manager said with sarcasm, “At Chávez’s house.” At the heart of the debate is President Hugo Chávez’s socialist-inspired government, which imposes strict price controls that are intended to make a range of foods and other goods more affordable for the poor. They are often the very products that are the hardest to find. …many economists call it a classic case of a government causing a problem rather than solving it. Prices are set so low, they say, that companies and producers cannot make a profit. So farmers grow less food, manufacturers cut back production and retailers stock less inventory. Moreover, some of the shortages are in industries, like dairy and coffee, where the government has seized private companies and is now running them, saying it is in the national interest.

Here’s a chart that I’ve used before, using international data to compare living standards in Venezuela, Argentina, and Chile since 1980. One nation (take a wild guess) has tried statism, one nation has tried a mix of statism and capitalism, and the other has tried capitalism.

And just in case you need one more reason to despise Chavez’s despotic government, the regime is copying Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and other murderous tyrants in imposing gun control.

(h/t: Greg Mankiw)

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After reading a story about economic liberalization in Cuba, I wondered (somewhat tongue in cheek) whether we should trade Obama for Castro.

I also blogged about the former socialist president of Brazil, who seemed to have more sense than Obama because he recognized that you can’t redistribute unless people first produce.

We now have another example of a foreign statist who has had an epiphany. Here’s an excerpt from a Canadian Press story about the President of Russia recognizing that big government is a recipe for stagnation.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday challenged the legacy of his powerful predecessor, Vladimir Putin, condemning the state’s heavy role in the economy and the centralization of power at the Kremlin… “The proposition that the government is always right is manifested either in corruption or benefits to ‘preferred’ companies,” he said. “My choice is different. The Russian economy ought to be dominated by private businesses and private investors. The government must protect the choice and property of those who willingly risk their money and reputation.” …Medvedev said that the country must begin to tackle the problem immediately to avoid “the point of no return from the (economic) models that are moving the country backwards.” “Corruption, hostility to investment, excessive government role in the economy and the excessive centralization of power are the taxes on the future that we must and will scrap,” he said.

There’s a serious point to all this, of course, and it’s the fact that we know we are on a road that will lead to a Greek-style economic collapse. Yet Obama’s response is to step on the accelerator.

(h/t: Powerline)

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