Posts Tagged ‘Communism’

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written several columns about the 100th anniversary of communism. I’ve looked at that evil ideology’s death toll, and I’ve written about the knaves and fools who defended and promoted communism in the west (included, sad to say, some economists). And I’ve even shared some anti-communist humor to offset the dour material in the other columns.

Let’s continue that series today by looking at the very practical question of what happens when a nation breaks free from communist enslavement?

Professor James Gwartney and Hugo Montesinos from Florida State University analyzed the economic performance of former Soviet Bloc nations (they refer to them as formerly centrally planned – or FCP – countries) over the past 20 years.

The good news is that these countries have been growing, especially if they get decent scores from Economic Freedom of the World.

The economic record of the FCP countries during 1995-2015 was impressive. This was particularly true for the seven FCP countries that moved the most toward economic liberalization. The average growth of real per capita GDP of these seven countries exceeded 5 percent during 1995-2015. Real per capita GDP more than doubled in six of the seven countries during the two decades. …While the real GDP growth of the middle group was slower, it was still impressive. The population weighted annual real growth of per capita GDP of the middle group was 3.78 percent.

And to elaborate on the good news, growth rates in FCP nations has been faster than growth rates in rich countries.

But that’s to be expected. Convergence theory tells us that poorer places should grow faster than richer places (at least in the absence of unusual circumstances).

But government policy can be a wild card. As you can see from Table 14 of the report, Gwartney and Montesinos parsed the data and found that the FCP nations that adopted the most pro-market reforms have enjoyed the fastest growth rates, while growth rates were less impressive in the FCP countries with lesser amounts of economic liberalization (relative growth rates highlighted in red below).

The goal, of course, is for FCP nations to catch up with rich nations.

And there has been a decent amount of convergence.

…the relative income increases are impressive. The ratio of the mean per capita GDP of the most economically free group compared to the high-income economies more than doubled, soaring from 19.9 percent in 1995 to 40.6 percent in 2015. The parallel ratio for the middle group increased by approximately 50 percent from 36.9 percent in 1995 to 53.0 percent in 2015. Finally, the ratio for the bottom group increased from 13.0 percent in 1995 to 24.6 percent in 2015, an increase of 90 percent. The largest increases in relative income were registered by Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia, Armenia, Albania, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The ratio for each of these countries more than doubled between 1995 and 2015. Note that five of these eight countries are in the group with the highest 2015 EFW ratings.

There’s country-specific data in Table 13 of the report.

And you can see, once again, that the nations with the most economic freedom and enjoying the fastest convergence rates. From the top group, I’ve highlighted both Georgia and the Baltic countries for their impressive results. And I also highlighted Poland and Slovakia from the second group because both countries have converged at a rapid pace thanks to some good policies.

Looking at the bottom group, it’s sad to see Ukraine doing so poorly, but that’s a predictable result given the near-total absence of economic freedom in that unfortunate country.

The obvious moral of the story is that nations will grow faster and generate more prosperity if they follow the recipe of free markets and limited government.

So let’s take a look at that recipe by examining how FCP nations have performed when looking at the various ingredients. More specifically, Economic Freedom of the World looks at five major policy areas: fiscal, trade, money, regulation, and legal.

And it’s that final category (which measures factors such as property rights, the rule of law, and government corruption) where these countries have not done a good job.

…the FCP countries…have a major shortcoming: their legal systems are weak and little progress has been made in this area. Given their historic background, this is not surprising. Under socialism, legal systems are designed to serve the interests of the government. Judges, lawyers, and other judicial officials are trained and rewarded for serving governmental interests. Protection of the rights of individuals and private businesses and organizations is unimportant under socialism.

Here’s some fascinating data from Table 17, which shows how scores for the five major categories have changed over time in both FCP nations and countries from Western Europe. You’ll see that FCP countries have liberalized policy and closed the gap in Area 3 (money), Area 4 (trade), and Area 5 (regulation). And you’ll also see how the FCP nations do a better job in Area 1 (fiscal), which I’ve highlighted in red. But the most startling – and depressing – result in the absence of progress in Area 2 (legal), which is also highlighted in red.

These results, for all intents and purposes, are a much more detailed version of an article I wrote for the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformers in Europe earlier this year.

Unfortunately, even though we have the same diagnosis, we don’t really have an easy solution. In this final excerpt, the authors explain that it’s not that easy to change the culture of a nation’s political class.

It is a major challenge to convert a socialist legal system into one that enforces contracts in an unbiased manner, protects property rights, permits markets to direct economic activity, and operates under rule of law principles. …Economists have provided policy-makers with step by step directions about how to achieve monetary and price stability, liberalized trade regimes, and adopt tax structures more consistent with growth and prosperity. …But, a recipe for developing a sound legal system is largely absent. We know what a sound legal system looks like, but we have failed to explain how it can be achieved.

I don’t even thank socialism deserves the full blame (though it deserves the blame for many bad things). There are many nations in many regions of the world that get very bad scores because of inadequate rule of law and weak property rights. But I fully agree that it’s not easy to fix.

But I’ll close with a very upbeat observation that all of the FCP nations are better off because the Soviet Union collapsed and communism is fading from the world. Liberal socialism may not be good for an economy, but it’s paradise compared to Marxist socialism.

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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.


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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I like the Baltic nations, as illustrated by what I wrote last year.

I’m a big fan of…Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. These three countries emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Empire and they have taken advantage of their independence to become successful market-driven economies. One key to their relative success is tax policy. All three nations have flat taxes. And the Baltic nations all deserve great praise for cutting the burden of government spending in response to the global financial crisis/great recession (an approach that produced much better results than the Keynesian policies and/or tax hikes that were imposed in many other countries).

No wonder the Baltic nations are doing a good job of achieving economic convergence.

I’ve specifically praised Estonia on several occasions.

Estonia’s system is so good (particularly its approach to business taxation) that the Tax Foundation ranks it as the best in the OECD. …Estonia…may be my favorite Baltic nation if for no other reason than the humiliation it caused for Paul Krugman.

Indeed, I strongly recommend this TV program that explored the country’s improbable success. And here’s some data showing that Estonia is leading the Baltics in convergence.

Now I have a new reason to admire Estonia. Having experienced the brutality of both fascism and communism, they have little tolerance for those who make excuses for totalitarianism. And the issue has become newsworthy since Greece decided to boycott a ceremony to remember the victims of communism and fascism.

Estonian Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu responded to his Greek counterpart, Stavros Kontonis following the uproar caused by the decision by Greece to not participate in the recent European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism in Estonia.

The letter sent by Reinsalu is a masterpiece of moral clarity. He unambiguously condemns all ideologies that are contrary to free societies. Let’s look at some excerpts.

Our values are human rights, democracy and the rule of low, to which I see no alternative. This is why I am opposed to any ideology or any political movement that negates these values or which treads upon them once it has assumed power. In this regard there is no difference between Nazism, Fascism or Communism.

Amen. That’s basically what I wrote just a few days ago.

Reinsalu points out that free societies (sometimes called liberal democracies, with “liberal” used in the “classical liberal” sense) don’t oppress people, which is inherent with fascist and communist regimes.

Condemnation of crimes against humanity must be particularly important for us as ministers of justice whose task it is to uphold law and justice. …Every person, irrespective of his or her skin colour, national or ethnic origin, occupation or socio-economic status, has the right to live in dignity within the framework of a democratic state based on the rule of law. All dictatorships – be they Nazi, Fascist or Communist – have robbed millions of their own citizens but also citizens of conquered states and subjugated peoples.

The Estonian Justice Minister refers to the bitter experience of his nation.

Unlike Greece, Estonia has the experience of living under two occupations, under two totalitarian dictatorships. …In light of the experience of my country and people, I strongly dispute your claim that Communism also had positive aspects. ……in 1949, …the communist regime deported nearly 2 percent of the population of Estonia only because they as individual farmers refused to go along with the Communist agricultural experiment and join a collective farm. This was in addition to the tens of thousands who had already been imprisoned in the Gulag prison camps or deported and exiled earlier. Thousands more would follow, taken into prison up to mid-1950.

He points out that communism is incompatible with freedom.

…it is not possible to build freedom, democracy and the rule of law on the foundation of Communist ideology. …this has been attempted… This has always culminated in economic disaster and the gradual destruction of the rule of law…there are also countries and peoples for whom the price of a lesson in Communism has been millions of human lives.

The bottom line, he writes, is that all forms of totalitarianism should be summarily rejected.

…we must condemn all attempts or actions that incite others to destroy peoples or societal groups…there is no need to differentiate. It makes no difference to a victim if he is murdered in the name of a better future for the Aryan race or because he belongs to a social class that has no place in a Communist society. We must remember all of the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian dictatorships.

Kudos for Minister Reinsalu. He doesn’t shrink from telling the truth about communism and other forms of dictatorship.

None of this should be interpreted to mean that western societies are perfect. Heck, I spend most of my time criticizing bad policy in the United States and other western nations. But there’s no moral equivalence.

Here’s Reinsalu’s entire letter, which contains additional points.

I’ll close by elaborating on one of his points. Reinsalu wrote about the miserable track record of communism and made some powerful points.

But I think he was too diplomatic. He should have highlighted the jaw-dropping body count of communist regimes.

He did mention some of the horrid policies of the Soviet Union (perhaps more than 60 million victims), but he also could have listed the incomprehensible misery that communism caused in places such as Cuba, Cambodia, and North Korea. Or China back in the Mao era.

That being said, his letter is a very powerful indictment of the moral bankruptcy of his Greek counterpart (which perhaps isn’t a surprise given the ideology of the Syriza government).

And it’s also an indictment of all of the apologists for communist tyranny.

P.S. Poland is another country that experienced the dual brutality of fascism and communism. So it shouldn’t be surprise that Poles share the same moral clarity as Estonians.

Perhaps this is why Poland has done a reasonably good job of undoing bad Soviet policies.

P.P.S. While I’m a fan of nations such as Estonia and Poland, they need further market-based reforms to compensate for demographic decline.

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It appears that Venezuela is on the brink of collapse as it enters the fourth circle of statist hell.

And the death of Cuba’s long-time dictator gives hope that the people of that island nation may soon escape communist tyranny.

Moreover, one certainly hopes that the lunatic leadership of North Korea’s brutal regime won’t last forever.

Let’s cross our fingers that these evil governments will soon lose power. But that’s only the first step. We also need to think about the policies that would enable these nations to undo the damage of pervasive socialism.

We can learn some lessons by looking at the experience of post-communist nations in Eastern Europe, which is a topic I addressed in the latest edition of The Conservative, which is the quarterly magazine published by the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformers in Europe.

I started the article with some broad observations about grim political and economic impact of communism.

Communism was an awful system for people trapped behind the Iron Curtain. The political cost was enormous. Personal rights and individual liberties were sacrificed to protect the power of the state. Human rights were abused, dissidents were imprisoned, and some were even killed. Communism also imposed huge economic costs. Collectivized agriculture, central planning, price controls, and government-run industries were among the policies that resulted in a debilitating misallocation of resources. And because labor and capital were poorly utilized, living standards lagged far behind western nations.

That was the bad news.

The good news is that the Soviet Empire collapsed, the Berlin Wall was dismantled, and democratic forms of government are now the norm in Eastern Europe.

But good news isn’t perfect news. Nations that emerged from the Soviet Bloc are still economic laggards. And if you dig into the latest version of Economic Freedom of the World, a big problem is that post-communist nations have not been very successful in defending property rights and implementing the rule of law.

Establishing genuine capitalism, though, has been a bigger challenge. Part of the problem is policy. And to be more specific, data from the Fraser’s Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World shows that the major difference today between Western Europe and Eastern Europe (nations that were part of the Soviet Bloc) is that the former get much better scores for “Legal System and Property Rights.” Indeed, the average ranking of Western European nations is 20.6 (with 1 being the best) while the average ranking of Eastern European countries is 67.1 (Economic Freedom of the World ranks 159 jurisdictions).

Here’s a graph comparing Western European nations with Eastern European nations.

As you can see, this is an area where Western Europe leads the world. Nordic nations tend to be at the very top of the rankings (thus helping to offset bad fiscal policy in those countries), and other countries in the region also are highly ranked (though a few countries in the region, such as Italy and Greece, don’t get good scores).

Eastern European countries, by contrast, don’t do well. There’s a significant gap when looking at average scores. Indeed, only Estonia ranks in the top 25.

And bad scores in this category are akin to putting a house on a foundation of sand. Other policies may create a house that looks very nice, but it probably won’t last very long on the unstable foundation.

And speaking of other policies, post-communist nations have better fiscal policy than the countries from Western Europe. Or, to be more accurate, they have less-worse fiscal policy.

If you examine the overall ratings for “Size of Government,” Eastern European nations actually are ranked significantly better, with an average ranking of 89.2 compared to 129.2 for Western European countries. This is because tax rates tend to be lower (many former Soviet Bloc nations have flat tax regimes, for instance) and welfare states aren’t as burdensome.

As I already hinted, doing “significantly better” on fiscal policy than Western Europe does not mean Eastern Europe has good fiscal policy.

Indeed, an average ranking of 89 means that most Eastern European nations are in the bottom half of the world.

So while it’s good that some Eastern European nations have flat taxes, that’s not an economic elixir if there are very high payroll taxes, stifling value-added taxes, and onerous energy taxes.

And since the burden of government spending is extremely onerous in Western Europe, it’s hardly an impressive achievement that Eastern Europe ranks slightly higher.

Though there’s one aspect of fiscal policy where the post-communist countries are lagging their neighbors to the west.

…if you dig into the details and examine the various components that determine “Size of Government,” there’s one area where Eastern Europe lags. The numbers for “Government Enterprises and Investment” are better in Western Europe. …In other words, politicians play too large a role in the allocation of capital in former communist nations.

To put that message in blunter terms, there’s too much cronyism in Eastern Europe.

So long as politicians can directly (state-owned enterprises) or indirectly (handouts, subsidies, and bailouts) provide favors and tilt the playing field, the enriching forces of private markets will be stunted.

Which is why I shared this conclusion in my article.

The bottom line is that post-communist nations need to choose genuine capitalism if they want a brighter future for their citizens.

If you want to close with some good news, I did point out in the article that there are some bright spots in the region, especially Estonia, though Poland also has made big progress.

P.S. Courtesy of Reddit‘s libertarian page, here’s an amusing cartoon strip.

It doesn’t quite meet the requirement for getting added to my “Government in Cartoons” page, but it definitely could be part of this collection of anti-politician jokes.

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