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Posts Tagged ‘Socialism’

I’ve written a couple of times about a disturbingly large share of young people support statist economic policies.

A good example can be seen in this polling data from the Pew Research Center (relevant data circled in red).

Christopher Ingraham wrote about this survey in the Washington Post.

According to the Pew Research Center, 39 percent of adults younger than 30 support the view that people whose personal fortunes exceed $1 billion “is a bad thing,” while 16 percent say billionaires are good for society. …These attitudes were likely sharpened by the Democratic presidential campaign, which at one point pitted a multibillionaire (Mike Bloomberg) against a socialist senator who says that billionaires shouldn’t exist (Bernie Sanders)…the Pew data…suggest that young Americans are concluding that billionaires have amassed their wealth “through their rigging of the tax code, through legal political bribery, through their tax avoidance in shelters like the Cayman Islands, and through lobbying for public policy that benefits them privately.” …“The billionaire class is ‘up there’ because they are standing on our backs pinning us down,” Giridharadas said. …Among respondents 50 and older, just 15 percent say billionaires are a bad thing.

This is depressing data, just like the views of America’s young people in the GIEM survey I wrote about recently.

Some of them don’t like capitalism and wealth even when they’re beneficiaries.

The New York Times has a report on “socialist-minded millennial heirs” who want to use the money they inherited to undermine free enterprise.

“The wealth millennials are inheriting came from a mammoth redistribution away from the working masses, creating a super-rich tiny minority at the expense of a fleeting American dream that is now out of reach to most people,” said Richard D. Wolff, a Marxist and an emeritus economics professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst…he has been professionally arguing against capitalism’s selling points since his teaching career began, in 1967, but that his millennial students “are more open to hearing that message than their parents ever were.” …an individual act of wealth redistribution does not, on its own, change a system. But these heirs see themselves as part of a bigger shift, and are dedicated to funding its momentum. …In short, this means using their money to support more equitable economic infrastructures. This includes investing in or donating to credit unions, worker-owned businesses, community land trusts, and nonprofits aiming to maximize quality of life through democratic decision making, instead of maximizing profits through competition.

Here are three examples from the story.

Sam Jacobs has been…trying to gain access to more of his $30 million trust fund. At 25, he…wants to give it all away. “I want to build a world where someone like me, a young person who controls tens of millions of dollars, is impossible,” he said. A socialist since college, Mr. Jacobs sees his family’s “extreme, plutocratic wealth” as both a moral and economic failure. He wants to put his inheritance toward ending capitalism.

Rachel Gelman, a 30-year-old in Oakland, Calif., who describes her politics as “anticapitalist, anti-imperialist and abolitionist.” …“My money is mostly stocks, which means it comes from underpaying and undervaluing working-class people, and that’s impossible to disconnect from the economic legacies of Indigenous genocide and slavery,” Ms. Gelman said.

Pierce Delahunt, a 32-year-old “socialist, anarchist, Marxist, communist or all of the above,” has a trust fund that was financed by their former stepfather’s outlet mall empire. (Mx. Delahunt takes nongendered pronouns.) “…I think about intersectional oppression,” Mx. Delahunt said. There’s the originally Indigenous land each mall was built on, plus the low wages paid to retail and food service workers, who are disproportionately people of color, and the carbon emissions of manufacturing and transporting the goods. With that on their mind, Mx. Delahunt gives away $10,000 a month, divided between 50 small organizations, most of which have an anticapitalist mission.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with giving away one’s inheritance.

Since I’ve (sadly) never inherited any money, I haven’t had any reason to ponder the issue, but one of my dreams would be to use a windfall of money to help finance school choice so poor kids could escape failing government schools.

Needless to say, I wouldn’t finance anti-capitalist groups, like the folks described above.

But I’m digressing. Let’s return to the issue of misguided young people.

In a column for Law & Liberty, Professor John McGinnis offers suggestions about how to rescue them from statism.

…young voters are America’s future, and even if a few years in the workforce brings some greater political wisdom, many people still stick with their youthful paradigms unless some political shock disrupts them. For those who would try to change the mind of this generation (and the following one), it is important to understand how our education, occupational licensing, and entitlement policies are driving them to socialist views which break sharply with America’s political traditions of liberty. …It is not surprising that this structure prompts some young people to demand that the government pony up money for them… More generally, why not vote for radicals in the hope of shaking up the system on the assumption that it can’t get worse for them than it is now? …The classical liberal alternative is clear: reduce the transfers from the young to the old and eliminate those unnecessary barriers to career entry that privilege incumbents.

Here are the reforms that Prof. McGinnis believes would make young people more favorable to liberty.

Reform of the universities thus must be a priority. But it is very difficult. …they are getting worse by the decade if not by the year. Alternative institutions are probably the only answer. …Online education will allow for new challengers to rise, ones who are not as likely to be wedded to political correctness as the incumbents.

…our entitlement structure is currently designed to take from the younger generation and give to the elderly. Social security is a pay-as-you-go system. And given that social security is not actuarially sound, most of the current elderly will get more than they pay in. It is the payment of the young that makes up the difference. Medicare too is a government program from which the elderly benefit at the expense of the young.

The costs of occupational licensing also fall disproportionately on the young. Of course, that burden occurs in part because their elders already have their licenses. But more importantly, the barriers to entering many occupations have grown more expensive over the years.

Since I’ve written about the failures of higher education, the need for entitlement reform, and the downsides of licensing, I obviously have no reason to disagree with any of his suggestions.

But there’s something else that’s needed, especially when you contemplate the Pew data cited at the start of today’s column.

Supporters of free enterprise need to go after cronyism. And not just because the economy will perform better, but also because it’s morally offensive for people to line their pockets thanks to government coercion.

Indeed, half of the main message to young people (and everyone else) should be that honestly earned wealth is great, because that means (as Walter Williams sagely observed) someone accumulated lots of money by serving the needs of others.

And the other half of the main message is that it’s bad to have rich people who obtain loot with subsidies, handouts, protectionism, and other forms of cronyism.

P.S. Before giving up and wondering if young people are simply too stupid to vote, watch this video showing that young people reject socialism when they understand the implications.

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Whether we’re looking at the technical definition of socialism (government ownershipcentral planning, and price controls) or the casual definition of socialism (punitive tax rates, welfare state, intervention), the ideology has a track record of failure.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that it is easy to mock socialism.

And that’s the focus of today’s column.

We’re going to start with a cartoon strip that exposes the silly notion that government can give us “free” goodies.

Next we have Crazy Bernie telling us that “democratic socialism” is much better than Marx’s original version (he’s actually correct, but this image is still funny).

Our third item compares socialism in theory and socialism in reality.

We’ll close with my favorite item, though it applies to millennials as well as teenagers. Heck it applies to almost everyone who thinks there is some magic source of money for endless government-provided goodies.

Some of you may ask why I didn’t write “everyone” rather than “almost everyone”?

I included a qualifier because I think many leftists are guilty of well-meaning naivete. Basically they think like Chris Hayes of MSNBC, who infamously tweeted that we can afford bigger government because, “We’re a very rich country. We’ll figure it out.”

But some folks on the left actually do understand Thatcher was right, but they still push endless redistribution because they care more about short-run political power rather than the long-run interests of the nation.

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Given my complete and utter disdain for socialism, I’m obviously a big fan of this discussion between Rand Paul and John Stossel.

In the video, Paul and Stossel draw a distinction between market-friendly welfare states in Scandinavia and genuinely socialist nations such as the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and modern-day Venezuela.

That’s because, from a technical perspective, the defining feature of socialism is government ownership and control of the “means of production” and government-directed allocation of resources. In the most extreme cases, you even get policies such as state-run factories and collective farms.

Usually accompanied by central planning and price controls.

On this basis, Scandinavian nations are not socialist. Yes, they make the mistake of high tax burdens accompanied by lots of redistribution, but there’s very little government ownership and control. Markets drive the allocation of labor and capital, not politicians and bureaucrats.

And it’s also fair to say (assuming we rely on the technical definition) that politicians such as Obama and Biden aren’t socialist.

But what if don’t use the technical definition?

YouGov did a survey late last year to ascertain what ordinary Americans think. Here is their view of the policies that are (or are not) socialist. As you can see, the most-socialist policy is government-run utility companies and the least-socialist policy is separation of church and state.

I’m fascinated to see that so many Americans view government-run schools as socialist, much more so than a wealth tax or income tax.

It’s also interesting that Republicans and Democrats have somewhat similar opinions, other than on the topic of gun control.

But my main takeaway is that ordinary people aren’t that different than economists. They think – quite correctly – that socialism means control rather than redistribution.

But they had a better understanding after World War II, as noted by James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute.

When someone calls themself a “socialist” or says they think “socialism” has a lot of good ideas, what do they mean? …Back in 2018, Gallup updated a question it first asked in 1949: “What is your understanding of the term ‘socialism’?” …23 percent of Americans today understand socialism as referring to some form of equality vs. 12 percent in 1949; 10 percent think the means something about the public provision of benefits like free healthcare vs. 2 percent in 1949; and 17 percent define socialism as government control of business and the economy vs. 34 percent in 1949. …this idea of “control” is an interesting one. …The danger this view holds for human freedom and progress is obvious to us today — or should be… Skepticism of applied socialism — or any socioeconomic system without political freedom at its core — stemmed from harsh experience, not learned ideology. For many people, “socialism” meant “control,” with that control inevitably leading to terrible outcomes. One should hope these lessons do not need to be relearned.

Even some folks on the left draw a distinction between market-accepting left-wing policies (redistributionism) and market-disdaining control-oriented policies (socialism).

A few years ago, Jonathan Chait made those points in an article for New York.

…in the United States, liberalism faces greater pressure from the left than at any time since the 1960s, when a domestic liberal presidency was destroyed by the VietnamWar. While socialism remains highly unpopular among the public as a whole, Americans under the age of 30 — who have few or no memories of communism — respond to it favorably. …Meanwhile, Jacobin magazine has given long-marginalized Marxist ideas new force among progressive intellectuals. …Sanders’s success does not reflect any Marxist tendency. It does, however, reflect a…generational weakening of the Democratic Party’s identification with liberalism over socialism. …Years ago, he supported the Socialist Workers Party, a Marxist group that favored the nationalization of industry. Today he…holds up Denmark as the closest thing to a real-world model for his ideas. But, while “socialism” has meant different things throughout history, Denmark is not really a socialist economy. …it combines generous welfare benefits…with highly flexible labor markets — an amped-up version of what left-wing critics derisively call “neoliberalism.” While Denmark’s success suggests that a modern economy can afford to fund more generous social benefits, it does not reveal an alternative to the marketsystem.

David Brooks of the New York Times started out as a socialist, but he figured out that government-controlled economies simply don’t work.

I was a socialist in college. …My socialist sympathies didn’t survive long once I became a journalist. I quickly noticed that the government officials I was covering were not capable of planning the society they hoped to create. It wasn’t because they were bad or stupid. The world is just too complicated. …Socialist planned economies — the common ownership of the means of production — interfere with price and other market signals in a million ways. They suppress or eliminate profit motives that drive people to learn and improve. …Capitalism creates a relentless learning system. Socialism doesn’t. …living standards were pretty much flat for all of human history until capitalism kicked in. Since then, the number of goods and services available to average people has risen by up to 10,000 percent. …capitalism has brought about the greatest reduction of poverty in human history. …places that instituted market reforms, like South Korea and Deng Xiaoping’s China, tended to get richer and prouder. Places that moved toward socialism — Britain in the 1970s, Venezuela more recently — tended to get poorer and more miserable. …Over the past century, planned economies have produced an enormous amount of poverty and scarcity. …Socialism produces economic and political inequality as the rulers turn into gangsters. A system that begins in high idealism ends in corruption, dishonesty, oppression and distrust.

And, from the Wall Street Journal, here are George Melloan’s first-hand observations on the track record of socialism.

All economic systems are capitalist. A modern economy can’t exist without the accumulation of capital to build factories and infrastructure. The difference lies in who owns the capital—individuals or the state. …Having first visited the mother of socialism, the Soviet Union, in April 1967, I can extract a few historical nuggets… The Soviet state owned everything. State enterprises compensated their workers with rubles. …And those rubles bought very little, because the command economy produced very little (except weapons), and most of what it produced was shoddy. …stores were short on goods. …Rents were cheap, if you didn’t mind squalor. …Prices and production quotas were set by a huge Soviet planning bureaucracy called Gosplan, staffed by thousands of “economists.” Free-market pricing efficiently allocates resources. Price controls created waste as factories produced a lot of what nobody wanted. …Britain, where I was living at the time, was conducting a socialist experiment… After World War II, the Labour Party of Prime Minister Clement Attlee had nationalized coal, steel, electricity and transportation, with damaging and wasteful consequences. …I interviewed a steelworker in Sheffield who lived with his wife and two children in a “back to back” house with only a single door, at the front. …He didn’t own a car and had few other conveniences. A worker for U.S. Steel in Pittsburgh would have been appalled at such conditions.

Based on the above excerpts, which come from the right, left, and center, it would seem that capitalism has prevailed over socialism.

I like to think that’s true, but I do wonder whether there’s a point when redistributionism gets so extensive (and the accompanying taxes become so onerous) that it morphs into control. In other words, socialism.

And I also worry that there are indirect ways for government to control the allocation of resources.

In a column for the Washington Post, George Will wisely frets about backdoor socialism from the Federal Reserve.

…the Federal Reserve has, Eberstadt says, “crossed a Rubicon.” Wading waist-deep into political policies, the Fed is adopting, Eberstadt says, “the role of managing and even micromanaging the American economy through credit allocation, potentially lending vast sums not only to financial institutions but also directly to firms it judges suitable for government support. …It is by no means inconceivable that the current crisis will propel it to a comparably dominant position in domestic commercial credit.” If socialism is government allocation of economic resources (and hence of opportunity), …in the 2008 financial crisis, the Federal Reserve launched “creditor bailouts, propping up asset prices to keep investors from losing money, buying unprecedented assets.” The risk of moral hazard — incentives for reckless behavior — is obvious. …Central banks buying trillions of assets are thereby “allocating credit.” Which is the essence of socialism. The Fed buying government and corporate debt creates something difficult to unwind — what Cochrane calls “an entirely government-run financial system”: an attribute of socialism. …Near-zero interest rates…create, Eberstadt says, “zombie companies” that “can only survive in a low-interest [rate] environment.” The result is rent-seeking and economic sclerosis, because “America cannot succeed unless a lot of its firms fail — including its largest ones. Bankruptcy and reallocation of resources to more productive ends are the mother’s milk of dynamic growth.” The pandemic has propelled government toward promiscuously picking economic winners and losers. As has been said, governments are not good at picking winners, but losers are good at picking governments.

Let’s close by returning to the YouGov survey.

Here’s a look at the nations that the American people think are (or are not) socialist. Their top choices are correct, but they’re wildly wrong to have the Nordic nations ranked as more socialist than France, Spain, or Italy.

It’s also bizarre to rank New Zealand below the United States when the Kiwis routinely score higher than the United States in the major measures of economic liberty.

I’m equally baffled that people Mexico and India have more economic liberty than Canada.

The moral of the story is that the countries with the biggest welfare states are not necessarily the nations with the most government control over the allocation of labor and capital.

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Like beauty, socialism is in the eye of the beholder.

In either case, though, you get ugly results. You’ll wind up somewhere between Venezuela and Greece.

But we’re not going to add to the already voluminous research on the failures of socialism in today’s column. Instead, we’re going to laugh at this evil ideology.

For starters, I shared a satirical video in 2018 that showed the nations where socialism doesn’t work. This Amy Coney Barrett meme takes the reverse approach. It lists the examples of where socialism is successful.

Next, we have some mockery of some protesters who mistakenly think big government is how you save the planet.

Last but not least, here’s some helpful advice for vapid millennials.

To be fair, you can see someone who became rich from socialism if you scroll to the bottom of this column.

P.S. You can enjoy the entire collection of socialism and communism humor by clicking here.

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Every so often, I’ll grouse about media sloppiness/media bias, most often from the Washington Post or New York Times, but also from other outlets (Reuters, Time, ABC, the Associated Press, etc).

Let’s add to the collection today by perusing an interesting – but frustrating – article in the New York Times about Venezuela’s near-decimated oil industry.

Authored by Sheyla Urdaneta, Anatoly Kurmanaev and , it provides a thorough description of how the energy sector in oil-rich Venezuela has collapsed.

For the first time in a century, there are no rigs searching for oil in Venezuela. Wells that once tapped the world’s largest crude reserves are abandoned… Refineries that once processed oil for export are rusting hulks… Fuel shortages have brought the country to a standstill. At gas stations, lines go on for miles. …The country that a decade ago was the largest producer in Latin America, earning about $90 billion a year from oil exports, is expected to net about $2.3 billion by this year’s end… More than five million Venezuelans, or one in six residents, have fled the country since 2015, creating one of the world’s greatest refugee crises, according to the United Nations. The country now has the highest poverty rate in Latin America, overtaking Haiti.

But here’s what shocked me. The article never once mentions socialism. Or statism. Or leftist economic policy.

Instead, there is one allusion to “mismanagement” and one sentence that refers to government policy.

…years of gross mismanagement… Hugo Chávez, appeared on the national stage in the 1990s promising a revolution that would put Venezuela’s oil to work for its poor majority, he captivated the nation. …Mr. Chávez commandeered the country’s respected state oil company for his radical development program. He fired nearly 20,000 oil professionals, nationalized foreign-owned oil assets and allowed allies to plunder the oil revenues.

Almost 1800 words in the article, yet virtually no discussion of how maybe, just maybe, Venezuela’s hard shift to the left (as illustrated by the chart, economic freedom has steadily declined this century) may have contributed to the collapse of the country’s major industry.

This is journalistic malpractice. Sort of like writing about 2020 and not mentioning coronavirus or writing about 1944 and not mentioning World War II.

For those of you who do care about facts, it’s worth knowing that Venezuela has the world’s lowest level of economic liberty according to Economic Freedom of the World and second-to-lowest level of economic liberty according to the Index of Economic Freedom.

In a column for USA Today, Daniel di Martino writes about the awful consequences of his nation’s drift to socialism.

All my life, I lived under socialism in Venezuela until I left and came to the United States as a student in 2016. Because the regime in charge imposed price controls and nationalized the most important private industries, production plummeted. No wonder I had to wait hours in lines to buy simple products such as toothpaste or flour. …My family and I suffered from blackouts and lack of water. The regime nationalized electricity in 2007 in an effort to make electricity “free.” Unsurprisingly, this resulted in underinvestment in the electrical grid. By 2016, my home lost power roughly once a week. …The real reason my family went without water and electricity was the socialist economy instituted by dictators Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro. The welfare programs, many minimum-wage hikes and nationalizations implemented by their regimes resulted in a colossal government deficit that the central bank covered by simply printing more money — leading to rampant inflation. …I watched what was once one of the richest countries in Latin America gradually fall apart under the weight of big government.

And he issues a warning about what could happen to the United States.

…neither Medicare for All nor a wealth tax alone would turn the United States into Venezuela overnight. No single radical proposal would do that. However, if all or most of these measures are implemented, they could have the same catastrophic consequences for the American people that they had for Venezuela.

The good news, so to speak, is that it would take many decades of bad policy to turn the U.S. into an economic basket case. There’s even a somewhat famous quote from Adam Smith (“there is a great deal of ruin in a nation“) about the ability of a country to survive and withstand lots of bad public policy.

But that doesn’t mean it would be a good idea to see how quickly the U.S. could become Venezuela. As I pointed out when writing about Argentina, it’s possible for a rich country to tax, spend, and regulate itself into economic crisis.

P.S. If you like gallows humor, you can find Venezuela-themed jokes here, here, here, here, here, and here.

P.P.S. I speculated about the looming collapse of Venezuela in both 2018 and 2019. Sadly, it looks like the regime will last at least until 2021.

 

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Back in 2017, I shared this video explaining why capitalism is unquestionably the best way to help poor people.

I’m recycling the video today because it’s a great introduction for a discussion about how best to help poor people.

As part of my Eighth Theorem of Government, I made the point that it’s wrong to fixate on inequality. Instead, the goal should be poverty reduction.

And the best way to help the poor, as I noted when criticizing Pope Francis’ support for statism in a BBC interview, is free markets and limited government.

Now we have additional evidence for this approach thanks to a new study from the Hoover Institution.

Authored by Ed Lazear, former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, it uses hard data from Economic Freedom of the World and the Index of Economic Freedom to see how poor people do in capitalist nations compared to socialist nations.

If you’re pressed for time, here are the key passages from the introduction.

This study analyzes income data from 162 countries over multiple decades, coupled with measures of economic freedom, size of government, and transfers to determine how various parts of society fare under capitalism and socialism. The main conclusion is that the poor, defined as having income in the lowest 10 percent of a country’s income distribution, do significantly better in economies with free markets, competition, and low state ownership. More impressive is that moving from a heavy emphasis on government to a free market enhances the income of the poor substantially. …Changing freedom from the Mexico level to the Singapore level is predicted to raise the income of the poor by about 40 percent. All income groups benefit from the change, but the change typically helps the poor more than other income groups.

For those interested, let’s now dig into the details.

The study specifically looks at the degree to which state ownership (i.e., textbook socialism) has an impact on income.

As one might suspect, more state ownership means lower income.

A number of measures of free-market capitalism and socialism have been suggested. The analysis starts by examining the metric that most closely matches the dictionary definition of socialism, namely, the amount of state ownership of capital… The basic approach in this section is to examine the relation of income of three groups to state ownership. …All coefficients on the state ownership index are positive, strong, and statistically significant. For example, using the coefficient in column 4, a one standard deviation increase in private ownership increases median income by about 19 percent of the mean value of the log of median income. Also interesting is that the lowest income groups benefit as much or more from private ownership as the highest income groups. …The cross-country correlation between private ownership and income ten years in the future is positive and strong. It is also true that median income seems to rise over time within a country as the country moves toward more private ownership and less state ownership.

The study highlights several interesting examples.

For instance, it shows that poor people immensely benefited from China’s partial shift to capitalism, even though inequality increased (something I pointed out a few years ago).

Here’s the data on Chile, which shows both rich and poor benefited from that nation’s shift to capitalism.

By the way, I have several columns (here, here, here, and here) documenting how poor people have been the big winners from Chile’s pro-market reforms.

Next we have the example of South Korea.

That data is especially powerful, by the way, when you compare South Korea and North Korea.

Last (and, in this case, least), we have the data from the unfortunate nation of Venezuela.

Chavez’s family personally gained from socialism, but this chart shows how the rest of the nation has stagnated.

So what’s the bottom line?

Lazear summarizes his results.

…there is no evidence that, as a general matter, high-income groups benefit more from a move toward capitalism than low-income groups. The effect of changing state ownership and economic freedom on income is not larger for the rich than for the poor. Second, income growth is positively correlated across deciles. The situation is closer to a rising tide lifting all boats than to the fat man becoming fat by making the thin man thin. Finally, there is no consistent evidence across the large number of countries and time periods examined of any strong and widespread link between income growth and inequality. There are examples, like China, where income growth was coupled with large increases in inequality, but others like Chile, where strong income growth came about without much change in inequality, and South Korea, where inequality declined slightly as economic freedom and income grew over time.

Amen. This analysis underscores my oft-made argument that inequality is irrelevant and that policy makers instead should have a laser-like focus on economic growth.

Assuming, of course, that they want poor people to climb the economic ladder to prosperity.

P.S. The Lazear study points out that Scandinavian nations are definitely not socialist based on measures of state ownership.

Some might define socialist economies as merely being those that have high levels of redistribution, meaning high taxes and transfers. …It is certainly true that the Scandinavian countries have higher taxes and transfers than non-Scandinavian countries… Scandinavian countries all have low state ownership index values…and high values of the economic freedom index. The values for Scandinavia look much more like those for the United States than they do for pre-1985 China or post-2000 Venezuela. …Perhaps a more accurate description of Scandinavia is that the countries rely primarily on private ownership and markets but have chosen to have a large government transfer program, which implies not only high transfers but also high taxes.

I’ll simply add that the high transfers and high taxes have negative consequences for Scandinavian nations, but those countries at least have very pro-market policies in other areas to compensate for the damage caused by bad fiscal policy.

P.P.S. For my friends on the left who may suspect that Lazear cherry-picked his examples. I’ll simply challenge them to show a contrary example.

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Part I of this series featured Dan Hannan explaining how the emergence of capitalism led to mass prosperity, while Part II featured Madeline Grant explaining how competition and cooperation make markets so successful.

Today, in Part III, Andy Puzder compares capitalism with socialism.

The core theoretical argument in the video is that capitalism is based on serving the needs of consumers.

As captured by one of my favorite quotes from Professor Walter Williams, you only make yourself better off in a free market system by serving others.

In a socialist system, by contrast, the only people who get rich are the government elites who plunder the people.

I also like that the video explains that Nordic nations are not socialist. As I’ve also pointed out, there’s no government ownershipcentral planning, and price controls in nations such as Sweden and Denmark.

Those countries do have higher tax burdens and more costly welfare states, which is the main reason they generally rank below the United States in measures of national economic liberty.

More important, the larger fiscal burden in Scandinavia help to explain why Americans enjoy higher living standards.

Indeed, my one complaint about the above video is that it didn’t show any of the data about relative levels of prosperity.

Yes, I want people to understand that Nordic nations have market-based economies, but I also want them to understand that those countries could be significantly more prosperous with less-onerous fiscal policy.

The most powerful data in that regards comes from a Swedish researcher who put together data showing that Americans of Scandinavian descent are much richer than their counterparts who are still in Scandinavia.

So the moral of the story is not only that capitalism is better than socialism, but also that capitalist nations with medium-sized governments do better than capitalist nations with large-sized governments.

P.S. Needless to say, capitalist jurisdictions with small-sized government do best of all.

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Not all bad city governments are alike. In places like Chicago, local politicians generally impose bad policy because they’re buying votes (especially the votes of bureaucrats), not because they’re motivated by ideology.

But as you can see from this video, some Seattle politicians are genuinely crazy.

And those crazy local lawmakers are very serious about their class-warfare tax agenda.

The Wall Street Journal recently opined on the proposed tax hike in Seattle.

Seattle’s…City Council has decided this is the perfect moment to slap businesses with a large new tax on employment. …Recall that in 2018 Seattle passed a $47 million annual “head tax,” only to repeal it after a furious public realized it penalized job creation. No matter, the socialists who dominate the City Council passed a new iteration this week that’s more than four times bigger and punishes employers for paying good wages. Beginning next year, some 800 businesses with a payroll over $7 million will pay a tax of between 0.7% and 2.4% on all salaries over $150,000. …Councilwoman Teresa Mosqueda says the tax will create a “more robust and resilient economy,” but how taxing job creation accomplishes that is a mystery. The tax will stifle economic upward mobility, since employers will have an incentive not to raise pay above $150,000. …the new tax has veto-proof support on the City Council, which passed it 7-2.

What’s especially absurd, as explained by Brad Polumbo in a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, is that Seattle’s politicians want to exempt government bureaucrats from the tax.

…the tax could seriously hurt the economy… “As the region enters a deep recession and faces near-record job losses, the city council will be sending tax bills to companies across multiple sectors that have their doors closed and have been forced to layoff employees,” the business organization Downtown Seattle Association said… in an infuriating but sadly typical twist, the Seattle City Council exempted all government employees from their new tax. That’s right: The supposedly benevolent socialist city officials who thrust this upon their constituents made sure to carve out a giant exception for their peers on the taxpayer dime. …the city council’s new tax is…imposed on working people by politicians who made sure to spare the government class from sharing any of the burden.

By the way, this is a repeat fight.

Seattle lawmakers tried to impose a similar tax back in 2018 but were thwarted by opposition from private-sector workers and businesses (it’s also unclear whether such a tax would survive a legal challenge since the state’s constitution bars taxes on income).

If the tax ultimately is approved and implemented, it’s easy to predict the consequences. Businesses and workers will migrate to surrounding communities without the tax.

Not all of them, of course, but enough to make a difference. And that difference will get bigger with the passage of time.

What Ms. Mosqueda and Ms. Sawant don’t understand is that this cartoon only partially explain why socialism doesn’t work.

To be fully accurate, it also needs a door called “Escape” for the geese that fly away with their golden eggs.

I realize this is a perverse thought, but part of me wants this tax hike to be implemented just so we’ll have some powerful new evidence about why statism is a bad idea.

P.S. The proposed tax hike is just one reason why investors, entrepreneurs and business owners should be leery about creating jobs in Seattle. There’s also the big increase in the minimum wage and the recent (failed) experiment in autonomous socialism.

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As a libertarian who focuses on public finance, the 21st century hasn’t been fun.

  • Bush made government bigger.
  • Obama made government bigger.
  • Trump is making government bigger.
  • And I fully expect that Biden will make government bigger.

To be sure, we still have a long way to go on the “socialism slide” before the United States becomes Greece, or some other nation that might be considered socialist (however defined).

That being said, I don’t like the current trend. Which is why, in addition to my serious columns about the failure of socialism, I also like mocking that evil ideology.

Here are three new additions to the satire collection.

Our first example is partly based on the “not-real-socialism” excuse.

Next we have some satire about the left doesn’t learn any lessons from grocery stores in capitalist societies (to be fair, an American supermarket did change at least one mind).

As usual, I’ve saved my favorite item for last.

Venezuela is a tragic case study of what happens when economic liberty is smothered, But at least we get some clever humor.

I am surprised, for what it’s worth, that I haven’t seen more Venezuela-themed humor (here’s my only other example).

And I’ll close with the serious observation that I’m genuinely mystified that so many (especially young people) are attracted to an ideology with a wretched track record. Makes me genuinely worried that statism is on the winning side of history.

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I periodically share tweets that have some sort of remarkable feature, either good or bad.

Clever counter-tweets are especially appreciated. I even started giving recognition to the most brutally effective response each year.

But I may have been too quick to assign a winner for this year.

That’s because a Twitter account called @architecturpic published this tweet yesterday.

While it’s accurate to point out that highway exits don’t produce scenic architecture, is this an indictment of capitalism?

Not if you compare it to the slums of socialism, which is the message in this devastating response from @BrentCochran1.

Ouch. As the announcers might say at a tennis tournament, “game, set, and match for Brent Cochran.”

Suffice to say that there will have to be co-winners for the best counter-tweet of 2020.

By the way, it’s normally quite easy to find both nice and ugly architecture in any nation.

So to add a bit of hard data to today’s column, I’ll simply note that the average poor American has more spacious housing than the average middle-class person in Europe.

That doesn’t mean the housing will be architecturally significant, but it does indicate that people are better off in countries with smaller government and more economic liberty (indeed, it’s also worth noting that the average poor American enjoys higher overall living standards than middle-class folks in most other industrialized nations).

Which is why any tweet comparing socialism and capitalism has a foregone conclusion.

P.S. At some point, I’ll probably set up a special page for “Remarkable Tweets.” But since that hasn’t yet happened, here are the other tweets that I found to be noteworthy.

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Like most libertarians, I support decentralization and federalism. Under the right circumstances, I’m even sympathetic to the idea of secession (hooray for Brexit!).

This is why I have no problem with a community based on voluntary socialism. History tells us that approach doesn’t work (largely for the reasons captured in this cartoon), but people should be free to try over and over again.

Which brings us to “CHAZ.”

For those who haven’t been following the news, protestors in Seattle (motivated in part by legitimate concerns about police misbehavior) have seized control of a neighborhood and declared it to be the “Capital Hill Autonomous Zone.”

Some people see CHAZ as an example of self-government based on a strange mix of libertarian impulses (pro-gun, for example) and leftist impulses (anti-cop, for example).

The Washington Post has a rather sympathetic report about the group, written by Gregory Scruggs.

For the past several days, Ochoa, 28, has been serving as an unarmed volunteer “sentinel,” or guard, in the protest zone. Ochoa, a self-described leftist libertarian recently furloughed from the Seattle International Film Festival, and other volunteers have been serving four-hour shifts to help to keep the peace. …Core to the zone is a vision of a self-governed community with no formal policing. Instead, volunteers, many of them avowed police abolitionists, have begun to organize their own safety force. …Volunteers say this work is a way to highlight what a city without police might look like. “We have a chance to really build something here, so I have a vested interest in defending that as a part of my community,” said Ochoa, who lives in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. …Markinson describes himself as an anti-fascist, anti-racist community defense advocate. He is a gun owner… Markinson views Seattle’s ongoing experiment as part of a lineage of anarchist neighborhoods… a sentinel who gave his name as James Madison stood at the southern barricade with an AR-15 draped over his chest, as he has done on other nights. …“There are a few of us who are armed.” …a hand-painted sign approaching the barricades offers watchwords: “In a world without cops we must never again become the cops ourselves.”

If nothing else, CHAZ is anti-authority, at least if traditional city government is the definition of authority.

But is it a viable system?

Robert Tracinski, in an article for the Bulwark, discusses potential problems.

…the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, endearingly nicknamed CHAZ…is the product of anti-police protests in Seattle that led the mayor to order the abandonment of one of the city’s downtown police precincts, ceding a six-block area of Seattle’s downtown to the protesters, who have turned it into a kind of anarcho-socialist utopia, with free food, free music, no cops, and lots of peace and love, man. …CHAZ certainly set a record for socialist utopias when it comes to running out of food. Within the first day, they were already sending out the alarm: “The homeless people we invited took away all the food at the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. We need more food to keep the area operational…” I’ve checked to see whether this is parody, and as far as I can tell, it’s not. …Another area where they are well ahead of schedule for a socialist utopia is in putting up walls and establishing checkpoints with internal passports. …This leads us to the big question about the “autonomous zone”: Whose “autonomy” is it? Certainly, it’s not the autonomy of the people who actually live there, who did not invite the protesters and never had the opportunity to vote on whether they wanted to reject the protection of the Seattle PD and establish new protectors. …With leadership seemingly up for grabs, CHAZ is the scene of sporadic petty scuffles, which activists are asking people not to film because it might make them look bad. Yes, well, I’m sure the Minneapolis PD felt the same way. …My favorite description of CHAZ is from a Seattle Times article which says it has “mostly been peaceful.” That’s a favorite bit of journalistic spin. “Mostly peaceful” is how you describe something that’s violent when you don’t want the reader to draw that conclusion.

Tracinski certainly is correct that existing property owners haven’t consented to the new system.

And he’s probably correct in that the new form of authority in CHAZ may be even more arbitrary and unfair than the old system (time will tell).

But he only scratches the surface of the issue that is of greatest interest to me, which is whether CHAZ has a viable economic system.

Ideally, local businesses will be free to operate and to transact with the outside world. And if there are no taxes and nobody to enforce red tape, we might almost see an example of anarcho-capitalism.

For what it’s worth, I’m guessing Seattle bureaucrats intend to retroactively collect taxes and take other steps to make sure there is no long-run reduction in the burden of government for CHAZians.

What about in the short run? In a column for Spectator USA, Ben Sixsmith suggests that authorities should adopt a hands-off attitude and let CHAZ sink or swim.

A group of anarchists and leftists collected in Capitol Hill, known for its hipster and LGBT scenes, they have barricaded themselves into a small area and established an anarchic intentional community… Seattle’s aspiring revolutionaries had only just announced the creation of CHAZ, as a place in which progressives can live free of corporate consumerism and police violence, when a local rapper-cum-warlord named Raz Simone began stalking the place with an armed militia. …I believe that the state and federal authorities should leave them alone. If people are being raped and killed in CHAZ then the officials will have to get involved, of course, but otherwise they should be left to their own devices. …for radical leftists to establish their own territory is, frankly, refreshing. For years they have been insisting that the culture, communities, education, religious beliefs et cetera of their fellow citizens be transformed in accordance with their own idiosyncratic ideas. Everyone has had to conform with their progressive beliefs. The CHAZers? They aren’t trying to reshape America. They are trying to build a place of their own. How is that not preferable? …Of course, I think CHAZ will be an embarrassing failure. I suspect it will collapse in a heap of shortages, grievances and recriminations… If it all collapses of its own accord, then a lot of radical progressives are going to have a tough, useful lesson in the value of civilized institutions.

In other words, let’s allow CHAZ to be a test case.

If it adopts a bunch of leftist policies (which seems likely), then we’ll almost surely see another example of socialism failing, even when it’s voluntary.

Though I’m crossing my fingers that the CHAZians adopt a libertarian approach to economics.

Given that Seattle has a very left-leaning government, we then might finally get an example to disprove Jacob Leddy.

Sadly, I don’t think that will happen. The city’s crazy politicians will be more than happy to tolerate CHAZ if it’s a socialist experiment, but they’ll send in the cops if it morphs into a libertarian experiment.

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Assuming the Democrats also win the Senate along with the White House, we may be poised to take a big leap in the direction of bigger government and more statism (which is why I explained a Clinton victory in 2016 would not have been the worst possible outcome).

As such, we may as well enjoy some laughs about our potential socialist future.

We’ll start with a creative reinterpretation of a scene from King of the Hill.

Looks like we’ll have to figure out other ways of rescuing young people from socialism.

Here’s a clever tweet from @ClassicLiberal.

Having visited Moscow shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, I can assure you that socialist economies do a terrible job of producing goods that consumers actually value.

I’ve written many times about people on the left not understanding the real definition of socialism (government ownershipcentral planning, and price controls), so this next meme appealed to me.

And it also will appeal to me left-leaning friends since it shows that some folks on the right also don’t understand that the debate over socialism is not the same as the debate over redistributionism.

Last but not least, here’s the humorous version of my full-socialism-vs-full-stomachs column.

Very similar to the last memes in this column and this column.

Though, given what’s happening in Venezuela, we probably shouldn’t laugh.

P.S. For more examples of socialism humor, here’s a link to my collection.

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When making the case against socialism, I’ve pointed out how that coercive ideology is an evil and immoral failure.

But maybe the best argument is contained in this very short video that was shared by a group of Tory activists in the United Kingdom.

Ms. Badenoch is now a member of the United Kingdom’s Parliament, and she was describing what it was like to grow up in Nigeria, a country where capitalism was not allowed to flourish.

Given the upside-down incentive system created by socialism, it’s no surprise that she endured hardship.

And while her story is just an anecdote, there is overwhelming evidence that nations with more economic liberty generate much better outcomes for ordinary people.

If you’re interested in learning more Ms. Badenoch, the U.K.-based Daily Mail profiled her back in 2017.

Kemi Badenoch is black; although British-born, she was raised in Nigeria by African parents, returned to England when she was 16 and rose from impoverished first-generation immigrant to parliamentarian in just 21 years. …Kemi, 37, married with two young children, won her safe seat in rural Essex with a 24,966-seat majority after Sir Alan Haselhurst, 80, stood down after 40 years. …What’s more, she was chosen ahead of Theresa May’s special adviser Stephen Parkinson, a Cambridge-educated white male. Kemi’s maiden Commons speech…marked her as a rising star. She spoke of her African childhood, saying: …‘Unlike many colleagues born since 1980, I was unlucky enough to live under socialist policies. It is not something I would wish on anyone, and it is just one of the reasons why I am a Conservative.’ …Kemi has a refreshing view of politics. …She supports Brexit — ‘the greatest ever vote of confidence in the project of the United Kingdom’ — and her heroes are Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher…she made a last-minute decision in favour of Leave. ‘And since, I’ve felt more and more confident that it was the right one,’ she says. ‘Many people who voted Brexit warmed to me because they felt I wasn’t a typical Leave voter. I’ve no time for those who say, “Brexit is all about racism.” That’s offensive. ‘It’s about sovereignty, bureaucracy and how we make our laws. …Kemi is fired up by the patriotism of the emigre who chose to live in Britain. ‘I’m Conservative because of the experiences I’ve had,’ she says. ‘I know what it’s like to live in a Third World country run by a regime with Socialist principles. It shaped my outlook and helped me appreciate how great Britain is.’

She was on the correct side on Brexit and Thatcher was one of her heroes. And she got the seat after beating out an ally of Theresa May, who was on the wrong side of Brexit.

That’s a very nice combination, but I want to zoom out and make a big-picture observation about how Ms. Badenoch’s move to the United Kingdom is part of a global pattern.

Simply stated, people vote with their feet against socialism.

People didn’t try to escape from West Germany to East Germany.

There are no caravans marching toward Venezuela (notwithstanding this satire).

Refugees aren’t in ramshackle boats trying to go from Florida to Cuba.

By the way, people also vote with their feet against big government inside the United States.

Needless to say, there’s a lesson to be learned from these migratory patterns.

P.S. If you like first-hand accounts of what it’s like to live under socialism, I recommend these videos from Gloria Alvarez, Thomas Peterffy, and two Venezuelans.

P.P.S. Ms. Badenoch’s video is only 37 seconds, but you can also learn about socialism in videos that last 10 seconds or less.

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What’s the most poorly governed city in the United States?

Those are all good options, but Seattle may deserve this award. Following municipal elections last November, the City Council is controlled by hard-left members who want to impose the local version of “democratic socialism.”

In a National Review article from February, Christopher Rufo describes their agenda.

Seattle has effectively become the nation’s laboratory for socialist policies. Since the beginning of the year, the socialist faction on the Seattle City Council has proposed a range of policies on taxes, housing, homelessness, and criminal justice that put into practice the national democratic-socialist agenda. In the most recent session, socialist councilwoman Kshama Sawant and her allies have proposed massive new taxes on corporations, unprecedented regulations on landlords (including rent control and a ban on “winter evictions”), the mandated construction of homeless encampments, and the gradual dismantling of the criminal justice system, beginning with the end of cash bail. …In order to consolidate their newfound power, the progressive-socialists have begun to manipulate the democratic process in their own favor: first, by providing all Seattle voters with $100 in taxpayer-funded “democracy vouchers,” which are easily collected by unions, activists, and socialist groups; and second, by implementing a ban on corporate spending in local elections… the progressive-socialists are no longer interested in gaining reasonable concessions; they intend to overthrow capitalism itself.

The Wall Street Journal opined this week on the latest development in Seattle’s suicidal approach.

The economy is on life support, but that isn’t stopping the Seattle City Council from trying to soak employers with a new tax on hiring. …The proposal is a reprise of the council’s 2018 tax on each new hire that was repealed amid public opposition. The new proposal “is 10 times larger than the 2018 version, and it’s also in an economy that’s about 1,000 times worse,” says James Sido of the Downtown Seattle Association…a 1.3% payroll tax on most Seattle businesses with $7 million or more in payroll. …Businesses would be assessed based on the prior year’s payroll, but revenue has cratered this year amid the pandemic. …businesses on the margin that have been forced to lay off or furlough employees may not bring them back if it means crossing that $7 million payroll threshold. The tax would discourage smaller companies from growing in Seattle. …Seattle is the hardest hit city in the U.S., with unemployment rising 105.92% between January and March. Only a socialist would think now is the time to further punish job creation.

Good points.

Though I would add that it’s never a good time to raise taxes and punish job creation.

Here’s what the greedy members of the City Council don’t understand (or pretend not to understand):

It’s complicated and difficult to move out of a country.

It’s a potentially expensive hassle to move out of a state.

It’s relatively easy to move out of a city.

And that’s why Seattle’s experiment with socialism is bound to fail.

If the socialists on the City Council impose this tax, there inevitably will be an out-migration of entrepreneurs and businesses to surrounding suburbs. That will be bad for ordinary people in the city (a point that workers in the economy’s productive sector already understand).

And when that happens, I wonder if they’ll learn that it is possible to run out of other people’s money?

P.S. Seattle’s politicians already have destroyed jobs and ruined businesses with a big increase in the minimum wage.

P.P.S. The constitution of the state of Washington prohibits an income tax, so there’s an ongoing debate whether Seattle’s tax grab – if enacted – would survive a court challenge.

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Nine days ago, I wrote about Dana Milbank scoring an “own goal” because he claimed we needed bigger government to deal with coronavirus, yet all the nations he cited for their effective responses actually have a much smaller fiscal burden than the United States.

Today, we have the Twitter equivalent of an “own goal.”

R.D. Hale, a British guy from the #SocialistCampaignGroup tweeted that he wants to move to an island and start a new country with Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good idea. I certainly wouldn’t be upset if hard-core leftists decided to leave the United States (there’s even a satirical version of this idea).

But Tom Harwood, as you can see, had a response that was far more clever.

Ouch! I don’t know if “own goal” does this justice. This is a brutal dunk by Harwood on Hale.

Especially since both Sanders and Corbyn actually have offered praise for Castro and Cuba.

The bottom line is that the utter misery and deprivation of the Cuban people is a pretty good indication of what would happen if lunatics like Sanders and Corbyn ever had free rein to impose their policies in the U.S. or U.K.

P.S. Here’s the best counter-tweet of 2019.

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Say goodbye to “Crazy Bernie.” The socialist senator from Vermont has ended his bid for the Democratic nomination.

I have mixed feelings. Given his genuinely awful views about socialism, I’m glad there’s no risk Bernie Sanders will be in the White House next January.

On the other hand, he deserves credit for being honest about his agenda. And he was a wonderful source for satire and humor.

And that’s today’s topic.

We’ll start with some material about Bernie’s agenda and his campaign and then we’ll close with some jokes about his departure from the presidential race.

This one will only make sense if you’ve seen the 1989 comedy, Weekend at Bernie’s.

But Bernie was never just about free stuff.

He also had a soft spot for totalitarianism. Here’s a story published by the comedic geniuses at Babylon Bee before Bernie exited the race.

At a special campaign appearance abroad in Berlin, Bernie made waves with an ambitious new campaign promise to rebuild the Berlin Wall. …At the announcement, the crowd threw their soy lattes in the air and erupted in a rapturous chant of “Построить эту стену!” which is roughly translated as “build that wall!” Sanders looked out on a sea of hope-filled faces, giddy over the prospect of restoring the majestic landmark built by the German Democratic Republic. The cheering intensified as Bernie promised that not only will he build the wall, but that he will make Trump voters pay for it. …Current estimates say that construction of the wall will provide 2 million shovel-ready jobs and cost approximately 382 billion dollars per mile.

But who would fill those “2 million shovel-ready jobs”?

Not his supporters if this bit of satire is accurate.

As you can see from this image, his economic policies never made much sense.

The coronavirus crisis presumably didn’t help Crazy Bernie’s campaign.

The Babylon Bee reported that Bernie had a hard time maintaining social distancing.

Those suffering the most are American politicians, who have been having quite a bit of trouble staying six feet away from citizens’ wallets. Bernie Sanders was hardest hit by CDC guidelines, as he struggled to stay away from Americans’ wallets, purses, and checkbooks. “These guidelines are ridiculous!” he shouted while feeding pigeons at the park… “How am I supposed to steal money to buy another hou — err, I mean, to give some of it to the 99% — when I can’t even get within six feet of anyone? It’s impossible!” Sanders tried using a makeshift fishing rod, casting it out toward purses left on park benches and reeling it back in.

And the disease may have helped to end his campaign by reminding people what life would like like in a socialist paradise.

Needless to say, it was a poignant moment when the Vermont socialist broke the news to his most avid supporters.

Speaking of his many houses, the Babylon Bee has the scoop on Bernie’s real motive for leaving the race.

Democratic presidential primary candidate Bernie Sanders has dropped out, announcing he wants to spend time with his many, many houses. “It just seemed silly to spend all this time campaigning when I’m neglecting my many houses,” Sanders explained to his supporters. “I’ve made a huge profit pushing socialism and amassed much real estate, and it’s time I enjoy it.” …Now that Bernie Sanders has dropped out, he’s endorsed Donald Trump, whom he refers to as an “idol,” and says he hopes to buy many more houses so he can have a real estate empire just like Trump.

Though maybe the real reason he dropped out is that he’s actually achieved his goals.

The Babylon Bee has the details.

As the coronavirus panic has already accomplished the aims of his socialistic policies, Sanders realized the country didn’t need his public service anymore. Unemployment has skyrocketed, grocery stores have empty shelves, and everyone is confined to their homes on penalty of arrest. This “idyllic paradise” is exactly what Sanders wanted in the first place, so he says he can leave the race satisfied that his vision has been achieved. “This once-in-a-lifetime deadly pandemic has already accomplished what socialism aims to do,” Sanders said in his concession speech. “Since my services are no longer required, I will be suspending my campaign and heading to my house. Well, one of my houses. I haven’t decided which yet. …Sanders also pointed out that his other main goals of hyperinflation and total dependence on the government are already on their way.

Which is also the message of this final addition to our collection of Bernie humor.

P.S. If you haven’t overdosed on Bernie humor, here are some prior columns focusing exclusively on that topic.

And we also have some one-off examples of Bernie humor:

We will miss mocking Bernie. Fortunately, his replacement already exists.

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Most economic downturns are caused by misguided government policy, which leads to predictable battles over how to address the fallout as well as battles over how to avoid the same mistakes in the future.

Today’s crisis is different. It’s more akin to a natural disaster. But it’s not a one-off event like a big hurricane or earthquake. It’s an ongoing pandemic, which is having a terrible impact on many sectors of the economy. And if it lasts a long time, the consequences will be catastrophic depression rather than ordinary recession (which is why it is reasonable to contemplate the economic and health tradeoffs of re-opening the economy).

To deal with the immediate consequences of this crisis, Washington has responded by approving a mutli-trillion dollar relief package. And I won’t be surprised if politicians come back with another huge package.

Since responding to a pandemic is a legitimate function of government, I don’t have a principled objection to emergency legislation (for wonky readers, there’s an interesting debate in libertarian circles about whether government assistance – even bailouts – can be justified because government has ordered a shutdown of economic activity, which can be viewed as a “regulatory taking“).

That being said, I worry that self-interested politicians will use the crisis as an excuse to shovel goodies to their friends and cronies.

And I also want to minimize the danger that politicians will use the crisis as a reason to permanently expand the size and scope of government.

I’ve already written about how the crowd in Washington is exploiting the crisis with regards to three different issues.

Today, let’s consider a potential downside of providing assistance to companies. We’ll focus on airlines, but the lessons apply to any businesses that get government assistance.

A Bloomberg report explains why this issue, in general, is controversial.

…the administration may consider asking for an equity stake in corporations that want coronavirus aid from taxpayers. …Against that, there’s the potential for political risk. During the financial crisis, some Republicans decried a tilt toward European-style socialism. The current crisis coincides with the — albeit fading — candidacy of Bernie Sanders, and his democratic socialist platform. …“This is a very big slippery slope because the ownership of private capital by government is not traditionally consistent with capitalism,” said Kevin Caron, portfolio manager for Washington Crossing.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial on this issue focuses on the airline industry and makes some very important points.

America’s beleaguered passenger airlines are allocated roughly $50 billion in the coronavirus relief bill… The idea is simply to freeze the staff list for six months, at which point the pandemic might have receded and air travel recovered. In exchange, Congress has authorized the Treasury Secretary, at his sole discretion, to “receive warrants, options, preferred stock, debt securities, notes, or other financial instruments” that constitute “appropriate compensation to the Federal Government.” …The desire to get something for the taxpayer’s buck is understandable, but there’s a real risk here of a long-term nationalization. …Washington should have no role in directing the business of a private company, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin perhaps would agree. What if his successor turns out to be Treasury Secretary Elizabeth Warren? …Helping the airlines weather a 100-year pandemic might be, arguably, within the government’s job description. Owning them isn’t.

The bad news is that are no good options.

It’s not a good idea to simply give taxpayer money to airlines. And it’s also not a good outcome for airlines to go bankrupt, perhaps leading to a total shutdown rather than a reorganization.

Some outcomes, however, are worse than others. And having government as a major shareholder is the option with the greatest long-run risk. Simply stated, it’s a recipe for cronyism and industrial policy.

Based on what’s already happened on issues such as energy and trade, I don’t trust President Trump and his team to have a hands-off attitude. What will happen, as we approach the November election, if the White House thinks it can win a key state by forcing a company (either an airline or any other affected firm) to increase jobs and/or pay?

Or, if you happen to trust Trump, what happens if Joe Biden wins in November and – as the Wall Street Journal warned – a dogmatic interventionist like Elizabeth Warren becomes Treasury Secretary.

She already has a very bad track record on issues of corporate governance. Do you want her to have the power that comes with being a major shareholder?

For all intents and purposes, this is why I unveiled the Fifth Theorem of Government last September.

I’ll close with some troubling observations about where we may be heading.

  1. The technical definition of fascism (at least with regards to its economic policy) is nominal private ownership of business but government control.
  2. The technical definition of socialism is outright government ownership and control of business (along with other policies such as central planning and price controls).

Which raises the depressing issue of how much government ownership is required to get to #1 and how much additional government ownership is required to get to #2.

Could it be that Bernie Sanders may be the real winner, regardless of who is in the White House next year?

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While it’s good news for the country that Bernie Sanders has faded in the polls, there’s a dark lining to that silver cloud.

For all his faults, Crazy Bernie at least was open and honest about his desire for socialism (unlike certain other candidates, who have hard-left platforms, but nonetheless are characterized as moderates).

But openness and honesty are not the same as common sense.

Consider, for instance, Crazy Bernie’s oft-stated assertion that we can afford big government because the United States is the richest nation in the history of the world.

There are two problems with what Bernie is saying.

First, we’re not actually the world’s richest nation.

Countries such as Monaco, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Singapore, and Switzerland rank above us, whether we’re measuring per-capita annual income or per-capita net wealth.

To be fair, that doesn’t change the fact that the United States is a very prosperous nation. Especially compared to most other western countries.

But that brings us to main point of today’s column.

Second, America is very prosperous because we haven’t followed Bernie’s recipe for bigger government.

That’s true today and it’s been true in the past. Compared to other nations, the U.S. historically has enjoyed very high scores for economic liberty.

Crazy Bernie and his supporters will argue that none of this matters. They’ll simply assert that the United States is a rich nation and therefore politicians should impose higher tax rates and fund bigger government.

But this ignores the fact that rich nations that adopt big government slowly but surely cease to be rich nations.

In other words, there’s a very challenging paradox for people like Bernie Sanders. They want a wealthy society so there’s lots of loot to redistribute, but their policies make it harder for societies to create wealth.

The bottom line is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Even the nations that try to minimize the damage of big government, such as Denmark and Sweden, suffer gradual decline.

Which helps to explain why none of my friends on the left have ever been able to successfully answer my two-question challenge.

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I would like to think that the election results from Super Tuesday signify a rejection of the evil and destructive ideology of socialism. After all, despite promising the most handouts, Bernie Sanders was defeated in most states and quickly went from being the front-runner to a long-shot candidate.

This chart shows how political betting markets have dramatically changed in the past couple of days. Crazy Bernie (in green) has collapsed with Biden (in blue) has skyrocketed.

Moreover, the other explicitly hard-left major candidate, Elizabeth Warren, saw her support collapse even earlier.

Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal opined today on the implications of this week’s political earthquake.

Before the voting began Tuesday it was conventional wisdom…that something called progressivism was on the march in the U.S., sweeping aside decades if not centuries of belief, history and tradition with a new agenda of wokeness, identity politics and socialism. …Guess what? The voters still get the last word. …Progressives, however much they dominate the culture, keep losing big, competitive elections. …Joe Biden, hardly a commanding presence, is a proxy for Democratic voters’ pragmatism and their doubts about Mr. Sanders, socialism and the American left.

By the way, it’s not just that Crazy Bernie got trounced.

As reported by the New York Times, many hard-left congressional candidates also are being rejected.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez previously suggested that Democrats who were not sufficiently loyal to an emergent brand of progressive politics should have others like her run against them in a primary. She is now suggesting that, exit polling be damned, Mr. Biden’s latest string of successes is because of the strong-arming of corporate lobbyists, something Mr. Sanders has underscored by repeatedly calling Mr. Biden the establishment candidate. But the results speak for themselves. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez threw her weight behind Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez in her Senate primary campaign in Texas to defeat the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s chosen candidate, M.J. Hegar. Ms. Hegar ended up easily outpacing a crowded Democratic field.

All of this is very encouraging, but I’m still worried.

There are three reasons why I’m not brimming with optimism.

First, as explained by Annie Lowrey for the Atlantic, a non-trivial number of young people are enamored with the evil ideology of socialism.

A striking generational divide has emerged. Older people still see socialism and communism as dangerous, authoritarian political systems, whereas younger people are more likely to see them as economic systems, and to care far less one way or another. For millions of potential voters, the Red Scare is no longer so scary. …The simple passage of time explains a lot. Millions of Millennials and Gen Zers were never exposed to the threats of the Soviet Union; they did not live through the fall of the Berlin Wall… A recent poll conducted by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation showed that 36 percent of Millennials have a favorable opinion of communism, as do a quarter of Gen Zers. Roughly half of the members of those two generations have a favorable view of socialism and thinks the government should act as an employer of last resort. One in five Millennials thinks the Communist Manifesto better “guarantees freedom and equality” than the Declaration of Independence and thinks society would be better off if the government abolished private property.

I’ve shared plenty of additional data to confirm this worrisome trend.

Second, older Democrats may not embrace the socialist label, but they have shifted in that direction.

I previously wrote about how even prominent folks on the left agree that Joe Biden is far to the left of both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

This graphic from the New York Times illustrates how the rest of the Democratic establishment (as measured by party platforms) has also veered toward statism.

For what it’s worth, the “Median party” line shows the average position of the world’s other political parties, so the takeaway is that America’s Democrats (and the U.K.’s Labour Party) are now further to the left than some of the world’s socialist parties.

Third, while the Republican Party hasn’t moved to the left based on its platforms, I fear that the GOP isn’t motivated today by a Reagan-style belief in limited government and individual liberty.

It’s not just that Trump is a big spender (and a protectionist). Every major Republican in the post-Reagan era has expanded the burden of government and rejected the principles of classical liberalism.

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It’s frightening that an out-of-the-closet socialist like Crazy Bernie is the Democratic frontrunner and it’s disheartening that so many young people are attracted to that poisonous ideology.

The only silver lining to this dark cloud is that I get sent endless examples of clever anti-socialist humor.

I have an entire page dedicated to the genre and today is another opportunity to expand the collection.

We’ll start with an apt illustration of “democratic socialism,” akin to this balloon example.

Given the grossly inadequate track record of socialism, this next item is quite appropriate.

Indeed, it gives me an opportunity to re-issue my two-question challenge and ask anyone to give me a successful example of real-world socialism?

Here’s a recently released parody of a news report from the Socialist News Network.

Our next example asks why people don’t flee to socialist nations?

A literal example of “voting with your feet.”

Speaking of socialism, I can’t imagine that Greta Thunberg actually favors communism, but she certainly favors massive levels of government intervention and control.

Though Venezuela, as you can see from this bit of satire, certainly hasn’t benefited from that approach.

The final two items are my favorites.

First, we learn that socialists don’t necessarily want everything you have.

Second, we get a hint of why some academics support socialism.

For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure this is the prof who gave AOC her economics degree.

P.S. I also have plenty of examples of Bernie Sanders satire, which is a special genre of socialist humor.

P.P.S. In the interest of equal time, here’s my collection of libertarian humor.

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Last week, I shared a 24-question quiz that ostensibly determines whether you’re a communist.

Though it might be just as accurate to ask one simple question: Do you have warm feelings about the Marxist dictatorship in Cuba?

On that basis, Bernie Sanders fails.

At best, he’s an ignorant dupe and apologist. At worst, he’s a true believer.

Regardless, his views are wrong and easy to debunk.

Writing in the Washington Post, Francisco Toro opines about Bernie Sanders and Cuba.

…you can begin to glimpse the enormous concern Venezuelans and Cubans feel when we hear Bernie Sanders praise Fidel Castro’s education system. …Cuba’s overall educational performance is middling for the region: roughly similar to that of many other Latin American countries… There was never any need to build a police state to bring people to school — an insight so obvious, it’s ludicrous to even have to write it. …To Cubans and Venezuelans — who have witnessed much the same kind of propaganda — talk of Cuban educational prowess grates not because it’s wrong, exactly, but because it serves as a simple way to identify who’s ready to be duped by regime apologists. …When Sanders parrots Fidel’s propaganda, he fails the test.

What’s especially grating is that the propaganda is either false or misleading.

Marian Tupy and Chelsea Follett summarize just a few of the problems with fawning claims about Cuba’s performance.

…in a recent 60 Minutes interview on CBS. Senator Sanders applauded Cuba’s education and healthcare system. Potential Sanders supporters should know that Cuba’s literacy rate and healthcare system are nothing to lionize. First, consider literacy. …Cuba’s literacy rate rose by 26 percent between 1950/53 and 2000. But literacy rose even more, by 37 percent, in Paraguay. Food consumption in Cuba actually declined by 12 percent between 1954/57 and 1995/97. It rose by 19 percent in Chile and by 28 percent in Mexico over the same time period. …Next, consider healthcare. Sanders has repeatedly extolled Cuba’s healthcare system… Life expectancy is the best proxy measure of health. According to Cuba’s official data, it rose by 25 percent between 1960 and 2017. Yet life expectancy increased even faster in comparable countries: in Mexico it improved by 35 percent, in the Dominican Republic by 43 percent, and in impoverished Haiti by 51 percent.

For what it’s worth, President Obama’s favorable comments about Cuban health care also were embarrassingly inaccurate.

The bottom line is that Cuba performs poorly when looking at education, health, nutrition, and other variables.

But none of that should be a surprise since poor countries generally can’t afford good things or deliver good outcomes.

And the lesson we should learn is that Cuba is poor because government is far too big. Simply stated, the absence of capitalism has been a recipe for misery.

The most shocking statistic is that living standards in Cuba and Hong Kong were very similar when Castro first imposed his version of Marxist socialism.

Yet now there’s a giant gap, with people in Hong Kong enjoying unimaginable prosperity compared to the impoverished residents of Cuba.

Let’s close with two additional items. First, here’s a video from four guys who traveled to Cuba for an up-close view of socialism.

And if you liked that video, here’s another first-hand account of the (nonexistent) glories of Cuban socialism.

Our final item is this look at a street, both as it looked before communism and how it looks today.

The lesson, of course, is similar to the one that we get when examining North Korea from outer space. Communism simply doesn’t work.

P.S. On the topic of silly propaganda, Jeffrey Sachs actually rates Cuba above the United States for meeting development goals, and Cuba also was placed above the United States by a radical environmental group.

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Because of his extremist views, I often refer to Senator Sanders as “Crazy Bernie.”

You can argue I’m being unfair. After all, I pointed out during the last campaign that his voting record in the Senate was almost identical to the voting records of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (his vote rating also was similar to supposed moderate Joe Biden when he was a Senator).

But that doesn’t necessarily mean they think the same or have the same agenda. As the cartoon illustrates, Bernie wants to travel at a faster rate in the wrong direction.

And it’s quite likely that he wants to travel farther in the wrong direction. And he may even want to get to a very unpleasant destination.

You don’t have to believe me. You can simply listen to what Bernie Sanders has said, in this video narrated by Maxim Lott.

And if that’s not enough, here’s a video from Reason that has more of Crazy Bernie’s extremist statements.

So what should we think when we examine Bernie’s past statements, review his voting record in Congress, and also analyze his current platform?

Is he a radical? Crazy? A Marxist? A democratic socialist? A socialist democrat? Some combination of all those options?

We obviously have no way of knowing what his real motives and thoughts are, but James Pethokoukis of the America Enterprise Institute speculates whether Sanders has learned anything.

What lessons have the events of the last half century taught Bernie Sanders? …He’s certainly seen a lot that would seem to have direct bearing on his ideology, especially the collapse of the Soviet Union… Was he “very distressed” at the failure of the centrally planned Soviet economy? He certainly should have been, but only offers a condemnation of the authoritarian political system. …No wonder he’d rather talk about Scandinavia as his socialist success story. Those tiny economies score well on just about every economic metric. But there’s more to them than universal healthcare and generous paid leave. The Nordic model, according to a recent JPMorgan report, “entails a lot of capitalism and pro-business policies…” That’s stuff antithetical to the Sanders democratic socialist agenda. Indeed, the report concludes, “A real-life proof of concept for a successful democratic socialist society, like the Lost City of Atlantis, has yet to be found.”

For what it’s worth, Ryan Bourne points out that his agenda is more extreme than Jeremy Corbyn’s (which is not an easy task).

…some commentators are downplaying his socialist credentials, painting the veteran Senator as no more than a moderate social democrat. …To simply label him a socialist, without any caveats, is misleading. But it’s even more grossly misleading to suggest his “democratic socialist” ambitions stop at a Scandinavian-style welfare state. More redistribution is central to his agenda, sure, but he also proposes massive new market interventions, including the Green New Deal, a federal jobs guarantee, expansive price and wage controls… Sanders’ platform goes far beyond any modern social democracy in terms of government size and scope. Indeed, his policies can only be considered moderate if some three-way lovechild of the economics of 1970s Sweden, Argentina, and Yugoslavia’s market socialism is the baseline. …compare Labour’s 2019 manifesto against the Sanders’ economic platform. Doing so makes clear that Bernie is more radical than Corbyn on economics, both in absolute terms and relative to their countries’ respective politics. …Combined with national insurance, Labour’s top marginal income tax rate would have been 52%. Sanders’ top federal income taxrate alone would be 52%, bringing a top combined top rate of around 80% once state and payroll taxes are considered. Sanders wants a new wealth tax too, another option Labour shirked. …where there are differences, it’s because Sanders is offering the more radical leftwing policies. He and Labour both proposed big minimum wage rises, national rent control, mandated employee ownership, and workers on boards, for example. But where Labour proposed 10% worker ownership stakes in large companies, Sanders would mandate 20%… on the role of government, the declared economic platforms are instructive. Call it “democratic socialism,” or just plain old “interventionism,” Bernie Sanders is, in many respects, putting a more radical interventionist offer to the electorate than Jeremy Corbyn did.

Interestingly, social democrats from Nordic nations think Bernie Sanders is too far to the left.

Johan Hassel, the international secretary for Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats, visited Iowa before the caucuses, and he wasn’t impressed with America’s standard bearer for democratic socialism, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “We were at a Sanders event, and it was like being at a Left Party meeting,” he told Sweden’s Svenska Dagbladet newspaper… “It was a mixture of very young people and old Marxists, who think they were right all along. There were no ordinary people there, simply.” …Lars Løkke Rasmussen, then the prime minister of Denmark, made a similar point in a speech at Harvard in 2015, when Sanders was gaining national attention. “I know that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism,” he said. “Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy”.

Giancarlo Sopo, opining for the Washington Examiner, worries that Sanders actually is an unrepentant Marxist.

Sanders is not the nice, Nordic-style “democratic socialist” he claims to be. At his core, Sanders is almost certainly an all-out Marxist. …The man has no business being anywhere near the Oval Office — not even on a guided tour. …Sanders has been an unabashed apologist for communism, an evil ideology with a body count of 100 million people dead in its wake. …While people such as my grandfather were languishing as political prisoners in Cuba, Sanders said that he was so “excited” about the island’s communist revolution that watching JFK get tough on Fidel Castro made him want to “puke.” …The 78-year-old presidential candidate even honeymooned in the Soviet Union and came back full of praise for it. Some may not grasp how bizarre this was during the Cold War… Sanders’s platform, which openly calls for nationalizing major industries such as higher education, healthcare, and even the internet, falls well outside the mainstream of U.S. politics and more closely resembles the central planning committees in Cuba and Venezuela.

Last but not least, in a column for the Wall Street Journal, Elliot Kaufman compares Sanders’ radical past with his modern rhetoric.

Campaigning for U.S. Senate in 1971, he demanded the nationalization of utilities. In 1973 he proposed a federal takeover of “the entire energy industry,” and in 1974 he wanted a 100% tax on all income above $1 million. In 1976 he asserted that workers needed to “take immediate control of the economy if we are to survive” and called for “public ownership of utilities, banks and major industries.” He had a plan for “public control over capital.” As late as 1987 he asserted that “democracy means public ownership of the major means of production.” …He had also begun a dalliance with the Socialist Workers Party, a communist group that had followed Leon Trotsky. Mr. Sanders endorsed the SWP’s presidential nominee in 1980 and 1984, spoke at SWP campaign rallies during that period, and in 1980 was part of its slate of would-be presidential electors. …After three decades in Congress, he has settled on a populist vision that fits in on the Democratic left. In a major speech last June elaborating his idea of socialism, he cast himself in the tradition of Franklin D. Roosevelt… He enumerated a series of positive rights—to “quality health care,” “as much education as one needs,” “a good job that pays a living wage,” “affordable housing,”… But he said nothing about state control over the means of production or Fidel Castro’s revolution.

So who’s the real Bernie Sanders?

I have no idea whether he still wants government ownership and control of the means of production (i.e., pure socialism with state-run factories, collective farms, etc). I also don’t know whether his past support for awful Marxist dictatorships meant he actually was a Marxist.

But I can confidently state that his current policy agenda is nuts.

A few years ago, I created a three-pronged spectrum in an attempt to illustrate the various strains of leftism.

I’ve decided to create a more up-to-date version. It shows that the Nordic nations are part of the rational left. A bit further to the left are conventional leftists such Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and then Barack Obama.

At that point, there’s a divergence, with Hitler and Stalin representing totalitarian socialism at the top and pure socialists (such as the U.K.’s Clement Attlee, who nationalized industries and sectors after World War II) at the bottom.

Without knowing what he truly thinks, I’ve put Bernie Sanders in a middle category for “Crazies.”

I suspect he has sympathies for the two other strains of leftism, but the real-world impact of his policies is that America would become an even-worse version of Greece (though hopefully not as bad as Venezuela).

P.S. Given that he’s now the leading candidate to win the Democratic Party’s nomination, and given that he’s ahead in some national polls, I’m very thankful that America’s Founders bequeathed to us a system based on separation of powers. If Sanders somehow makes it to the White House, he’ll have a very difficult time pushing through the radical parts of his agenda. Yes, it’s true that recent presidents (both Obama and Trump) have sought to expand a president’s power to unilaterally change policy, but I feel confident that even John Roberts and the rest of the Supreme Court would intervene to prevent unilateral tax increases and nationalizations.

P.P.S. More than 10 years ago, I speculated that America’s separation-of-powers system would save the country from Obamacare and cap-and-trade. I was half right.

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I’m worried. If Crazy Bernie doesn’t win in New Hampshire, he may fade out of race.

That would be good for the country, but bad for my collection of socialism humor.

He’s already been a big contributor, and today we’re going to share more examples.

We’ll start with the socialist version of the light-bulb joke.

In other words, incentives matter.

Next, we have a depiction of what “sharing” really means in Bernie’s world.

Some may argue that this is unfair because he’s never embraced a 100 percent tax rate.

That’s true if you’re just focusing on the personal income tax. But when you add the wealth tax to the equation, there will be people paying more than 100 percent of their income to the IRS.

Our next example mocks Bernie for becoming a millionaire (owner of three homes!) while campaigning against the rich.

Chavez’s daughter certainly can relate.

I’m rather amused by this next image. Bernie got the most votes in Iowa, but appears to be getting fewer delegates. Presumably that’s one form of redistribution he doesn’t favor.

Just like 2016.

Here’s a cartoon with Bernie telling a clueless young person about freebies.

Speaking of fairy tales, don’t forget the leftist version of The Little Red Hen, the leftist version of The Little Engine that Could, and the leftist version of The Ant and the Grasshopper.

Last but not least, we have the Bernie drinking game.

Given that Bernie is promising to give away $97 trillion of other people’s money, I suspect we’ll wind up with a nation of alcoholics.

P.S. If you haven’t already OD’ed on Bernie humor, we also have:

P.P.S. Barring a big surprise, Elizabeth Warren almost surely will be out of the race after New Hampshire, so we probably won’t have any opportunity to add to our Looney-Liz collection (here, here, here, and here).

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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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I started fretting about the socialist tendencies of young people early last decade.

And when Sanders attracted a lot of youth support in 2016, I gave the issue even more attention, and I’ve since continued to investigate why so many young people are sympathetic to such a poisonous ideology with a lengthy track record of failure and deprivation.

Some of the recent polling data is very discouraging.

And if you want to be even more depressed, here are some tweets with the most-recent data about the the views of young people.

It’s not just that they have warm and fuzzy thoughts about so-called democratic socialism.

I’m completely horrified to learn that more than one-third of young people even have a positive perception of communism.

In other words, wearing Che t-shirts isn’t just a vapid fashion statement.

These kids are either overtly evil or utterly oblivious.

Yes, I realize I sound like a curmudgeon (“you kids get off my lawn!”), but how else should I react when I see these numbers from Axios.

For what it’s worth, the same problem exists in the United Kingdom.

And it may be even more lopsided.

(Though I’m very relieved the misguided views of young people didn’t prevent a victory for Boris Johnson last month.)

For today’s column, let’s keep our focus on the United States.

What’s the underlying cause of bad polling numbers in America?

In a column for the Washington Times, Robert Knight explains that many young people have been spoon-fed a leftist version of American history.

Why do so many young people hate America and think we’d be better off as a socialist country? …reading and believing Howard Zinn’s best-selling ‘A People’s History of the United States’… First published in 1980, “A People’s History” has sold more than 2.5 million copies and is in virtually every school district, university and local library. …Everything Zinn wrote was couched in the language of Marxist class warfare. Key events were omitted. The mass slaughter that followed the Communist takeover of Cambodia? Good luck finding it in “A People’s History.” …Zinn was a member of numerous Soviet front groups, and he helped found the socialist New Party… Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Zinn warned that concern over communism was due to “hysteria,”… In a chapter titled “The Coming Revolt of the Guards,” …Zinn states flatly that “capitalism has always been a failure for the lower classes. It is now beginning to fail for the middle class.” …Zinn envisions a utopian future in which “certain basic things” would be “…available — free — to everyone: food, housing, health care, education, transportation.” …The reason this insane, economically illiterate, un-American scheme appeals to so many is that they’ve been miseducated via Howard Zinn into thinking that they live in a bad country that must be rebuilt as a socialist paradise.

Jarrett Stepman opined on the adverse consequences of historical illiteracy in a piece for the Daily Signal.

As young Americans are losing an understanding of civics and American history, they increasingly embrace socialism. …younger generations have a far sunnier view of socialism and communism than their elders. …Perhaps worse than nostalgia for the Soviet Union, “57% of millennials (compared to 94% of the Silent Generation) believe the Declaration of Independence better guarantees freedom and equality over the Communist Manifesto.” That’s appalling. …there’s not only been a worrisome decline in inculcating informed patriotism in young Americans, but a willful attempt to re-educate them to turn them against the foundations of America itself. …So far, we have escaped the curse of socialism… But a troubling collapse in a basic understanding of our history, along with the malignant attempt to reframe our country’s origins to make us more susceptible to doctrines outside our tradition, means that the specter of socialism now hangs over us.

Amen. The government’s education monopoly too often gives kids a diet of statist pabulum. This is another reason why we need school choice.

But it’s not just bad history in government schools.

It’s also bad policy in government.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Mene Ukueberuwa shares some insights from Edward Glaeser, a professor at Harvard who warns that statist policies are leading young people to support bigger government.

Bernie Sanders…has become an unlikely voice of the young generation. …this axis of today’s struggle could change politics for generations to come, as millennials reject the country’s capitalist consensus and embrace socialism in record numbers. …Critics often blame today’s socialist surge on millennials’ laziness. …One free-market economist has a different explanation. Edward Glaeser, a Harvard professor…, argues that young people have radicalized politically because “there are a number of ways in which the modern American economy isn’t working all that well for them.” Many public policies make it harder to get a job, save money or find an affordable home, leaving young idealists thinking, “Why not try socialism?” But that cure would merely worsen the disease. Mr. Glaeser decries policies that constrain the job market and increase the cost of living compared with what the economy would produce if left alone. …Consider the housing market. “In the 1960s and earlier,” Mr. Glaeser says, “America basically had a property-rights regime that meant that anyone who had a plot of land could pretty much put up anything reasonable on that plot of land.” …The shift of income toward those Mr. Glaeser calls the “entrenched” is most explicit in entitlement programs. …They’re funded by payroll taxes, which snag a disproportionate share of low-earners’ paychecks. Taxpayers also pony up ever more to fund the retirements of government employees.

Glaeser is right.

Government intervention is increasing the price of housing for the young. Entitlement programs are pillaging the young. And bureaucrat pensions are a scam that victimizes the young.

For all intents and purposes, Prof. Glaeser is describing Mitchell’s Law.

Bad policy causes bad results, which leads some people (in this case, young people) to want more bad policy.

So the obvious solution, he argues, is to get rid of the bad policies that are causing problems in the first place.

And maybe young people will realize that they should support free markets and limited government!

“They say, ‘Well, there are a whole bunch of projects—a whole bunch of government spending that helps old people. I want mine. If we’re going to spend a huge amount on Medicare, why aren’t we spending a whole lot on education for me?’” …To give newcomers a chance, Mr. Glaeser would curtail the influence of entrenched groups and restore incentives for “a capitalism that is inclusive, and that provides a place of opportunity for more people.” …Mr. Glaeser insists that this message would be likelier to catch on if it were backed by policy reforms that make work more fruitful. A program of plentiful job opportunities, cheaper housing, and tax cuts financed by curtailed entitlements could be a significant step toward replacing socialism in the hearts of Mr. Sanders’s young supporters.

For what it’s worth, bad history and bad policy are both good explanations, but they don’t fully explain why young people are misguided.

I suspect many young people also think support for socialism is a way of signalling that you’re a nice person. That you care about others.

I’m not sure how we solve this problem, but this clever video from Kristian Niemietz suggests that part of the answer may be satire.

Though I may be biased since I have an entire collection of humor that targets socialism and communism.

P.S. When it hits close to home, college students actually reject socialism, though maybe they should have learned that lesson in kindergarten.

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I’ve written about some of Elizabeth Warren’s statist proposals, but watching last night’s Democratic debate convinced me that I need to pay more attention to Bernie Sanders’ agenda.

When he ran for president last time, I warned that his platform of $18 trillion of new spending over 10 years would be “very expensive to your wallet.”

This time, “Crazy Bernie” has decided that his 2016 agenda was just a down payment. He now wants nearly $100 trillion of new spending!

Even CNN acknowledges that his platform has a staggering price tag.

…the new spending programs Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed in his presidential campaign would at least double federal spending over the next decade… The Vermont independent’s agenda represents an expansion of government’s cost and size unprecedented since World War II… Sanders’ plan, though all of its costs cannot be precisely quantified, would increase government spending as a share of the economy far more than the New Deal under President Franklin Roosevelt, the Great Society under Lyndon Johnson or the agenda proposed by any recent Democratic presidential nominee, including liberal George McGovern in 1972, according to a historical analysis shared with CNN by Larry Summers, the former chief White House economic adviser for Barack Obama… Summers said in an interview. “The Sanders spending increase is roughly 2.5 times the size of the New Deal and the estimated fiscal impact of George McGovern’s campaign proposals.

My former colleague Brian Riedl has the most detailed estimates of the new fiscal burdens that Sanders is proposing.

Here’s some of what he wrote last year for City Journal.

All told, Sanders’s current plans would cost as much as $97.5 trillion over the next decade, and total government spending at all levels would surge to as high as 70 percent of gross domestic product. Approximately half of the American workforce would be employed by the government. …his Medicare For All plan would increase federal spending by “somewhere between $30 and $40 trillion over a 10-year period.” He pledges to spend $16.3 trillion on his climate plan. And his proposal to guarantee all Americans a full-time government job paying $15 an hour, with full benefits, is estimated to cost $30.1 trillion. …$3 trillion to forgive all student loans and guarantee free public-college tuition—plus $1.8 trillion to expand Social Security, $2.5 trillion on housing, $1.6 trillion on paid family leave, $1 trillion on infrastructure, $800 billion on general K-12 education spending, and an additional $400 billion on higher public school teacher salaries. …Such spending would far exceed even that of European social democracies. …Sanders’s tax proposals would raise at most $23 trillion over the decade. …Tax rates would soar. Sanders would raise the current 15.3 percent payroll tax to 27.2 percent… Sanders proposes a top federal income-tax rate of 52 percent…plus a 10 percent net investment-income surtax for the wealthy.

By the way, class-warfare taxes won’t pay for all these promises.

Not even close, as you can see from this chart Brian put together.

By the way, the above chart is a static snapshot. In the real world, there’s no way to collect 4.7 percent of GDP (red bar on the left) with confiscatory taxes on the rich.

if Sanders ever had a chance to impose all his class-warfare tax ideas, the economy would tank, so revenues as a share of GDP would decline.

And here’s another one of his visuals, looking at the spending proposals that Democratic candidates are supporting.

Senator Sanders, needless to say, favors all of these proposals.

As Brian noted in his article, the Sanders fiscal agenda is so radical that America would have a bigger burden of government spending than decrepit European welfare states such as Greece, France, and Italy.

To his credit, Bernie acknowledges that all his new spending can’t be financed by class-warfare levies (unlike the serially dishonest Elizabeth Warren).

But the new taxes he proposes would finance only a tiny fraction of his spending agenda. If Washington ever tried to adopt even part of his platform, it inevitably would mean a European-style value-added tax.

P.S. Even if tens of trillions of dollars of revenue magically floated down from Heaven, bigger government would still be bad for the economy since politicians and bureaucrats would be in charge of (mis)allocating a much greater share of labor and capital.

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Yesterday, most of us celebrated Christmas.

Today, all of us should celebrate the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which officially happened on this date in 1991 (aided and abetted by a Texas grocery store).

A 2016 FEE column by Richard Ebeling documents the relentless evil of Soviet communism.

…the curtain was lowered on the 75-year experiment in “building socialism” in the country where it all began following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, led by Vladimir Lenin in November 1917. Some historians have estimated that as many as 200 million people worldwide may have died as part of the 20th century dream of creating a collectivist “paradise on earth.” The attempt to establish a comprehensive socialist system in many parts of the world over the last 100 years has been one of the cruelest and most brutal episodes in human history. …as many as 68 million innocent, unarmed men, women, and children may have been killed in Soviet Russia alone over those nearly 75 years of communist rule in the Soviet Union. …This murderous madness never ended. In the 1930s, during the time of the Great Purges instituted by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to wipe out all “enemies of the revolution” through mass executions, millions were sent to the Gulag prisons that stretched across all of the Soviet Union to be worked to death as slave labor to “build socialism.” …Soviet central planning even had quotas for the number of such enemies of the people to be killed in each region of the Soviet Union, as well as the required numbers to be rounded up to be sent to work in the labor camps in the frigid wastelands of the Siberia and the Arctic Circle… The nightmare of the socialist experiment, however, did not end with Stalin’s death in 1953. Its form merely changed in later decades. As head of the KGB in the 1970s, Yuri Andropov (who later was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union after Leonid Brezhnev’s death in 1982), accepted a new theory in Soviet psychiatry which said opposition to the socialist regime was a sign of mental illness.

Based on the sheer number of victims, Stalin understandably has the worst reputation of all Soviet dictators.

But let’s not forget that Lenin was a horrible human being as well.

Lenin’s streak of cruelty began long before he came to power. By his early 20s, his zealous dedication to Marxism led him to believe that anything justified revolution. When a famine broke out in the Volga region in 1891—one that would kill 400,000 people—Lenin welcomed the event, hoping that it would topple the Czarist regime. …Later, in 1905, when Czarist forces killed hundreds of striking workers and 86 children in Moscow, Lenin refused to mourn for the dead and, instead, hoped the event would further enflame class antagonisms. In his eyes, human lives were expendable… While in exile, Lenin railed against the imperial government for its oppressive ways—for instance, its censorship of the opposition and dismissal of parliament. Of course, once in power, Lenin repeated these policies and usually exceeded their cruelty, imprisoning and confiscating the property of his opponents. …Lenin appointed the homicidal Felix Dzerzhinsky to head up the Cheka (the secret police)… In less than a year, hundreds, if not thousands, were executed… He marked wealthy peasants, or kulaks, as enemies of the revolution and encouraged violence against them. He imposed fixed grain prices at low rates, straining peasants who already were living on the margins, seized their grain, and left them to starve. When the peasants began resisting, Lenin ordered government officials to torture them or apply poison gas.

By the way, it’s not directly relevant to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but I can’t resist sharing this story from the BBC.

Karl Marx’s Grade I-listed memorial in Highgate Cemetery has been “mindlessly vandalised”. The marble plaque on the imposing sculpture’s base has been attacked, seemingly with a hammer. A cemetery spokesman said they did not know when it had happened, but believed it was within the last couple of days. No witnesses have come forward. …Ian Dungavell, chief executive of Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust, said: “This is mindless vandalism, not political commentary. …This is not the first time the monument has been damaged. In 1970 a pipe bomb blew up part of the face, swastikas have been painted on it and emulsion paint has been thrown at it.

My only comment it that the memorial wasn’t “mindlessly vandalised.” There were 100 million reasons why it was defaced.

Now let’s look at the economic performance of the Soviet Union.

I’ll start with the simple and near-tautological observation that there’s no longer a Soviet Union in large part because its economy became so anemic.

Yet some people believed that the Soviet Union’s version of socialism could be economically successful. I wrote about their naivete as part of my collection of essays on the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution.

I suppose we can partially forgive them because much of the economic misery in the Soviet Union was hidden from outsiders.

What’s less forgivable is that some people still make absurd claims about the Soviet economy. Consider this screenshot of the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on the economy of the Soviet Union. I’ve highlighted in red the parts that are laughable.

Though, to be fair, there wasn’t a problem with unemployment and job security in the Soviet Union. Just like slaves in Alabama in 1830, Soviet workers were victims of state coercion. They were forced to show up at the collective farms and state-run industries.

And state coercion was the basis of a failed system. Contrary to whoever authored that Wikipedia entry, the Soviet Union did not enjoy high growth rates.

A 1994 World Bank study by William Easterly and Stanley Fischer exposed the Soviet Union’s very poor track record.

Soviet growth from 1960 to 1989 was the worst in the world after we control for investment and human capital; the relative performance worsens over time. …The declining Soviet growth rate from 1950 to 1987 can be accounted for by a declining marginal product of capital with a constant rate of growth of total factor productivity. The Soviet reliance on extensive growth (rising capital-to-out-put ratios) was no greater than that of market economies, such as Japan and the Republic of Korea, but a low elasticity of substitution between capital and labor implied especially acute diminishing returns to capital compared with the case in market economies.

“Worst in the world” is quite an achievement.

Not that any sentient being should be surprised. Politicians are bureaucrats don’t do a good job of allocating labor and capital.

If you want prosperity, it’s not a good idea to have central planning and other features of socialism.

Here’s a fascinating look at the world’s largest economies (by overall size, not on a per-capita basis) from 1961-1989.

Here’s a chart based on the Maddison database, so we can make comparisons based on per-capita economic output.

As you can see, even though convergence theory says poor countries should grow faster than rich countries, the gap between the United States and the Soviet Union grew ever larger.

Last but not least, here’s a chart that compares the Soviet Union’s claims about growth (blue) with both CIA estimates (red) and later revisions from a Russian economist (green).

There are two lessons to be learned.

That latter point may be relevant for people who think China is an economic powerhouse.

P.S. The Soviet Union is gone, but most of the countries that emerged from the wreckage are still struggling with a legacy of statism and intervention.

P.P.S. In addition to celebrating today, we also should celebrate November 9.

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Fifty years ago, Venezuela was ranked #10 for economic liberty and enjoyed the highest living standards in Latin America

Today, the nation is an economic disaster. Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro deserve much of the blame. Their socialist policies have dropped Venezuela to last place according to Economic Freedom of the World.

Predictably, this has resulted in horrific suffering.

And it’s going from bad to worse.

In ways that are unimaginable for those of us living in civilized nations.

For instance, the Associated Press reports that grave-robbing is now a problem in the country.

Even the dead aren’t safe in Maracaibo, a sweltering, suffering city in Venezuela. Thieves have broken into some of the vaults and coffins in El Cuadrado cemetery since late last year, stealing ornaments and sometimes items from corpses as the country sinks to new depths of deprivation. “Starting eight months ago, they even took the gold teeth of the dead,” said José Antonio Ferrer, who is in charge of the cemetery, where a prominent doctor, a university director and other local luminaries are buried. Much of Venezuela is in a state of decay and abandonment, brought on by shortages of things that people need the most: cash, food, water, medicine, power, gasoline. …Many who have the means leave, joining an exodus of more than 4 million Venezuelans who have left the country in recent years. …Some people sift through trash, scavenge for food.

And hyper-inflation is creating a barter economy according to the AP.

…the economy is in such shambles that drivers are now paying for fill-ups with a little food, a candy bar or just a cigarette. Bartering at the pump has taken off as hyperinflation makes Venezuela’s paper currency, the bolivar, hard to find and renders some denominations all but worthless, so that nobody will accept them. Without cash in their wallets, drivers often hand gas station attendants a bag of rice, cooking oil or whatever is within reach. …This barter system…is just another symptom of bedlam in Venezuela. …The International Monetary Fund says inflation is expected to hit a staggering 200,000% this year. Venezuela dropped five zeros from its currency last year in a futile attempt to keep up with inflation. …Venezuela, which sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves, was once rich. But the economy has fallen into ruin because of what critics say has been two decades of corruption and mismanagement under socialist rule.

Mary O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal points out that the poor are being hurt the most.

…the gap in living standards between the haves and the have-nots is wider than ever. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Economic equality is the socialists’ Holy Grail. People are poor, the logic goes, because the rich have too much. Ergo, all it takes to end poverty is the use of state coercion to distribute economic gains evenly. …Tell that to the Venezuelan poor. Not only have their numbers increased under socialism, but the suffering among the most vulnerable has grown more intense. …Venezuela now experiences recurring blackouts and brownouts… in the “ranchos,”…residents now make “lamps” out of mayonnaise jars, diesel taken from vehicles, and pieces of cloth. One local described it to the reporter as going back to “prehistoric” times. With water, sanitation and other public services, the story is the same. …the have-nots are at Mr. Maduro’s mercy.

College students also are suffering, as reported by the Union Journal.

…5 youngsters had fainted and two of them have been whisked away in an ambulance. The faintings on the major college have turn into a daily prevalence as a result of so many college students come to class with out consuming breakfast, or dinner the evening earlier than. In different faculties, youngsters wish to know if there’s any meals earlier than they resolve whether or not to go in… Venezuela’s devastating six-year financial disaster is hollowing out the varsity system… Starvation is simply one of many many issues chipping away at them now. Thousands and thousands of Venezuelans have fled the nation in recent times, depleting the ranks of scholars and academics alike. …Many colleges are shuttering within the once-wealthy nation as malnourished youngsters and academics who earn nearly nothing abandon lecture rooms to scratch out a residing on the streets or flee overseas. It’s a significant embarrassment for the self-proclaimed Socialist authorities.

In a column for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof shares some sad observations about the consequences of Venezuelan socialism.

This country is a kleptocracy ruled incompetently by thugs who are turning a prosperous oil-exporting nation into a failed state sliding toward starvation. …Serrano, 21, lives in the impoverished, violent slum of La Dolorita, where I met her. The baby was fading from malnutrition in May, so she frantically sought medical help — but three hospitals turned the baby away, saying there were no beds available, no doctors and no supplies. …Daisha…died at home that night. …President Nicolás Maduro’s brutal socialist government is primarily responsible for the suffering, and there are steps Maduro could take to save children’s lives, if he wanted to. …Venezuela may now be sliding toward collapse and mass starvation, while fragmenting into local control by various armed groups. Outbreaks of malaria, diphtheria and measles are spreading, and infant mortality appears to have doubled since 2008.

By the way, Kristof argues that sanctions imposed by Obama and Trump are making a bad situation worse.

That’s true, but it doesn’t change the fact that Venezuela’s awful government deserves the overwhelming share of the blame.

Let’s measure how the people of Venezuela have suffered. Here are the per-capita GDP numbers since Chavez took power in 1999. There’s volatility in the data, presumably because of changes in oil prices. But the trend is unmistakably negative.

The bottom line is that Venezuela’s living standards have collapsed by about 50 percent since the socialists took over.

That makes Greece seem like an economic powerhouse by comparison.

Let’s close, though, by comparing Venezuela to Latin America’s most market-oriented nation.

As you can see, per-capita economic output in Chile (in blue) has soared while per-capita GDP in Venezuela (in red) has collapsed.

In other words, free markets and small government are the right recipe if the goal is broadly shared prosperity.

P.S. I’ve explained on many occasions that lower-income people in Chile have been the biggest beneficiaries of pro-market reforms.

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By global standards, the United States is a bulwark of capitalism. Yes, government is too big and there’s far too much intervention, but we have enough private property and free enterprise to be ranked #5 for economic liberty. Which helps to explain why Americans enjoy higher living standards than Europeans.

But capitalism had to be learned. One of the first European settlements in North America, the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts, was based on socialism.

And it was real socialism, with common ownership of the means of production.

Unsurprisingly, it was not a rousing success. Indeed, it was a miserable failure.

Here’s Larry Reed’s analysis of what happened.

We should never forget that the Plymouth colony was headed straight for oblivion under a communal, socialist plan… Land was held in common. Crops were brought to a common storehouse and distributed equally. For two years, every person had to work for everybody else (the community), not for themselves as individuals or families. Did they live happily ever after in this socialist utopia? Hardly. The “common property” approach killed off about half the settlers. Governor Bradford recorded in his diary that everybody was happy to claim their equal share of production, but production only shrank. Slackers showed up late for work in the fields, and the hard workers resented it. …The disincentives of the socialist scheme bred impoverishment and conflict until, facing starvation and extinction, Bradford altered the system. He divided common property into private plots… Communal socialist failure was transformed into private property/capitalist success, something that’s happened so often historically it’s almost monotonous.

And here are some excerpts from a column that Professor Ben Powell wrote back in 2004.

Bad weather or lack of farming knowledge did not cause the pilgrims’ shortages. Bad economic incentives did. In 1620 Plymouth Plantation was founded with a system of communal property rights. Food and supplies were held in common and then distributed based on “equality” and “need” as determined by Plantation officials. People received the same rations whether or not they contributed to producing the food, and residents were forbidden from producing their own food. …Because of the poor incentives, little food was produced. Faced with potential starvation in the spring of 1623, the colony decided to implement a new economic system. Every family was assigned a private parcel of land. They could then keep all they grew for themselves, but now they alone were responsible for feeding themselves. …This change, Bradford wrote, “had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.” Giving people economic incentives changed their behavior. …Once the Pilgrims in the Plymouth Plantation abandoned their communal economic system and adopted one with greater individual property rights, they never again faced the starvation and food shortages of the first three years.

By the way, the settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, also had a very unsuccessful experiment with socialism.

Every Thanksgiving, I like to remind people about America’s failed experiment with big government.

This year, I want to build on that history lesson by looking at how capitalism’s invisible hand is making our modern holidays ever-more affordable.

We’ll start with Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute, who explains how free enterprise makes Thanksgiving possible.

…most of you probably didn’t call your local supermarket ahead of time and order a Thanksgiving turkey this year. Why not? Because you automatically assumed that a turkey would be there when you showed up, and it probably was there when you appeared “unannounced” at your local grocery store and selected your Thanksgiving bird. Or it will be there…when you “skip the trip” to the grocery store and get free 2-hour delivery from Amazon Prime Now… The reason your Thanksgiving turkey was waiting for you without an advance order? Because of the economic concepts of “spontaneous order,” “self-interest,” and the “invisible hand” of the free market. Turkeys appeared in your local grocery stores primarily because of the “self-interest” (greed?) of thousands of turkey farmers, truck drivers, and supermarket owners and employees who are complete strangers to you and your family. But all of those strangers throughout the turkey supply chain co-operated on your behalf and were led by the “invisible hand” to make sure your family had a turkey (or two) on the table to celebrate Thanksgiving.

By the way, just imagine what would happen if a government bureaucracy (like the Department of Agriculture) was in charge of Thanksgiving. Everything would cost more and have lower quality.

And the entire experience would be like a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

But this isn’t just a story about how food appears on store shelves because of market forces rather than central planning.

It’s also a story about the competitive forces of capitalism make that food ever-more affordable. As shown in this chart from Marian Tupy of Human Progress, the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner is dropping over time.

But even that’s not the full story.

We’re also getting richer over time thanks to free enterprise.

So the amount of work that is required to buy Thanksgiving dinner is falling even faster. Here’s a chart from Mark Perry.

Now you know what to be thankful for.

P.S. I embedded a couple of humorous anti-libertarian memes in the column. If you want some more Thanksgiving-themed humor, you can click here and here for some mockery of Obama. And here’s a satirical look at a future Thanksgiving in a nation controlled by our friends on the left.

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The Babylon Bee is America’s best site for political satire, with several appearances in my collection of libertarian humor.

The site is great even when libertarians get mocked.

Check out the following three stories.

We’ll start with one about a vapid millennial (who presumably took part in this poll).

Local socialist millennial man Matthew Hatter lamented Monday that there are no concrete examples of socialism he can point to in order to have some kind of idea how it would turn out. “If only there were other countries that have tried socialism before,” Hatter said to a friend at an ethical coffee shop… “Like, say some countries in South America tried socialism before and everybody starved to death,” he said. “Or if there were major superpowers who implemented socialism and then, like, 100 million people died—that would be really bad. We could look to these ‘books of history’ and decide that wouldn’t be the route for us.” …Hatter said he’s just glad that if socialism turns out to be terrible, no other country would be dumb enough to follow in our footsteps.

Some people are familiar with socialism, of course.

And this next bit of satire from Babylon Bee indicates that they’re planning ahead.

The nation’s Democratic leaders announced Tuesday they are reversing course on Trump’s proposed border wall, since “it will keep people in once we switch to socialism.” “We thought the border wall was a bad, racist idea,” said Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. …But that got me thinking…when we switch to socialism, everyone’s gonna try to run away. But what if there’s a big, solid object along the border? Then they can’t run away. I mean, they could try to climb, but we could shoot them.” Senator Bernie Sanders said in his experience, walls are “absolutely necessary” to keep a socialist country’s citizens from fleeing. “The Soviets had it right: big wall in Berlin, the symbolic Iron Curtain, shooting people who try to flee. It’s all necessary to a healthy socialist state.”

Sounds like they read the advice that Walter Williams gave – tongue in cheek – to California’s politicians.

Our third and final example from Babylon Bee involves the Democrats’ electoral plan.

Laying their cards on the table with the midterms approaching, the nation’s Democrats have united to send a clear message: socialism is America’s only hope of ending the current nightmare of economic prosperity. “We’re living in a hellscape—but there is an escape,” 2020 presidential hopeful Joe Biden said… “democratic socialism is what’s going to free us from our horrific, flourishing, present conditions. You do the math.” …“Kill anyone who disagrees!” Maxine Waters bellowed from the background.

The Foundation for Economic Education just published a column with 10 of the jokes that East Germans told about their dictatorial government.

Here are my three favorites.

  • Why do Stasi officers make such good taxi drivers? — You get in the car and they already know your name and where you live.
  • What’s the best feature of a Trabant? — There’s a heater at the back to keep your hands warm when you’re pushing it.
  • What would happen if the desert became a socialist country? — Nothing for a while… then the sand becomes scarce.

Speaking of satire, Hasbro apparently has produced a socialist version of their famous Monopoly board game.

Sounds fake, but you can find it on Amazon.

John Ellis of PJ Media is quite amused.

Hasbro’s new “Monopoly: Socialism,” though, sounds like a hoot and a great way to continue to teach my kids why socialism is for the math-, economics-, and history-challenged among us. …the game sounds awesome! …the only game played in my house on game night henceforth will be Hasbro’s Monopoly: Socialism. …I get to incorporate both fun and education into family game night.

We’ll close out with another appearance by Libertarian Jesus.

Very appropriate given what I wrote about two weeks ago.

If you’re interested, other examples of Libertarian Jesus can be found here, here, and here.

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