The Fatal Lure of Democratic Socialism

I see that we now have socialists coming out of the political woodwork. This is quite strange to me because there has never been a successful socialist state. Socialism has been tried many, many times—in the USSR, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, the People’s Republic of Albania,  Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia, the People’s Republic of Angola, Belarus, the Peoples Republic of Benin, East Germany, Hungary, Venezuela, North Korea, Mongolia, Poland, Cuba, Romania, Myanmar, Cuba, South Yemen, the Peoples Republic of Bulgaria, Laos and Yugoslavia.

And in each and every one of these countries, socialism has not just failed—it has cratered with a huge toll in human suffering, economic deprivation, and death. Every time. No exceptions.

However, the socialist folks always have a ready-made excuse for the failure of socialism in all of these countries … in humorous form, the excuse goes like this:

Q: What’s the difference between Nazism and Socialism?

A: Nobody ever tried to excuse Nazism’s failures by saying “But it wasn’t TRUE Nazism” …

Here’s the most prominent American Socialist these days, engaging in a calm, measured, collegiate, reasonable debate on the merits of TRUE socialism:

socialist bernie.png

Bernie Sanders is a millionaire “socialist” who just accidentally happens to own three houses, all of them probably nicer than yours. I guess George Orwell was right when he wrote that all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others … but I digress.

So … just what is this “socialism” that everyone is on about? At its core, it is an economic system where the government owns and controls the means of production and distribution of wealth. Here’s a dictionary definition:

Socialism: a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

And here is Merriam-Webster on the subject:

Socialism: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.

Of course, in practice, the “community as a whole” or “the collective” or “the people” is just bafflegab for “the government”. In none of the socialist countries listed above did “the community as a whole” or “the workers” or “the people” end up making any of the important decisions. All power ended up in the hands of the central government, each and every time.

And also of course, under socialism the “distribution of goods” by “the community as a whole” somehow always manages to distribute the most valuable goods to the Swiss bank accounts of the Socialist leaders … see the leaders’ wealth in the list of countries above as evidence.

Now, bear in mind that socialism at its base is an economic system, and NOT a political system. Historically it has usually been instituted by force. However, if the people are foolish enough to vote for socialism, as they were in Venezuela, it is then called “Democratic Socialism”.

However, as Venezuela has proven, voting for “democratic” socialism doesn’t make it any less lethal … people are fleeing Venezuela, their economy is so bad that they can’t even produce toilet paper, people are eating their pets … but as any socialist will seriously tell you, this wasn’t TRUE socialism. You can tell because it failed, and TRUE socialism cannot fail …

Next, let me clear up one extremely common and dangerous misconception. Socialism is NOT about taxpayer money providing social services like the Fire Department, or roads, or medical care, or the Post Office, or the military, or public parks, or the Police, or piped water. Those are all services, and all governments of all types provide a greater or lesser range of services. That’s the basic reason that we have governments.

Socialism, on the other hand, has nothing to do with the provision of services. It is an economic system where the government owns the means of production of wealth—in Socialism the government owns the farms, fishing boats, and factories.

So please, don’t be claiming that the northern European countries are socialist. They are not, because those European governments do NOT own the farms, fishing boats, and factories. Those countries may provide a wider range of taxpayer-paid services than the US or other countries provide … but that does NOT magically make their capitalist economies into socialist economies. Quite the opposite. Their successful capitalist economies are the reason that they can afford to provide those services …

So what kind of socialism are these short-sighted Americans advocating? Many of them, including the freshly-minted New York socialist politician yclept Alexandria Occasional-Cortex, are members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

socialist alexandria oc

And what does the DSA advocate for?

It’s the usual recycled boring socialist mantra. Here’s their NewSpeak description of their ideals, from their website:

Democracy would be expanded beyond the election of political officials to include the democratic management of all businesses by the workers who comprise them and by the communities in which they operate. Very large, strategically important sectors of the economy — such as housing, utilities and heavy industry — would be subject to democratic planning outside the market, while a market sector consisting of worker-owned and -operated firms would be developed for the production and distribution of many consumer goods. In this society, large-scale investments in new technologies and enterprises would be made on the basis of maximizing the public good, rather than shareholder value.

I don’t understand this level of foolishness. They are talking about putting janitors and typists and delivery drivers in charge of managing the corporations and businesses that they work for. And for the rest, there will be “democratic planning outside the market” on the basis of “maximizing the public good” … and if that doesn’t chill your blood and make you grab on to your wallet, you’re not paying attention to history.

I also like the passive-voice magical quality of their incantations, such as the following:

” … a market sector consisting of worker-owned and -operated firms would be developed …”

“Would be developed”? Developed by who, exactly, and for whose benefit?

Perhaps the clearest example of why socialism doesn’t and can’t work was given by Matt Ridley in a post here. He said:

Ten million people eat lunch in London most days; how the heck they get what they want and when and where, given that a lot of them decide at the last minute, is baffling. Were there a London lunch commissioner to organise it, he would fail badly. Individual decisions integrated by price signals work, and work very well indeed.

Seriously, can you imagine some poor socialist London Lunch Commissioner trying to get that right? Their first action would be to standardize the lunches so they could be mass produced in a central facility, beans and frankfurters for everybody, problem solved …

And London lunches are far from the most complex of situations that “individual decisions integrated by price signals” are able to solve and solve very well. I know that many folks don’t like it but … lightly but firmly regulated free market capitalism is a horrible system that just happens to work better than any other economic system ever invented.

Now, you can’t get the marks inside the circus tent without promising them a pile of freebies, viz:

socialism free stuff.png

According to their website, the Democratic Socialists think that the following should be 100% free:

Health care

Child care

Education (from pre-K through higher education)

Shelter

Transportation

And of course, since this doesn’t cover necessities like buying condoms and having enough dope to smoke or beer to drink, their agenda also includes:

A universal basic income — that is, a base salary for every member of society, regardless of the person’s employment status.

How on earth do they plan to pay for that? And more importantly, just who do they think will pay for it? These folks seem to forget a basic rule of economics:

For everyone who is given money without working for it, someone else has to work without getting money for it.

Or as Margaret Thatcher famously said,

The trouble with socialism is that sooner or later, you run out of other people’s money.

Nor is this the end of the lunacy of the Democratic Socialists of America. Again from the DSA website:

Economic democracy would be complemented in the political sphere by a new system that combined an overhauled form of representative democracy (our current system) with direct democracy, a system in which individuals participate directly in the making of political decisions that affect them. In this system, the Senate (an extremely unrepresentative political body in which states with very small populations have the same level of representation as the most populous states) would be abolished, and a system of proportional representation would be established so that Congress actually reflects the political will of the electorate.

Hey, why not? I mean, the US system of divided government, with both Senators and Representatives, has worked very successfully for 250 years, so let’s junk the Senate and try something totally new. What could possibly go wrong? It’s worth noting that the “states with very small populations” will be totally ignored in the new system, while the populated states will rule everyone … the stupid, it burns …

These folks seem to have no clue why we have the system we have. It’s because the US is a union of states, as the name clearly says—we are the United States, not the “United People“. And when the states first united, the “states with very small populations” were very worried that idiots like the Democratic Socialists of America would put all of the power in the hands of the big states, and they would have no say at all in how they were governed, or anything else … so we have the Senate and the Electoral College to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard.

Messing with that amazingly successful system at this point would be the height of stupidity, which may be why the DSA is pushing it—they’re going for a new world record, or at least a personal best, in political cluelessness.

And what else does the DSA want?

Public resources would be devoted to the development of a genuinely free press and a democratically administered mass media.

Oh, yeah, that’s a brilliant plan, because publicly owned and “democratically administered” government propaganda organs have been such a powerful force for truth around the world … and what else?

A wide range of programs to dismantle the privileges associated with whiteness, maleness and heteronormativity would have to be developed, and antidiscrimination policies in the workplace and in social organizations would have to be intensified.

So they are simultaneously going to attack “whiteness” and “discrimination” … foolish me, I thought that attacking people based on the color of their skin, as they are doing, WAS discrimination. I can see that I’m falling behind in my ability to understand NewSpeak.

In closing, let me say that in reading through the various DSA manifestos, and in listening to or reading the speeches of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Occasional-Cortex, the truth shines through clearly, viz:

We have always been at war with Oceania, President Trump obviously colluded with Oceania to illegitimately win the election, and the cure for that is to turn over the ownership and the running of all US businesses to the US Government and everything will be just fine, because the US Government was so gosh-dang successful with Solyndra …


Best to all on a sparkling summer day, and come November, remember to vote …

w.

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77 thoughts on “The Fatal Lure of Democratic Socialism

    • The mid term elections are going to be interesting. Im stocking up on the popcorn. I fear your country is on a slippery slope to another civil war which is why the Dems are so interested in disarming the citizens at any cost. As your nearest friendly neighbour I hope I’m wrong.
      Good Luck

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    • It seems that any movement political wants to use government to accomplish the mission. Maybe that statement is a tautology. Fascist is tossed about usually as a pejorative and the MSM definitions imply racism and all the ugly things. In these matters I trust Ron Paul, mises.org and Lew Rockwell:

      What, then, is fascism? To Rockwell, it is an aggressive nationalism and imperialism, together with domination of the economy by the state.

      The state, for the fascist, is the instrument by which the people’s common destiny is realized, and in which the potential for greatness is to be found. Individual rights, and the individual himself, are strictly subordinate to the state’s great and glorious goals for the nation. In foreign affairs, the fascist attitude is reflected in a belligerent chauvinism, a contempt for other peoples, and a society-wide reverence for soldiers and the martial virtues.

      To what countries might the above apply?

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Well stated Willis! You can bet your Bippy that I’ll be in the booth come November <- sorry, a little Laugh-In broke out.

    It's not a laughing matter at all. I just finished teaching a summer session in a local community college and I must say the students basically don't have a clue about the world. I had one student tell me she hated physics, then told me she deserved an A. Not because she aced all the tests, simply because she felt she deserved it. She's majoring in the "Social Sciences".

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    • “Capitalism, OTOH, cooperates with human nature and succeeds wildly.” UNTIL, that is, as Jefferson pointed out, corporations take over in which case the country is lost.

      Basically, Ghadaffi’s Libya was very much a “socialist” state. highly successful, too, judging by their standard of living – before WE destroyed it, that is. As for whether of not socialism would work, when someone attempts it, WE go whole hog at trying to make it fail. Hard to tell if “socialism” would work as in nearly every country Willis mentioned, the west did its best to make sure it failed, or outright destroyed the nation in the process. I don’t believe in socialism, but I won’t condemn it out of hand because it depends as much on the people as anything else. Democracy, a governmental form that Jefferson sais was worse than a monarchy, has not proved to be the savior of civilization, either. Again, when corporations and corporate thought processes of maximum profit take over a country, the people will suffer, and that is when socialism starts to look better. Just saying.

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      • I am more than happy to condemn socialism out of hand. Read “Socialism” by von Mises and perhaps you’ll understand why socialism, even on the theoretical level, can’t possibly work.

        The anti-corporation sentiment is misguided and non-factual. Free markets require businesses, including evil corporations, to do what the general population wants them to do – that is, if they wish to survive. I say “misguided” because where corporations go off the rails is when they convince government to tilt the playing field in their direction. That’s the thing we should be opposing, excessive meddling in the marketplace by government, not corporations per se.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I don’t think the USAsuffers from “excessive” meddling in the economy. It’s the consequences of unregulated commerce – like monopoly abuse, regulatory capture, crony capitalisim and the rest that makes some people go off the deep end into Socialism.

          Monopoly abuse and regulatory capture gives Americans lousy broadband and abusive health care insurance.
          Crony capitalism leads to the skimmers of Wall Street and incestuous controls on boardroom pay.

          Only be reining in the excessive power of business size and influence can the market be the servant of its consumers, not their master.

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          • quote: It’s the consequences of unregulated commerce – like monopoly abuse, regulatory capture, crony capitalisim and the rest that makes some people go off the deep end into Socialism.

            umm, you say unregulated commerce is the problem, but then in the specifics you use regulatory capture and crony capitalisim, both of which are only possible as the result of regulations being abused.

            either the problem is unregulated commerce, or it’s government regulations.

            If the problem is government regulations being abused (which 2 of your 3 are, and the third (monopoly abuse) is really far less of a problem in practice than the others), then adding more regulations isn’t going to solve the problem

            Liked by 2 people

          • You also meet the ‘crony capitalism’ effect in nominally Socialist countries like ANC-ruled South Africa. Only here, it shows up as theft of national goods by ‘government supported’ cronies who have ‘friends in high places’, and never seem to be hauled to justice.

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          • Mr Lang and Wood. You stepped in exactly what I was thinking. Again I’ll look to Ron Paul that the government created a problem with other countries tariffs on US agriculture by burdening the US tax payers with subsidized grants and tax breaks to farmers. Again to paraphrase Ron Paul. Apparently we’re punishing China by taxing US citizens.

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      • In response to TOM O 11:32 am
        ” I don’t believe in socialism, but I won’t condemn it out of hand…”
        That’s how it all goes bad. Ask any sane person in Venezuela, if any still live there…

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  2. Changing the “system” is advocated by people who are out of the system. Keeping the system is all about people who now control the levers of power. Daniel Ortega, President, on his umpteenth or so term in Nicaragua comes to mind. Violent overthrow of the establishment was his route to power. Now he suppresses violent overthrow of his establishment. This is all understandable as the whole Presidential game is predicated upon acquiring and using his military for keeping power.

    I am not particularly surprised nor alarmed that the Democratic Socialists want to acquire power, that is altogether proper and fitting. They deserve their shot at trying to convince Americans that they (Americans) can and should do with less, all in the name of equity, sustainability, and being good stewards of the world. Give to others that that you would want for yourself and your family, after all, it is free, really effortless. Competition has the ugly side of some winners and losers, and, in an era of every child deserves a trophy, every family deserves a Government assurance of an existence, no matter how low everyone else must descend to ensure such a status and then endure. Banish all thoughts of economic growth, participation, and industriousness as there is no motivation for such. We need more men living lives of quiet desperation.

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  3. Willis, I’ve often heard the northern European countries used as examples of socialism that worked, but hadn’t heard the rebuttal. Thanks for your explanation.

    I see you list Cuba twice – is that because they tried twice?

    If socialists are against whiteness, maleness and heteronormativity, what are they going to do with Bernie Sanders? (rhetorical question…)

    Thanks much for your insightful articles.

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  4. A Cuban woman I was chatting to in Miami airport told me that she had to hand over the deeds to her house to the government in order to leave the island. The same thing is being prepared in Venezuela.

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  5. Remember: China Dictator Xi Jinping loves these people.
    …easy way is to have your opponent flail with internal problems.

    Of course, the clueless wonders are sure they are the (d)elite!
    ….just ask them!
    If the “workers” are soooo smart, why don’t they create a company and get rich?
    ….ans. unlike Gate/Jobs/Edison/etc, being clueless and not knowing how,
    ……..everything is stacked against the clueless wonders,
    ……… by their parents who told them how “wonderful” the little tykes were..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Free markets tend to produce hierarchies of competence, at least to the degree that the population has some level of virtue (not lying, cheating, or stealing). Socialism purports to replace that hierarchy with no hierarchy at all, which of course is impossible and always results in a hierarchy of raw power, which is something to fear indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I believe it was Gingrich back in the ’90s who used the analogy of credit card/debit card systems compared to government run systems, anywhere in the world he traveled he could put his card into an ATM and get out cash. The transaction was accurately accounted and tracked, whilst government run systems can not keep track of their own spending, much less accurately account for equipment, documents or personnel on a monthly basis, much less quarterly or annually. This applies to socialism 1000 fold!

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  6. Anytime someone starts with this mantra to me I hold up a hand and point them to Zimbabwe, Venezuela and now South Africa. If they attempt in anyway to defend them I walk away, they are already lost, don’t waste time on them. Far too many others in America you can show the truth to and have a chance of them accepting it.

    The fact our education system has been turning out graduates who can not think beyond “I want, I want, I want!!!!” and not follow it with “what do I do to get it myself?” is what is leading us into this nightmare.

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  7. Here is the fastest way to shut down a Socialist:

    Okay… so what happens once the government runs everything and Donald Trump is elected president?

    But let’s look at the history of Democratic Socialism and by that I mean the exact kind of Socialism that Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gush about, ie. voluntary, worker controlled societies where everything is owned and managed for common good.

    We actually have had several examples that worked quite well for a while. Case in point is the Amana Colonies in Iowa. It is probably the closest thing to idealized communism that the world has ever known. At its height, the colonies comprised 26,000 acres with 1,800 people living in 7 communities, where work, dining and child-care was all shared. It was socialist heaven on earth.

    But it no longer exists. It failed. Why?

    The colonies were based on religion and during the 1930’s with a rise of secularism and modernism, the residents wanted more freedom. They wanted personal choice, the right to hold their own opinions and control their own lives.

    And there it is, freedom.

    In any human organization, conflicts will arise. People will not want to do what their leaders want them to do. They may not want to do or think what the majority wants them to. In a society where people own their own property, they can simply walk off and retain the fruits of their labor.

    In socialist societies, like the Amana Colonies, this was a problem – which eventually led to its dissolution.

    In our modern society, we have all kinds of organizations that are worker and customer owned. We have co-ops, credit unions, worker owned businesses, condo and townhouse associations, even a football team (the Packers). All of these instances are voluntary and work with some degree of success because if you don’t like the direction they are going, you can get out of them.

    But that is not what Bernie and Alexanderia are talking about. What they want is control, the kind that you can’t get out of.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I can think of an example, where socialism worked – for a short time and with a small number of people. And that was the Israeli kibbutz movement. The kibbutzim helped to create a nation from a load of (mostly) desert. But there aren’t many remaining – modern production methods and requirements moved away from the initial self-sacrificing methods.
        Right – but what works for time with a small number of people just can’t be extrapolated to a full-sized country.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. One more thought…

    I suppose what bothers me most about Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez approach to Socialism is that they want to impose it top-down. One would think that if Socialism was viable, it could be built from the bottom up.

    As I stated upthread, we do have things like credit unions, co-ops, worker owned businesses and housing associations that follow a quasi-socialist model and work to some degree of success, Kudos to them, but they have failed to become the model for social organization.

    There are no legal barriers to anyone entering into a communal social or business contract, and let me say that if there are barriers, it would be in the interest of society to remove them.

    So why do Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez insist on a top-down approach? The answer is clear, the bottom-up model has failed to gain traction, so it must be imposed top-down. And the reason socialism has failed to bubble up? It is the same reason it has failed for thousands of years – free people always choose the alternatives.

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    • Actually, the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of capitalism. The Pokanoket and Nauset did not give the palefaces food and farming technology, they traded it to them. Capitalism, baabee!!!! It is what makes the human race function.

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      • I believe George meant something more like “recovery from socialism”. You mentioned trade, but being able to keep and trade the fruits of your labors resulted in the population working hard. That first year, they didn’t have to, because all would be provided according to need. They almost starved. They had nothing to trade – and no goods to meet the needs of the community or the individual.

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        • Yep, the original compact the Plymouth colonists signed collectivized all property and supplies, and it nearly killed them. Add to that they established their position very late in the year and in a bad location, it was nearly a “perfect storm” situation.

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  9. The interesting thing about all of this (below) is that it incentivises people to be productive, make profits, and create wealth.

    So please, don’t be claiming that the northern European countries are socialist. They are not, because those European governments do NOT own the farms, fishing boats, and factories.

    . . . could be said about the USA, also. I don’t know how those European countries manage, but where individuals (& other entities) own things there are usually taxes and fees needing to be paid to continue owning and using some of the said things. If one fails to pay, then control (or use) of the property will be taken in some complete or partial manner. If you do not license your car, you can park it or drive it illegally.

    At the county level: The primary characteristic of personal property is its mobility. It can include machinery, equipment, supplies, and furniture. Property tax applies to the personal property used when conducting business, farming, or to other personal property not exempted by law. [Washington State wording]

    Thus, own a tractor – pay tax or a fee.

    Makes for a dynamic society.

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  10. Many of the countries you mention had it imposed at the point of a gun. One that started to do it through parliament was Britain with the nationalization of the railroad and coal industries during the post war period. And let’s not forget the National Healthcare.

    One thing about the socialists is that, though they claim to want the people to make the decisions, they are actually elitists. Of course they are the elite so they should run things and not the Lumpen Proletariat and everyone who is not of their group qualifies as one of the LP.

    We need a new term to describe what we’re seeing in this country: the amalgam of the media, academia and bureaucracy who believe they should be in control. They’ve figured out that they don’t need to actually run things (that would actually be hard). What they’ve figured out is that they just need to control everything through regulations that take the control away from the people and their elected officials. Control the media, academia, bureaucracy and courts and you’ve got control of everything without the responsibility. If something fails, it’s not their fault it’s the fault of the evil capitalists who did it.

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  11. Yes 100 years 100 million people dead that’s the score.

    Break it down 3000/day or one 9/11 per day. and note that does not make 9/11 not a tragedy.

    The key signal that socialism is in play is the drift away from democracy.

    Nobody votes repeatedly for a party if they get poorer so the solution is remove or modify the terms of the democracy.
    This is by way of example visible in the CAGW rulers who state that this issue CAGW is to big to trust to democracy, the second agenda emerges.
    Good discussion, good article and you should use the Matt Ridley work more often he is a beacon of capability.

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  12. Excellent post Willis. Their approach to changing the world is 180° off course. If anyone wants to improve the world, they have to start with themselves. A good collective is comprised of good individuals. The individuals are not good by virtue of belonging to the collective which is simply the sum of the individuals.

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  13. Years ago I can’t remember where I read the quote about the old USSR postal workers
    “as long as they pretend to pay us we’ll pretend to work”

    James Bull

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  14. Another reason that (pure) socialism will probably never work is that, to paraphrase Peterson, forming hierarchies is literally hard-coded in our DNA. A flat decision structure is therefore hard to maintain.

    Still, it doesn’t have to be a black and white issue; one could take on board some socialist ideas without risking Stalinist practises. Coming from a prosperous western-European state with a pretty strong political influence of socialist parties (held in check by center and right-wing parties), I’d say that having things like health care, childcare and education for all *is* economically viable (we’ve done it for decades, in different implementations), and, because it is economically viable, the “decent” way to go (having an opportunity to be healthy and improve your own situation are important factors, IMO).

    Basic income, though, I’m not a fan of… There’s already plenty of evidence that a certain percentage of folks is perfectly content to sit on their behinds while others do the work.

    Concluding, I’d say that financial support should generally be reserved for those incapable of improving their own situation on their own (I’m not saying that it is a universal *right*, though).

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    • Thanks, Frank. You say that you are from “a prosperous western-European state with a pretty strong political influence of socialist parties”. However, that is NOT a socialist state.

      For example, speaking at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Danish PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen told students: “I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Denmark is far from a socialist economy. Denmark is a free market economy.”

      Nor are ideas like “health care, childcare, and education for all” socialist ideas. Those are SERVICES. The US, for example, has education for all. The only difference is the US government stops paying at the end of high school, while some other countries extend it for four more years, and other countries stop paying before high school … but does free high school education mean the US is implementing “socialist ideas”?

      No way.

      All governments provide services, some more than others. That’s what governments do, it’s why we have them. But government-paid childcare is no different than a government-paid high school education—both are services, and provision of services does NOT magically turn a free market economy into a socialist economy.

      Best regards,

      w.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Heya Willis,

        In your post, you juxtapose a list of what you consider services (some of them free like fire dept, military and police, some of them not free like roads and piped water) with a list of things that the Socialists want to provide for free (among which, the three I mentioned).

        By now saying “Nor are ideas like “health care, childcare, and education for all” socialist ideas. Those are SERVICES”, you seem to be moving the goal posts – then you might as well say that the basic income is not a socialist idea, either. In any case, I’d rather say they are at least more socialist than capitalist in nature (even though education for all even makes economic sense).

        I would say what makes a service a service is that practically everybody needs it, and we can’t do it all by ourselves (police, military, fire dept, roads, etc.). Any type of *financial* redistribution is not a service in that definition.

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        • Frank, I don’t know what you are calling “a socialist idea”. Socialism isn’t a bunch of ideas. It is an economic system wherein the means of production of wealth, that is to say the farms, the fishing boats, and the factories, are all owned and operated by the government.

          There are only three ways to produce wealth—you can extract it from nature (fishing boats, mines, etc.), you can grow it (farms, aquaculture, etc.), or you can manufacture it (car factories, bottle-making plants, etc.). That’s it.

          All the rest are services—important services, critical services some of them, but still services.

          Note that I am making a clear distinction between money (a medium of exchange) and wealth (real stuff like food, clothing, houses, things that we need for life).

          Take barbers as a good example. If you get your hair cut twenty times, you don’t end up any wealthier than when you started. Whether the government provides the haircuts or a private barber doesn’t matter—it’s still a service, and as such, it has nothing to do with socialism. Socialism is about the means of production of wealth, not about services.

          Hope this helps,

          w.

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          • Mr. Eschenbach,
            Because I am a contrary fellow and because I like to wrestle with abstractions, I cannot refrain from thinking about your construct of the creation of “wealth.” As you are well aware, eminent economists have spent entire careers attempting to define certain fuzzy abstractions.

            While noting the distinction you have made between “money” and “wealth” and your definition of “services” as the residual of excluding wealth production (as defined by you) from economic activity, I cannot help but ponder where you would place life-extending medical procedures (e.g., bypass surgery, organ transplantation) in your categorization.

            I know you to be a practical fellow with wide interests and limited time. I will neither be offended nor disappointed should you choose to ignore what you may (justifiably) view as akin to the question of “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.”

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          • Thanks, John. Contrary fellows are the lifeblood of advancement.

            Medicine, like haircutting, is a service. If I am given twenty boxes of tomatoes, I end up wealthier. If I am given twenty fish, I end up wealthier. This is evidence that rowing tomatoes or catching fish produce wealth.

            But if I am given twenty medical operations, or if I am given twenty haircuts, I do not end up wealthier. All the operations do is restore the status quo ante, just like the haircut. Therefore, they are services.

            w.

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  15. Willis: This article supports you on every point:

    On the same day that Venezuela’s “democratically” elected socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, whose once-wealthy nation now has citizens foraging for food, announced he was lopping five zeros off the country’s currency to create a “stable financial and monetary system,” Meghan McCain of “The View” was the target of internet-wide condemnation for having stated some obvious truths about collectivism.

    During the same week we learned that the democratic socialist president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, is accused of massacring hundreds of protesters whose economic futures have been decimated by his economic policies, Soledad O’Brien and writers at outlets ranging from GQ, to BuzzFeed, to the Daily Beast were telling McCain to cool her jets.

    In truth, McCain was being far too calm. After all, socialism is the leading man-made cause of death and misery in human existence. Whether implemented by a mob or a single strongman, collectivism is a poverty generator, an attack on human dignity, and a destroyer of individual rights.

    [emphasis added]

    I don’t quite agree socialism is the “leading … cause of death and misery in human existance”: Ghengis Khan by some estimations killed 5% of the world population at the time. But certainly socialism is the worst governing idea anyone has tried on a national scale in the last 300 years. And I’ll bet the Venezuelans are finding it increasingly hard to tell the difference between their “democratically elected” socialist government and a Mongol invasion.

    I understand that for Millennials the old Soviet Union and Maoist China might as well be ancient Greece and Rome, but the Venezuelan disaster is entirely within their lifetimes: just 1999-2010 to firmly establish the trajectory, which has only worsened since Chávez’s death. But hey, how about Denmark?

    Socialism: it feels so right, but it always ends so wrong.

    Like

  16. I think most of the interest in socialism comes from people seeing the boom in China. They don’t realize that they had a low starting point with total socialism.The boom came from allowing some capitalism.

    Like

    • donb July 29, 2018 at 5:54 pm

      Most conservatives consider several countries in western Europe socialist. Are they failures??

      Thanks, Don. Most conservatives I know think that Venezuela is socialist, and western Europe is not. But don’t take my word for it.

      Speaking at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Danish PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen told students: “I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Denmark is far from a socialist economy. Denmark is a free market economy.”

      Remember, socialism is where the government owns the farms, the fishing boats, and the factories. That’s not true in Denmark, nor in any other western European countries.

      My best regards to you and yours,

      w.

      Like

      • Mainly I hear people on the left proclaiming socialism is a success in European countries. Many countries in Europe have and are dabbling in some modified forms of socialism, such as government run healthcare, energy production/distribution, public transport systems. It never really ends well for the people underneath the bureaucrats and “elected” officials who live like royalty of old.

        Like

  17. Mr. Eschenbach,

    Almost without fail, I derive considerable pleasure and amusement from your essays. Not only are you an accomplished sailor and a decent programmer, you are also a competent wordsmith.

    Like

  18. I have to say, the increasingly desperate histrionics like “Oh noes they’re trying to shower people with free education and healthcare like every other advanced nation on the planet” and “there has never been a successful socialist [democratic] State [aside from all of Western Europe]” are fairly amusing.

    Like

    • “Amusing”??!?

      You should shake off your sloth and ACTUALLY READ THE POST AND THE COMMENTS before uncapping your electronic pen. As I pointed out in the head post, Western Europe is NOT socialist.

      But heck, you don’t have to believe me. As I quoted in the comments:

      Speaking at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Danish PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen told students: “I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Denmark is far from a socialist economy. Denmark is a free market economy.”

      Did you get that, Sloth? The Danish PM says that DENMARK IS A FREE MARKET ECONOMY! Repeat that until your head explodes and all of your incorrect ideas about Western European so-called “socialism” drain out.

      What is sad, but not amusing, is your obvious lack of understanding of what socialism actually is. For example, it is not free education. We have free education in the US through high school. Obviously, you believe that free education through high school is NOT socialism, but free college education IS socialism … how does that work?

      In fact, neither one is socialism, they are just different levels of services.

      In any case, welcome to the blog.

      w.

      Like

  19. The title is very good! “The Fatal Lure of Democratic Socialism”. That word ‘lure’ is exactly right, as in a fishing lure, something that looks good to the fish but which is not what it seems, it contains the fatal hook.

    “democratic management of all businesses”. I can imagine how that would (not) work. Twitter comes to mind. Elliot Roberts said: “I don’t believe in equal opinion. I believe in best opinion.”

    Like

  20. Hi Willis,

    The classic on this subject is ‘The road to serfdom’ by F.A. Hayek. His premise (and accompanying economic analysis) was that government economic control (especially on a national scale) inevitably leads to loss of freedom and, if taken to the limit, a totalitarian state. It was written during the height of WWII and argued, in essence, that the fascist movement in Italy and the national socialist movement in Germany were not that different economically from the various communist efforts at economic control.

    All the best,
    TGB

    Liked by 2 people

  21. The Jamestown settlement in Virginia is a perfect history lesson of the failure of socialism. People were starving and famine was plentiful until a new governor named John Smith told the settlers to work or starve and provided the settlers with property rights. When the settlers were able to keep the fruits of their labor the community began to thrive.
    The left likes to ignore history.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I’ve asked many times among my Facebook fraternity, which includes a number of Socialists – including one of my brothers – for an example of a successful Socialist country. I still haven’t got any suggestions – and I’m not holding my breath.

    Like

  23. Unlike my socialist brother and his comrades… I spent some time in Venezuela up until they voted the Socialists in. I haven’t been back since 2006 and it was already deteriorating – as predicted – by then. In the last few years the disintegration has gone exponential. We can fully expect Mexico and Spain to join the club.

    Like

  24. w.,
    Not to worry. If all else fails, we can always talk our way to wealth (e.g., Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, NPR, PBS, Alex. Brown, Hambrecht, CNN, MSNBC, et al )

    Like

    • James, since I NEVER said that “giving everyone healthcare and housing is bad”, I have no clue who you are talking to, but it sure isn’t me …

      w.

      (Psst—I’m mocking you because you appear to be either too clueless or too arrogant to follow a polite request to QUOTE THE EXACT WORDS YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT … if you’d simply done that you’d have realized I said nothing of the sort)

      Like

  25. Great article. I come from a city where all the young claim to love Socialism and Communism, then when asked to name an instance of when socialism worked, they ALWAYS say Scandinavia…. which is barely socialist, is crashing since they’ve become more socialist, and was successful due to economic practises that preceded their adoption of socialist policies… but anyway. I keep hearing that ‘those other countries weren’t doing it right’ argument, which is ludicrous. As Jordan Peterson pointed out, what those people are really saying is, “if I was the socialist leader of this country, it would be done right!” A pretty egregious statement.

    Like

  26. Hat tip to RT. I didn’t know that Huxley wrote an analysis of his Brave New World 27 years later.
    “Brave New World Revisited”
    https://www.huxley.net/bnw-revisited/

    “The prophecies made in 1931 are coming true much sooner than I thought they would. The blessed interval between too little order and the nightmare of too much has not begun and shows no sign of beginning.”

    “George Orwell’s 1984 was a magnified projection into the future of a present that contained Stalinism and an immediate past that had witnessed the flowering of Nazism. Brave New World was written before the rise of Hitler to supreme power in Germany and when the Russian tyrant had not yet got into his stride. ”
    […]
    “But, assuming for the moment that the Great Powers can somehow refrain from destroying us, we can say that it now looks as though the odds were more in favor of something like Brave New World than of something like 1984.”

    It’s heavy reading, although short, and it feels dated and alarmist. He thinks that imposing a dystopian system by force is not as effective as using temptation and desires, but I don’t think he foresaw that we would desire to impose it upon ourselves. The lure of socialism.

    Like

  27. I keep thinking about how perfect the title is, the lure of socialism and “democratic” socialism. As if the “democratic” makes any difference, as in, say, The Peoples Democratic Socialist Republic of YouBetYourStan”.

    James J Jackson Jr above isn’t the only one sucked in. “Yes giving everyone healthcare and housing is bad, boo taking care of ppl even though every study shows we can afford to!” giving, as in free. “We” can afford to, as in “you”, or the 1%, or the rich. He forgot to mention free education, as long as it only teaches the PC stuff.

    Do you know what the difference between socialism and communism is? Communism is what you are left with after doing Socialism and the “other people’s money” runs out. According to Marx, with Communism, you don’t need money. That’s good, because there isn’t any. Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, …

    Marx’s stages leading to Communism:
    http://learneconomicsonline.com/marxist.php
    It ends with Capitalism, then Socialism, then Communism. The End.
    Interesting, but I don’t think he got all the stages right, and not in the right order, and in particular, he left out the “Failed State” anarchy.

    Then there are the ten planks of The Communist Manifesto (available from Project Gutenberg):
    1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
    2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
    3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.
    4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
    5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
    6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
    7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
    8. Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
    9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.
    10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production.
    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/61
    Pretty dull reading, but Marx and Engels do comment on the various kinds of Socialism.

    All power to the state. That was 1848. He would express this somewhat differently now, but still put it in terms of equality. It’s unfair that the rich have all the money!

    You’ve heard of Noble Cause Corruption. Think of this as Noble Cause Seduction.

    Like

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