A lovely but unfortunately uber-liberal friend of mine shared this graphic on Facebook. It revealed such a profound and frightening misunderstanding of socialism that I felt I had to unravel it a bit.
First, what is “socialism”? Well, it’s not any of the things listed in the graphic. Not one. In fact, it has nothing to do with any of those things. Socialism is an economic system where the government owns the means of production of wealth. Here’s the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition:
Definition of socialism. 1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.
And here’s a definition from Paul Samuelson, the winner of the first Nobel Prize for economics:
“Socialism refers to the government ownership of the means of production, planning by the government and income distribution”.
Simply put, socialism is where the government owns the farms, the fishing boats, and the factories, and decides who gets the wealth thus produced.
Now, do you see anything in there about healthcare? Nope. Social security? Nope. Affordable college? Nope.
Because those are all services, not the means of production of wealth. Let me make a small digression here.
Wealth is the stuff that we use in our lives. Food. Vehicles. Steel. Clothing. Tools. Computers. Musical instruments. Houses. Gasoline. Lumber. And strange as it may seem, there are three, and only three, ways to produce wealth.
You can extract wealth from the natural world—dig a mine, catch a fish, fell a tree.
Or you can grow wealth—have a backyard garden, grow fields of corn “high as an elephant’s eye”, plant a tree farm, grow row vegetables.
Finally, you can manufacture wealth—construct a jungle gym for the kids, start a car factory, make a balalaika, sew dresses in your home, build a boat.
That’s it. All the rest is services. Many of these are essential services, perhaps life-and-death services to be sure … but services nonetheless.
To highlight this difference between activities that produce wealth and activities that are services, let me provide an example.
Suppose there are two couples living on an isolated tropical island. One person fishes, one has a garden, one gathers food and building materials from the forest, one makes clothes from some local fiber. They could go on for a long time that way because they are creating wealth.
But suppose on the next tropical island there are two couples, and one person is a barber, one is a doctor, one is a journalist, and one is a dietician. Now, those are noble occupations, we need all of them in modern society … but they are all still services nonetheless.
And because nobody on that second island is producing any wealth, those folks will have short lives because they have nothing to eat, nothing to wear, nothing to keep them from the rain. None of those occupations create wealth, while all of the activities on the first island do.
And this is why my shorthand description is that socialism is where the government owns the farms (growing wealth), the fishing boats (extracting wealth), and the factories (manufacturing wealth). Those are the “means of production”, and the question of who owns them and distributes what they produce is at the heart of the difference between capitalism and socialism.
Unfortunately, people continually confuse socialism with the provision of services. In addition to the mistaken listing of Social Security and healthcare as aspects of socialism in the graphic above, I’ve seen folks who claim that the US Post Office and the various local police forces show that the US is somewhat “socialist” … nope. Every one of them is a service.
And all kinds of governments, from tyrannies to monarchies to democracies to socialist governments, provide some level of services. Be clear. The provision of services, whether extensive or minimal, has absolutely nothing to do with socialism. Socialism is about the creation and distribution of wealth, not about services.
Next, the graphic says that the mythical Millenials referred to think of Canada and Switzerland when they hear “socialism” … I’d laugh if it weren’t so tragic. Both Canada and Switzerland are strongly capitalist societies. In neither country does the government own the farms, the fishing boats, or the factories. All they do is provide some services, like universal healthcare, that the US doesn’t provide. The poster boy for this is Denmark, which most of the uninformed extoll as a successful democratic socialist state … but in fact, it’s nothing of the sort.
Don’t believe me? How about the Prime Minister of Denmark. Would you believe him? He commented on this during a 2016 trip to the US (emphasis mine):
After seeing his country held up as an example in the US presidential debate, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen used an address at Harvard to explain the Nordic model to a US audience suddenly very interested in Denmark.
Speaking at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Danish PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen told students that he had “absolutely no wish to interfere the presidential debate in the US” but nonetheless attempted to set the record straight about his country.
“I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy,” Rasmussen said.
“The Nordic model is an expanded welfare state which provides a high level of security for its citizens, but it is also a successful market economy with much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life as you wish,” he added.
As I said … Canada, Switzerland, and Denmark have nothing to do with socialism because the government doesn’t own the means of production of wealth. They are, as the Danish PM made clear, “successful market economies” just like the US.
Finally, the most amazing part of this whole discussion is that there has NEVER been a successful socialist economy. The Soviet Union tried it. It failed, with millions dead. The Chinese tried it. It failed, with millions dead. The Cubans tried it, leading to untold misery. Hitler tried it with his “National Socialist” party (the “Nazi” party, an acronym for “Nationalsozialistische”), and we know how that worked out.
And so have a dozen or more other countries, all of whom tried socialism with the same outcome—tyranny, economic collapse, misery, police state, and death.
The most recent of the collapses, the “democratic socialism” of Venezuela, has died the same painful slow death that all the rest suffered. Venezuela proved the truth of the old maxim which says “You can vote your way into socialism … but you’ll have to shoot your way back out”.
Why do they all fail? They fail because unlike the free market, which is really good at producing and distributing goods, governments are bad at it, plus the temptation of the commissars to divert the goods to their own profit is irresistible. Matt Ridley, the brilliant British author, provided a lovely illustration of this:
Every object and service you use is the product of different minds working together to invent or manage something that is way beyond the capacity of any individual mind. This is why central planning does not work. 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.
On the other hand, with socialism, as with its uglier elder brother communism, the elite always end up with everything, and the workers end up with nothing. There’s a Soviet-era joke about Lenin showing his mother his lovely summer home. Now, like many socialist leaders and unlike his socialist followers, Bernie Sanders is a millionaire with no less than three homes. But he’s got a ways to go to catch up with his hero. Here’s a photo of Lenin’s “dacha”.
Lenin’s mother wandered around, marveling at the luxury of the furnishings, the gold leaf on the paintings, the size and grandeur of the building and the grounds. But at the end of the tour, she looked very worried, and Lenin asked her why.
“Oh, my dear boy, it’s so lovely,” she said, “but what will happen when the communists find out about this?”
Fun fact. Stalin, Lenin, and Bernie Sanders all share one characteristic. Outside of government and politics, none of them held any job for any length of time. If you want to be a socialist, it helps immensely in keeping the fantasy alive if you have no experience of any kind in a real job.
Here’s the frightening part. All of these forms of socialism and communism and democratic socialism and the rest flow from the demented ideas of Karl Marx, who is the largest mass murderer of all times. People following his economic bad dreams have killed untold poor souls:
Lenin/Stalin – 6 million from purges, the gulags, and deliberately induced famines.
Hitler’s National Socialists – 6 million in the camps, a total of 11 million non-combatants
Chairman Mao – maybe 70 million from famine, camps, and the “Great Leap Forward”
Pol Pot – 1 million through forced labor, camps, executions, and killing fields.
And that eighty million or so is just the scorecard for the superstars. It doesn’t include the tens of thousands killed by Castro, or Che Guevara, or Maduro of Venezuela (who endorsed Bernie Sanders in 2016), or a host of other lesser killers.
That is the real danger of socialism—it is a death cult that gives absolute power to the government, and as the old saying goes, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely”.
But despite that unvarying record of failure, sadly there are always more foolish young people with as little experience of real-world jobs as Bernie and Lenin had, who say “Well, yes, socialism has failed in the past, but they did it wrong, and we know how to do it right, this time we’re going to implement real socialism” …
You know what the one and only difference is between fascism and socialism?
Nobody ever says, “Well yeah, you’re right, fascism failed this time, but it wasn’t the REAL fascism” …
Like I said. Everything in that graphic regarding what millennials think about socialism is false. And you know what?
That’s scary … you can see why even the Democrat party leadership is terrified that Bernie Sanders might be their presidential candidate—it will be a disaster for the Democrats if he loses, and it will be a far worse disaster for the nation and our economy if he wins.
My warmest regards to all, even misguided Millenials,