This is a three part series, the next two being Capitalism and lastly, Themism.
Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela proves that even an oil-rich exporter can destroy itself with self-imposed socialism. India progressed only when it adopted free markets. People do not outsource 1-800 numbers to socialist paradises. No need to review the Soviet collapse or the change in China from a peasant to a wealth-building capitalist society.
Europe for a while longer works despite (rather than because of) democratic socialism. From Germany to Greece, Europe is moving away from the encroaching public sector that has nearly destroyed the European Union.
The failed British medical system is now our model. Yet even the pretense that it will save money is now abandoned. To get reelected, many of its Democratic adherents now run from their earlier votes. For some reason the chaos of the emergency room, the mess of the social services office, or the bureaucracy of the county building permit agency is our ideal for the brave, new doctor’s office.
So what’s wrong with socialism? Here are five dangers.
1) Policing the police. There is no check on an omnipotent government. We see that already with the hundreds of tax cheats in Congress and the White House, and the embarrassments of a Tim Geithner or Tom Daschle. Who oversees industry when industry is run by government?
The new technocracy also finds mechanisms to live capitalistically while ordering socialism for others. Hypocrisy leads to endemic cynicism. A look at he careers of a Charles Rangel, Maxine Waters, or Chris Dodd, or the tax ethics of a John Kerry, suggest that our statist overseers simply feel exempt from the law in Animal Farm fashion.
2) Demography. If there is no struggle to create income and savings (the state provides all needs; the state ensures against all risks; the state takes away most income; the state gobbles most inheritance), why worry about transcendence or passing anything along to children — or why children at all?
Agnosticism leads to a shrinking population and vice versa. If the state is the god, and defines happiness as social justice in the material sense, then the here and now is all that matters.
Lost is a sense of individual tragedy, self-sacrifice, personal accountability for sin and transgression, and appreciation for a larger world beyond and after this one.
3) Defense. It is far harder for a socialist state to defend itself — unless it is a tyrannical authoritarian one in the Hitlerian or Stalinist model.
4) Land of the Lotus Eaters? When most of us have public-sector, tenured jobs, what is the incentive to do well at work? There is no good, no bad, just everything and everyone the same. We see that now in everything from degraded titles and honorifics to block-style socialist apartment buildings.
5. Mediocrity. To ensure equality, socialism must take the top down. That is far easier than bringing the bottom up. In schools, that means far more invested in remediation than in honors. Why have a Tolstoy when at the ministry of education a committee can issue novels with far better themes of diversity and gender equity?
Not a bad article but not complete by any means. The problem with armchair socialists, the Hanoi Janes, is that they grew up in a western country. I’d like each and every one of them to go to Russia or China for a decade and not just experience their new economies but listen and talk to people who lived under the old. Mencken’s quote last night was accurate – people want security and are willing to trade freedom for that, as long as they don’t feel personally oppressed.
When you grow up in a state capitalist country, the only information from outside is via the samizdat and eventually, the inherent inefficiency of the state which oppresses you, while the leadership enjoys the perks, becomes intolerable. You are a serf. You might have virtually free gas and electricity, when it works, that is. You have a boxy state flat with a lift which sometimes works and to have it repaired involves mindboggling levels of paperwork and delay.
The people are infantilized and this is maybe the main criticism. I was in a meeting during the 1998 payments crisis and saw people throwing up their hands and incapable of either understanding it because Moscow hadn’t explained or very angry. Every person I saw as motivated by the interests of his/her own family, not by some great ideal.
The cruel delusion communists go by – that the stage of human misery while capitalism dies is just a precursor to the golden age of true communism, [have faith, comrades] which has never yet been achieved in the world due to interference by outside factors – that delusion brings on the 4th stage but never the 5th. In that 4th stage is a stagnant economy, no one able to shift careers or be judged on merit – only a tickbox mentality which is in fantasy land but serves to exclude people from work, from the chance to earn their own crust and any attempt to get anywhere involves huge barriers.
If there is a hell, then this is it – the mediocracy of it all, the complete lack of incentive to produce and succeed, the snuffing out of the spirit, in favour of a state administered pseudo-spirit. And in the end, in Thatcher’s words, other people’s money runs out.
The soft socialism of the westerner, which allows him to vote Labour whilst thinking he supports freedom, is a mindset which knows of no contradiction. He wants fairness for all, the end of oppression, civil rights, all the things which Labour’s policies will end, if allowed to take root and when it crashes, the equality and fairness is no nearer but instead there is a demoralized culture of welfare dependency and deep division within the community.