I went to the bank yesterday to get a document notarized, and struck up a great conversation with the lovely associate manager, Roxana. Noticing an Eastern-European accent, I asked her about her background, and she said her family came to the United States from Romania in the 80’s, fleeing the Ceausescu regime. I mentioned that I don’t think many Americans know much about Romania, nor how truly evil Nikolae Ceausescu was. I asked her what her opinion was of the rising popularity of Socialism and even Communism in America as we head toward the 2020 election.
She said “So many Americans have a warped sense of Socialism and Communism. I hear romantic talk from several of my American friends about Socialism, but I urge them to go visit a Socialist country.”
With that, she swept her arms emphatically outward. “I tell them ‘You would not want that. You do not know what you speak of. Socialism is sold to the people in a different way, and it never works’.” She told me of her mother, who used to keep a radio under her pillow at night, to listen to Radio Free Europe, deathly afraid of being arrested by the Securitate for doing so. She dreamed of finally making her own break to the free West.
Romania was one of the most paranoid and closely-controlled Eastern-Bloc states, with an estimated half a million informants monitoring the everyday lives of 22 million people. Children informed on their parents, neighbors on neighbors, teachers on parents and more.
In 1975, when Romania’s coal miners were organizing behind the scenes to strike, the Securitate brought leaders in for medical checkups and x-rayed them each for five minutes straight, intending to give them lung cancer; all died prematurely. In the 1980’s, when central authorities became concerned about birthrates, the Securitate sat in on all gynecological appointments, and prevented all abortions. In 1989, Romanians rose up and finally overthrew the regime, and have moved toward a more Western style economy. Their GDP is up fourfold since then.
I am not arguing that America’s current balance of laws and distribution is perfect, nor am I arguing against new regulations which should be passed. I am in fact in favor of most of Bloomberg’s aggressive tax plan, which would raise rates on the wealthy considerably.
But a largely free market with private property (i.e., well-regulated “capitalism”) beats Socialism and Communism any day. We should have learned this over the past 100 years of trying it.
Expand Federal Powers Cautiously
Here in the United States, nearly all federal powers, once granted, live well beyond a single administration. They last through D and R administrations, through competent and less competent, through “good” and “evil.” It is therefore a good exercise to ask yourself, before granting central planners more authority and power over our lives, whether you’re comfortable with that authority and resource allocation being in the hands of your worst ideological enemy.
Too many people seem to assume that these new federal powers will be overseen by a benevolent, transparent, uncorrupt agency and executive, forever. It’s worth pausing for a moment to consider the likelihood that there will some day be an administration which is none of these. Do you wish them to be in control of all those powers?
Why does Socialism continue to fail time after time? Why does it never seem to work out as well as envisioned, from the days of New Harmony, Indiana to the USSR, to the Cold War Eastern Bloc, to North Korea to Venezuela? I’d say it’s human nature, and human capacities.
One cannot legislate out the human desire to better oneself nor the life for one’s family. If you put agencies in charge of billions/trillions of dollars, it’s not always going to be the case that you get wise, benevolent resource allocators. Further, most people will expect things in return for their efforts and risk, and will work hard to acquire better resources.
Compounding matters — it’s impossible to unlock, or even to know, the full innovative and productive potential of humans in a command economy, nor the hidden demands as revealed by markets.
A centrally-planned, aggressively re-distributive economy saps the motive from productive and risk-taking humans, and moves all ambition to corrupt power positions of the state. Because it runs counter to human nature, vast security states need to be established, travel must be restricted and oppression must be implemented to force people into a system they do not, by nature, desire.
State-sponsored Socialism has played out this way every single time in the 20th century when it’s been tried.
What are Some of the Most Mind-Blowing Things About Communism?
It’s mind-blowing that Communism still has a hold, and an increasing one at that, on the minds of so many in the “progressive” left, despite its dismal record in the 20th and 21st centuries.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 43% of Americans feel that some form of socialism would be a good thing for the country, gaining 18 percentage points since 1942.
It’s mind-blowing that so many in America, particularly our youth, continue to think Communism and Socialism are somehow preferable, more Utopian, romantic, more efficient, more green, more compatible with human needs and the human condition than our existing system of regulated Capitalism.
This despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And no, Denmark is not a Socialist country.
It’s mind-blowing that while Socialism and Communism seem to be universally hated by the vast majority of people who’ve actually lived under it, it’s desired by a growing many who never have. It’s astonishing that the numerous gripping testimonies of those who have suffered under Communism and Socialism — the brutality, famine, loss of freedoms, corruption, shortages and poverty — aren’t more convincing than their own imagination of just how great it could be. It’s the Tide Pod some would like to eat. It’s the outlet some would like to dangerously short circuit. It’s the “Why are you hitting yourself?! Why don’t you stop hitting yourself?!” of twenty first century America.
It’s mind blowing that the same person who makes a compelling case that accidentally calling a transgendered female by their original male name constitutes “oppression,” also think people in socialist Romania, Russia, Cuba or Venezuela didn’t really live under oppressive regimes.
It’s mind blowing that the numerous people risking their lives and those of their own family to flee from these societies, and conversely essentially zero fleeing to them, isn’t signal enough.
It’s mind blowing that Venezuela was once the wealthiest nation in South America, blessed with more copious oil reserves that even Saudi Arabia, and within just twenty five years of Socialism, has a starving people literally eating zoo animals.
It’s mind blowing how quickly socialist supporters parrot some version of the No True Scotsman fallacy when any of this is ever pointed out.
It’s mind-blowing that literally millions of Americans seem to favor Socialism and its close sibling Communism without understanding that it’s never worked out well for those that have had to live under it.
It’s mind-blowing that the same people who regularly label the federal and even local governments as too-authoritarian, out-of-touch with the population’s needs, systemically racist, or much more would also like to hand the federal government much MORE centralization of decision-making, and seem oblivious to the fact that such federal powers, once granted live well beyond one administration.
It’s mind-blowing that 92% of Americans wrongly think that global poverty rates have increased or stayed the same over the past 20 years.
They haven’t. 92% of Americans are dead wrong in that belief. Global poverty rates have dramatically fallen. And why? It’s thanks primarily to movements AWAY FROM, not toward, Communism and Socialism, notably the opening up of private property ownership and some forms of markets in China.
It’s mind-blowing to me that so few of us know the most important lesson from 20th Century History.
The most important lesson we should have learned from 20th Century History is that Socialism and Communism, at national scale, are harmful to prosperity, human rights, liberty, national output like Gross Domestic Product and therefore opportunities for advancement, innovation, private property, personal safety, the environment, religious freedom, gay rights, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, better use of resources, and much, much more.
Mankind has tried it. Numerous times. And it always ends badly. Yet we still have people selling it as some kind of better vision of society than well-regulated market economies.
Neither Communism nor Socialism eliminates greed, nor the “selfish” human desire to better oneself or one’s family. And as long as at least one human being seeks more power for themselves, communism will not be a utopian society. And it ultimately leads to police states and far more corruption than we see in the free enterprise system.
I am in favor of a well-regulated market (capitalist) economy. I think we can and should continue to adjust the regulations we do have. But that doesn’t mean that “abolish capitalism” is a direction we should head. There’s this classic moment with Phil Donahue and Milton Friedman:
Let’s take a quick trip around the globe in the twentieth and twenty first century at our experiments with socialism and communism:
North Korea vs. South Korea
Same basic ecosystem, same cultural history, one ruled under Socialism, one went with the free market. After only 70 years’ time (just two generations!), here’s a satellite photo at night of how well these two societies are doing. One is an innovation marvel with nearly the highest per capita GDP in the world, the other is a police state that goes through regular famine.
Cuba before Castro and afterward
Venezuela prior to Hugo Chavez’s socialism and afterward
East Germany vs. West Germany
Poland under Soviet/Socialist rule and afterward
China before its openness to market reforms and after
What happened which changed this? China moved from full Socialism to the embrace of markets and some forms of private ownership, which China called “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”. Listen: The Secret Document That Transformed China (NPR).
Roxana’s family fled one of the most hated regimes of the 20th century. If you’re interested in learning more about the Ceausescu’s regime of terror in Romania, here’s a 45 minute documentary from the History Channel:
Learning from History
We will never have pure “controlled experiments” in the way we organize ourselves as a society, but these are about as close as we will ever get.
In every single one of the “semi-controlled experiments” we have, freedom and free enterprise has resulted in much greater prosperity, much lower poverty and more overall happiness. The record is 100% for the benefits of freedom, free enterprise and well-regulated capitalism, and 0% for nation-state Socialism.
And yet, young Americans continue to find “Socialism” favorable. THAT is the most mind-blowing thing to me about Communism — its allure to some, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Redistribution For Thee, Not For Me
The most mind-blowing thing about Communism and “from each according to his abilities, to each according to their needs” is its continued romantic appeal, which generally lasts until people are are confronted with the idea of fully redistributing that which they feel they’ve worked hard to earn:
Steve’s a Seattle-based entrepreneur and software leader, husband and father of three. He’s half Canadian, and east-coast born and raised. Steve has made the Pacific Northwest his home since 1991, when he moved here to work for Microsoft. He’s started and sold multiple Internet companies. Politically independent, he writes on occasion about city politics and national issues, and created Alignvote in the 2019 election cycle. He holds a BS in Applied Math (Computer Science) and Business from Carnegie Mellon University, a Masters in Computer Science from Stanford University, and an MBA from the Harvard Business School, where he graduated a George F. Baker Scholar. Steve volunteers when time allows with Habitat for Humanity, University District Food Bank, Technology Access Foundation (TAF) and other organizations in Seattle.