In the Introduction to this series of articles, I stated that a disturbing number of young Americans find socialism not just acceptable when compared with the free market, but an attractive system. One can only hope that their misguided worldview is the result of not knowing the truth about socialism. This is a truth all Americans should know because socialism is destructive of freedom and prosperity and because socialism is where President Obama and his fellow travelers on the left want to take America. To those who argue that President Obama is a statist not a socialist, my response is always the same: statism is to socialism what the acorn is to the oak. Since this is the case and since most Americans who attended public schools and colleges were instructed by teachers who either subscribed to liberal orthodoxy or who felt coerced to toe the liberal line, it is necessary to this series on socialism at the beginning: with a definition.
When defined strictly from an economic perspective, socialism is a centrally-planned economy in which the government controls the means of production and distribution and seeks to make people economically and socially equal by taking from those who have more and giving to those who have less. This so-called redistribution of wealth—one of President Obama’s favorite concepts—is done without any consideration of the merits of those who benefit from it or the rights of those hurt by it. However, defining socialism as just an economic system is like defining terminal cancer as just an illness. Socialism is more than an economic system. It is part of a broader worldview in which the state is god and the power of government is used to take from the more productive members of society and give to the less productive (forced redistribution of wealth). Think of President Obama’s constant attacks on the wealthy and continual demands that they pay more in taxes. I begin in this article with an explanation of the economic aspects of socialism. I explain the worldview aspects of socialism in a subsequent article.
Writing for the Library of Economics and Liberty, Robert Heilbroner, a socialist for most his life before seeing the light, describes socialism as “…the tragic failure of the twentieth century.” Originally envisioned as a remedy for the perceived defects of capitalism, socialism has failed dismally everywhere it has been tried. Writing about socialism’s history of failure, Helibroner says: “…it has far surpassed capitalism in both economic malfunction and moral cruelty. Yet the idea and the ideal of socialism linger on. Whether socialism in some form will eventually return as a major organizing force in human affairs is unknown, but no one can accurately appraise its prospects who has not taken into account the dramatic story of its rise and fall.”
This is the problem with the American left. Its members continually proclaim the supposed benefits of socialism—a system few of them have ever experienced first-hand—while enjoying the proven benefits of economic freedom and the free-market. This is hypocrisy at its worst. Socialism is a concept that works only in theory. It quickly breaks down when subjected to the reality of human nature.