“Dangerous Ideas” Loom As Once Democratically Chosen, There’s No Reversing Socialism

Saturday, January 26, 2019
By Paul Martin

by Richard Ebeling
Fri, 01/25/2019

The philosopher George Santayana is credited with the phrase “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Never was that truer than today in the face of the reborn belief in some notion of a “democratic” socialism and its companying idea of government-directed planning and redistribution. It’s as if the entire experience of the 20th century has been erased from the memory of humankind.

Almost every conceivable form of “socialism” was tried over the last 100 years. There has been Marxian socialism in the form of Soviet-style fully nationalized economies with strict and comprehensive five-year government central planning. There was national socialism in the Germany of the 1930s and 1940s, with private enterprise placed under total government control with Nazi four-year central planning. There was Mussolini’s Italian fascism, under which private businesses and workers were forced into cartels and trade unions with government oversight and command of prices, wages, production, work conditions, and trade. (See Günter Reimann, The Vampire Economy: Doing Business Under Fascism [1939], and Walter Eucken, “On the Theory of the Centrally Administered Economy: An Analysis of the German Experiment” [1948].)

There was British “democratic” socialism under the post–World War II Labor-party government, with nationalized industries, socialized health care, and central planning. There was a French version under the name of “indicative” planning, under which the government manipulated prices and production incentives to direct capital and labor where the central planners thought they should go. (See John Jewkes, Ordeal by Planning [1948], Bertrand de Jouvenel, The Problems of Socialist England [1949], and Vera Lutz, Central Planning for the Market Economy: An Analysis of the French Theory and Experience [1969].)

There have been government planning through regulations and redistributions of wealth through fiscal policy. This regulatory-redistributive model of government oversight and directing of social and economic outcomes grew out of the discovered and admitted inescapable limits and shortcomings of more-direct government planning and control of economic affairs.

Costs and Consequences of Socialism-in-Practice
The human cost experienced from the extreme forms of socialism-in-practice goes beyond most of our imaginations. Tens of millions of people — ordinary, unarmed, and innocent men, women, and children — were starved, tortured, shot, or worked to death in slave-labor camps in the name of building that bright and beautiful paradise on earth that the communists, fascists, and Nazis all promised would belong to those they had designated the righteous and justly deserving social class, national group, or racial tribe. (See my article “The Cost of Socialism in Power.”)

British democratic socialism foundered on the discovery that even in a democracy, government socialist planning entails imposing commands on everyone that succeed in only making life stagnant, dull, and poor for most in society. Indeed, this is how we have ended up with highly regulated economies combined with often-extensive networks of income redistribution and social safety nets.

Centralized planning did not work and usurped a high degree of everyday decision-making from the citizenry in virtually every corner of the society. So, there was a step back: regulated businesses still possessing degrees of discretion over the direction of much of their enterprises in the pursuit of profits, and market-earned incomes that were then modified through the tax code to transfer sums of money and various goods and services into the directions those in political power considered superior to those generated by a more free market. (See my articles “Barack Obama and the Meaning of Socialism” and “Obama’s ‘Middle Way’ Between Capitalism and Socialism Means Less Liberty.”)

Memories Lost and Socialist Dreams Reawakened
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the admitted failure of government central planning and its accompanying brutality around the world threw socialism into disrepute and seemingly out of the arena of public policy debate. This has been reversed following the financial crisis of 2008-9 and its aftermath, with it being classified and condemned as a new demonstration of the failure of capitalism. In its wake, socialist ideas have been gaining a new rebirth among academics and the media pundits.

Not that all the socialist sympathizers had really disappeared after the end of Soviet socialism. They had simply and mostly silently sulked in the corners of higher education and various other intellectual circles, not knowing how to fully get away from the embarrassment of socialism’s disastrous history during the 20th century. The last 10 years have slowly been giving them a new lease on life.

This has been made easier with the passage of time and with a new and younger generation that has no living memory and less of an interest in understanding what socialism-in-practice really led to, in spite of all the promises and rhetoric with which it covered itself during its heyday of coming to power in various places around the world. (See my article “Disaster in Red: The Hundredth Anniversary of the Russian Socialist Revolution.”)

Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the Democratic party’s primaries in 2016 demonstrated the renewed attractiveness of the “democratic”-socialist idea. Millions were attracted to his promise of a beautiful social and economic future, if only government took a far greater directing and redistributing hand in everything in American society. (See my articles “‘Democratic Socialism’ Means a Loss of Liberty” and “‘Liberal Socialism’ Another False Utopia.”)

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