Thoughts on the 4th, been there, done that

Here we go again. We would be a great embarrassment to the men who signed our Declaration of Independence which we celebrate today.

It appears that every generation has to have its little flirtation with socialism. It doesn’t seem to matter that it never works, and never provides for the basic needs of its people or even that it inevitably leads to war and oppression. Each generation convinces itself that socialism has only failed in the past because its leaders were corrupt or villainous, and that with caring and righteous leadership like their own, it will bring a workers paradise just like Marx promised.

But I am optimistic that this will be a brief dalliance, much like my generation’s fling with Jimmy Carter. My optimism springs from the naivete and incompetence of the current crop of socialists. Now, Joe Stalin was a socialist. He, and his successors were ruthless enough to force his people to stick with the experiment long after it was clear it had again failed. Of course he had help from Adolf Hitler, who provided the external enemy which is required to get people to accept the regimentation and hardship necessary to keep the dying body of a socialist economy staggering forward at its crippled pace. If an external enemy does not exist, one must be conjured up.

But Obama and Pelosi and Reid are not in Stalin’s league. They are trying to create an external enemy in the form of Anthropogenic Global Warming, but that bogeyman has never had much credibility and is rapidly losing it ability to frighten the masses into submission.  Their attempts at nationalization of industry are equally inept, seizing control of dying industries instead of prospering enterprises, and then mismanaging those. Most people have better sense than to steal a lame horse just because its easier to catch.

They also lack Stalin’s willingness to be unpopular. They would rather be loved than feared. Socialism is based on force and domination of the individual, and our current crop lacks the stones to carry that off.

So, based on the utter incompetence of these time-warped hippies, I am confident this turn down the wrong path will be a short one. But why do we keeping making the same mistake?

I think it may be that previous  generations of socialists did one thing right, from their perspective, and that was gaining control of education. The keys to understanding how the world works are history and economics ad it is clear that even college graduates do not get that education.

I admit to that failing myself. I managed to avoid the subject of economics until I was in my 50’s and it was not until I read Free to Choose by Milton Friedman that the world began to make sense. Economics is not about money, it is about human behavior. Politics is about what people say, economics is about what they do.

The next few years are going to be a rough ride, and some freedoms will be lost that will be hard to regain. But failure of this experiment in socialism is assured, and this one will not take more than a few years to collapse under the weight of history and the incompetence of its leaders.

But what do I have to do to keep my grandchildren from having to repeat this process?

Perhaps that is what we Libertarians should direct our energies toward, letting go of trying to educate the public on the Constitution and theory of government until we have brought economics more into the public eye. Because until the voters understand the basics of why free enterprise works and why socialism does not, they will continue to place their trust in a charming Marxist every 30 years or so as the memory of the last painful lesson fades.

So, I suggest that Libertarians educate themselves in the economics of Liberty, and carry that knowledge to the public whenever the opportunity arises, instead of just waving our copies of the Constitution. The men who wrote our Constitution understood Adam Smith just as thoroughly as John Locke, and we should do the same.

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4 Responses to Thoughts on the 4th, been there, done that

  1. ktc2 says:

    I would posit that this turn toward socialism is not in fact out of any actual belief that socialism could possibly work, but more out of desparation for any alternative to the corruption, ineptitude and fascism that the Republicans have given us over the last year.

    It’s a case of pick your poison socialists or fascists. Which will it be? Not much of a choice.

    I’m beginning to think the political duopoly in this country is simply these two evils taking turns running us into the ground in their different ways. When the people become so disqusted with one they select the other, and so on and so forth.

    Religious nuts vs. environmental nuts?

    Welfare spending vs. unnecessary wars spending?

    Some choice!

  2. ktc2 says:

    Ugh, sorry, meant last 8 years.

  3. ktc2 says:

    Okay, Mencken said it much better:

    “Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule–and both commonly succeed, and are right.” – H. L. Mencken –

  4. Len Rothman says:

    Don, you have put forth a well written piece that shows the flaws of failed policies in brutal dictatorships trying to implement communism, a pure form of socialist governance. Those policies failed partly because of the unworkable economic principal of complete central planning, but also because of the incredible corruption and brutality of its political machinery.

    On the other hand, there are success stories in such states at Sweden, Denmark, France, and most incredibly, Germany. Those are democracies that allow a great deal of freedom with capitalist ventures, most of them hugely successful.

    Germany was, at least until 2007, the largest exporter in the world, ahead of us and China, with only 90 million people. They have a higher income tax rate, particularly adding in unification tax (paying the expenses of re-uniting East and West Germany), and local taxes, in addition to a rather steep VAT. The “socialist” part is the money they are willing to spend for health and safety net expenses.

    Of course, they don’t have the military expenses we have, but nobody comes close, since we are spending about 40% of the world’s TOTAL military expenditures.
    Much of that is due to the incredible military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about in the 50’s when he left office. That is our choice, but the pressure comes from weapons lobbyists and their influence in Congress.

    Think what just a portion of that money could do for our bridge, highways, rivers etc.

    A lot of capital has been invested there, a pretty risk free environment, rather than more consumer oriented goods.

    I don’t believe we can credit post WWII financial assistance, by the way, as anything more that trying to avoid the disaster of the punitive policies after WWI.
    The Marshall Plan merely allowed countries that were devastated to become productive members of the world economy. Of course, while they did that, we became incredibly wealthy as the only economy standing of any size, without competition. We had a huge advantage…for a while.

    We are now, and have been for decades, on a level playing field with our western industrial allies and economic competition.

    We are losing.

    And we are losing despite the Reagan tax cuts, the Bush tax cuts, the loss of social services, the weakening of our labor unions, the freewheeling investment opportunities of Wall Street, flush with money that flowed up from the middle class borrowing spree in a consumer economy.

    What we have done is practically ignore our infrastructure, our health care system is broken, our education system is broken except at the most elite universities that are still the envy of the world, but accessible to only a few (and many of those are from overseas).

    The other industrialized countries realized early on, that in order for capitalism and innovation to occur, they not only had to allow investment, but they also had to provide a stable economic environment for a workforce, that was also well educated at all levels, and had reasonably universal access to health care that did not burden the corporations or hang threats of economic disaster on each individual.

    The price tag was fairly high (but not nearly as high as ours), but accepted as the cost of doing business. Investors could still take big risks to make big money. But the labor force would not go from middle class to poor and back, with the steep social costs associated with such swings.

    Was it a perfect system? Of course not. The other industrial countries often look at double digit unemployment as the cost of social quietude. But our unemployment is also quite high, probably as high as 16% if you count those who have pulled out of the marketplace for one reason or another. There has also been some escalation in the social expenses.

    Germany has a health care plan that is one we could, with our culture of free wheeling markets, implement.
    It uses private companies to provide a basic plan at cost, and then allows those same companies to compete for bells and whistles to those who care to spend more for some extras, for a profit.

    That subsidized health care would be a lot cheaper than our present system of emergency room care with its subsequent poor or non-existent follow up.

    (I don’t think you can sell the idea of having uninsured accident victims die on the steps of the hospital because of lack of insurance.)

    So, to wrap up, I don’t see what is happening to our health care system as a trip to Stalinist policies. I see it more as a catch up plan, accepting the social safety net as the cost of doing business. Investors will still get rich, they can still beat the competition, or even put them out of business or buy them out, etc. And the money they put at risk will be theirs, win or lose.

    But, the value of a more stable society at the wage earner level will be good for the capitalists also, particularly when it comes to nurturing a safer and more peaceful community in which to do business.

    There are no guarantees in life, of course. But economic swings are much more catastrophic for the middle and lower classes, because they will lose their food, shelter, health, education and pensions while we reconfigure and recover from swings in the economy. And the older they get, the more difficult it is to recover, and more importantly, to be ready for new or improved investments to capitalize on a stable workforce.

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