The drift towards socialism


Given all of the momentum behind Bernie Sanders, fueled by what I heard one pundit call, “the children’s brigade of people supporting Sanders that have never had to watch thousands of dollars go out of their paychecks for taxes,” I created this post, in which I essentially copy and paste from one of my hidden away comments from within the About Me section.

My guiding principles on the appropriate order of society is that man should be free to do as much as they possibly can on their own without coercion of their fellow man. Freedom from coercion will inherently mean a small and limited government, which is the antithesis of what an avowed socialist such as Sanders advocates. It is not that I don’t like the idealism of a utopian state of all of us cooperating to build a just society, it is that I believe that empirical evidence of countries that have tried socialism have failed to deliver the utopia and have instead descended into quite the dystopia. The problem is that to have such a system, the ruling elites of a society change from one in which the invisible hand of the pricing system and the free market determine who is elite based upon individual skills and effort to one in which favors and status are doled out arbitrarily by a government elite. We can’t pretend that those entrenched with government power will suddenly become benevolent and all-wise benefactors. As William McGurn indicated in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, the unfortunate reality is that the end result of a socialist society is not idealistic cooperation, it is in fact collusion of a small governing elite and their attachments and hangers on. It is no accident that the richest woman in Venezuela is Hugo Chavez’s daughter. It is no accident that Brazil is dealing with corruption charges at all levels of government due to government officials abusing their power to milk bribes and embezzle money from the state-owned oil and gas company Petrobas.

It seems unquestionable at this point that in the last 8 years, the Democratic party has made a tremendous shift to the left, which is pulling Hillary Clinton leftward as well. Granted, much of Bernie’s recent success is in converse relation to Clinton’s inherent weaknesses in campaigning, trustworthiness, and likability, but it is still clear that voters are driving the party in a leftward lurch. This is perhaps a natural outcome of 8 years of anemic economic growth and a drumbeat of income inequality. I would submit that the income inequality seems to have been greatly aided and driven by conscious decisions by the federal reserve (by extension, government) to fuel asset prices through quantitative easing that props up asset prices owned mostly by the ultra wealthy and pins down meager saving rates largely owned by the middle class on down. We have thus ignored and swept away the hard fiscal and government reform that would actually unshackle the economy and tried to take the easy but much less effective path of monetary policy manipulation that also is much more prone to fueling asset price increases to the benefit of the rich and inflates the probabilities of a bust cycle requiring more bailouts that benefit the wealthy in the future. The clarion call warning is that if you haven’t been able to trust the angels that run government before to structure your life and make it all better before, why would you hand them the keys to even more power and control over your lives? Take some time to view the outcomes of socialist governments in the past and whether they delivered the utopia that is being proclaimed today. You will find that 100% of the time, they failed to live up to their ideals and instead descended into a different and less accountable elite-controlled society with sclerotic growth and a much more income stratified society that becomes much less fluid and changeable.


3 thoughts on “The drift towards socialism

  1. Matthew:
    I now know that we have met on opposite spectrums of political life. It’s convenient to dismiss the recent history of corporate malfeasance and lurch to a boogeyman version of socialism, anathema to a free society. But that’d be too simple. A democratic sense would seek more equal opportunity – not the second Guilded Age we inhabit.
    Be reminded that our defeat of fascism was the most remarkable period of American inclusion. It was FDR who fought for every social reform that gave more of us a stake in this nation. I enjoy your perspective but let’s be honest. Market economics lock in an aristocratic dominance that amplifies with globalization the end of a government by the people and for the people. Democratic Socialism as senator Sanders expresses it is more American than anything our broken government (or reckless corporations) have delivered since.
    We all want the same thing in the end – left or right we ought to make room for every American to participate.


  2. Steve, I think we both want the same thing and recognize similar ills in current society, but I suspect we diverge greatly on the causes for the disease as well as the prescription for the cure. Put simply, I think you can look at common problems of cronyism and corruption today that begats wide income inequality and point the finger firmly at crony capitalism that occurs as an adjunct of big government, a government that has been expanding since the time of FDR. Common bugaboos of the left are banks and pharmaceutical companies. I find it to be highly ironic that these are the industries that are the most highly regulated and with the coziest lobbying relationships with government. A tremendous amount of regulation and entrenchment results exactly in what an economist would expect – high barriers to entry for new companies and a highly cosseted and protected industry by government. The resort to even bigger government to cure these ills is about the same as the guardsmen who let a bunch of invaders into a city willingly running around to its citizens claiming to need ever more powers to stop the attacks. They shout crime to the invaders in front of the citizens, but in backroom deals the invaders and guardsmen laugh at the gullibility and plot together the repression that will win them both power and wealth. Another point I would make or question I would ask is, what is a greater threat to your individual freedom? An unchecked power of a corporation or an unchecked power of a government? Has an Eli Lilly or Goldman Sachs ever perpetrated mass horrors in equal measure to Stalin’s Russia or Hitler’s Germany? I dare say that the real actual threat to humankind and our individual liberty is unchecked government, so we should be much more cautious granting power to government to enact our short term and often times myopic goals. The worst a wealthy citizen or a corporation can do to me is to make me envious if I am so shallow enough as to care about the car someone else drives. The worse a government can do to me is far, far worse. I believe the cure to the corruption is in fact less government and more individual liberties, as I am highly skeptical that bigger government will somehow find better angels than those that run companies to cure us of our challenges. My political philosophy is one that is commonly today called libertarianism but which I prefer the term classical liberalism can neatly be captured in a statement by Adam Smith on an ideal system that provides, “…the liberal system of free exportation and free importation and allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty, and justice.”

    Therefore, my simple creed is a limited government whose simple function is to provide the institutions for the rule of law in order to prevent man or government from coercing fellow man. Equality of outcomes is the socialist desire, but I am greatly skeptical that can ever be achieved without tremendous erosion of our individual liberties and without the creation of the government that is so large and powerful as to give it the writ of arbitrary rule of law. What I am much more interested in is equality of opportunity, which means every person through individual freedom can do precisely what they aim to do without interference, so long as their path does not coerce their fellows. For Sanders to achieve what he says he wants to achieve would require a great amount of government power. When he rails against big banks and corporations and calls them criminals, I have to ask, what criminal law is he referencing? On what grounds is he wanting to charge them? His own rule book according to Sanders? While this might be endearing to his fans that are looking for a simplistic explanation, it isn’t useful or actionable. I have little regard for Clinton, but she is certainly on to something when she labels Sanders as a hopeless dreamer that would be able to enact zero of his aims. Let’s say that he could arbitrarily create rules to bring down his enemies with post facto laws. Would we want such power vested in government? Even if Sanders is a moral and sincere man, what happens when those powers pass on to the next guy? What happens when someone like Donald Trump takes the helm? Echoing the political philosopher Hayek, “It is not who governs but what government is entitled to do that seems to me to be the essential problem.” Hearkening back to Adam Smith, one of his guiding principles was that we should craft governments that could be administered by good and bad men alike without eroding our individual freedoms.

    On your point on democracy, it is not without reason that the American founding fathers crafted a system of intricate and complex balancing of powers – both between the federal system of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branches, but also between federal and state power. The founders, while advocates of democracy, were also terrified of short-sighted mob mentality and what Alexis de Tocqueville termed, “the tyranny of the majority.” The founders were witness to the types of destruction that overly scientific and rationalistic direct democracy could lead to in the French Revolution, where excess and mass killings were justified through the vote of the majority. Democracy is well and good, but it must be buttressed by a populace that won’t find itself prone to excess and the creation of class warfare and the confiscation of wealth and resources from wealthier members of society. In short, democracy must necessarily be supplemented by individual liberties and a respect for the rule of law and the institutions and frameworks that preserve these liberties.

    As ever, I appreciate the debate and counterpoints Steve. This place is boring if I am just patting myself on the back. – Matt


  3. Matthew:

    Ok. Think I got it. Libertarianism is how we’re supposed to categorize you but I’m sure that as well, you are a more nuanced person.
    That’s a compliment.
    Thank you for the detailed, personal reply as it shows there are many things decent men/women/other… can find common cause or respectfully disagree.

    I don’t have the abilities to enter a true discourse on politics (your professional choice) except that, as a citizen, the right to vote is my responsibility and privilege. I only started 24-6 to offer a middle way – hoping to suggest that addressing the climate crisis offers opportunity – especially for American ingenuity and our position in the world across political and societal lines.

    Individual liberty is of the greatest fulfillment of a meaningful existence and I think and you are right 100% to fight for it.
    The “rabble” was indeed of great concern to framers of the Constitution. And, as you enumerated, history gives the clearest example of chaotic revolutions and counter-revolutions. So concern of an imposing government is indeed of profound importance.

    But Bernie Sanders is an elected politician with all the usual constraints that make his idealist’s vision, just that, in our divisive times.
    I don’t know how people equate “big government” with crony capitalism and therefore prescribe we simply shrink it – leaving stateless corporations god-like powers. And honestly Michael, drawing the connection from big government to Hitler and Stalin? (Though George Orwell would feel vindicated in some respects). That’s sensationalism to skip so many steps. Curtailing corporate excess and adjusting the tax code is a long way from class warfare!

    I recently read Elizabeth Warren’s opinion that it’s not the size of government but lack of enforcement that enables corporate malfeasance. I know, you probably dread the thought of reading her,, but she fought tirelessly to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and along with Dodd-Frank, real people, not just spendthrifts, but pensioners, families and ordinary people were irreparably harmed by reckless financial institutions. So yes, Goldman Sachs is not harmless when it’s chairman, Loyd Blankfien’s hubris has him say; “I’m doing god’s work”.

    My only point is that there must be a restraint on corporate greed and destruction of human life and nature.

    You’re right, we’re all angry about how broken things are.
    It would seem that money and power have you and I having the exact debate that leaves established power centers to divide the spoils.

    Thank’s for honoring our differences.


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