Venezuela. A country possessed of all the natural attributes providing a foundation for economic prosperity; yet whose citizens (except for the privileged few at the top of the military-protected government) now live in an economic Hell, without ready access to even the most basic necessities of life.
Venezuela often is cited as a modern-day example of why socialism as a politically-imposed economic system is not only undesirable, but deadly. One might point also to Cuba and the former Soviet Union as examples of socialism gone bad; but the short attention span, and notorious ignorance of history shared by many 21st Century Americans (especially young voters), make it difficult to reference any example older than the most recent news cycles.
The deadly cost of socialism does not even require us to look abroad for lessons by which to understand its toxicity. The very first settlements in America – at Jamestown and Plymouth in the early 17th Century – very nearly disappeared completely because of famine; until the principles of private property and individual entrepreneurship were introduced in the years immediately following the first settlements, which had been constructed on notions of communal property.
While historian Tom Bethell recounts the above scenario in The Noblest Triumph – Property and Prosperity through the Ages, the lessons revealed by his study obviously have been largely lost in contemporary America. Recent studies reveal growing support for socialism over capitalism among Democrats, Millennials, and those now labeled “Generation Z.”
The victory earlier this summer by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over incumbent Democrat Congressman Joe Crowley, and the strength of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton make it easy to characterize this “socialism rising” phenomenon as a political problem. Viewed thusly, the solution is to defeat Democrats in favor of more Republicans. Defeating the likes of Sanders, Clinton and Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats espousing similar Big Government philosophies, obviously is a positive step; but by itself, merely deals with the tip of the iceberg.
Blame for the rise of socialism’s popularity goes far beyond hard-core Democrats; and must be shared as much by Republicans. It is after all, the GOP which over the past three decades has strayed far from its core philosophy of free-market capitalism, in supporting crony capitalism.
Not since President Ronald Reagan have Republicans had an honest national spokesperson for free markets. Instead, the last 30 years has witnessed a steady, and in fact accelerating dilution of capitalism, led by the likes of George W. Bush as much as Bernie Sanders. The former’s embrace of a huge expansion of Medicaid, and of the massive government-led and taxpayer-financed response to the 2008 financial crisis, declared openly to the country that even for the once free market-oriented GOP, Uncle Sam is the “default” setting for all problems economic. And it doesn’t stop there.
Republican embrace of Big Government policies – even if often less openly bold as those pressed by their Democrat counterparts – is not limited to the economic sphere. The terrorist attacks of 9-11 witnessed an explosion of federally-controlled, taxpayer–funded, and privacy-eroding programs that continue to grow even now, 17 years later. Most recently, Republicans have suggested regulating social media companies as a way to fight “censorship” by those non-government entities.
President Trump’s predilection for federally-imposed solutions to problems in the international arena, emphasizing tariffs and sanctions backed by threats of military action, have become the new norm. Congressional Republicans largely support such an approach, notwithstanding that the GOP until recently was a party standing strongly for market forces and peaceful solutions rather than protectionism and bellicosity.
Today, business decisions at all levels more often than not are made by calculating tax breaks, government subsidies, and other “incentives” from government. The regulatory state has become so pervasive that it determines whether a child is permitted to open a neighborhood lemonade stand. In such an environment, public distaste for “capitalism” is perhaps not so difficult to understand. This is especially true considering there are so few voices heard in defense of the economic and political philosophy on which America was founded.
To be sure, there are eloquent defenders of capitalism – individuals and organizations that truly understand its terms, its history, and its benefits; and that conversely comprehend the disaster that awaits those who espouse and implement socialism. But until those voices of reason drown out the thousands of tenured university professors spewing their hatred for capitalism, and until the Elon Musks of the business world are called out for being crony capitalists getting rich from government largesse and not true entrepreneurs, capitalism will continue to lose ground to the siren call of “free stuff” that socialism promises but cannot in the end deliver.