The Great Experiment of the 20th Century: The Scientific Case Against Socialism

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In light of the recent election of a full-fledged socialist to the Seattle City Council, with her advocacy of actual terrorism in response to what she terms “economic terrorism” (corporations making decisions based on an intent to remain financially solvent), I think it may be a good time to express my thoughts on socialism in general. While it is true that I would never call myself a laissez faire capitalist and would never-ever-EVER name my child Rand, I am someone who believes in free-market capitalism – not only because I like the values associated with this economic model, but because I feel that anyone approaching the matter with an objective scientific mind should be able to clearly see which general approach to economics is superior.

While it is probably not safe to say that all left-wingers claim to “believe in” science, as the Left tends to be more secular, one might assume that such views are more common on the Left than on the Right. And yet, even when they study and teach economics, left-wingers sometimes do not look at the study of economics as a science. This tendency is somewhat understandable, as a truly scientific approach to economic policy would be to make decisions based upon verifiable, quantitative observations of how various economic models have worked in the past, and one of the problems with taking a scientific approach to economic theory is the fact that it is so difficult to carry out legitimate controlled experiments of economic principles. There is no great economic laboratory in which all variables can be eliminated, and even when we do observe clear trends, the sheer complexity of economic variables in the real world can result in stark reversals of those trends. Because of this, it is not fair to simply compare a capitalist country with a socialist country and see which has the higher quality of life. We should not use the Norway-United States comparison to advocate socialism any more than we should use the United States-Venezuela comparison to advocate capitalism. Each of these countries has its own circumstances and culture, and a specific economic policy in one country may have completely different results in another country.

A true controlled experiment of capitalism versus socialism on the national level would involve taking a country with a substantially large population and cutting it in half in such a way that both sides start out with exactly the same culture, wealth, demographics, and resource distribution. The economist performing the test would then monitor the conditions of the people in these two countries over the next few decades to see what happens. Of course, such a perfect experiment has never occurred, and even if it did occur, just one experiment would not be enough to satisfy the scientific mind. Sadly – or perhaps fortunately – it is likely that no such experiment will ever be conducted. However, although no one intended for it to happen, the 20th Century did give us the closest thing we will ever have to such an experiment. Actually, it gave us three of them.

1. East and West Germany

With the end of the Second World War, Germany was cut in half. Liberated by the USA and the British Empire, West Germany and the western part of Berlin adopted a free-market economy. East Germany and the eastern part of Berlin, under the thumb of the USSR, became socialist.

In the following years, what happened in West Germany was described as the “Wirtschaftswunder” (“economic miracle”). In brief, the economy simply took off. Some would argue that this occurred as a result of American economic aid, but this is not the case. (Even if this were the case, one must wonder about why the USSR did not send aid that benefited East Germany in the same manner.) In simple terms, West Germany simply got busy rebuilding itself and producing things. As for East Germany, even ignoring the countless injustices and human rights issues that arose (or continued) under socialist rule, the people there did not fare as well as those in the West. An article in The Guardian sums up the economic difference that resulted from these two different economic models quite well:

At the time of reunification the gross domestic product per capita in the east was €9,400 ($11,800), as opposed to €22,000 in the west. Since then per capita revenue in the east has more than doubled to reach €23,700, whereas in the west it has only increased by half to €33,400 (still 30% ahead of the east).

The stark truth of the inadequacy of the East’s economic model became particularly clear when the socialists started building walls to keep people in.

2. North and South Korea

The armistice that ended the conflict between North Korea (backed by the USSR and China) and South Korea (backed by the UN) resulted in the creation of two sovereign states. As with Germany, one side of the line became capitalist, while the other side became socialist. As with Germany, the capitalist side saw years of growth that have often been described as miraculous, while the socialist side descended into abject poverty. Despite one report (published by North Korea) that lists North Korea as the second-happiest nation in the world (after China), the reality is that a severely authoritarian government and centrally planned economy have resulted in a dire human development condition. To this day, large shipments of food are frequently sent to feed the starving people of North Korea – from South Korea. As with East Germany, North Korea tasks much of its law enforcement and military resources with keeping people in the country. In current news, we see that Dennis Rodman loves North Korea’s ruler Kim Jong Un. While he apparently approves of Kim’s oppression of millions, it has not yet been verified whether or not he agrees with the “good-hearted kid” that one should use a firing squad to deal with ex-girlfriends.

3. Mainland China and Taiwan

In the wake of the Second World War, conflict recommenced between the Communists and Nationalists in China. While the Nationalists’ position had been strong prior to the war, Mao Ze-dong had proven very good at using the Japanese to weaken them. As a result, the Nationalists were literally driven into the sea. Fortunately for them, they maintained control of most of China’s navy, which allowed many of them to retreat to Taiwan and set up an exiled government there. China became “communist” (socialist, actually), while Taiwan became capitalist. In the years that followed, the Taiwan Miracle occurred in Taiwan, while China experimented unsuccessfully with a number of centrally planned economic endeavors. The abject failure of socialism in China led directly to the White Scare, which came as a result of the leadership trying to shift the blame of economic malaise from their own heads to those of various Chinese citizens who were randomly rounded up and punished for being capitalist insurgents and economic saboteurs.

Some would argue that, despite its slow start, the Communist Party in China has actually proven itself to be quite effective with economic planning. This is evident, they would say, in the fact that China has been steadily seeing drastic growth. However, the obvious problem with this argument is the fact that China’s growth has come specifically as a result of the implementation of capitalist economic policies.

Another argument that some might make would be that Taiwan, while being capitalist, spent decades under one-party Kuomintang rule in which leaders were guilty of oppression and injustices comparable to those of their counterparts in mainland China. However, it is important to point out that Taiwan’s government transitioned into a truly representative, multi-party system without any need for a bloody revolution. The same has yet to be seen on the mainland.

“But Capitalism Is Terrible!”

The counter-argument to the realities of socialism’s weaknesses is always the same: capitalism has problems. Corporations take advantage of people and pollute the environment. Greed is rewarded. Government officials are corrupted by bribery. Resources are not used effectively. And they are right: there are many problems that tend to arise in capitalist economies, such as the ones named. In many cases, I find myself nodding and agreeing emphatically with socialists – as long as they are criticizing capitalism. As soon as they start suggesting solutions, though, they immediately start sounding less intelligent. Experience has shown us, for instance, that socialist governments take advantage of people and pollute the environment. They also reward greed to some extent, but they mostly reward laziness. Government officials are similarly corrupted by bribery. Resources are used even less effectively. There is no instance in which the socialist governments in the “experiments” mentioned handled any of these major concerns more effectively than their capitalist counterparts did.

Hearing the arguments that capitalists make, socialists frequently respond by saying something like: “Your entire argument is based on the assertion that capitalism is just the best we can do, and not that it is actually good.” It is true: advocating free-market economic policy on the basis of it being the lesser of two evils is a pessimistic thing indeed. However, this does not mean that we should institute economic policies that are decidedly not the best we can do simply because they look prettier on paper.

The issue is not that capitalism is terrible. The issue is that people can often be terrible. This remains true regardless of policy.

A Solution

Capitalism rewards greed. Socialism rewards sloth. In both frameworks, self-interested leaders rise to exact an undue level of control over the lives of others, and human vices result in systemic problems throughout the society. Using law to control the effects of one human vice generally empowers another human vice. The idea that an authoritarian state led by corrupt and greedy demagogues can make people good is almost as ridiculous as the idea that pure anarchy can exist for any substantial amount of time without some tyrant arising to provide the “order” that the people will invariably desire.

The solution, as simplistic as it seems, is for people to be virtuous. We cannot say that we have hope for humanity when we do not trust humans. In a situation of “big government”, a virtuous society will produce virtuous leaders who maintain a sense of altruism as they exact authority over the people. In a situation of “small government”, a virtuous society will produce virtuous people who do not need to be micromanaged. Just as an equitable capitalist society requires people to give money to the poor out of the goodness of their hearts, a successful socialist society requires people to be industrious and innovative out of the goodness of their hearts. Either way, we rely upon the goodness of the hearts of the people. Capitalism has proven to work better for two main reasons. First, rewarding greed is always better than rewarding sloth because one man’s greed can often benefit someone else, while sloth never benefits anyone. Reasonable legislation and regulation can also be very effective in limiting the harmful effects of greed, and the same cannot be said of sloth. Second, when we err on the side of freedom, even though robber-barons and soulless corporations often command an undue level of power, they can never consolidate and forcibly maintain power like an oppressive government can, and there is no precedent of any corporate entity being able to limit the freedom of expression like oppressive governments do. Such enduring freedoms make it much easier to bring about real social change without any need for bloody revolution. In short, while no economic structure can completely eliminate human vice, a liberal (in the true sense) policy structure manages vice much better than an oppressive one does. Government must be strong, efficient, and limited, acting as an incubator for human happiness rather than, as the Chinese say, yanking on the sprouts to help them grow. Those who deny this – insisting on advocating an unyielding Marxist economic philosophy that resists conclusions based upon trial and observation in exactly the same way that many religions do – promote Marxism, ironically, as an opiate for the masses, which they use to rise to power at the expense of those whom they claim to be helping.

Two Huge Contradictions in Contemporary Libertarianism

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As vociferous and opinionated as I am when I interact with people through the Internet, the arguments that my friends and acquaintances make really do often give me pause and cause me to reconsider my positions. Because of this, my own political positions do continue to evolve, though not in a volatile manner. This continuing evolution makes it difficult for me to define myself politically. Put simply, my general political philosophy is based on the revolutionary belief that government sometimes should and sometimes should not intervene in people’s lives. I guess you could say that I am something of a moderate – though a combative and right-leaning one. However, I think I can safely say that I do not want to be associated with the Republican Party. The most honest thing to say would be that I am a moderate Libertarian, but I know that, since moderate attitudes are not common among Libertarians, most Libertarians would call me a LINO.

One of the main reasons for which I would be termed a moderate Libertarian is the fact that I disagree with the bulk of the Libertarian movement on many social issues. Some would say that this makes me a Republican, but it is not that simple, as I disagree with Republicans on many other issues such as protectionism, corporate welfare, and foreign policy.

When I say that I disagree with many Libertarians on social issues, it is not necessarily even because I have lukewarm feelings about core Libertarian principles. Rather, it is because I feel that many Libertarians’ views on social issues – and the stated platform of the party itself – are actually blatantly contradictory to core Libertarian principles. The two most important examples of this can be seen in abortion and in the official advocacy of homosexual unions.

Abortion
On the question of abortion, the Libertarian Party’s platform states the following:

…we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.

It is understandable that Libertarians would adopt this position, as the general Libertarian attitude is that government should stay out of people’s private lives. As Anthony Gregory once said in a speech at the University of California, Berkeley:

…we believe that government’s only legitimate role is to protect individual rights to life, liberty and property, and not abrogate these rights.

I feel that these two statements are fundamentally contradictory because they fail to consider the fairly substantiated possibility that a child in the womb is a human with rights. I have heard Libertarians say that no man, Libertarian or not, has any business weighing in on abortion either way because, not having a uterus, it is not something that should concern him at all. However, again, this argument is made under the supposition that the only human being with a substantial interest in an abortion is the mother. What about the child? Does a man not have any business protecting children?

Imagine that a woman discovers that she has ovarian cancer. Understandably, her physician recommends that she undergo surgery and have the cancer removed. Now, imagine that religious groups begin picketing the hospital and harassing the woman and her family, telling them that the womb is sacred and that operating on a woman’s reproductive organs in such a way is an affront to God. This is obviously a matter of religious opinion. While they are certainly entitled to believe and say as they wish, as they are not the ones dying from cancer, they do not have any right to use law to keep her from undergoing this important surgery. In this situation, every argument that “pro-choice” activists make is relevant: it is her body and her business.

The inconvenient truth, though, is that a child is not a tumor. It is true that no one really knows exactly when a zygote, embryo, or fetus becomes a human, but if we are going to base the definition of a human on one’s DNA and one’s ability to experience and respond to stimuli, human life begins long before any of the current abortion limitations in the United States take effect. Even if we ignore theistic religion and associated concepts like divine heritage, pre-mortal life, and spirits, defining human life according to simple scientific observation, there is no basis for the idea that human life begins upon the completion of full-term delivery. In a scientific environment in which we actually study unborn children’s ability to learn rather than simply trying to verify it, the idea is actually quite preposterous. In our country, unborn children are innocents condemned by silence.

When people argue that a woman should be able to abort her child for any reason, despite what they may say, this is an argument based on religion rather than science. It comes from an overzealous and narrow-sighted focus on a woman’s right to decide what happens to her body – regardless of how her decisions affect someone else’s body. This is reminiscent of the many cases in human history in which zealots have proven capable of great wrongs by focusing on one religious concept at the expense of all other things in which they claim to believe. Of course, there are clear exceptions and gray areas when it comes to situations like rape and considerations for the mother’s health, but allowing women to kill unborn children for any reason at all without restraint does not come from an enlightened sense of human rights. Rather, it comes from a cowardly decision to ignore human rights for the sake of trying not to appear blindly conservative.

Homosexual Unions
The Libertarian Party’s view of issues related to the legal recognition and official advocacy of homosexual relationships can be summed up with the following statement from the Party’s platform:

Government does not have the authority to define, license or restrict personal relationships.

The immediate problem with this statement is its sheer breadth. Government cannot define any personal relationships? If this were true, it would be true not only for “domestic partner” relationships, but for all family relationships, and the implications would be much more far-reaching than what the Libertarian Party seems to comprehend. For instance, questions of inheritance would become a matter of pure opinion. Also, if government cannot define a parent-child relationship as such, it cannot be restrained from infringing on the rights and responsibilities inherent to that relationship. Just as the protection of basic human rights requires a viable definition of humanity, so does the protection of family-based rights require a viable definition of family. To say that personal relationships cannot be defined is to court the horrors of either anarchy or tyranny, as government has no basis upon which to acknowledge limitations of its own powers or defend rights on the basis of family relationships. Libertarians may feel that this argument is purely semantic, as it may depart from the intent of the passage. However, even if that is the case, it is at least clear that this part of the Party’s platform has been carelessly written.

Focusing on the question of official government recognition of same-gender unions, though, some – including many Libertarians – feel that the proper role of the government should be to simply enforce contracts, which would include the “contract” of marriage, regardless of the genders of the people involved. Rather than dictating the guidelines of such contracts, they say, government should simply give official weight to whatever contracts people decide to make, not requiring the issuance of marriage licenses and getting out of the “marriage business” altogether. One problem with this approach is the fact that government is most certainly not overstepping its bounds – even by Libertarian standards – by placing certain requirements on legally binding contracts. We will not go into detail about it here, but even in a very libertarian society, it would be an exaggeration to say that people can agree to whatever they want and get the law to uphold that agreement.

Another problem with the current Libertarian approach to law regarding “personal relationships” is that, as some would say, it is supposedly based on the idea that government cannot get involved in moral issues. “You can believe homosexuality is wrong all you want,” they say, “but you cannot expect us to make it illegal.” The first fallacy to this argument is that this is not a matter of legality at all. No homosexuals are currently being fined, imprisoned, or deported as a result of their sexuality choices, and that is not going to change. The question at hand is not a matter of legality, but of official advocacy. Two men can get together and have a wedding ceremony and tell people that they are married, and they are in no danger of being arrested or punished in any way by the law. However, when they demand that the government that represents me issue an official stamp of approval for their favorite sin, that is where they begin trampling on the rights of every taxpayer who has moral objections to homosexual relationships. As Thomas Jefferson, Robert Heinlein, and many other great thinkers have stated, it is tyrannical to force someone to pay for something that he feels is morally wrong, and there is no small number of people in this country who feel that the homosexual lifestyle is sinful. We certainly are willing to allow people to do as they please, but do not expect us to pay for a government program of official advocacy and coercive normalization for homosexual behavior.

Before stating that government should not get involved in moral issues, a true Libertarian must think upon the many instances in which he takes his political stance based on what he calls principles, ethics, and, yes, morality. Is the Libertarian Party itself not the “Party of Principle”? I once had a somewhat Libertarian friend tell me that an individual’s behavior is based on morals, while a government’s behavior is based on law. He used this as an argument against imposing moral sympathies on matters of law. What he did not understand was that, while morality simply exists regardless of what we believe or say, the same cannot be said for law, as it is something that we must create. And when we do create law, we must base it on something. If we are not basing it on our moral sympathies, what are we basing it on? Murder is illegal because it is evil. Theft is illegal because it is evil. The same basis applies even to more trivial laws: we have speed limits because every driver has the moral responsibility to drive in such a way that he or she does not pose a threat to other drivers. Even when we argue against levying specific laws because we view them as tyrannical, we do so on moral grounds. Morality is inextricably connected to law, and those who would argue otherwise should take care: they may simply be advocating a law that is immoral. In all of human history, there has never been a single amoral law: every law in existence is either moral because it protects rights and enables virtue or immoral because it tramples rights and encourages vice. Realizing this fact, we should also realize that the morality or immorality of a law should be the only grounds upon which its implementation is based. (Some may argue that this could be used as a way of advocating unconstitutional laws to be passed, but that is not actually true, as I hold that it is immoral to pass a law in conflict with the Constitution.)

I applaud the growing social trend that causes people to look at homosexuals as human beings with vices, virtues, and rights just like everyone else. I support reasonable efforts to protect their rights of fair access to healthcare, housing, work, education, scholarships, etc. However, I also contend that any law that forces individuals and institutions to accept homosexuality against their will or uses their tax money to openly advocate the practice in the public sphere is an immoral and tyrannical law. Anyone who strives for “a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others” should feel the same way.