It is most astonishing that even as the Venezuelan crisis unfolds on TV screens across the world, the orientation of governance in the United States is in danger of degenerating into the same socialist experimentation that has brought such suffering and tragedy to the South American country.
The Election Will Show What Americans Really Want
In recent months, the Democratic Party in the United States, as well as certain individual representatives of the Republican Party, have been gravitating toward socialism. The Democrats are fielding candidates for the upcoming presidential election who explicitly advocate socialist-oriented policies.
Witness the rising crescendo of demands for free education and free health care and the calls to address income inequality coupled with cries for punitive taxes on the wealthy in order to achieve this objective. The related rhetoric asks for many other free goods and services to be delivered at the taxpayers’ expense. As the clock ticks down to the elections, such demands are becoming disturbingly more vociferous.
Perhaps the proponents of such policy measures should be reminded of what Karl Marx, the architect of socialism and communism long ago stated: “There is only one way to kill capitalism—by taxes, taxes and more taxes.” Better to recall the words of the Greek philosopher Aristotle: “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.”
Socialist Venezuela Is Suffering
In present-day Venezuela, ironically a country that boasts the most abundant oil reserves in the world, the consequences of socialist policies have become all too apparent; the chickens have come home to roost. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) reports an exodus of Venezuelans of close to 3 million people since 2015. Currently, around 5,000 Venezuelans are leaving daily for neighboring countries.
When I began this article, the inflation rate was more than 2 million percent; it has //www.imf.org/external/datamapper/PCPIPCH@WEO/WEOWORLD/VEN">now reached 10 million percent, according to the International Monetary Fund, and the latest United Nations report states that 94 percent of Venezuelans are languishing in poverty. The prices of goods and services have skyrocketed and are thus beyond the reach of most people. Then there are the alarming shortages of medicines and basic foodstuffs.
But Venezuela is not an exception. It is an extreme example of the damage inflicted wherever and whenever socialist or communist programs have been implemented. Besides the inevitable socio-economic impoverishment, history bears witness to the tragedy that is exacted in terms of human misery and horrific killings. As in Venezuela, it has universally been the case that the ruling socialist/communist Nomenklatura remain the only ones to be spared these miserable consequences.
The bloody trail of death under communist leadership is objectively verifiable: in his book Unnatural Deaths in the USSR, I.G. Dyadkin arrives at a figure of between 56 and 62 million unnatural deaths under the rule of Josef Stalin, with between 34 and 49 million directly linked to him.
Solzhenitsyn and the Berlin Wall
The renowned literary figure Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, author of The Gulag Archipelago, advances a strong evidentiary case that the figure could be as high as 60 million deaths. In China, as Mao Zedong led the Chinese march toward a communist nirvana, Mao and his communist comrades were responsible for 78 million deaths, including the 45 million who were killed within a period of four years during the Great Leap Forward. In Cambodia, with Pol Pot at the helm of the communist regime, two million people died between 1975 and 1979. In Cuba and the former Warsaw Pact countries, there was a similar trend of murderous events. Stephane Courtois’s Black Book of Communism details many of these unspeakable atrocities.
Then came the biggest historical event of the 20th century: the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. This set in motion a domino effect as across Eastern Europe, the people spontaneously dismantled socialist systems. In theory and in practice, socialist ideology was utterly discredited. These events are still vivid in living memory.
And yet, the old adage that “by others’ faults wise men correct their own” is still stubbornly ignored by those who are hell-bent upon implementing socialist policies. Proponents of socialism and its various permutations forge ahead because there are enough gullible minds willing to ignore evidence that such an ideology is quite clearly not in conformity with human nature. It denies the spirit of enterprise and thwarts the spontaneous order of a free market.
In representative democracies, social welfare policies can serve as the thin edge of the socialist wedge because they come across as altruistic, with an air of caring for the indigent and providing a safety net for those categorized as unfortunate and helpless. But the reality is that there is no such thing as a caring government.
Caring cannot be coerced. It should not entail the commandeering of significant portions of taxpayers’ hard-earned incomes. It is disingenuous and abhorrent for politicians who advocate such policies to talk about caring in cases like these. Such measures put a nation on “the road to serfdom,” as the late economist and Nobel Laureate Friedrich A. Hayek would have said.
There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
Nothing is free!
Advocates of collectivist policies should pause to consider the wise words of a descendant of slaves, the renowned US economist Professor Walter A. Williams, when he states that “Equality before the general rules of law is the only kind of equality conducive to liberty that can be secured without destroying liberty.”
In the final analysis, no one can dispute that a desire for liberty is embedded in the very DNA of human nature. Especially in the economic arena, liberty defines the free market—protection of private property, personal choice, personal responsibility, and freedom to compete. The evidence speaks loudly that liberty, as mirrored in free markets, delivers. In contrast, socialists such as Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Jeremy Corbyn, Nicolas Maduro, and others elsewhere in the world will succeed only in bringing poverty and conflict.
To pursue the ideal of an equal distribution of the goods of this world is to build on envy and covetousness which jeopardise social harmony and economic peace. In the final analysis it is highly immoral because it proposes to steal by political vote.
These are the poignant words of Hans F. Sennholz—who served as president of the Foundation for Economic Education—written in The Freeman in August 1992.
By Temba Nolutshungu, director of the Free Market Foundation (FMF). The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation. The article may be re-published without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author.
This article was first published in FEE (Foundation for Economic Education) on 5 May 2019