Socialism has failed everywhere it has been tried. The same is true of most socialist policies — except where, as in Western Europe, the U.S. has paid for defense. And yet socialism continues to seduce the young, and confound the old.
This was the week in which Venezuelans were expected to throw off the yoke of Nicolas Maduro’s ruinous socialist regime, and when South African voters had a chance to dislodge the corrupt, inept African National Congress (ANC) after 25 years in power.
Maduro may yet be ousted, and the ANC saw its majority decline. But socialism, and socialist ideas, are proving incredibly difficult to undo, at least in circumstances where people have elected socialist regimes.
The nations of Eastern Europe famously and fabulously rejected communism with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Since then, they have generally preferred right-of-center, conservative governments and free-market policies. But the difference in those countries is that socialism was usually imposed by force and deceit, and reinforced by Soviet tanks. Where people have freely chosen socialism, they almost never find a way to reverse it once things, invariably, go bad.
The key to socialism’s tenacity — even in the face of economic and social collapse — is that it changes the society around it in ways that are almost irreversible.
For example, it creates groups of people entirely dependent on the state — poor recipients of welfare, middle-class bureaucrats, and crony capitalists — who fear, reasonably, that freedom will damage their interests. They mobilize politically to protect their benefits, long after the state can no longer pay them.
Conversely, socialism also rids society of groups of people most likely to oppose it. The private sector and professional elite, whose assets are to be redistributed for the sake of the elusive goal of equality, learn very quickly that resistance has a massive cost. So they tend to leave, which suits the short-term interests of the regime — even if it guts society of the skills it needs to maintain economic growth, and the leadership it would need to restore liberal self-government.
Socialism also re-shapes social mores, casting the alternative as immoral. Whereas the main capitalist argument against socialism is a pragmatic one, socialism’s core argument against capitalism is that individual liberty is inherently selfish. It taps into human instincts of altruism — but also envy. Hence President Barack Obama’s refrains in the 2012 election, saying Republicans would tell voters. “you’re on your own,” and admonishing entrepreneurs, “you didn’t build that.”
Under socialism, the only opposition people will allow themselves to imagine comes from the left. Though Maduro’s radical defenders, such as Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), deride interim president Juan Guaidó as “far right,” in truth he is also a socialist. Arguably, that has prevented him from presenting a real political alternative to Maduro, a framework of new ideas that could offer Venezuelans a way out of their economic malaise.
Instead, Guaidó is reduced to political and diplomatic maneuverings, and in the end he cannot succeed without relying on elements of Maduro’s brutal regime.
In South Africa, the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (for which I used to work), offers a clear alternative set of principles, rooted in individual liberty. But the ANC has convinced the public, that such liberty only makes sense for those wealthy enough, by virtue of their past racial privileges, to take advantage of it.
The debate that defines South African politics today is between two socialisms — between the elite, central planning of the ANC on the one hand; and the populist, racial land grabs advocated by the new radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, on the other.
One need not look abroad to find examples of socialism proving impossible to remove. Almost every major American city is governed by Democrats, and has been for generations, despite the failures of Democratic Party rule.
Last week, the City of Oakland decided to plunder gas tax revenues to keep the city’s street lights on. In Flint, Michigan, state and local government contaminated the water supply, and now local authorities are also bungling the cleanup effort.
It is alarming that only one of the more than 20 candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency in 2020 has called out socialist policies such as “Medicare for All” and the “Green New Deal” as “bad” and “unrealistic.” A few have gingerly brought up the uncomfortable reality of how much these policies will cost. But he majority of candidates are embracing these policies — as well as the racial demagoguery of Al Sharpton, now a party kingmaker.
There is every possibility that one of these candidates will win the 2020 election, propelled by the mainstream media and a concerted effort by the tech giants to censor and suppress Trump supporters. Even the least radical of these Democrats will have to consolidate support by bringing radicals into his or her administration. And they will govern with a Congress — on the House side, at least — whose agenda is being set by openly “democratic socialist” Jacobins.
President Barack Obama, whose policies were the closest America has come to socialism, fully expected his legacy to continue. And parts of it remain. Obamacare remains the law of the land, for example, and the country now expects there to be some kind of federal health insurance program, eventually.
Voters who are tempted by any of the Democrats currently in the running for president should consider that the country’s next turn to the left could well permanent.