Socialism: An Old Dogma With No New Tricks
David Catron
by
Anti-Maduro protest in Caracas last month (Alexcocopro/Creative Commons)

When people like Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez extol the virtues of socialism it reminds me of Dorothy Parker’s pun, “You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.” Parker’s quip had nothing to do with politics, of course. It was about religion. This, ironically, renders it uniquely applicable to the recent resurgence of public interest in this hoary collectivist doctrine. The belief that replacing free market capitalism with socialism would result in a more equitable society requires a leap of faith. Unlike belief in Christianity or Judaism, for example, it requires blind faith combined with illiteracy in history and economics.

Whereas the religions noted above thrive after two millennia of critical examination by civilization’s greatest minds, socialist dogma can’t survive a cursory perusal by a first-year economics student. This is why its increasing number of vocal advocates in Congress must camouflage its true implications with shopworn shibboleths — Sanders’ preferred method — or incoherent word salads — the strategy necessarily employed by the improbably obtuse AOC. But bromides and balderdash won’t cut it in 2020 if the Democrats offer socialism as an alternative to the successful capitalist policies deployed by President Trump.

Indeed, if the Democrats haven’t realized it yet, Trump is already running against socialism. It is not a coincidence that he has responded to the increasing visibility of proud socialists like Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders by explicitly stating in his SOTU address — and later at CPAC—that “America will never be a socialist country.” Trump knows that AOC, as Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez said last summer, is “the future of our party.” He also knows that Sanders, nominally an Independent, is essentially tied with Joe Biden for the lead among the herd of prospective Democratic presidential candidates.

With AOC as the face of the party and Sanders as a plausible Democratic presidential nominee, the electorate is likely to be responsive to Trump’s characterization of his opposition as socialist. And there’s more good news for the President. Just as the DNC chairman declared AOC the future of the Democratic Party, Gallup found that a solid majority of Americans favor capitalism over socialism. The survey showed that the public favors the former over the latter by 56 percent to 40 percent. Little has changed during the last six months. A Fox poll conducted in February found that registered voters favor capitalism by an even wider margin:

Capitalism is far more popular than socialism, according to a Fox News Poll of registered voters.… Fifty-seven percent of voters have a positive opinion of capitalism. That’s more than twice the number who feel the same about socialism (25 percent).… By a 25-point margin, more Republicans (72 percent) than Democrats (47 percent) have a positive view of capitalism.

In other words, despite the overwhelmingly positive press received by the nation’s two most prominent socialists, most voters aren’t sold on it. Even the Democrats favor capitalism over socialism by 47 percent to 38 percent. The left would respond to this inconvenient reality by pointing out the millennial trend toward a positive view of socialism. Recent surveys show that significant pluralities of Americans under the age of 30 have a positive view of socialism. But do these millennials really have any idea what socialism is about? Or are they simply virtue signaling? Lee Edwards at the Heritage Foundation points out the following:

A 2016 Gallup survey found that 55 percent of those 18-29 had a “positive image” of socialism. But 90 percent were favorable to “entrepreneurs” while 78 percent favored “free enterprise.” How can a group be 55 percent socialist and 78 per cent entrepreneurial?Either through cognitive dissonance or plain ignorance.

The answer is the latter, of course. They are told by their professors and the “news” media that blindingly obvious failures of socialism are the result of improper implementation and venal politicians. They are disingenuously encouraged to embrace the belief that socialism is a happy combination of our own welfare state and a nebulous form of “democratic socialism” as it is purportedly practiced in Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Denmark. But does this view of socialism or Scandinavia have any connection with reality? The answer, according to University of Georgia professor of economics Jeffrey Dorfman, is “No.”

Regardless of the perception, in reality the Nordic countries practice mostly free market economics paired with high taxes.… [A]s evidence of the lack of government interference in business affairs, there is the fact that none of these countries have minimum wage laws.… Workers are paid what they are worth, not based on government’s perception of what is fair.

The reality of socialism is that it has failed miserably everywhere it has been imposed. Poor implementation and venal politicians certainly accelerate these inevitable failures, but that is incidental. Socialism is the economic equivalent of the perpetual motion machine. Countless charlatans have attempted to patent the latter, but they have a 100 percent failure rate because they ignore the laws of physics. Likewise, socialism has a 100 percent failure rate because it ignores the laws of economics. As Mark J. Perry, professor of economics at the University of Michigan and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, succinctly puts it:

The strength of capitalism can be attributed to an incentive structure based upon the three Ps: (1) prices determined by market forces, (2) a profit-and-loss system of accounting and (3) private property rights. The failure of socialism can be traced to its neglect of these three incentive-enhancing components.

Market forces can’t be evaded by socialism any more than the laws of physics can be eluded by a perpetual motion machine. There is no evidence that any attempt to do so has ever succeeded in either case. The belief that it is possible to successfully replace capitalism with socialism requires blind faith that can’t be justified by experience or theory. It is merely leftist dogma, and it has failed to learn any new tricks in the last two centuries. A trip to Venezuela will confirm this. By all means, share your findings when you return… if you live.

David Catron
David Catron
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David Catron is a recovering health care consultant and frequent contributor to The American Spectator. You can follow him on Twitter at @Catronicus.
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