If you had to name the single most important lesson to be learned from the history of the twentieth century, what would it be? For me, there is one that far and away dwarfs all others. It is that socialism doesn't work. Not only doesn't work: inevitably leads to loss of freedom for the people, dictatorship, and impoverishment. And, if a government attempts to impose a "pure" form of socialism, then it gets worse and worse: mass starvation and intentional slaughter of the people by the millions or tens of millions. Oh, plus a corrupt elite that gets to live in luxury by controlling the military and secret police, all while everyone else starves.
In my days in high school in the 1960s, it was still barely possible to be a supporter of socialism under the theory of "you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs." (The phrase was used repeatedly by the reprehensible Walter Duranty of the New York Times in justifying Stalin's atrocities.) Sure they've had a few purges, the theory went (while suppressing the enormous numbers actually slaughtered), but with government-led regimentation of the economy, everyone will eventually be richer and the wealth will be far more equitably distributed. But even then word of the economic disaster of China's "Great Leap Forward" was leaking out. (Today we know that that effort in the late 50s and early 60s to collectivize the Chinese economy led to rapid economic collapse, mass starvation, and something in the range of 18 to 45 million deaths. ) Then when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990 and 1991, we learned that in return for decades of living in constant fear in a 24/7 prison state, the Soviet people had gotten an economy that was less than 20% the size of the main Western economies on a per capita basis, with the majority of that going to the military while the people lived in tiny hovels and ate potatoes if they were lucky.
But could it be that the problems of the Soviet Union and of Maoist China were just problems of proper execution, and that socialism would work just fine and achieve the utopian workers' paradise as soon as someone did it right? To refute that possibility, we've been given one after another after another example of socialist disaster for the past 50 and more years. Consider the cases of Cambodia (the "killing fields" of 1975 -79 -- estimated 1.7 to 2.5 million killed out of a population of about 8 million, and most of those shot rather than starved); Cuba (abject poverty and total repression, while the elite lives in luxury); North Korea (same plus periodic mass starvation and a gulag imprisoning hundreds of thousands); and, most recently, the complete self-destruction of Venezuela.
And in the face of this history, we have running for President a candidate proudly declaring himself to be a "socialist." Writing in the New York Post over the weekend, Paul Sperry points out that Bernie Sanders absolutely should be taken literally in his adoption of the word "socialist" to describe his program; indeed Sperry suggests that the word "communist" would also be appropriate. Sperry recites a litany of Sanders's actions embracing socialism and communism, from joining the Young People's Socialist League in college, to heading the American People's History Society ("an organ for Marxist propaganda"), to taking "goodwill" trips (during his tour as mayor of Burlington, Vermont) to the Soviet Union and to Nicaragua, to even flying a Soviet flag on his desk.
And with that background, Sanders is nipping at the heals of the supposed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. And what is the core of Sanders's support? For starters, it's academics and young people who are either still in college or have recently completed a college education. Could there be any clearer indication of the crisis in higher education today? In academia they have completely abandoned any effort to learn about the world and pass the knowledge on to the next generation, and instead they have retreated into total self-absorption and delusion.
Not having a strong penchant for self-torture, I watched only small snippets of last night's Democratic debate. But I've seen enough to diagnose Hillary's problem: she is very likely a socialist herself. Confronted with Sanders's proposals for government takeover of the healthcare sector, takeover of health insurance companies, takeover of all big banks, and so forth, Hillary is unable to articulate why these are bad ideas. Her best response is something like, "this is too expensive right now and we need first to digest what we've already started." But fundamentally, she agrees with the concept that the government can and should assume collective responsibility for taking care of all significant problems of the people. Certainly, she has never articulated a boundary or limit beyond which government takeover of the economy should not go.