When Sen. Bernie Sanders hushes an unruly baby or seems insensitive to the individual sob stories of attendees at his rallies, some progressive critics question his commitment to compassionate socialism. These are the same leftists who claim that Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot perverted the true vision of the socialist ideal. It turns out that Bernie is right and his critics are wrong. Most American leftists have never read Marx or studied what Lenin really did or failed to do. Karl Marx had no respect for the individual and Lenin killed dissenting Russians on an industrial scale; Stalin merely refined the Communist practice of breaking eggs to make omelets. “Socialism Sucks” explodes the myth that respect for the individual and humanitarianism are tenets of doctrinaire socialism.
Both authors of this short, but very amusing, tour of socialist wonderlands are serious free market economists who happen to like beer. They decided to combine these two passions on a beer drinking tour of the world’s remaining bastions of socialism — real and imagined. The book is written tongue in cheek, but its message is deadly serious. Its conclusions will come as no shock to informed conservatives or free market libertarians, but it may well be banned on Ivy League and other liberal arts campuses where progressive orthodoxy is preached and dissenting views are labeled as hate speech.
Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell begin their tour drinking overpriced beer in Sweden, a country much revered by Bernie Sanders and other Democratic Socialists. The beer is good, but expensive because it is overtaxed as is anything else in Sweden. But the authors point out that Sweden is not socialist at all. It is merely a highly capitalist society with a very wide social safety net. As the authors point out, a true capitalist system is characterized by a competitive free market, private ownership of property and a healthy practice of rule of law that protects individual rights. Doctrinaire socialism has none of these things; Sweden does.
The next three stops on the authors’ tour are the three remaining survivors of doctrinaire socialism — those being Venezuela, North Korea and Cuba. Like black holes, most true socialist states are best studied from a safe distance. Consequently, the authors avoided North Korea and studied it from its borders with China and North Korea. They kept their ventures in Venezuela short due to rampant crime and a Venezuelan beer shortage.
The authors did visit Cuba, where they found the only decent beer and accommodations in the few areas where the government has allowed some degree of privatization. Otherwise, the authors point out that shopping in Cuba is almost as pleasurable as doing business at any American department of motor vehicles. Like any government-run facility, customer satisfaction is not a factor given the lack of profit motive. The authors also report that beer is good in China because that country is socialist/communist in name only. The authors also visited Russia, Ukraine and Georgia, which took the anti-communist pledge. They found the beer and the economies improving, but the post-socialist hangover is still a doozy.
Perhaps the most revealing stop on the tour occurs when Mr. Lawson and Mr. Powell return to the United States and visit a convention of American socialists in Chicago, where our intrepid adventurers find that most of the participants don’t know anything about real socialism. Of a list of 15 seminars offered at the conference, only two had anything remotely to do with economics. The authors found that what passes for Democratic Socialism in the United States today is a mish-mash of trendy progressive causes ranging from open borders to LGBT rights. This economic ignorance is not surprising. Undergraduate students at most liberal arts colleges — including the Ivy League — can get a diploma without have taken a single course in economics.
The reality of the loss of private property and the incentives caused by free enterprise gives individuals no incentive to produce goods and services that consumers actually want. Worse still, is the grinding cost of the loss of individual freedom to choose their type of job that people in free market societies enjoy. Additionally, communal decision-making in socialism soon becomes government authoritarianism and new elites.
If the authors had chosen to write a dry textbook on the comparison between capitalism and socialism, no one would likely read it. Instead, they elected to entertain as well as educate. Sadly, the millennials who need to read this book probably never will as most don’t read anything printed on paper.
• Gary Anderson lectures in Alternative Analysis at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.
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SOCIALISM SUCKS: TWO ECONOMISTS DRINK THEIR WAY THROUGH THE UNFREE WORLD
By Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell
Regnery, $25.99, 224 pages
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