The Problem with Socialism

An article by Kevin Williamson earlier this month in National Review points out the fallacy of thinking Barack Obama a socialist because of his enthrallment with “spreading the wealth”.  Advocacy for large government deficit spending and tax policies tilted towards income redistribution are definitive of all modern liberalism and “progressive” politics, but they don’t make anyone a socialist.  The nucleus of socialism is central planning.  The Obama characteristic that firmly plants him in the socialist camp is his fixation with centrally planned solutions for the nation’s ills, irrespective of their consistent record of disappointment.

Few differences exist between the old five year plans of the Soviet Union for potato or wheat harvests and the “planned” objectives of 50% renewable energy or tax credits to increase purchases of electric cars or health care mandates. What will achieve real progress are competitive and practicable means of renewable energy sources, producing electric cars that anyone actually wants to drive at reasonable prices and facing squarely the many conundrums of modern health care.  Not arbitrary policies implemented by a cumbersome bureaucracy.

The European Union economies of Greece, Spain, Italy and even France are foundering not just because they spend more than they generate in wealth for entitlements, early retirements and “social justice” programs (although that is what is happening), but the root cause of failure is central planning itself.  Collapse occurs not because there aren’t plenty of brilliant true believers doing the planning, but because the premise of central planning is deeply flawed and unworkable.

This weekend’s Wall Street Journal carries an instructive editorial by Alberto Mingardi, the director general of the Intsituto Bruno Leoni, a Milan free market think tank. Link to editorial here.  In it, Mr. Mingardi cites Frederich A. Hayek’s Nobel Prize winning economic writings debunking the central planning myth.  Dr. Hayek is the author of the celebrated “Road to Serfdom”.  Central planning may have been feasible when humankind lived in small, insular groups which shared common values and metrics for measuring relative worth and achievement.  In modern, multifaceted states, there are too much data, too many variables, too many unknowns and too many destabilizing influences. Computer models are not capable of predicting the behavior of or the outcomes for small groups and individuals within this complexity.  Grandiose plans and goals predicated on these models are built on shifting sands.

The inherent waste and inefficiencies in outsized bureaucracy multiplies cost and diminishes the competence of any enterprise.  Corruption, internal wrangling and cronyism exacerbate the ineffectivness of solutions that do not solve and analgesics that do not relieve.  Our path out of the swamp cannot be found in unsound theories.  Socialism reads a lot better than it lives.

Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.

Thomas Sowell


Filed under Politics and government

2 responses to “The Problem with Socialism

  1. Greg


    Presently, after observing the present Republican, tea party et all candidates misrepresent, ridicule and negative campaign against themselves, we will have as poor a choice selection as I can remember ( Nixon \ McGovern?) for President this time around. The ONLY result of the present campaign the Republicans have conducted is stimulate the economy with their unprecedented spending. It has been a woefully pathetic attempt to encourage the same people who were convinced 4 years ago that Obama was the answer to have a different opinion…..laughable. I fear we will have Mr. Obama to kick around for a while longer.

    Karl Marx would be ecstatic with the present course of history unfolding in the United States.


  2. jello26

    I agree Uncle Greg–sad but true. I for one have completely CHECKED OUT of political happenings in recent weeks. I think the Etch A Sketches spat was the last straw for me. I will vote for whomever wins the GOP nomination, but I’m not sure that any of them have the rallying power over the conservative right that Obama clearly has over the extreme left (as displayed in the Obama-as-savior-mania 2007). We should prepare ourselves for Nobama, round 2–God help us.

    Dad, great clarification on the true meaning of socialism. If it was defined merely by the redistribution of wealth, then any charitable organization could potentially fall under the category, no? Of course the fact that this redistribution is mandated by the government, rather than relying on the goodwill of men, points to the main problem, as you stated, of centralized planning. The principle of subsidiarity comes to mind–governance is best left to the smallest, least centralized, yet competent authority. In an ideal world, the family, as the fundamental unit of society, would raise moral citizens who in turn realize the need to take care of the marginalized in society (the sick, the poor, the elderly, orphans etc.) out of moral duty, thus the government would not need to do these things in an overcentralized way. One of the government’s main roles is then to support and encourage the family to do and be their true function and purpose, that is to protect the human person, to raise and educate their offspring, most especially a moral education.


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