Safety Net or Spider Web?
I have written previously about the economic debility of socialism and the pasteurized version that is being proffered by the progressive left - so called democratic socialism. The economic performance of socialism is abysmal. At best it results in slow economic growth or no economic growth. At worst it results in economic collapse as is happening right now in Venezuela.
Democratic socialism as practiced in Europe features a large public sector but also includes a private sector, which is, however, highly regulated by the public sector. This is the economic model touted by Bernie Sanders and the progressive left to replace the American free market economic system. But the European social welfare system so admired by the left has been an economic laggard. Socialist Sweden has been featured as the model form of democratic socialism. But Swedish economic growth has actually lagged behind other advanced economies according to a study by Professor Assar Lindbeck (Swedish economic growth in an international perspective, Swedish Economic Policy Review, 2000). Even the Swedes seem to be tiring of this trend as the vote share of the governing Social Democratic Party in recent elections fell to its lowest level since 1911 (28.3%) although it might be able to continue to govern in alliance with other parties.
And even the United States has been negatively impacted by this leftist thinking. The slow growth “new normal” cited by former Clinton Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers as the limit to US economic growth is actually only the growth limit of the highly over-regulated and anti-business Obama economy and not the free market economy that created this land of plenty.
But those of us who promote economic freedom will be countered by the progressive left saying that only the mega-rich fully enjoy America’s opportunities and that the common people suffer in a dead-end of relative poverty. The implication is that the pursuit of happiness declared as an unalienable right has actually been achieved by very few and that most people have been denied that right. The left says that people deserve greater income equality and the only way to accomplish that is through socialism.
But does income equality through government fiat really make people happy? Is the security of the nanny state really what people want? Ben Franklin famously stated, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” But what about the permanent safety of the nanny state? Would that be worth giving up our liberty?
For most of the history of the world the vast majority of people had neither liberty nor safety. It is only relatively recently that our enlightened era can even offer the possibility of the choice that Ben is talking about. If we are going to make a rational evaluation about how to structure our society in the best interests of our people we need to examine the available evidence. At the same time, we need to make sure that our rational decision is also an ethical decision.
Supposedly, as leftist progressives tell it, the majority of people will be happiest in a country with income equality, state provided security in the form of health care, social security and even universal basic income, combined with a high level of state provided services such trains, buses, electric power, etc. Progressives believe this because Karl Marx told them that taking the unjustified profits from greedy exploiters of the working masses would leave more for the rest of the people. But lets take an empirical look at the historical record of socialism rather than accepting the theoretical assertion of Marx.
The Soviet Union was the first country to try and employ Marx’s communist theories in practice. Not only was the Soviet Union a disastrous economic failure that killed millions in its efforts to collectivize the country and millions more of its recalcitrant citizens in the infamous gulags, the average Soviet worker was dejected and depressed, turning to the vodka bottle in ever increasing numbers for solace. Birth rates declined and death rates climbed such that the Soviet Union had troubles filling the ranks of the Red Army. The sullen population rejoiced at the collapse of the Marxian experiment.
Communist China under Mao also killed millions in their attempts to bring Marx’s theory into reality. His great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution were economic and cultural disasters that left the most populous country on Earth destitute. Only a (temporary) resort to capitalism saved the country from continuing to languish in misery. Capitalism (albeit a mercantilist form of state capitalism similar to that employed by Western countries during the colonial period) has powered China’s economy to second place after the United States. And China’s people appear to be genuinely happier than under Mao. But in order to keep its population from adopting the Western values that brought them wealth and power, the Communist Party of Chinas has instituted a social credit system (backed by high tech gear such as artificial intelligence and facial recognition) to rate all of its citizens and to punish even the slightest variance from CPC orthodoxy.
Everywhere that Marx’s theories have been applied, the result has been misery and death. Laos, Cambodia, Cuba, Tanzania, Venezuela. All disasters.
Wait a minute, our progressive friends will say. Those aren’t the social democratic regimes we are looking to. We look to Sweden, Denmark, Germany and other countries in Western Europe that have created social democratic paradises. And it is true that many Europeans claim to be very happy. But if it is true that Danes are the happiest people of Earth as some polls suggest, why is their birth rate one of the lowest on the planet and any population growth in the country has been due to immigration? Why are more and more middle-aged Italian men living with their mothers?
The problem is that Europe is slowly dying. Europe as we know it would be gone if it were not for the protection of the United States. Its economy is stalling, its religious conviction is evaporating, there is no nationalism for the tepid EU administrative state, the former great powers are breaking up into their former duchies, principalities and ethnic enclaves. Someone has to be solid. Someone has to be vibrant and growing. Or the Western civilization that has made the world (and itself in the process) a better place will disappear.
So we finally come to the American social welfare system, modest by European standards, but still entrapping an ever-growing portion of the population. Are our American social welfare recipients happier now than our forefathers who lacked such a social safety net? Nooooo. People are made to think that they need these support systems to survive. Their handlers (by which I mean the community organizers, Democratic party hacks and leftist groups whose livelihoods are dependent on the continued misery of their target markets) keep them miserable by telling them how little they have and how wealthier people refuse to share.
As in the Obama administration, the progressives want to divert our defense expenditures to welfare benefits leaving us unable to protect ourselves let alone Europe. They want to fracture us along every identity imaginable. The want us to turn our backs on the principles that made America great (truly great – not the Trump version). They want to make us dependent upon government and guess who they want to run that government?
So leftist nostrums are not for the United States. Socialism debilitates the spirit – not just the economy. It sacrifices human liberty to government power. The only solution to the very real problems we face is to stick to our American principles. The goal of government should be to help make us more independent, not more dependent. Government needs to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity in the pursuit of happiness so that we can secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.