Rich Karlgaard: I owe this title to writer Lee Harris. Last month Harris posed this headliner question in a piece he wrote for Tech Central Station’s Web site, TCSDaily. Harris is right to ask; socialism’s track record is abysmal.
The milder forms of it have yielded economic stagnation where and whenever tried: England in the 1970s; France today. The more impatient strains–"socialism in a hurry," as Lenin reputedly called communism–did nothing but plunder economies and destroy lives. Their fine leaders ordered the deaths of more than 100 million people–Lenin and Stalin (40 million), Mao (60 million) and Pol Pot (2 million), not to mention that syphilitic dictator of the German National Socialist Party, Adolf Hitler (11 million directly, another 35 million through the war he started).
By all rights socialism should be dead, sealed in a steel vault and buried in Hell. Yet the disease lives. You might even say it’s spreading when you look at the ascent of Hugo ChÃ¡vez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Ken Livingstone in London and the "progressive" American Net-based left (which says Hillary Rodham Clinton is too far right). What accounts for socialism’s reappearance? To discover the answer, we must ask another question. Why do so many people around the world hate its opposite–free-market capitalism?
Denial on the Left
Old news, but worth repeating (since the mainstream press is in denial): U.S. GDP growth for the first quarter clocked in at a whopping 4.8%. Remember that this figure is typically revised upward weeks later. Look for a final tally of 5.0+%. Gosh, what else is there to say about the roaring U.S. economy? Oh, yes. Unemployment is safely below 5%, and–wonder of wonders–even the New York Times admits that wages are rising faster than inflation.
And the bad news? Let’s see. Could it be the crunch in U.S. manufacturing jobs, such as in the auto industry? Actually, no, says heartland economy expert Jack Schultz. In 1990 there were 955,100 Americans employed in the auto sector, compared with 956,200 in 2005. Thank you, Toyota (nyse: TM – news – people ), Nissan (nasdaq: NSANY – news – people ), Honda (nyse: HMC – news – people ) and BMW. The stock market likes what it sees. The Dow has been flirting with its high of 11,723, set in January 2000.
No matter how you look at it–from business starts to job growth to salaries to share prices–the American form of free-market capitalism delivers the goods. But you’ll never convince socialists and their fellow travelers on the trendy Left that anything good has occurred. Or that freedom–in the form of reduced regulation and taxes–is responsible. Take this recent post from the leftist Daily Kos (the Web site that thinks Hillary Clinton is too far right):
"The Bush tax cuts were designed to stimulate the economy by giving huge tax cuts to the wealthy. But Voodoo economics (trickle-down economics or, as we like to call it here, trickled-on economics) has been proven over and over again to NOT WORK.… Demand will dry up if there’s nobody out there who can afford to pay for your goods and services.… This is a simple law of economics."
The only thing atypical about this brain-dead Daily Kos post is the lack of four-letter words beginning with "f."
The Revolutionary Myth
Back to writer Lee Harris, who also asks: "Why are the people in Bolivia and Venezuela responding so enthusiastically to the socialist siren-songs of Evo Morales and Hugo ChÃ¡vez, instead of heeding the eminently rational counsel of [free-market proponent] Hernando de Soto? Why are they clamoring to give even more power and control to the state, instead of seeking to free themselves from the very obstacle that stands in the way of any genuine economic progress?
"It may well be that socialism isn’t dead because socialism cannot die. As [the early 20th-century French revolutionary writer Georges] Sorel argued, the revolutionary myth may, like religion, continue to thrive in ‘the profounder regions of our mental life,’ in those realms unreachable by mere reason and argument, where even a hundred proofs of failure are insufficient to wean us from those primordial illusions that we so badly wish to be true. Who doesn’t want to see the wicked and the arrogant put in their place? Who among the downtrodden and the dispossessed can fail to be stirred by the promise of a world in which all men are equal, and each has what he needs?
"The whole point of the myth of the socialist revolution is not that human societies will be transformed in the distant future, but that the individuals who dedicate their lives to this myth will be transformed into comrades and revolutionaries in the present. In short, revolution is not a means to achieve socialism; rather, the myth of socialism is a useful illusion that turns ordinary men into comrades and revolutionaries united in a common struggle–a band of brothers, so to speak."
Harris says free-market capitalism needs a "transformative myth of its own" to fight the myth of revolutionary socialism. But don’t we have that? I thought that’s what entrepreneurial heroes were all about. Bill Gates and the Google (nasdaq: GOOG – news – people ) boys are still heroes to millions of Chinese and Indians, if not to the French or Bolivians. That’s why, though I share Harris’ concern about socialism’s odd new vitality, I think capitalism will win the battle for men’s minds.