Advocates of American Socialism Need to Learn Some Lessons

February 5, 2019 Updated: February 7, 2019


Critics of the U.S. public-school system must feel vindicated, in a sickening way, to see so many American politicians and younger citizens advocating socialism. After all, the critics have warned us for years that the schools don’t adequately teach history, economics, or political affairs.

It would be hard to name a political ideology so thoroughly debunked as socialism. It would be difficult to find an idea whose implementation has proved so horrific.

Socialism comes in two economic forms. In the first, the state owns all, or at least the most valuable, economic enterprises. Factories, medical clinics, schools, travel agencies, newspapers—the government owns them all. The prototype was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR); surviving examples are Cuba and North Korea.

In the other economic form of socialism, the state doesn’t own as much—but it controls almost everything. It controls by parceling out benefits to favored groups. It controls by central regulation, by state monopolies (where the government is the sole provider of a product or service), and by government monopsony (where government is the sole buyer). A prototype for this form was Adolph Hitler’s National Socialism. Communist China was originally in the first category and now is in the second.

The second form is the one now promoted by American “progressives.” Central to their platform is massive redistribution, detailed regulation of private economic decisions, some government ownership, expansion of the role of government schools, and a health care monopsony (“single payer”).

In addition to socialism’s two economic forms, it has two political forms: authoritarian and (purportedly) democratic. Both Soviet communism and German Nazism were authoritarian. So are Cuba and North Korea today. Britain and Scandinavian countries traditionally have been considered examples of democratic socialism, although they have become far more capitalist in recent years.

Actually, socialism can never be truly democratic. The state and its officials are too powerful. They control people’s choices, pensions, and jobs. Most major political decisions are either (1) pre-determined from above, or (2) confined to a narrow range of choices. For example, in a country with government health care, people can’t vote to privatize it. The option is practically impossible because citizens rely so heavily on the government for health care.

Yet, “democratic” socialism has proved unstable over time. It tends to become either more autocratic or less socialistic. Venezuela is a good illustration of socialism starting democratically and veering toward autocracy. Britain, Canada, and the Scandinavian countries are examples of democratic socialist countries that have become much less socialist and more free.

Repeated experiments in many countries over the past century prove one fact beyond doubt: As an economic system, socialism doesn’t work.


While free markets convert even places with few resources into fountains of economic well-being (e.g., Hong Kong), socialism consigns countries with fabulous resource wealth to poverty (e.g., the USSR). Moreover, an injection of the socialist virus can transform a healthy economy into a wasteland within a very short time (e.g., Venezuela and Cuba).

One reason socialism doesn’t work is that it distorts people’s incentives. People become dispirited and they are encouraged, or forced, to make bad decisions.

Another reason socialism doesn’t work is that the central planners don’t have the information necessary to run an economy: Only individuals and private organizations have that. A third reason is that socialism gives too much power to government officials. Power corrupts.

Those implementing or promoting socialist economics usually don’t want to admit failure. Hence, they seek scapegoats. The scapegoats may be economic groups (such as the “bourgeoisie” and “kulaks” in the USSR), or ethnic or religious groups (such as the Jews and Slavs in Nazi Germany), or political opponents. When socialists are able to, they ruin or kill the scapegoats.

This is why socialist governments have been responsible for so many deaths: Communist China (40–80 million), Soviet Russia (30–40 million), Nazi Germany (perhaps 11 million non-combatants). The list goes on from there.

Some claim that mass murder and other forms of oppression are the products only of the authoritarian brand of socialism. But they are wrong.

Oppression is inherent even in “democratic” socialism, because the government restricts people’s right to live as they wish. During the 20th century, when “democratic” socialism was at its height in Western Europe, several million people from Western Europe fled to America. Many no doubt thought in terms of better opportunity, but that is really to say that they were fleeing socialist constraint. Venezuelans are now doing the same.

Like their avowedly authoritarian cousins, “democratic” socialists use scapegoats. Among American socialists, the scapegoats are “the 1 percent,” “Wall Street,” “the hydrocarbon industries,” “corporations,” “the gun lobby,” “deplorables,” and “white males.” These economic, social, and ethnic categories closely resemble those used by authoritarian socialists.

Social Darwinism

I recently came across an essay by George Bernard Shaw, the famous playwright. Shaw was a leading founder of British socialism. In “The Perfect Wagnerite,” he expressed frustration with the failure of reforms his own allies had advocated. He proposed fiercer measures:

“And this dilemma will persist until … our governors … see that their business is not the devising of laws and institutions to prop up the weaknesses of mobs and secure the survival of the unfittest, but the breeding of men whose wills and intelligences may be depended on to produce spontaneously the social well-being our clumsy laws now aim at and miss. The majority of men at present in Europe have no business to be alive; and no serious progress will be made until we address ourselves earnestly and scientifically to the task of producing trustworthy human material for society. In short, it is necessary to breed a race of men in whom the life-giving impulses predominate.”

Now, British socialism as promoted by Shaw and his fellow “Fabians” was perhaps the gentlest form of socialism on the planet. Yet this passage reads as if it were composed by Hitler.

Socialists often accuse capitalists of social Darwinism—of advocating a struggle of all against all, with death to the hindmost. This is a lie. Modern capitalist societies are the most philanthropic in history. Successful capitalists have given more to charitable causes than any group of people, other than religious societies.

But read again the words of Shaw: We must reject the “unfittest” for “[t]he majority of men at present in Europe have no business to be alive.” We must act “scientifically” to “breed a race of men.” This is social Darwinism with a vengeance.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) is correct: Socialism is a fraud. But it’s more than that, and worse: It is dysfunctional and evil. Americans knew that when the Soviet Union fell. It’s time for us to re-learn it.

Rob Natelson, the nation’s most published active constitutional amendment scholar, served as a law professor for 25 years. He is senior fellow in constitutional jurisprudence at the Independence Institute in Denver, director of the Institute’s Article V Information Center, and recently became a senior adviser to the Convention of States project.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.