On Tuesday, two veterans of the 2016 campaign launched by self-identified socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) won important upsets in Democratic primaries. Sanders himself congratulated Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, and former NAACP Chair Ben Jealous, who each defeated rivals endorsed by the Democratic Party. Their victories have been hailed as “progressive,” but the socialist ideology they pursue is truly regressive, and would resurrect the age-old tragedy of a pre-free market command economy with fewer options and more poverty.
Sanders declared that Jealous’ victory “showed that running a progressive, issue-oriented campaign can bring all working people together in the fight for justice.”
What does Sanders consider “progressive”? An ever-increasing government control of the economy, heavy on redistributing wealth. But don’t take my word for it — examine Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign platform. Here it is, complete with some snarky explanations courtesy of America Rising.
Democratic-Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is all but guaranteed to be a U.S Congresswoman next year, and her policy platform is… something else.
America Rising got ahold of a copy and added a few notes. https://t.co/hsUnuUY5jD pic.twitter.com/cWAuBXg58J
— America Rising (@AmericaRising) June 27, 2018
Ocasio-Cortez promises “Medicare For All,” the standard Sanders approach to health care, “free” public universities and trade schools, guaranteed jobs for everyone, a 100 percent renewable “infrastructure overhaul,” and guaranteed housing. How would she pay for all this largess? “Taxing Wall Street.”
Riiiight. Even if you confiscated every single dollar in the stock exchange, that would not come close to covering the cost of all these programs. In the process, you would be killing the engine of growth that enables jobs, goods, and services to exist in the free market in the first place.
In short, full implementation of this plan is not only economically infeasible, it would derail America’s wealth-creating machine, bringing back a poverty and injustice all too familiar in human history.
What socialists like Jealous, Ocasio-Cortez, and Sanders seem not to understand is that the free market capitalist engine of growth that enables the unprecedented wealth America enjoys is a fragile thing, relatively new in world history. The rejection of this growth engine represents a return to the unchecked power of government, and a resurgence of the kind of tyranny that killed millions in the last century.
Throughout most of human history, government has had immense power. The monopoly on force which the state generally enjoys has fostered all kinds of injustice. Going back to roughly 2000 B.C., kings you have never heard of in places that are now called Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Turkey taxed their citizens heavily to construct massive monuments proclaiming the glory of their names. Many of them even built new cities, naming them after themselves.
Empires like the Neo-Assyrian empire started using terror tactics to keep their subjects in line, even impaling on stakes people who would not submit to their rule. The Roman Empire was notorious for torture, and the symbol of Christianity was the most painful and humiliating torturous death they came up with.
Not all governments were quite this tyrannical, and none of this is to say that cultural and economic growth did not occur. However, the massive influence of the state severely hampered innovation and trade. Slowly, the idea of a civil society outside direct government control took root, as did the Christian idea that rulers should serve their subjects, rather than lording it over them (Matthew 20:25-26).
Some historians like Rodney Stark have argued that the collapse of Rome may have been the best thing for Europe, as the overarching state power was severely weakened. While roving tribes terrorized Europe for a while, massive progress took place.
During the Middle Ages, farmers discovered crop rotation, Christian church schools grew into the first modern universities, and monasteries developed the early seeds of lending and borrowing associated with modern capitalism. Various technological breakthroughs, such as windmills, chimneys, eyeglasses, stirrups and horseshoes, and true sailing ships, emerged and medieval governments became the first in the world to outlaw slavery.
The growth of free markets came with fits and starts, of course. Even so, freer markets began to usher in a new era of innovation and prosperity. Monumental changes like much larger populations and the development of new technologies spurred the Industrial Revolution, unleashing vast potential for growth and prosperity along with new forms of oppression.
Governments slowly created the right conditions to help markets, rather than steamrolling them. Private property was defended, contracts were upheld, laws were enacted to forbid the use of force, fraud, and theft. Enterprise was encouraged and taxes lowered to provide incentives for innovation and competition. The great movement to foster free markets became known as “Liberalism,” well expressed by Adam Smith and (much later) Ludwig von Mises.
At the same time, however, new thinkers started suggesting a return to government control of the economy. While he was far from the first socialist, Karl Marx spearheaded a movement to reintroduce a command economy in which a (supposedly just) government redistributed wealth to ensure fairness and equality.
Various political leaders put his ideas into action. The Russian Revolution saw the rise of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. In China, Mao Zedong rose to prominence. Fidel Castro took over Cuba, and Pol Pot terrorized Cambodia.
The Left either lionizes some of these figures, or attempts to disown the fact that they were big government reformers, mostly identifying as socialist or communist. After all, the most hated man in history today, Adolf Hitler, headed the National SOCIALIST Party in Germany. Yes, that’s what “Nazi” stands for. None of this is to say that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Ben Jealous supports the kind of tyranny, murder, and torture these dictators used, but they do support the socialist ideology that spawned such tyranny.
When Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, and Pol Pot took power, they attempted to use government force to equalize and modernize their countries. Stalin’s notorious “Five Year Plans” set benchmarks for growth and killed people who did not achieve them. Mao’s forced collectivization of farms created the “Great Famine” in which millions starved. Pol Pot attempted to use state power to erase all previous generations and the memory of them.
Each case resulted in terror, poverty, and a forced concentration of power and wealth at the top — isn’t that ironic? In the name of equality, big government redistribution achieved poverty, terror, destruction of the environment, death, and oh, yeah, massive inequality.
This horrific tragedy arguably represented a horrific wrenching back toward the status quo before the growth of free market capitalism. As ancient monarchs built massive temples, modern dictators constructed massive public buildings and monuments. As Alexander the Great rested in a prominent tomb for Julius Caesar to see, so Vladimir Lenin lies out preserved, as a monument to the Communist Revolution.
As the Caesars demanded worship of themselves as gods, so these dictators demanded complete ideological conformity to communism, and often to atheism.
To reiterate, neither Ben Jealous nor Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (nor Bernie Sanders for that matter) actually wants this to happen. These anti-establishment socialists who defeated Democratic Party leaders (party endorsed Rushern L. Baker III in Jealous’ case, number 4 Democratic leader in the House Rep. Joe Crowley in Ocasio-Cortez’s case) on Tuesday merely wish to turn America into an egalitarian paradise using big government.
The problem is, it simply doesn’t work. Government intervention can have positive effects on the economy in small doses — usually when cutting taxes and regulations — but in general, the more government intrusion, the less economic stability and the less growth.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro — who endorsed Bernie Sanders, by the way — tried big government socialism (I repeat myself) to address his country’s problems, and this course of action led to shortages of all kinds: food, toilet paper, electricity, and more. For Easter, Catholics from neighboring countries braved mountains and rainstorms to deliver Communion bread. There was a literal spiritual famine in the land.
Thanks to this poverty, Venezuelans are fleeing the country in droves, creating a migrant crisis that threatens to further destabilize South America.
Socialism would destroy America in different ways than it destroyed Venezuela, to be sure. But each of these examples of economic and human tragedy suggests that even the United States would likely become a tyrannical dictatorship where life is “mean, nasty, brutish, and short,” if we were to take the plunge into unreserved socialism.
Bernie Sanders even seems to tacitly understand this. During his ill-fated 2016 run, Sanders attacked the notion of broad consumer choice. “You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country,” Sanders declared. Ironically, this kind of choice helps the poor, as it allows older products to be available at a discounted rate, and fosters both innovation and competition — central aspects of economic growth.
Sanders instead suggested a fixed pie view of the economy, wherein fewer choices for consumers correlates with more wealth for the poor. This kind of thinking led socialist tyrannies to restrict choice and prevent the economic growth prosperity requires.
Freedom and limited government are not some natural thing that can be taken for granted. Rather, the free market system that launched America’s prosperity is a goose laying golden eggs. Socialists like Bernie Sanders would kill the goose, expecting the eggs to continue coming, as if from nowhere.
The grand scheme of human history stands athwart this “progressive” agenda, yelling “Stop!” America may struggle with some injustices, and these call for specific reforms. But the free market system of limited government at the core of this country is good, not bad, and it represents the hard-fought achievements of the truly progressive movement — free market capitalism that gave birth to a prosperity literally unimaginable to our ancestors.
Democrats can and should advocate for justice for all, and the stories of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ben Jealous are actually rather inspiring. But the moment Democrats reject free markets, they reject true progress, and Americans must unite against the specter of socialism.