Those who proclaim the socialist gospel have gotten a lot of press in the past few years. Bernie Sanders ran his presidential election campaign on the strength of his socialist credentials, which are reflected mostly in his lifelong non-productive lifestyle. One of his vocal acolytes, Alexadria Ocasio-Cortez, was elected to congress by running on the same platform and has enjoyed a lot of limelight as she starts her term. The theme seems to be gaining strength, especially among younger people. Cortez doesn’t want to turn America into Venezuela, though. She’d rather unilaterally impose the kinder, gentler Swedish version. When taken to its ultimate destination, however, there is only the Venezuelan version.
Johann Norberg, a writer and documentary producer from Sweden, promotes the ideas of free markets and free people. He calls himself a classical liberal (as opposed to American liberals, who are anything but liberal), and one of his documentaries summarizes the history of Swedish socialism. Before Sweden became socialist, it was free, with a small government and relatively low taxes. In 1970 it was the fourth richest country in the world. Socialism then gained a strong foothold, and more of the economy was socialized. By 1994 it had fallen to the 14th richest country, and no net new private-sector jobs had been created during that time. It was on its way toward Venezuela-style socialism, and the economy was in crisis.
Fortunately for the people of Sweden, the tide turned, the socialist idea was rejected, and reforms were enacted. They enjoyed more free trade and deregulation, and the economy responded. They partially privatized the pension system, enacted school vouchers, and systematically lowered taxes. Sweden, in spite of a still-large welfare state and significant social problems, has walked back from the brink. Economic freedom has improved dramatically over the last two and a half decades.
The young men and women who praise socialism today show themselves as naive, privileged school girls or boys who have never actually studied the history or lived under actual socialist rule. It is not just an alternative form of government. It is a different way of life, one that is entirely incompatible with what Americans take for granted, the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property, which have set the backdrop for the amazing economic development and progress.
Sorry socialists, the government can’t give everything to everyone. The government does not have anything to give without first taking it from someone else. The more it takes and gives to constituents and cronies, the less incentive there is to be productive. The fewer productive people there are, the less there is to take. It is the inevitable cycle where the government eventually runs out of other people’s money to squander. That is where Venezuela stands now. There is no magic fount of wealth. It is all, in every case, in every time, the result of people doing productive things, making and doing things that other people will find necessary or useful or desirable, and trading with others for things they need.
America, in contrast to Sweden, has fallen significantly in the rankings of economic freedom for many years. Mr. Norberg encourages Americans to emulate Sweden, but only in those things that actually are good and right, and which lead to a better result. Do not emulate the huge welfare state and high taxes, not the government ownership or operation of industries and productive assets, which they turned back long ago, and not the social policies that were and are so crippling. Emulate, instead, the scaling back of government, the reduction in the tax burden, the deregulation, and the increasing economic freedom from which the benefits flow. Those are things worthy of emulation.