Socialism is a three-stage disease. My last two columns discussed the first two stages: (1) becoming a welfare state, and (2) government seizure of the means of production. The final stage of socialism is the worst: totalitarianism.
In A Time for Truth, William E. Simon asserts that “political freedom and economic freedom are inexorably linked.” A government that denies its citizens the natural rights to private property, trade, and economic liberty must ultimately restrict civil liberties. History indicates a pattern: the more that a government controls economic activity – the more it eventually extends its control over non-economic behaviors such as expressions of dissent. Hong Kong is providing a current case in point. China has plans for Hong Kong to submit – one way or another – both economically and socially.
But what is the reason for the linkage between civil liberties and economic freedom? Can’t a society simply control the production and distribution of its economic resources without denying its citizens other natural rights such as freedoms of speech, religion and assembly? History and reason indicate not.
In a free society people have an incentive to produce valuable output (i.e., make money) and an incentive to consume wisely. But these incentives get distorted in a society in which people know they will receive “to each according to their needs” and will be required to provide “from each according to their abilities”. Socialism incentivizes its victims to exaggerate their needs and hide their abilities. Under socialism, individuals devote their energies to better manipulating the political and economic systems rather than to increasing their productivity.
In socialism there is one class of winners: those who gain power in the socialist regime and bureaucracy. Corruption and bribery flourish. The economic games switch from the revenue maximization and cost minimization of a free economy (both of which make the pie bigger) to political power maximization and economic cheating (both of which make the pie smaller). Creativity and innovation decline. The economy limps along – surviving only by stealing technology from foreign firms and observing pricing information generated by market economies.
Here’s the rub: when an authoritarian society has a failing economy and the ruling class receives special treatment, civil liberties cannot be tolerated. The political elite must orchestrate a demonstrably false narrative to hide past failures and create confidence that better days are ahead. Maintaining the narrative (and obscuring the privileged lifestyles of the political elite) requires oppression of civil liberties.
- Freedoms of expression, the press and assembly cannot be tolerated because they would expose the lies.
- Meaningful rights to vote, petition the government, and receive equal treatment under the law cannot be granted because they would hinder the power of the elite.
- Freedom of religion and the right to bear arms cannot be allowed because the masses cannot be allowed to have the faith and means to challenge their persecutors.
I learned about the fear that permeates socialistic societies through my visits to socialist countries and discussions with students raised in socialist countries. A farmer in Iowa has natural fears such as a prolonged drought. But citizens of totalitarian societies fear retaliation and repression from their government. The fears of free versus socialist societies emanate from very different sources - much like the hurt emanating from being a victim of a disease differs from the hurt of being a victim of a criminal assault. The former tends to bring people together, the latter drives them apart.
Natural resources and proximity to healthy economies can slow the decline of a socialist economy and the government’s progression from economic control to total control. But the long run consequences of corruption, bribery and perverse incentives drag the society down. Just like Boxer, Orwell’s overworked horse in Animal Farm, and Hank Rearden, Rand’s hard-working entrepreneur in Atlas Shrugged, the best and brightest will not be able to stem the tide of corruption and decay. Increasingly the society’s most capable people must be forced to stay in the country and do the bidding of the government. If masterpieces of fiction are not to be accepted as predictive, the non-fiction experiences of Venezuela, North Korea, and Cuba must be. In the final stage of socialism all must stay and bow to the state.
Elite leftists do not seek American prosperity, they seek power. They incessantly mourn when American protestors are killed (“Four dead in Ohio”) but ignore when America’s protectors are murdered (“Five dead in Dallas”). They are silent about founders of socialist regimes (100 million dead in the Soviet Union, Cambodia, China, and North Korea) while they vilify the founders of this great nation.
Liberal elites today seek the power to enslave others. Ironically, if they are successful in remaking America, liberals will eventually implement the strong borders between the U.S. and other nations currently sought by conservatives. However, in a socialistic future, the border guards will be facing the other direction.