June 24, 2019

The Rising Popularity of Socialism, Part 2

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)

Part I noted the recent resurgence of socialism in America, examined the philosophy and goals of its main advocate—The Democratic Socialists of America—and explained why many young Americans may find its message appealing. Part 2 discusses the case against socialism—that is, the arguments that expose its fatal flaws.

Socialism preaches solidarity with the poor, downtrodden, and abandoned and seeks to promote human dignity and social justice by redistributing wealth more fairly. At first consideration, that message has tremendous appeal to everyone who believes in the Golden Rule and/or Christ’s declaration that what we do for the poor, we do for Him. (Matt 25:40)

Unfortunately, Socialism is a perfect illustration of the old saying, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Whenever it has been tried, it has made life worse for rich and poor alike. Moreover, as Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman noted, Socialism has never produced a single great achievement because “when government—in pursuit of good intentions—tries to rearrange the economy, legislate morality, or help special interests, the cost[s] come in inefficiency, lack of motivation, and loss of freedom.”

Notable examples of failed socialist experiments are the Soviet Union and its satellites, China, Cuba, and North Korea. The most recent and continuing  example of Socialism’s consistent failure is Venezuela. Though that country possesses the largest oil reserves in the world, government takeover and mismanagement of the industry have plunged nearly everyone into poverty. The value of the currency has continued to plummet as much as 60% in a single month.  There are now dire shortages of food, clothing, and medicine. The response of today’s leader has been to violate property rights and take away basic freedoms even more than his predecessor did.

The main reason Socialism always fails is that it is a fixed ideology that permits no questioning, evaluation, or criticism of its tenets and programs and therefore can never be improved. Appeals to change, even when grounded in experience and/or logic, are considered betrayals, and those who make them are subject to denunciation, re-education, imprisonment, and even execution.

This fixed ideology explains why socialist societies differ little in their behaviors. Each new socialist country fails to correct the historical errors of previous ones. Moreover, when things go wrong, their response is to repeat the actions that caused them to go wrong, thus recalling Einstein’s definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.

Here are two serious mistakes socialists have repeatedly made:

Regarding people not as individuals but as groups—the rich, the poor, the working class, the capitalists, the proletariat, the collective—and more often in terms of disharmony and mutual opposition than harmony and cooperation. This has the effect of minimizing, if not denying, individuality and promoting groupthink, which in turn lessens the motivation to dissent from socialist teachings. It also helps to undermine the democratic emphasis on private property. I call this focus on plurality a mistake because independent thinking is natural and desirable. Also, because, as Pope Leo XIII wisely noted, “the first and most fundamental principle . . . if one would undertake to alleviate the condition of the masses, must be the inviolability of private property.” (Rerum Novarum)

Focusing on repeating grand ideas and making ambitious promises without considering whether they are achievable and whether, even if achieved, they might do more harm than good. For example, they speak of “universal basic income . . . regardless of the person’s employment status,” and “free public higher education” without considering the prohibitive costs involved and, in the case of the income, the likely effect of an entitlement mentality depressing productivity.

The above mistakes may be, at least in some cases, unconscious. However the following mistakes are likely well thought out and intentional.

Refusing to acknowledge that under Socialism, the ideas, initiatives and the governance of the country are controlled by a small group of leaders. All the socialist talk of “management of all businesses by the workers” and “government by the people” is pure deception. The reality is small, centralized government. Even leaders naïve enough to believe their own rhetoric and begin as populists are in time driven by the failures of the system to become tyrants determined to maintain power and suppress dissent.

Denying human nature. Human beings are imperfect by nature. Though capable of virtue, they are susceptible to vice. Psychological research has underscored how easily people can be corrupted. See, for example, Philip Zimbardo’s demonstration with “prisoners and guards,” and Stanley Milgram’s with punishment.

As historian Paul Johnson has noted, the study of history can help control our darker tendencies by enabling us “to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.” But Socialism vehemently opposes such discovery because its fixed ideology cannot tolerate being mistaken. That is why socialists refuse to learn from history but instead re-write it to conform to their ideology.

All the above criticisms of Socialism may be summed up in four short words: It simply doesn’t work! And that is why concerned Americans should oppose it both in private and public discourse and, even more importantly, in the voting booth.

Copyright © 2018 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Written by
Vincent Ryan Ruggiero

VINCENT RYAN RUGGIERO, M.A., is Professor of Humanities Emeritus, State University of New York, Delhi College. Prior to his twenty-nine year career in education, he was a social caseworker and an industrial engineer. The author of twenty-one books, his trade books include Warning: Nonsense Is Destroying America and The Practice of Loving Kindness. His textbooks include The Art of Thinking and Beyond Feelings, both in 10th editions and available in Chinese as well as English, Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues, and A Guide to Sociological Thinking. His latest book, Corrupted Culture: Rediscovering America's Enduring Principles, Values, and Common Sense, is available at Amazon and in bookstores. Professor Ruggiero is internationally recognized as one of the pioneers of the Critical Thinking movement in education. Earlier in his career, he published essays in a variety of magazines and journals, including America, Catholic Mind, The Sign, The Lamp, and Catholic World.

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Written by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero