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Socialism is a Dead End

By: David Deming

It's disheartening that an avowed socialist is a viable candidate for President of the United States. Socialism is a dead end. For hundreds of years, it has failed everywhere its been adopted. The enthusiasm of our youth for the candidacy of Bernie Sanders is a symptom of our failure to educate them, not only in history, government, and economics, but also basic morality.

The history of socialism in America is a history of failure. When the Pilgrims first settled at Plymouth Colony in the seventeenth century, they abolished private property and adopted communal ownership. The governor of the Colony, William Bradford, explained that the Pilgrims thought socialism would make them "happy and flourishing." But the experiment proved to be a debacle. According to Bradford, socialism bred "confusion and discontent" and discouraged work. The Pilgrim's communistic system had to be quickly abandoned. When private property was restored, "it made all hands very industrious," and the Plymouth Colony flourished.

Another example of socialism's failure in America was the town of New Harmony, Indiana. In 1825 New Harmony was established as a utopian socialistic community in which there was no private property. With no market or free exchanges of goods and services, all economic activity had to be conducted on the basis of politics. This led to interminable squabbling. In the short space of two years, the New Harmony community underwent no less than ten schisms. By 1827, there were so few people left that the project had to be abandoned. A historian noted that "no communistic experiment had ever been, or ever was to be, started under such favorable circumstances. Entering ready-made homes, and taking over thousands of acres of farmsteads, orchards, vineyards, and cultivated fields, the [citizens of New Harmony] escaped the usual pioneering toil, started free from debt, and were able to rely upon the financial resources of a great philanthropist. Yet they failed more speedily than any previous community."

But you don't have to be a student of ancient history to know that socialism doesn't work. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 was an unequivocal demonstration of the moral and economic superiority of capitalism. Even as you read this essay, the misery caused by socialism is unfolding in the country of Venezuela. Since Venezuela embraced socialism in 1999, poverty, crime, and corruption have all increased. Grocery shelves are empty and the annual inflation rate is estimated to be as high as 200 percent.

The US is a constitutional republic founded on political equality, not equality of income or circumstances. Our system of government was designed to secure the natural rights of its citizens. These rights include not only "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," but the right to acquire and maintain private property. John Locke explained "the great and chief end therefore, of men uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property." The founding fathers considered property rights to be sacred and paramount. In 1772, the Boston Committee of Correspondence asserted that the "natural rights of colonists as men" included "first, a right to life; secondly, to liberty; thirdly, to property."

Under capitalism, goods and services are distributed through private, voluntary exchanges. When people engage in volitional transactions everyone benefits. If we believe a transaction is in our best interest we have an incentive to maintain good relations with those with whom we are trading. Thus a society based on freedom and trading promotes good will and civility. Our free market system has produced the greatest prosperity in human history.

There are no property rights under socialism. Goods and services are distributed by force through political means. Everything you possess is subject to confiscation and redistribution. Industrious and productive people are punished; parasites are rewarded. When people come to believe they have a right to goods and services produced by other people, society disintegrates into squabbling factions. If socialism is allowed to progress to its logical extreme it culminates in a military dictatorship like North Korea.

What about so-called "crony capitalism?" Crony capitalism is nothing more than socialism that benefits the wealthy and influential. It is just as wrong as any other form of socialism. The cure is to limit government power. Human nature is corruptible. If government has the power to redistribute wealth, it will always act in the interests of the powerful segments of society. What made America great is not progressive government, but the genius and industry of a people freed from arbitrary power by the chains placed upon government by our Constitution.

Socialism is not so much a legitimate economic system as it is a moral failing. It will always exist because ignorant people will always want something for nothing. If we want to retain our freedom and prosperity, we must educate our children that the purpose of government is to secure liberty, not provide free lunches.

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