Socialism: The God That Always Fails

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A former  Sandinista supporter, Clifton Ross, loses faith in socialism as a result of seeing close up its failure in Venezuela:


I’d visited Cuba twice—in 1994 and again in 2010—and now, with my experience of Venezuela, I felt I’d seen the best socialism could offer. Not only was that offering pathetically meagre, but it had been disastrously destructive. It became increasingly clear to me that nothing that went under that rubric functioned nearly as well on any level as the system under which I had been fortunate enough to live in the US. Why then, did so many decent people, whose ethics and intelligence and good intentions I greatly respected, continue to insist that the capitalist system needed to be eliminated and replaced with what had historically proven to be the inferior system of socialism?

The strongest argument against state control of the means of production and distribution is that it simply didn’t—and doesn’t—work. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding—and in this case, there was no pudding at all. In my own lifetime, I’ve seen socialism fail in China, fail in the Soviet Union, fail in Eastern Europe, fail on the island of Cuba, and fail in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas. And now the world is watching it fail in Venezuela, where it burned through billions of petro-dollars of financing, only to leave the nation worse off than it was before. And still people like me had insisted on this supposed alternative to capitalism, stubbornly refusing to recognize that it is based on a faulty premise and a false epistemology.

As long ago as the early 1940s, F.A. Hayek had identified the impossibility of centralized social planning and its catastrophic consequences in his classic The Road to Serfdom. Hayek’s writings convinced the Hungarian economist, János Kornai, to dedicate an entire volume entitled The Socialist System to demonstrating the validity of his claims. The “synoptic delusion”—the belief that any small group of people could hold and manage all the information spread out over millions of actors in a market economy—Kornai argued, leads the nomenklatura to make disastrous decisions that disrupt production and distribution. Attempts to “correct” these errors only exacerbate the problems for the same reasons, leading to a whole series of disasters that result, at last, in a completely dysfunctional economy, and then gulags, torture chambers, and mass executions as the nomenklatura hunt for “saboteurs” and scapegoats.

The synoptic delusion—compounded by immense waste, runaway corruption, and populist authoritarianism—is what led to the mayhem engulfing Venezuela today, just as it explains why socialism is no longer a viable ideology to anyone but the kind of true believer I used to be. For such people, utopian ideologies might bring happiness into their own lives, and even into the lives of those around them who also delight in their dreams and fantasies. But when they gain control over nations and peoples, their harmless dreams become the nightmares of multitudes.

Capitalism, meanwhile, has dramatically raised the standard of living wherever it has been allowed to arise over the past two centuries. It is not, however, anything like a perfect or flawless system. Globalization has left many behind, even if their lives are far better than those of their ancestors just two hundred years ago, and vast wealth creation has produced vast inequalities which have, in turn, bred resentment. Here in California, the city of Los Angeles, “with a population of four million, has 53,000 homeless.” Foreign policy misadventures and the economic crash of 2008 opened the door to demagogues of the Left and the Right eager to exploit people’s hopes and fears so that they could offer themselves as the solution their troubled nations sought to the dystopian woe into which liberal societies had fallen. In his fascinating recent jeremiad Why Liberalism Failed, Patrick Deneen itemizes liberal democracy’s many shortcomings and, whether or not one accepts his stark prognosis, his criticisms merit careful thought and attention.

Nevertheless, markets do work for the majority, and so does liberal democracy, as dysfunctional as it often is. That is because capitalism provides the space for ingenuity and innovation, while liberal democracy provides room for free inquiry and self-correction. Progress and reform can seem maddeningly sluggish under such circumstances, particularly when attempting to redress grave injustice or to meet slow-moving existential threats like climate change. But I have learned to be wary of those who insist that the perfect must be the enemy of the good, and who appeal to our impatience with extravagant promises of utopia. If, as Deneen contends, liberalism has become a victim of its own success, it should be noted that socialism has no successes to which it can fall victim. Liberalism’s foundations may be capable of being shored up, but socialism is built on sand, and from sand. Failures, most sensible people realize, should be abandoned.


Go here to read the rest.  The exploded idea of Socialism is a tribute to the ability of so many to overlook facts in the search for utopia, a search that is always pernicious this side of the grave.


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  1. Back in the 1970s, one of my grandmother’s cousins was able to come to the US for a visit from Poland. His favorite place to visit was a grocery store. He was amazed at the fully stocked shelves, the abundance if choice, and no long lines or rationing.

    The evidence of the failure of socialism is abundant. It is easily seen for anyone who bothers to look. Only the stupid ignore it. Alexandria Occasional Cortex is a prime example….stupidity on display daily.
    How often do we appreciate as something as, well, mundane as a grocery store? Grocery shopping is rarely anyone’s favorite thing to do, but…try imagining life without them.

    Today, Poland has shaken off almost all vestiges of a cenrtalky planned economy. Stores of all kinds, fully stocked, are found in all large metro areas and in all but the mist rural areas. Poland’s economy has grown for nearly 30 years running and, instead of seeing young people migrate to Western Europe, Poland admitted a million Ukrainians.
    The solution is simple and clear……just not to enough people, including the Pope.

  2. Socialism or communism appropriates our potential, our future, and sells it back to us for our souls. The temptation of Christ in the desert: “If you worship me I will give you sovereignty over all nations.” Christ has sovereignty over all nations. Salvator Mundi (besides, the devil is offering something that he does not rightfully have…flim flam)

  3. I am always humbled by and grateful for people like Mr. Ross who recognize they made a mistake and artfully and articulately explain the error of their ways. To be blind for so long and then to “see” is a great gift. However, he must be frustrated that many others ignore his pleas and continue to walk in the darkness with their eyes covered and ears plugged. The article thus was both hopeful and sad at the same time…May God bless all who read and ponder TAC!

  4. I think you’d be hard put to find much of a constituency in any occidental country agitating for central planning and state-owned industry. Cuba’s a relic and Venezuela’s a cautionary tale about natural resource bonanzas in countries with wretched political cultures. Occasional Cortex is getting a great deal of attention she doesn’t merit. The occidental countries as we speak have severe problems. Having political discussions from 1955 on continuous loop isn’t going to help us grasp what those problems are and attack them.

  5. Democratic socialism, the newest statement of the religion of the Democrat party, the Party Of Death & Infanticide, is based on these docgtrnies and dogmas:

    Either all the socialist regimes thru history failed because they didn’t do enough socialism, or they failed because they didn’t have us. We are better than them in ways too numerous to count, but in ways self-evident to us and anyone who wants to glom onto our wisdom, sensitivity, intelligence, and power. Put us in poewr and there will be no potholes, no sick people, no poor people, no uneducated people, no war, no warming, no lost mail, and no mean people.

    And when they fail, leaving in theri wake tens of millions of dead people, from their dachas and mansions and plantations, protected by folks with guns, they will say, “Never mind.”

    Guy McClung, Texas

  6. I have little hope.

    The left controls public schooling. They know that totalitarianism requires an ignorant and immoral populace that is driven to economic desperation.

    You see public schools as failures. The left sees them as huge successes.

  7. Amen to the comments of T. Shaw. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, a lot of very intelligent people believed in socialism, especially outside the United States. After the collapse, many stubbornly insisted that the system was right but the politicians had failed to faithfully put it into practice. I always enjoyed the farsighted (inspired) words of Pope Leo XIII who predicted that socialism would produce universal poverty. His words are forgotten and ignored by almost everyone, even Catholics who should be proud of him.

  8. I agree with T Shaw. My 17 year old daughter is thoroughly feminist and socialist. She gets it form what is taught in public school.

    “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”–Mark Twain

  9. LQC, There is one truth and one Truth. I too have such children, and socialist 2+2 = 5 appeals to them. But little glimmers of truth here and there intrude on their smart beliefs. God works in strange ways, but He does work. With hope and faith, know He is using everything in HIs power, and it is all mighty, to bring them home to HIm. As I hope for mine. Guy McClung, Texas

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