By David Flemming
Andrew Torre recently made the rather astonishing claim that “it is not the common man that has denigrated socialism — since he would benefit by it — but the wealthy minority that doesn’t want its wealth tampered with, and the common man has foolishly swallowed the propaganda.” Torre claims true socialism is “not Stalinist,” but “advocates that people equitably share in the wealth, as they equitably share in the political realm through their vote.”
Let’s take Torre’s argument to its logical conclusion. Say 51 percent of Americans agreed to redistribute the wealth equally to everyone. Nine in 10 of us might benefit from such a “democratic redistribution” at first, but not for long.
It is easy enough to imagine a future where the wealth is evenly distributed to all Americans. But to get to that future, the changes we would need to make would be catastrophic.
In such a future, we can’t distinguish between hard workers and lazy workers in our brave, new egalitarian world. Such a system would have to provide “economic security” to those “unwilling to work,” as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez so eloquently put it in her Green New Deal. This situation mirrors the one in Venezuela currently, and the one that occurred in Russia a century ago.
For a few years after the 1919 Russian Revolution, so long as you were members of the proletariat class, you happily accepted the farmland and property confiscated from the wealthy by the Communist Party. But once these poor farmers began turning over all of their crops to the party, and receiving whatever handout the party deemed appropriate, they stopped working so hard. This forced the party to lay down quotas enforced at the point of a gun. Even the threat of violence was not enough to increase production from those “unwilling to work,” and millions of Russians died from starvation.
History is replete with countless such wealth confiscation schemes that benefited the majority for a few years, but which saw living standards for all fall drastically in the decades following. If American millenials were to overthrow our current system, my generation could live it up for a few years on stolen wealth. But we would make our children and our children’s children pay dearly for that choice.
America’s wealth is not sitting in storehouses, inviting envious workers to take it. It is fueling philanthropy, funding products that make everyone’s lives easier and creating the conditions for even the poorest Americans to earn incomes Torre might consider “excessive.”
Unlike Torre, who has beheld the benign excesses of capitalism, one woman has seen the wounds of socialism firsthand. Representative Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., a Vietnamese immigrant, recently called capitalism “the system that built us the greatest nation and the greatest economy in the world … it is not the moment to undo the whole system and embrace something (socialism) that Americans have spent blood and treasure fighting to save other countries from.”
Some 93 percent of 2012 American adults with parents whose lifetime incomes were in the bottom fifth of lifetimes incomes earned higher incomes than their parents. Does Torre really think poor Americans are gullible enough to bet their children’s futures on a system designed by an enlightened few that lacks feasibility in the real world?
At its worst, capitalism fosters consumerism. At its best, capitalism brings millions out of extreme poverty.
At its best, socialism means lower qualities of living. At its worst, socialism creates the conditions for dictators like Stalin to come to power.
Far from being “foolish” for rejecting socialism, America’s poor live with more wisdom than Torre could possibly imagine, making the daily sacrifices necessary to push their children ahead.
David Flemming is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.