[Editor’s Note: Below, I’ve reproduced an essay I published for discussion on a Facebook forum. It was a part of a series of essays that I’ve been publishing there for the past few weeks to try to gauge people’s thinking on Socialism. It’s resulted in a lengthy back-and-forth with one “Rich Jones,” (not his real name) who disagrees with my (our) basic premises about Socialism (see above). Hence, you will hear me address comments to “Rich Jones” throughout the below reproduction of my Facebook essay, which is, really, a review of another essay by the great Kevin D. Williamson at National Review Online (Link below).]
Normally I’d have allowed the latest edition in our mini-series of essays on Socialism to age just a bit — like a fine beer (I’m not a wine guy). However, National Review’s great writer, analyst and thinker, Kevin D. Williamson, YESTERDAY published another essay making exactly the points we’ve been trying to make this whole time: Socialism kills and impoverishes people. This is the SECOND time he and we have published essays on the very same topic on the very same day! It’s as if we’ve been coordinating these things! (We haven’t — or HAVE we??? 🙂 )
Williamson’s piece appeared in National Review’s online site, and is entitled: “How socialism destroyed Venezuela’s economy and impoverished her people.” It’s very much worth a read, and is right here: Link. (Note: It might be behind a paywall, for which I apologize in advance. However, if you’re NOT an NRO member, I believe you can read one or two of their members-only features each month. It’s worth a try!)
I should point out that Williamson is no generic “right-winger.” He favors a Swiss-style, government-run healthcare system, has nothing but contempt for Donald Trump, and frequently irritates hard-line Conservatives more than he does leftists. He’s one of the most independent, intelligent, trenchant, and LEAST doctrinaire thinkers and analysts on the scene today. And he’s spent considerable time observing and chronicling the terrifying trajectory of Venezuela from fourth-richest country in the world, to impoverished, starving, third world hellhole… in just a few short years.
At the beginning of his essay, Williamson gives us some background: [BEGIN QUOTE]”Venezuela’s last oil-drilling rig has shut down.
Venezuela still has plenty of oil — about one-fifth of the world’s known petroleum reserves are under the jackbooted feet of Hugo Chávez’s heirs. Nothing happened to the oil, and, in spite of the recent coronavirus-related turbulence in the energy business, nothing really happened to the oil market, either.
Politics happened, and destruction happened. Sometimes, those are synonyms.”[END QUOTE]
What kind of politics? Well, Venezuelans voted in the Socialist Hugo Chávez, who proceeded to implement what he thought would be his ideal society for Venezuela… a Socialist society.
In another mini-series of essays, I’ve had a back-and-forth with one Rich Jones (Not his real name) from Australia, a bright, pleasant chap, with a certain, let’s say, very “rosy” view of Socialism. In that view, Rich Jones insists that if you were only to allow “the community as a whole” to “own or regulate the means of production,” then all would be fine and dandy in the resulting (but, let’s face it, imaginary) well-run Socialist enclave.
Kevin D. Williamson points out that this is EXACTLY what they tried to do in Venezuela, and the result has been catastrophic. Not only that, but many propose to do it here in America too. Williamson explained it this way:
[BEGIN QUOTE]”What happened in Venezuela is a less bloodless version of what Senator Elizabeth Warren and her colleagues propose to do in the United States. The Chávez regime decided to “put people over profits,” as our Democratic friends like to say. Senator Warren proposes to put large companies under the control of the federal government by requiring them to secure federal permission to operate and by giving the government the power to dictate to corporations the compositions of their boards and to micromanage decisions from compensation to investment. You have heard the phrase, “act like you own the place.” Senator Warren does not propose that the state should own the means of production, as in the classical Marxist-Leninist model, only that it should act like it owns the means of production.
They tried something like that in Venezuela, too. The Chávez government nullified existing energy contracts, violated property rights, and required oil companies to reorganize their projects under the auspices — and control — of the Venezuelan state, in the form of PdVSA, the national oil company. The oil companies for the most part responded with some variation on a seven-letter phrase that begins with an F and ends with a U. They pulled out, Venezuela’s oil production tanked, and the rest of the world more than made up for that lost Venezuelan output, thanks in part to technological advances pioneered in the United States — most prominent among them the ‘fracking’ that Democrats propose to prohibit. It is worth remembering how many Democrats celebrated Hugo Chávez as a model of “people over profits” leadership.”[END QUOTE] (Red emphasis added)
Here’s a snippet from that last passage that’s worth repeating: [BEGIN QUOTE]”You have heard the phrase, ‘act like you own the place.’ Senator Warren does not propose that the state should own the means of production, as in the classical Marxist-Leninist model, only that it should act like it owns the means of production.”[END QUOTE]
If you control what happens with something — either fully, or you COULD control it fully — then it IS as if you own the thing. That shouldn’t be at all controversial, but Rich Jones differs. He’s wrong. By way of example, I’d point out that if I were able to dictate precisely what is done with Rich Jones’ car — even granting him permission to use it — but I could swoop in at any time and just seize it — then it’s not REALLY Rich Jones’s car. Really, I own it.
In this way, it’s pretty clear that even private property rights under Socialism are only as solid as “the community as a whole” chooses for them to be. And if “the community as a whole” decides that it needs Rich Jones’ property more than he does, then it could just seize it. Rich Jones maintains that he and “the people” would then simply oust from power the baddies in “the community as a whole,” and that would fix everything. Except… he’d still be without his property, until the NEW top dogs decide to give it back. In other words, “Good luck!”
My (our) point right along has been: if you never give the power to dispossess you to “the community as a whole,” then said “community as a whole” can never ABUSE the power to dispossess you. In no way should that be even remotely controversial. But, if I’m correct (and I am) that it shouldn’t be controversial, then the entire philosophical foundation for Socialism, and all its strains, crumbles to dust.
Williamson continues, and in a vein that demonstrates he’s in no way a stereotypical, big business-lovin’ Conservative: [BEGIN QUOTE]”For years, demagogues of Senator Warren’s stripe insisted that corporations were failing to make good on an unpaid debt to the American worker, and that they should be coerced by the state into offering up certain political deliverables in payment of that debt. That was a big part of the postwar economic conversation, until a great many of the corporations showed that they could get on just fine without the American worker. When that happened, the Warrens changed their tune, demanding that the corporations come back and exploit the American worker again, as decency and patriotism demand. The unpaid debt to the exploited worker became the unpaid debt to the state — it became ‘You didn’t build that!’ and all that nonsense.
Now, it finally is starting to sink in to our national mind that Joe Plutocrat not only can get along just fine without the American worker, but he can also keep his yacht stocked with champagne with little or no dependence upon the American consumer. There are lots of people in the world who want to make things and buy things. Capital will go where it is treated well, and the future will go where it is welcome. And history is not an arrow pointing unalterably in the direction of progress and prosperity. If you think being a rich country protects you from that reality, remember that, when Senator Warren was born, Venezuela was the fourth-wealthiest country on Earth.
A few years of left-wing radicalism had its people eating zoo animals.”[END QUOTE]
That last bit is worth reading a few times! It’s true of EVERYWHERE that Socialists have made over the country according to Rich Jones’ principle of “the community as a whole owning or regulating the means of production.” The Soviet Union, Red China, post-war Eastern Europe, modern Greece, most of the vast continent of Africa, huge swathes of South and Central America, nearly all of Asia. And all this in the 20th and 21st frickin’ Centuries!!! When we KNOW that central planning fails every time. When we KNOW that Capitalism has lifted billions up and out of poverty in the Western World. When we KNOW that private property and land ownership rights lead to prosperity. When we know SO MANY things that UTTERLY debunk ANY notion that Socialism could EVER be a valid governing system!
As if to underscore my points, Williamson points out: [BEGIN QUOTE]”Prosperity is fragile. Venezuela was not a paradise before Chávez, but it had some reasonably functional institutions. Its energy industry was one of them. That has been destroyed. This is not a case of having to break some eggs to make an omelet. (George Orwell: ‘Where’s the omelet?’) This is socialism in action, the real socialism that we are always hearing has never been tried but has somehow still managed to kill millions of people around the world over the course of a century or so.”[END QUOTE]
That’s worth repeating too: “This is socialism in action, the real socialism that we are always hearing has never been tried but has somehow still managed to kill millions of people around the world over the course of a century or so.” Rich Jones, take note! 🙂
Rich Jones keeps insisting that I have “an idiosyncratic view” of Socialism, yet the points that Williamson makes in his excellent essay are those that clear-eyed observers of Socialism’s inevitable realities have been making for decades. More importantly, they’re the points that the people who have had to live, and suffer, under Socialism know to the depths of their being. They’re the points that millions of Venezuelans recognize are true of every day of their lives now under Socialism. Even more importantly, they’re the points that Venezuelans USED to be able to say were NOT TRUE of their lives within not too distant memory.
Socialism is evil — REALLY evil. It ALWAYS kills and impoverishes people. It’s nothing new; in fact it’s the very same hoary, old thing that has been killing and impoverishing people since there have been people. Now, though, it has a fancy new name, and a vast raft of pseudo-intellectual codswallop to try to make the old rotting meat palatable to the people.