So­cial­ism’s cycli­cal ap­peal

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD -

Like swal­lows re­turn­ing to Capis­trano, so­cial­ism makes an ap­pear­ance on a reg­u­lar cy­cle.

The cur­rent pres­i­den­tial cam­paign fea­tures self-con­fessed so­cial­ist Sen. Bernie San­ders, I-Vt., and Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren,

D-Mass., who doesn’t self-de­scribe as a so­cial­ist, but whose poli­cies closely re­sem­ble those of San­ders.

San­ders has the lux­ury of con­demn­ing mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires from his com­fort­able life as a mul­ti­mil­lion­aire. As Forbes mag­a­zine has re­ported, “San­ders ... has amassed an es­ti­mated $2.5 mil­lion for­tune from real es­tate, in­vest­ments, gov­ern­ment pen­sions — and earn­ings from three books.” San­ders is also quoted, “I wrote a best­selling book. If you write a best­selling book, you can be a mil­lion­aire, too.”

San­ders ap­pears to fa­vor cap­i­tal­ism for him­self, but he’s against it for every­one else.

So­cial­ism is a false doc­trine. It sells it­self to new gen­er­a­tions who know lit­tle about it. They pro­mote it by promis­ing “free stuff,” along with envy of the suc­cess­ful.

Why does so­cial­ism con­tinue to have ap­peal in Amer­ica? Part of the rea­son is ad­her­ents claim it is fairer than cap­i­tal­ism. It isn’t fair, so­cial­ists say, that some peo­ple make more money than oth­ers.

So­cial­ism and its twin sis­ter lib­er­al­ism have al­ways been about feel­ings, rather than out­come. That so many lib­eral pro­grams have failed to achieve stated ob­jec­tives does not mat­ter to the left. Ap­par­ently, it is in­tent, not suc­cess, that counts. When lib­er­als or so­cial­ists fail, they sim­ply go on to new er­rors.

Amity Sh­laes has writ­ten a new book about so­cial­ism’s ap­peal and how on sev­eral oc­ca­sions we have come close to em­brac­ing it. It’s called “Great So­ci­ety: A New History.” Pres­i­dent Lyn­don John­son promised to end poverty in Amer­ica, but Sh­laes writes, “Af­ter the 1960s, of­fi­cial poverty sta­bi­lized at 10 to 15 per­cent. In fact, what the War on Poverty and the new flood of ben­e­fits DID do was the op­po­site of pre­vent — they es­tab­lished a new kind of poverty, a per­ma­nent sense of down­trod­den­ness. They washed away hope.”

In another ex­am­ple of the pri­vate econ­omy work­ing bet­ter than one cen­tered in Wash­ing­ton, she notes that 50 years ago, “McDon­ald’s em­ployed more young men than the U.S. Army.” That com­pany, along with oth­ers like Star­bucks not only need more em­ploy­ees, they of­fer ad­vance­ment to man­age­ment po­si­tions and in some cases free col­lege tu­ition. Th­ese are far bet­ter paths to suc­cess and in­de­pen­dence than gov­ern­ment pro­grams, which of­ten sus­tain peo­ple in their poverty — and thus make them more de­pen­dent on gov­ern­ment and politi­cians who want their votes.

Just as New Deal pro­grams ex­ceeded their use­ful­ness af­ter the Great De­pres­sion (but man­age to en­joy a type of eter­nal life), so, too, have the Great So­ci­ety pro­grams. Why don’t peo­ple know this? “Noth­ing is new, it is just for­got­ten,” goes the adage.

Sh­laes writes: “The pub­lic didn’t un­der­stand that the free­dom of mar­kets was nec­es­sary to make com­pa­nies like (Gen­eral Elec­tric) grow. Amer­ica was, through its own so­cial wel­fare mea­sures, grad­u­ally head­ing to­ward so­cial­ism, and Amer­i­cans didn’t even know it.” She adds, “Just as the 1960s for­got the fail­ures of the 1930s, we today for­get the fail­ures of the 1960s. Part of the trou­ble is what school­books and history books omit.”

As with much of the me­dia, bias is not only ex­pressed in how and what is cov­ered, but even more in what is omit­ted. Count on modern history text­books to re­call Amer­ica’s “orig­i­nal sin,” slav­ery, a stain that can never be al­lowed to go away, rather than the much-im­proved lives and jobs ex­pe­ri­enced by con­tem­po­rary African Amer­i­cans.

If nei­ther San­ders nor War­ren be­come pres­i­dent, that won’t mean so­cial­ism will have lost. There’s another gen­er­a­tion not yet born that could likely be se­duced by it.

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