by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Fans of my recent column contrasting economic systems based on freedom with those based on socialism might appreciate the following passage from Paul Hollander’s latest book review in National Review.
The problem begins with the widely held, undifferentiated views of socialism shared by most Americans. They are unaware of the fundamental differences between authoritarian (or totalitarian) state socialism embedded in one-party systems, such as the former Soviet one or the Chinese one under Mao, and social-democratic societies, such as those in Scandinavia. The latter are politically liberal and pluralistic and seek to reduce economic inequalities through high taxes and a range of social services. It is this ignorance of the deep moral and institutional gulf between these two very different political systems that allowed President Trump to hold forth about the horrors of socialism without specifying whether he had in mind the Soviet Gulag or child care in Sweden. By the same token, it is also incumbent on the new, young Democratic representatives in Congress who sing the praises of socialism to make clear that they are aware of the morally decisive differences between democratic socialism and the repressive one-party states calling themselves “socialist.”
Hollander reminds this observer of comments economist Robert Lawson uttered during a Duke University lecture.
As self-proclaimed socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez play a more vocal role in today’s Democratic Party, it’s important to define what they mean when they refer to socialism. If they invoke Norway and Sweden as models for the United States of the future, Lawson suggests they’re not interested in real socialism.
“They’re market economies,” he said. “If you want to see the socialist economies, you go to Argentina or Brazil, where the government is infecting every aspect of business. You go to large parts of the continent of Africa, and you’ll see that’s actual operating socialism. You have governments operating enterprises.”
“Of course, Venezuela is the current standard-bearer there,” Lawson added. “Some people think socialism is Sweden. I’m going to say, ‘No, socialism is Venezuela.’”