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Socialism ruined my country, don't let it ruin yours too

Socialism still appeals to many today, despite the dozens of countries it has ruined over the past century. The promise of a better world, with less suffering and more fairness, is attractive to any decent, kind human being. Mesmerized by wonderful visions of prosperity and equality, it’s easy to overlook the hidden implications of socialist policies and disregard the warnings of those whose countries went through the same deception before.

Left-wing politicians continue to attract many followers with their classic Marxist strategy of dividing free people into groups (based on income, ethnicity, gender, and other features), convincing some groups they are the victims of others, and setting “the oppressed” against “the oppressors.” Under the pretext of promoting social justice, they centralize power and implement misguided policies which erode fundamental natural rights, such as private ownership, and bring moral, economic and general societal decline.

The “class struggle” discourse has been used for more than 100 years as a recipe to gain power, but many haven’t heard this talk before or don’t realize where it leads. Young people have a healthy reflex against authority, which makes them particularly vulnerable to this victimhood and revolutionary narrative. But if they would follow the chain of effects, they would realize socialist policies lead to the very destruction of their beloved freedom.

Before World War II, Romania, my native country, had a growing economy, competent politicians, and one of the most advanced, democratic constitutions in the world. Then the Communist Party ascended to power, using brute force combined with propaganda eerily similar to that used by Western left-wing politicians today. Their socialist measures not only led to economic collapse, but had such lasting effects that today, 30 years after the fall of communism, despite significant advances, Romania is still one of the poorest, most dysfunctional countries in Europe. And that’s just one in the long list of countries ruined by socialism.

Bucharest before and after socialism

In this article, I try to explain why socialism can never achieve its stated goals, why it is deceptive and immoral, and how, despite its wonderful promises, it always ends up bringing poverty, depriving people of freedom, and hurting the individuals it claims to help. It is my attempt to counter the pervasive left-wing ideas that persist to this day and are inculcated in young minds by academia, culture, and media in the Western world.

  1. What is socialism?
  2. Socialism’s track record
  3. How socialism leads to totalitarianism
  4. Socialism and Nazism
  5. Socialism vs. communism
  6. Socialism and atheism
  7. How socialism leads to poverty
  8. Democratic socialism: why it’s a delusion
  9. Socialism, an ideology of envy and hate
  10. Societal degradation under socialism
  11. Why so many people still support the Left
  12. The Nordics
  13. Socialists in disguise
  14. Real progress and how to reduce poverty
  15. Why am I writing this

What is socialism?

Churchill on socialism

Socialism, framed as the “collective ownership of the means of production,” takes property and freedom away from individuals by force in the name of “the people.” This can be done to various degrees: either in entirety, with brutal, full-scale confiscations, as happened in many countries, including mine, or through a softer, more “humane” way, using redistributive taxation, mass state employment, excessive regulations, price, wage, and rent controls, and other such measures. In either form, socialism consists of direct or indirect stealing, limiting people’s freedom and making them dependent on the state.

There’s an abundance of socialist measures, but they all share the same pattern: politicians promise larger groups that they will legalize stealing from smaller groups (though taxation, nationalization, rent limits, or other ways) and share the loot with them in the form of “free” services, state handouts, subsidies, or by financing certain projects. In exchange, they ask for power. This is in essence the “social contract” of the Left. The problem with this deal is not only that it’s immoral, but that also, in the long run, it ends up hurting the overall economy and making most people poorer and more oppressed—including the ones who, at first, appear to benefit.

A small degree of wealth redistribution can help those who cannot provide for themselves (due to mistakes or misfortunes) avoid the misery of extreme poverty. But as the exceptional character of such emergency help decreases, the incentives for hard or innovative work diminish and the majority becomes accustomed to subsidised services and benefits. Instead of being grateful, some think they are entitled to other people’s money. They start claiming that they actually deserve even more of it. The moment when targeted charity turns into large-scale stealing has long passed in many Western countries.

Socialists promise free things. How they finance those things is simply with other people’s earnings. They frame their policies as promoting “equality,” “solidarity,” or “social justice” to legitimize their votes-for-stolen-money proposition, and many fall for this deception. Once understood, it’s easy to see how their “solutions” pave the way to poverty and totalitarianism.

Socialism’s track record

Socialism kills

Wherever it was tried on a full scale, socialism led to poverty, oppression, and genocide. Unfortunately, these horrors are not well known in the West. Few know about the Gulag, the Pitești experiment, the Cambodian Killing Fields, or the Great Leap Forward. Few grasp the scale of these atrocities that forever stain the history of mankind. The killings, the famines, the torture, the persecutions—they all happened during attempts to build a fairer society, by forcefully subordinating personal interests to the “common good.”

The death toll of communist regimes, which implemented socialism, is estimated at more than a staggering 100 million victims. That’s about 20 times the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust. Large parts of the world lived in dystopian prison states for generations (some still do), while being subjected to shortages, persecution, and indoctrination. The Soviet Union and the countries from the Eastern Bloc, Cambodia, China, and many others became totalitarian states, where people lived like slaves and could never challenge their ruthless rulers. North Korea and Venezuela are present-day reminders of such horrendous worlds.

The centrally planned economies of socialists states always end up generating extreme poverty, shortages and famines. In countries where socialists didn’t take full control of the economy, there is generally much more freedom and prosperity. However, in these countries, too, socialist measures inhibit economic growth and cause victims, albeit in less visible ways.

How socialism leads to totalitarianism

Thatcher on freedom

Since socialism implies economic control, it requires the centralization of power and restricting people’s freedom to offer services and to produce, buy, and sell products freely at the price they agree on. By limiting people’s rights to run businesses, trade, own property and accumulate capital, socialists transfer power from private individuals operating in a free market to the state and so to the politicians and bureaucrats who run it. Once this power transfer surpasses a certain level, instituting a dictatorship becomes a mere formality.

As the state control over the economy increases, regime critics lose their voice. It becomes harder to accumulate the resources needed for an effective opposition: organizations, academia, the media, they all become complicit, and the ability to meaningfully challenge those who run the state is lost. Freedom is restricted, and citizens have to bend their heads and accept whatever is imposed on them by those who claim to represent the majority—rules, taxes, “socialized” healthcare, school programs designed to make children think in a certain way, limitations on free speech, on freedom of assembly. There’s simply no one left who can effectively stand up and say no, as consequences can be brutal: being incarcerated for “hate speech” or “right-wing deviations” or worse.

In socialism, individual freedom dies, and liberal democracy can never exist except for a brief time in the beginning. At best, the tyranny of the majority prevails. More often, the arbitrary will of the one-party leaders becomes the law of the land.

Socialism and Nazism

Strasser on socialism

While Nazism is the classic example of a dangerous ideology, socialism is presented in popular culture as the kind and compassionate alternative. The strong ties between Nazism and socialism are shamelessly covered up.

Nazism stands for national-socialism. Hitler’s party was called the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, and it shared many values and policies with the socialist platforms that continue to be so innocently promoted today: greater state control of the economy, prices and wages, anti-capitalism, attacks on Christianity (there were dedicated clergy barracks at the Dachau concentration camp) and the sacrifice of individual freedom in the name of the “collective interest.”

“We are a workers’ party because we see in the coming battle between finance and labor the beginning and the end of the structure of the twentieth century. We are on the side of labor and against finance.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because these ideas continue to be reiterated by socialists today. But those are the words of Joseph Goebbels, the head of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda of Nazi Germany and one of Hitler’s closest associates.

Fewer still know that the Nazis’ antisemitism was also rooted in anti-capitalism. Again, Goebbels made this very clear: “As socialists we are opponents of the Jews because we see in the Hebrews the incarnation of capitalism, of the misuse of the nation’s goods.” For those who are aware of these things, the similarities with the discourse of some present day politicians are striking. Antisemitism based on anti-capitalism is still thriving.

It is this hatred of economic freedom (capitalism), individual liberty, and envy of success that fueled the growth of both Nazism and communism—two sides of the same collectivist mentality. It is this hatred and envy that is responsible for the horrors that followed. It is this hatred and envy that boost the support for the same old deceiving socialist discourse today.

Socialism vs. communism

Socialism vs. communism, Ayn Rand

When reminded of the past horrors of socialism, many of its modern supporters assert that they were perpetrated by communist regimes, as if that makes it different. It’s ironic, sad, and scary to see how people who have never lived in a socialist state preach so fervently about the fundamental differences between socialism and communism. In reality, such differences simply don’t exist.

Socialism, communism, and Marxism share the same worldview and advocate the same policies: naturally occurring social hierarchies are in fact a result of oppression and need to be destroyed; private property needs to be confiscated and redistributed, so power has to be centralized. People shouldn’t be allowed to produce, buy, sell, and accumulate capital freely. Forcing “equality” is the ultimate goal, and fundamental individual rights and prosperity have to be sacrificed to attain it.

Communist countries implemented socialist policies, but never reached the utopian end state of communism, which is the absence of social classes and money. Instead, obedient (and often incompetent) party members became the upper class, while everyone who dared to challenge them lived in fear and persecution. Communism is the utopian goal of socialism, but that’s hardly an essential difference. It’s just a matter of the degree to which socialist policies are implemented.

Socialism and atheism

Lenin on atheism

It is no coincidence that most socialists are fanatical atheists. Wherever they got to power, socialists marginalized, persecuted, and often tortured and killed clergymen. “Enlightened” socialist intellectuals reject God so they can place themselves in His position. They envision what the world should look like and proceed to impose their view of “paradise on Earth.” It is no coincidence that socialist leaders foster a personality cult and that their portraits often end up on the walls of buildings and classrooms.

Time-proven values and individual freedom are just annoying roadblocks for those convinced the blueprint for “social progress” is in their pocket. Without a fixed moral system to discourage them, abuse, persecution, stealing, and even murder become not only permissible but necessary tools for a noble cause. Their supreme authority, which is the Party and the State (they become one in communist countries) provides the power to enforce their profound social changes. The end result is invariably a living hell. But they keep trying, again and again, insisting that the next time it will end differently.

Most socialists claim to have no religion, but they are more dogmatic than religious people. Equality of outcomes, ethnic and cultural (but not ideological) diversity, internationalism—these are unquestionable ideals. Capital, private property, patriotism, faith in God, social and cultural hierarchies, gender differences, and objective truth are evil and need to be attacked. Question their tenets and you will be treated like a true apostate.

How socialism leads to poverty

Friedman on judging policies

When someone proposes simple solutions to persistent problems, remember there is no such thing as a free lunch. When judging a policy, all consequences have to be considered, not just the first, most obvious one.

“Free” education and “free” healthcare sound great. But who pays, and how much do they cost? How is a state-run system held accountable? How are costs kept in check? How can quality increase if competition is suppressed? How do we avoid indoctrination in a state-run education system?

Consider a couple of popular measures: confiscating profits and dictating a minimum wage.

The first-order effect of confiscating profits though taxation is apparently positive: the people receiving the confiscated money do better for a while. But companies have less money left for growth, research, and to reward investors for their risk-taking. Resources and incentives to finance new ideas decrease. This gives an advantage to competitors from other countries, allowing them to build better products and win market share. To “fix” this, governments increase tariffs, give subsidies or nationalize (confiscate) entire companies. Such measures protect local producers from competition, but they also take away their incentives to improve. Costs increase, quality decreases, and consumers pay the price. This sequence of events is typical for countries taking socialist measures, and it invariably results in poor products and services, shortages, waiting times, and generalized economic decline.

Imposing a minimum wage is another “magical” solution, simple and effective at first glance. In any country, there already is a natural minimum wage. Basic economics explains how wages are simply prices for types of work, determined by the supply and demand for that work and the capital available in that country. Imposing an artificial, higher minimum wage produces a very different result than what is expected. Companies forced to pay more tend to either avoid hiring or go bankrupt. It pushes them to use automation or outsource work. It leads to price increases for the final products, making them less competitive and forcing every customer to subsidize the artificially high wages. But the worst effect is that it makes it hard for young, inexperienced workers to find jobs where they can learn skills and grow in their careers.

Most socialist policies are like this. They seem great at first glance, but as you analyze carefully all their implications, you realize that their results are very different from what is advertised. Forced redistributions, imposed wages, rent controls, and state interventionism in general are based on major economic fallacies that have been exposed repeatedly by brilliant economists during the past century, such as Frédéric Bastiat, F.A. Hayek, and Milton Friedman.

One of the biggest fallacies of such policies is that the wealth of a nation has a fixed size: you can take from the rich, give to the poor, and the total stays constant. In reality, the total wealth is constantly changing. It increases when taxes are low, entrepreneurs thrive, and the state protects individual property and fosters a pro-business environment. And it decreases when businesses are impoverished by excessive taxes and regulations. The less private capital is left to invest and create new wealth, the more barriers businesses face, and the less the country will have in total. Stealing from the rich often makes the poor even poorer in the long run.

Democratic socialism: why it’s a delusion

Hayek on transition from socialism to fascism

Some have an idea about the disasters socialism brought in the past, but say they support “democratic socialism,” which they claim is different. It is not. All socialist regimes have claimed to be democratic, to have the support of “the people.” In a ridiculous attempt to seem more convincing, many added it to their country’s names: the communist North Vietnam used to be called the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, East Germany was called the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Pol Pot had his Democratic Kampuchea, and even North Korea brands itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Obviously, in reality there was nothing democratic about these countries.

People are lured with the promise of a better life and deceived that they are entitled to others’ property. Once the supporters of such ideas reach critical mass, state-backed stealing is normalized, and socialists can claim to have democratic support. A massive plundering ensues, which requires the centralization of power in the hands of the bureaucrats who control the stealing process, restricting economic freedom and paving the way to totalitarianism. Stealing private capital dries out initiative and innovation and invariably makes the economy weaker and the people poorer and more dependent on the state. By the time they realize they need to change the ones in power, they often no longer have the means to do so.

Socialism, an ideology of envy and hate

Sowell on socialism

Some claim that socialism is the moral course of action and that socialist policies help people in need. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” is a nice-sounding slogan. But socialism is based on coercion and stealing, which are not moral actions in any altruistic belief system. And in practice, its long-term results never correspond with its stated goals. Average citizens in socialist countries always end up being poorer than average citizens in free, capitalist countries. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The first step of socialism is to confiscate earnings and property from those perceived to have “too much,” based on arbitrary rules. This is claimed to benefit the poor, but that effect is short-lived. Less private capital leads to less wealth creation through investments and innovation. A weaker economy hurts the most vulnerable the most, and it makes more people dependent, directly or indirectly, on state-controlled spending. On top of it, what is confiscated often doesn’t even reach the poor, because of expensive bureaucracy, waste, and corruption, which often thrive in socialist regimes.

The moral course of action is true compassion and charity. Genuine altruism manifests as voluntary help provided to the ones in need: sacrificing our own time and resources for others. Being generous with other people’s money is not generosity; it’s hypocrisy. Voting for socialists who say “the rich have to pay their fair share” (meaning always more, although they already fund the large majority of state expenses) is a proof of bitterness and envy, not altruism. If you want to help others, volunteer or donate your own time and money. You don’t need legislation to do that.

Societal degradation under socialism

Bastiat on misguided public opinion

Besides paving the path to economic collapse, socialism does something much more destructive to society: it inverts its values, by punishing integrity and success and rewarding incompetence and failure. When they gain power, socialists first target the most successful people. They have often murdered them or sent them to work camps. But even when the persecution is not physically violent, socialists always tend to replace competent, high-performing individuals who are not willing to take part in their great stealing scheme with unskilled, obedient activists.

The most prestigious positions, where competence is essential for the well-being of society, end up being occupied by the most immoral and incompetent of its members. Meritocracy is inverted and this counter-selection process hurts the performance of institutions, damages the social fabric and distorts its values in profound ways. This damage may take years to become evident, but once settled in, it can last for generations. When integrity is systematically punished while (direct or masked) stealing and blind obedience are rewarded, societal decay and generalized suffering are inevitable.

Socialism also fosters the deceptive, yet convenient mindset that the state is responsible for our destiny, prosperity and well-being. And so a nation of doers with initiative can transform into a nation of passive complainers and blamers who expect the state to provide them with education, jobs, a “living wage,” housing, goods, services, even entertainment, going well beyond the original purpose of the state - which is to provide security and enforce the rule of law so free people can have a safe environment to live and prosper in.

Why so many people still support the Left

Horowitz on economic ignorance

Many advocate socialist policies simply due to ignorance. They want to do good and are tricked into believing that the simple, beneficent-sounding solution proposed by the Left would achieve their purpose, increase people’s living standards, and reduce suffering. They don’t consider all the long-term consequences of the measures they support. They’re either unaware of the colossal past failures of those solutions or are deceived that what they support is somehow different, when in reality it is not.

A vocal minority of those who promote socialism do so fully aware of its overall negative effects; they are motivated by hate, envy, or petty political aspirations. They hate successful people so much that they don’t care if everyone will be poorer or more oppressed, as long as the rich suffer in some way. It is this envy and craving for undeserved power that ultimately fueled the rise of socialist regimes and their genocides.

The Nordics

Danish PM

The Scandinavian countries are routinely given as counterexamples for all the horrendous past failures of socialism, despite the fact that none of them is actually socialist. In fact, the Scandinavian countries consistently rank as some of the most business-friendly countries in the world. At the time of this writing, their corporate income tax rates are more competitive than in the United States, while Denmark and Sweden don’t even have a state-imposed minimum wage.

It’s true that these countries can afford generous welfare programs, but there are factors that have nothing to do with socialist policies that contribute to that: they have small populations, rich natural resources (mostly gas), small defense expenditures, a pro-business environment, and functioning rule of law. The truth about the Nordic model is distorted to advance the socialist cause. These countries are indeed rich, but that’s not because of socialist measures but in spite of them. Nordic countries are not perfect, either, as they deal with problems that few foreigners know about.

Socialists in disguise

Allen West on progressivism

After all the tragedies of the past century, there is still some hard-learned stigma surrounding socialism. For a time at least, it was hard to promote an ideology that led to such horrors of monumental scale. For that reason, its proponents sometimes rebrand themselves as progressives, democratic socialists (or social-democrats, or simply “Democrats”), greens, even liberals (although what they stand for is the opposite of classical liberalism). Scratching the surface of any of these political ideologies often reveals just another flavor or softer version of socialism.

It always boils down to taking people’s freedom and earnings to finance a grand vision of what society should really look like. This vision may vary: some favor a rapid industrialization, as was the case in Romania. Some force a return to an agrarian past, like the Cambodian Khmer Rouge. Nowadays, new goals are pushed forward: silencing “hate speech”, enforcing “diversity”, promoting a relativistic worldview to children in schools. While goals differ, the means are the same: control is taken away from the individual to impose, through force and social engineering, what these groups like to call “progress”—changes in the direction favored by them.

Real progress and how to reduce poverty

Hazlitt on capitalism

Those who truly care about the poor and the oppressed should support the three pillars of Western civilization: individual freedom (including economic freedom, so capitalism), the rule of law, and Christianity; and remember that all that is needed for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing. Dramatic as it may sound, by not opposing those who viciously attack these pillars, we become accomplices to our civilization’s collapse.

Economic liberalization policies in China, India, the Eastern Bloc and other places are responsible for the spectacular 80% decrease in extreme poverty around the world in the past few decades. It is the biggest gain in living standards in history, and it was achieved by simply lessening the state grip on the economy, leaving entrepreneurs motivated by success to flourish and generate wealth. That’s the real progress.

Who knows how many lives could have been saved, how much suffering could have been prevented if all those countries hadn’t implemented socialism in the first place?

The rule of law, which provides predictability and balance (as opposed to ruling based solely on the whim of those in power), together with economic freedom, do wonders for reducing poverty. Other individual rights give us the dignity to make choices and express ideas without fear of persecution. But freedom and the naturally unequal prosperity it generates make it essential to adhere to a moral system that promotes personal responsibility, love and kindness while condemning violence, theft, abuse, and waste.

We all have a belief system, a set of moral postulates that shape our view of the world and our behavior. The Western civilization is rooted in Christianity, which has been instrumental in its development towards the state we find ourselves in today. Other parts of the world are based on other belief systems, which reflect in the way they evolved. Judeo-Christian values are embedded in our way of life, in our legal system, our freedoms, our moral code.

Few realize the separation of church and state, an essential ingredient of our civilization’s success, is also a consequence of Christian thought, as Jesus said “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”. In other systems, either religion fully controls politics, or politics is dogmatic and political leaders become false gods.

We owe our civilization to Christian educators who introduced literacy to the masses, Christian legislators who enshrined the protection of human life and individual liberty in fundamental laws, Christian scientists whose discoveries shaped modern life, like Wilhelm Röntgen, Michael Faraday, Werner Heisenberg, or sister Mary Keller. The conflict between Christian faith and science is just another false narrative.

“But Jesus was a socialist!” is what some still say, after all the persecutions of Christians under socialist regimes. No, that’s simply false. Jesus emphasized the futility of material possessions and advocated generosity, humility, and sacrifice. In no way did He instigate stealing or preach envy or hate. Instead, He encouraged us to help others. Christians advocate voluntary generosity, while socialists advocate “forced generosity”—being generous with other people’s money, which is not generosity at all.

Solzhenitsyn: men have forgotten God

As we stray from Christianity, we seek meaning in other belief systems. We embrace short-sighted hedonism and worship false gods, such various leaders (false prophets), money, our bodies, or nature, while disregarding the wisdom inherited from our ancestors. Purpose becomes elusive, and the value of human life is no longer sacred. Forgiving, not envying, not hurting others, are no longer cardinal rules. Of course, Christians don’t always uphold these rules, either, and people can adhere to them without being Christian. But a flexible belief system is the perfect breeding ground for destructive ideologies. It makes people justify and embrace theft, murder, even genocide when times get rough. It is this void that Nazism and communism filled in the past, with terrifying consequences. It is this same void that nihilism, hedonism and, once again, socialism, fill today, paving the way to the next apocalypse.

Why am I writing this

In my first six years of life, I lived in a communist country. I witnessed first-hand the result of full-scale socialist policies. Being a young child, most of my memories from that time are naturally not related to the political system, but I do recall the food shortages, the generalized poverty, and the political indoctrination that started in kindergarten. You might think this can never happen in your country, but it is already happening in the West, albeit in more subtle ways. Romanians also never imagined how distorted reality would become when socialism was first imposed in the late 1940s.

I’m not poor but not rich, either, and there were times in my life when my family could barely afford basic goods. I’m not resentful but grateful that there are much richer people than me out there. Among them are the capitalists who can afford to risk a lot of money financing new, innovative ventures, like the companies that employ us and whose products make our life easier every day. I praise those who work harder or smarter than I do; I recognize their efforts and don’t have any claim towards their well-deserved earnings, from which eventually we all benefit. Envy is evil.

Most of the time, we fail to learn from other people’s experiences. I’m writing this article with the faint hope that maybe, after so much suffering, one day people will understand the fallacies and deceptions of socialism and will reject politicians who perpetuate them to get into power.

Freedom is like good health—you don’t realise how important it is until you lose it, and once lost, it can be impossible to get back. And freedom is too often taken for granted in the West.