Recently, I was listening to a podcast from the show Intelligence Squared – U.S. Edition. For those that are unaware, it is a podcast in which there is a central question, and four experts, two on each side, argue the prompt. There is an audience that votes on their side of the argument before the debate, and then votes again after the debate. The debaters who convince the largest percentage of audience members to switch sides wins the argument. It’s a fascinating show and one that I would suggest people “tune” into from time to time.
The topic of the debate was Is Capitalism a Blessing? The debaters were a rather eclectic group, ranging from an avowed socialist/communist (at one point he stated that he had no problem taking rights away from capitalists if it meant it was better for the people), a professor of economics (also an avowed socialist), to a magazine editor and the CEO of Whole Foods, both on the side of capitalism (the latter, obviously).
Both sides presented arguments that, on the surface, were sound. The socialists were speaking about capitalism being abusive and leaving a percentage of people behind economically in favor of making money. The spoke of income inequality, and the high price of medications, with the obligatory nod to the corporate greed that they see percolating in the United States.
For their part, the capitalists spoke of the engine of capitalism being the driver of lifting people out of poverty, of fostering creativity in solving world problems, and, of course, their obligatory nod to overt state control harming production rather than fostering it.
I found myself sitting on my side of the listening device, my phone, both cajoling the capitalists to hit certain points which they didn’t and arguing with the socialists when it was their turn to speak. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am, by no means, a socialist.
Once the debate was over, I was ruminating upon the discussion and realized there was one point that neither side made, and that is one of population. To me, the argument is so plain that I am surprised none of the debaters picked up on it. In fact, the same topic of the Nordic nations was brought up at the debates last night by the democratic contenders, and still no mention of the key argument. Let me explain.
If you are going to defend socialist concepts, then your argument must be made “apples to apples”, meaning that as close as possible, conditions under which one believes socialist ideas flourish must be made under the same conditions under which capitalism flourishes. The same is true for the reverse. A position is only as good as its argument, and an argument only as good as the evidence, provided the playing field is level.
Many who favor some version of socialism, democratic socialism is the term in vogue now, point to a few areas in which there has been a modicum of success. Democratic socialists point to the Scandinavian countries, or even Spain to defend their point of view. Their model, they say, is the right mix of capitalism with government run socialist structures in place. In Spain, the Mondragon Corporation is a worker cooperative company in which the workers run and own the company, using democratic methods to determine worker pay and other company structures, even putting caps on worker/manager pay (a manager can only make 5x more than a worker, as an example). In essence, the workers are also owners, a democratic socialist’s dream, and certainly one that seems fair and equitable. It has had a modicum of success thus far, but not without the requisite problems a collective will have. More about this later.
So, can all of this work? Can the United States become one of the success stories that democratic socialists dream of?
Let me put forth some numbers for you: 46.6 million, 10 million, 5.7 million, 5.3 million. These are the populations of (in order), Spain, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. Now, let me give you some alternative numbers: 39 million, 28 million, 21 million, 19 million. These are the most populous states in the United States. While on the one hand we are talking about Scandinavian countries, nations that have a common language, culture, and are largely homogeneous, there are states that are as large or larger than any of those nations, with rather diverse populations whose only common bond is living in these United States. Yes, there is a shared culture here, but more and more that American culture is becoming foggy and harder to delineate. Where we were once a multi-colored blanket, one piece of cloth with a wonderful multi-color (culture) scheme, we are now becoming more of a quilt; separate squares bound by a rather thin string which can easily become broken. It is much, much more difficult to implement a cooperative scheme such as the democratic socialists wish to implement when there are so many disparate interests at play. If there is no common bond, there is no will to pull in the same direction by the people affected. Such is the issue that faces the United States with the implementation of a democratic socialist scheme.
Recall your history. Robert Owen, a utopian socialist from Scotland created New Lanark, a wonderful cooperative with a limited population that functioned much like the democratic socialists’ desire. The workers all shared in the work and the profits, and it was successful…in Scotland. A shared language, culture, and work ethic were also prevalent…in Scotland.
Owen was convinced that he could replicate his success in the United States, so he created New Harmony, in Indiana. Same set up, same conditions. Result? Abject failure. Why? Indiana was not Scotland. It was, to coin a word, diverse, and Owen found that people in the states that did not have the same drive, same homogeneity, same cultural background, were not willing to work for the other guy as he/she was willing to work for themselves. There was a certain spirit of independence that permeated New Harmony, and that was not conducive at all to Robert Owen’s dream society.
There were other considerations that tore at the fabric of New Harmony as well. Religion, culture, and disagreements as to how it should be governed. In short, New Harmony was not New Lanark and fell apart in rather short order, and Owen lost eighty percent of his investment, and eventually, Owen withdrew from it altogether.
So, what is the alternative if people of different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs are not willing to work for the common good? There is only one…force. If the entire population, or a segment of it, is unwilling to participate in the grand scheme, then they must be forced to make it happen. Check history…really check it without the blinders of bias. It has not worked out too well. For proof, just ask the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Cuba, and any number of other attempts to force upon an unwilling population the dream of the collective. Read Second-Hand Time, an oral history of post 1991 Russia, or the great work by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago about life in Soviet Russia. These are works that will tug on those blinders of socialism.
Further, the burden of populations the size of the United States creates other difficulties. How will the dream of democratic socialism be paid for? With nations the size of the Scandinavian countries, it is much easier to implement a system in which there is a cooperative effort as there are exponentially less people to care for then here in the United States, and there is the factor of homogeneity. Simple math and even a vague familiarity with numbers would show that the dreams of the democratic socialists would turn to dust by an examination of the numbers alone. There simply isn’t enough money to go around, no matter how much people are taxed.
But how can that be? We are the wealthiest nation on earth, we’re told.
There are a few factors. First and foremost, the illegal population in the United States. Notice that I used the dreaded word, illegal. The burden that population puts on the American taxpayer is quite extraordinary. Before we delve into that topic, let’s look at some numbers.
Sweden had 163 thousand illegal immigrants migrating into the country in 2016. The primary reason was the rather generous welfare and asylum laws that were in place. That number, 163,000, pales in comparison to illegal immigrants that enter the United States. In 2018, the estimated number of illegal border crossings was around 397,000. That statistic alone more than doubles the total in Sweden. Further, Sweden has since tightened up their asylum laws which not only reduced the number of entries, but also reduced those that were granted asylum. Why? They simply could not afford it, even with their rather high taxation system and generous social welfare policies.
Norway adopted similar policies, denying entry for economic immigrants as it was too much of a strain on their economy and culture, let along their massive oil wealth that they use to fund their government welfare policies. The fact is that it is not sustainable for one simple reason…population.
If these Nordic countries can’t do it, what makes democratic socialists think that such policies can be introduced successfully in these United States when our numbers are significantly higher in almost every statistical category? No matter how you slice it, our population is not only too great, but too diverse, and too unwilling to be dictated to by a government that is already too unwieldy in its size and scope and getting larger, a direct affront to the dictates of the Constitution. Both sides are guilty of this malfeasance.
Regulated immigration makes much more sense as a nation can then throttle the number of people entering, and the economy adjusts accordingly so that the new migrants can assimilate both economically and socially. It won’t solve the problem that leftists want, unfettered immigration regardless of status, but that is not realistic either. There is simply not enough money to go around. Emotional appeals do not and cannot trump (no pun intended), reality.
To put it plainly, the number of people in this nation is simply too great to have policies implemented as democratic socialists would like. If these policies would have any chance at all, that would require that everyone, no matter their status economically, would have to contribute in some way toward the whole, a notion that ruffles the feathers of democratic socialists as uncompassionate, and uncaring for those that don’t have the means to contribute. If that is the case, then what are we left with? A system that will never be able to fund, let alone take care of itself according to the democratic socialists’ dreams. We would put ourselves in danger of becoming another New Harmony, but in this instance, the ruin of an entire nation.
What if we compared our population numbers up rather than down? Our nearest apples would be India, with a total population of 1.37 billion people, and China, with a population of 1.4 billion. Both are 3x higher than the United States, as the United States is 3x higher than Russia. China largely abandoned its state-run economy in favor of a free market system in the ‘90s, and India abandoned their version in the 1960’s, embracing foreign investment when it turned out that their nationalization policies were not going to work. India, today, has significant economic growth and a growing middle class. Embracing capitalism and its tenants seem to be working for both China and India, our nearest population neighbors up.
Of course, there are other mitigating factors, such as what constitutes the middle class as that also differs by nation. Further, while China has loosened government controls and allowed more free market reforms (as has Vietnam…and has one of the fastest growing economies in the region as a result), it still controls much of what goes on, and regulates everyday life…force. Are we, in these United States, willing to forego our freedoms of choice for the yoke of dictatorial rule disguised as beneficial for the masses? Did we not fight a war or two a while ago to rid ourselves of such control?
Alexis De Tocqueville said it best with regard to Americans when he stated, “Americans are so enamored of equality, they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.” Let us hope that we do not succumb to his prediction.