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Stephen Moore / February 23, 2016

Strange Appeal of Socialism

When I was a smart-aleck college student, I had a sign on my dorm-room door that read: “Reality is for those who can’t handle drugs.” Maybe the 2016 version should go like this: “Bernie Sanders and socialism are for those who can’t handle reality.” Socialism’s comeback is mystifying to most clear-thinking people. Do people who support Sanders and socialism walk around with shutters over their eyes so they don’t have to observe the reality of what is happening in the world around them? The remarkable thing about the rise of Bernie Sanders is that his popularity runs in the counter-direction to how socialism is actually working.

When I was a smart-aleck college student, I had a sign on my dorm-room door that read: “Reality is for those who can’t handle drugs.”

Maybe the 2016 version should go like this: “Bernie Sanders and socialism are for those who can’t handle reality.”

Socialism’s comeback is mystifying to most clear-thinking people. Do people who support Sanders and socialism walk around with shutters over their eyes so they don’t have to observe the reality of what is happening in the world around them? The remarkable thing about the rise of Bernie Sanders is that his popularity runs in the counter-direction to how socialism is actually working.

Liberals used to point to places such as France, Italy, Greece and even Cuba as workers’ paradises that offer citizens lots of free things: child care, health care, higher education, food, housing and a guaranteed income with high minimum wages. Today these places are basket cases, and in many of these nations the government bonds are given junk status.

Greece, of course, is modern socialism on steroids. The nation is in de facto bankruptcy because Athens can’t cover the runaway costs of all the free things the government offers: pensions, paychecks, medical exams and welfare benefits. Fifty percent of young people don’t have a job, and more than half of Greeks retire before age 60. The wagon is full, and no one is left to pull it.

Greece isn’t alone. Argentina, Italy, Spain, Portugal and France — as well as the United States — experimented with quasi-socialist governments in the past decade. Almost all these countries are in recession or have anemic growth. The comeback of socialism and the obsession with redistributing income and wealth through confiscatory tax rates helps explain why so many of the wealth producers and employers are on strike.

Who wants to invest when the political leaders are threatening to take most of the earnings away to spend on the “common good”?

Bernie Sanders points to “socialist success stories” such as Sweden and Denmark, but even they have been mugged by a reality: giving free things to people who don’t work for them can be a recipe for disaster. Now they are moving away from purebred, Sanders-style socialism as we move toward it. Sweden, for example, has cut its corporate income tax and eliminated its inheritance tax — positive steps. As refugees pour into Sweden, the voters are wondering whether the nation can continue to provide so many free services without running out of money.

Here, we have a “progressive” president who has presided over an economic mess, and now all the Democrats can say, as voters rage against the cascade of false promises of “hope and change,” is that we didn’t go far enough in the socialist direction.

Sanders proclaims, “The economic system is rigged,” a talking point that Hillary Clinton is now shouting herself. As the narrative goes, the rich aren’t rich because they’ve achieved things; they are rich because they’ve cheated. It’s a perverse way to denigrate accomplishment, risk-taking and work.

If there’s any rigging going on, it’s in Washington. Consider Hillary Clinton, who’s never achieved much of anything outside of politics but has become a multimillionaire.

The Heritage Foundation released its Economic Freedom of the World index last week. It should be required reading in every high school and college.

Economic freedom is, of course, the opposite of socialism. Nations that are economically free have freer trade, smaller welfare states, lower taxes, a lighter hand with regulation, private ownership of the means of production and the rule of law. Countries that are economically free have five times the per capita average annual income ($55,000) of countries that are the least free ($9,000).

Not only that, economic freedom is also highly correlated with better education, improved health and a cleaner environment. The poor do better in nations that are economically free and worse in Bernie Sanders land.

In short, countries that are economically free are healthy, wealthy and wise. This reality seems to be lost on those high on the drug of socialism.

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