A Capital Idea: an “-ism” for Freedom

By Mike Cronin

Last week, I offered the view that adopting socialism is a recipe for disaster. Most of the political “-isms” (socialism, communism, fascism, imperialism, etc.)  “-chies” and “-cracies” (monarchy, anarchy, theocracy, democracy, plutocracy, oligarchy, etc.) sound different on paper, but they all have two things in common: the rule of one human or few humans over the rest, and the absence of individual freedom.

There is an alternative.  Our founders gave us a Constitutional republic which enshrined the rule of law and individual liberty.  The essential element of freedom is property rights, including self-ownership.  The political-economic system that arises where freedom reigns is called capitalism.  It has never been fully embraced by any country.  Our own country perhaps came the closest, which greatly contributed to the vast economic achievements and ever-increasing prosperity we came to expect as Americans.

Yet our failure to fully adopt it has had a profound effect on our history. The institution of slavery was a direct affront to the concept of freedom, and it convulsed our country from its beginnings through the Civil War and beyond. I’ve written elsewhere of slavery and unjust war as two of the four major dysfunctions that have afflicted our country.

Want some examples of how capitalism is better than socialism?

The Ukraine is a geographic bread basket, similar in productive potential to the US Midwest; yet the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (of which Ukraine was once one of the socialist republics) had to import grain from us during the height of the cold war. Why couldn’t they produce and distribute enough to feed themselves?

Virtually every labor saving and communications device and other technological advancement since the Dark Ages was invented or perfected in the US or another semi-capitalistic country. (E.g. the electric light bulb, the car, the airplane, the microwave oven, the TV, VCR, and DVD, the laser, vaccines, etc.). Have you ever considered buying a car designed and manufactured by an Iranian or North Korean company?  Does such a thing even exist? Why aren’t such things invented in dictatorships and socialist utopias?

In most cases, landlocked nations are doomed to economic mediocrity or worse. (Examples: Afghanistan, Mongolia, and Bolivia). But a few, such as Switzerland and Lichtenstein, are incredibly well off.  What separates them? The ones that are well off have a much higher degree of individual freedom and capitalism than the others.

China was once every bit the communist leviathan that the Soviet Union was.  Why didn’t China go the same way the USSR did? Conversely, why is the US going through a decline?

China is ascending to the same degree it has adopted limited capitalistic market reforms. Our country is declining to the same degree we adopt the socialist dysfunctions that destroyed the Soviets and continues to hamper the Chinese. Imagine the productive energy that could be unleashed if 1.4 billion people enjoyed a fully free existence!

Despite the vast body of historical evidence that capitalism works and socialism doesn’t, capitalism has been given a bad name.  Individual freedom requires individual responsibility for one’s own actions and living with the consequences of one’s choices.  For that reason, capitalism will always be a hard sell compared to the free goodies and cradle-to-grave care promised by the heralds of the other “-isms.” On top of that, where capitalism has some influence, prosperity follows. Prosperous people are easy for envy-baiters to blame in order to gain an audience…and power. In virtually every human system of organization other than capitalism, anyone with wealth could only attain it by taking a bigger share of “the pie” than everyone else. Capitalism is unprecedented – it allows the productive to enlarge the pie!  But the envy mongers can’t or won’t see that.  They say capitalism fosters greed.  There’s no denying that greedy people exist,  and some of them advance quite far under semi-capitalistic economies, but socialism is absolutely powered by greed and envy!

It is easy for the prophets of utopia to blame capitalism for the sins of the other systems. The latest example is the appellation “crony” capitalism.  The proper term for companies using influence, connections, and campaign donations to get laws passed that stifle their competition is “corporatism.”  Using the coercive power of government to stifle your competition when you can’t win competitively through offering better value is not capitalism at all, though it has some capitalistic trappings (namely the privately-owned nature of the corporation).

The really ironic thing about the other “-isms?”  They need the productivity of capitalism.  A greedy socialist can’t “redistribute” wealth from the productive to the parasitic if there isn’t any wealth to start with.  He must decry capitalism even as he robs the capitalistic in order to buy votes from those he has bamboozled.

Socialism Seems Free, but You WILL Pay for it!

By Mike Cronin

No doubt you’ve heard the word socialism being bandied about a lot lately. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is an avowed socialist. A recent poll shows that 36% of millenials favor socialism.  And whys shouldn’t they? Free education!  Free healthcare!  Subsidized housing, food, & utilities! Socialism sounds really good. But it isn’t.

It might help if we have a common understanding of what socialism really is.

Simply, socialism is a political/economic theory where all property is owned “by the people.” What could be better than a place where all property is shared and nothing is owned?  That’s the theory.  In practice, It results in the state asserting primacy in all aspects of life and individuals having few, if any, rights. It is a form of collectivism – which means the group, or collective, is prioritized over the individual. Bee hives, ant colonies, and human “communes” are collectives. Under any form of collectivism, the majority can do away with the rights (and often lives) of the minority (of which the individual is the most basic element).

Collectivism/socialism comes in various forms, such as communism, which the Union of Soviet SOCIALIST Republics (USSR) subscribed to, and “Nationalsozialismus” (the German term for National SOCIALISM, from which the term “Nazi” is derived).  Some might argue that the Nazis were in fact fascist, not socialist.  Fascism was also the system of socialism that Mussolini oversaw in Italy. (The term fascism derives from the Latin term “fasces,” a bundle of sticks with an axe protruding from it. Fasces was the Roman symbol of power.)

Some political scientists argue that communism is on the political left, while fascism is on the right, as depicted in this graphic:

I argue that the only practical difference between communist variety of socialism practiced in Soviet Russia and the fascist-flavored socialism animating Nazi Germany and Italy was that the fascists gave lip service to the idea of private property rights – as long as the property was used at the direction of the state.   There were no private property rights at all in the Soviet Union.

Whether people have no property rights at all, or have the “right” to own property in service to the state, is a distinction without a difference. Both systems had charismatic, murderous dictators in charge. Both systems had secret police, concentration camps, and mass murders. Both systems failed to create wealth; they could only steal it or destroy it. There was no freedom in either system.

Thus, a more accurate depiction of communism and fascism on the right-left political model would be to put them both on the left under socialism, with freedom and capitalism on the right.  The diagram below is closer to the truth:

Consider that every country that has adopted any form of socialism has been degraded or destroyed in direct proportion to the degree of socialism it enacted. Nazi Germany. The Soviet Union. North Korea. Cuba. Venezuela.

China and Vietnam were once in the same boat, but both have attained some limited reversal from the crushing oppression the others experienced through adoption of limited free-market economic reforms. But make no mistake, the Chinese and Vietnamese people are not free.

Consider Karl Marx’s famous aphorism: “From each, according to his ability; to each according to his needs.” It sound so wonderful, but it glosses over the essential question: Who decides what your gifts and needs are? (Newsflash – it sure isn’t going to be you!) “From each, according to his ability” means that the state will extract every bit of use out of you that it can, and your desires are irrelevant.  “To each, according to his needs” means that the state, not you, will determine what you need, and you will be lucky to get it.

So how bad is socialism?  At it’s best, socialism creates resentment and dependency; at its worst the people living under socialist governments are slaves – the ones who survived mass murder.


Government = Force

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.  - George Washington

By Mike Cronin

To commemorate President’s Day, let’s use the above quote, allegedly from George Washington, as the genesis of a thought experiment. What if we replace the word “government” with the word “force” and ask what it is properly used for?

Is force a moral way to protect yourself from violence initiated by others?  I say yes.  Therefore, by extension, using government to deter violent attack, or to retaliate for the same, is proper.  The policing, defense, and intelligence functions of government are legitimate for this reason.

Is it moral to enforce contractual agreements and hold fraudsters accountable?  Again, I say yes, and again, I say the criminal justice functions of government are legitimate for this purpose.

Is it moral to use force to entertain people?  I say no.  Government funding for the arts is immoral in this context, not to mention absurd.

Is it proper to use force to educate people?  Once again: it is the wrong tool for the job.

Is it moral to use force to prevent you neighbor from viewing material you believe to be objectionable?  I say no. By extension, it is improper to rely on government to tell us what we can and cannot view (unless that material is produced by violating the rights of others, as in the case of child pornography).

How about using force to provide people a retirement check, health insurance, unemployment compensation, or other “entitlements?”

Or using force to provide subsidies, corporate bailouts, tax “credits,” and to manipulate the economy?

I could go on, but I think you see where I am going with this. If it is wrong for an individual to initiate the use of force against his or her neighbor directly, then it is just as wrong to employ the coercive power of government to commit the same crime by proxy.

Force is not only immoral to use outside of the context of protection from violence, fraud, or other violations of our rights, it is also manifestly the wrong tool for most jobs.  Using force to educate, or entertain, or to invent and deliver entitlements, is like using a sledgehammer to wash windows. The most likely outcome will be glass shards on the floor.  Yet even if you manage to avoid  shattering the glass, you still won’t get the windows clean.

That is the reason the Founders wrote the Constitution: to restrict the forcefulness of government to only those very few functions where force is the proper response, and to prevent its absurdly destructive employment against us in every other facet of life.

Putting Polls in their Place

By Mike Cronin

Now that election season is in full swing, we are subject to a constant stream of polls and polling results in the news. Many of these polls are legitimate attempts to gauge public opinion.  But some polls, and/or the results of some polls, are put to use to shape our opinions rather than discover them.  One example I heard recently alleged to be reporting opinions on who had little or no chance of winning the presidency in November.  The polling methods might have been legitimate, but the client who ordered the poll might have had an ulterior motive.  Here’s a possible scenario:

Candidate A, or an organization in favor of Candidate A, orders a legitimate poll from a reputable firm such as Gallup or Quinipiac to find out who people think have the worst chances of getting elected. The poll is taken and the results come back that people don’t think Candidates X, Y, or Z have much chance of getting elected in the fall.  Candidate A’s organization then trumpets these results loudly and often. Had the results been inconclusive, Candidate A’s organization wouldn’t have publicized the poll at all.

Knowing that we are all influenced to some degree or another by peer pressure, the results of the poll could sow discouragement among the supporters of Candidates X, Y, and Z, and even affect the candidates themselves, potentially hastening their departure from the race and reducing the competition against Candidate A.

There are dirtier tricks in the pantheon of polling practices. One such is to use the so-called “push-poll.” A push-poll is not really a poll at all in that it doesn’t seek to find out your opinion, but to change it or reinforce it. You might have received a piece of political junk mail that seems like a poll, but the questions will be highly “loaded” or biased.  Questions from such an artifact might read something like these examples:

“Candidate B wants seniors to lose their Medicare benefits. Do you think we should allow him to get his way?”

“The ABC project will pollute the local wetlands with 10x the current level of toxic substances.  Candidate B receives campaign donations from the company behind the project.  Don’t you think we need campaign finance reform?”

In both examples, the reader is first led to be outraged. The outrage is inherently tied to a candidate, then the respondent is manipulated to respond a certain way. The client of the poll wasn’t trying to find out people’s feelings on Medicare or campaign finance; rather, he or she was trying to sully the competition. A legitimate opinion poll will word the questions in as neutral a way as possible.  For instance, the questions above might be legitimized by rewording them in the following way:

“How do you feel about Medicare?

It should be maintained         Uncertain            It should be abolished”

“What is your opinion on campaign finance?

It needs to be completely reformed       It could use some reforms           It does not need any reforms”

So how can you peek behind the curtain of the polling game? Whenever you are asked to participate in a poll, or you hear polling results, consider these questions and/or look for trouble signals:

Who took the poll?  Was it a reputable polling firm?

Who commissioned the poll? What do they stand to gain or lose from the results?

Was the sample (the group of people taking the poll) drawn at random?  (If not, the poll will results will be biased, and therefore suspect.) Something to consider: most internet or call-in polls may seem to be sampling at random, but they are not. They are surveys of people who are already interested in the topic at hand! Most often, valid polls are accomplished via random digit dialing.

Was the sample size large enough?  (If the total population is, say, “likely voters,” which might be 75 million people, a sampling of ten people is not sufficient to gauge the opinion of the whole, but a sampling of 1000 or 10,000 might be. This is what statisticians get paid the big bucks to figure out.)

Are the questions biased or neutral?

Who is touting the results of the poll? Have they focused on the results of only one question that serves their ends, while ignoring the results of other questions on the same poll?

When you understand how polls can be used and misused, you increase your immunity to being manipulated in ignorance.