By Paul Dowling
“Economic freedom cannot be sacrificed if political freedom is to be preserved.” —Herbert Hoover
“Authority that does not exist for Liberty is not authority but force.” —Lord Acton
Loving Freedom, Fearing Socialism
I am a teacher who has taught in the public schools for three decades. But I feel that I am swimming upstream against the current nowadays when I talk to students about the importance of civil society and economic freedom. There seems to be a feeling of trust in socialism among students, founded upon an organized campaign by recently-minted educators—fresh out of America’s Left-leaning universities—to indoctrinate young Americans into believing socialism is a good thing. This state of affairs is alarming to anyone who understands the destructive power of socialism from having witnessed the deadly results of that system, in country after country, while growing up in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. At the time of this writing, many people—hearing socialist promises of more freedom, more abundance, and a better life—are being sold a bill of goods that, in reality, offers nothing better than the notions and potions of snake oil peddlers. Socialism is economic quackery and political flat-earthism, plain and simple.
Socialist Governments Kill People
It is undeniable to any serious observer of recent history, over the last half century or so, that free enterprise is the singular economic model that has succeeded in lifting more people out of poverty and eliminating more starvation than any other, whereas socialism in all of its forms has ended many human lives. Indeed, during the 20th century, socialism killed over 100 million people, due to the deadly totalitarian path socialism must always follow, owing to the systemic requirements of any system based upon socialist principles of operation. Contrary to what the socialists claim in their sales-pitch to the people whose support they lobby when vying for power, socialism brings more inequality, more cronyism, and more scarcity than any other economic or political system. Socialism—whether it be of a fascistic, communistic, or other form of collectivist redistribution—always proves deadly in the end.
Hitler Was a Socialist
I explain to students that even “democratic socialism”—socialism chosen by democratic means—may sound nice, but it has never actually delivered to voters what was promised. If socialism is allowed to become part of the political fabric, it will eventually kill off any democratic forms originally set in place, leaving the people miserable, powerless, and lacking any practical means to win back the rights that are ultimately appropriated from them by the state. I like to point out to students that Hitler was a socialist who took power democratically by being voted into power. Students—who are seldom being taught proper history anymore—generally find themselves dumbstruck when I inform them that Hitler was a duly-elected socialist leader, of a democratic Weimar Republic, who promised the people “Freedom and Bread” as well aspledging that “[i]n the Third Reich every German girl will find a husband”—in other words, Hitler was promising Germans, so many of whom were beggared by World War I, that he and his National Socialists would improve the people’s lot, by offering them more freedom, more abundance, and a better life.
To be clear, Hitler did not hold any heartfelt belief in democracy or freedom, but he did understand that, to be accepted as a legitimate leader in a democratic republic, he needed to persuade people to vote his party into the government democratically, where he could bide his time until the opportunity might arise to make his play to attain ultimate power. Hitler’s time came when—having been appointed Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg—he was able to assume control of the government upon Hindenburg’s death. Modern-day democratic socialists are, like Hitler, pretenders who pay lip service to freedom as a means to get elected; once in office, however, they, like all socialists, will show their true colors by assuming dictatorial executive powers, eliminating the rule of constitutional law and the enforcement of human rights, as all socialist true-believers must. Only in such unfree places, devoid of the equal protection rules for minorities that exist in free societies, can such things as the mass-slaughter of Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals so easily transpire.
Adolf Hitler’s political affiliation with the National Socialist German Workers’ Party made Hitler a creature of the statist Left, which is why any reference to anti-socialist political leaders as being fascists or “right-wing Nazis” is nonsensical. It needs to be understood that, although people were allowed to own private properties and businesses under Hitler’s National Socialism (or Nazism, for short)—which differentiated the Nazis from the Communists—the government still controlled the use of all properties and businesses, which is why socialism is rightly defined as the totalitarian control of property by the state, rather than ownership of that property. It is control of property that is important, after all. Direct ownership of property is unnecessary, as long as the state governs its use by making all rules and regulations dictating the terms of its use.
Every Form of Socialism Denies Natural Rights & Equal Protection to the People
Students tend to counter disparaging remarks about socialism by claiming that bad things have only happened in the past because “socialism has never really been done the correct way.” But this assertion is not true, because every brand of socialism in existence is ultimately about the denial of property rights to the individual and the transfer of those rights to the state. Socialists always ascend to power—either by vote or by uprising—based upon their promise to redistribute property and wealth from those who have more to those who have less, appealing to the envy of people who own less property or wealth by offering “free stuff” or “free money” without any need to work for it. This entitlement of “have-nots” who, on the whole, do not choose to work as long or as hard as the “haves” effectively removes the right of equal protection from everyone in the population at large, creating instead a governmental power for the state to decide who might be awarded special privileges to receive ownership of unearned—or “free”—stuff. People lose sight of the fact that the government that has the power to give everything to them can also take everything from them. And the truth about the property being redistributed is that none of it was actually free, but had to be earned by someone who was willing to spend more time at work or willing to risk more money on investment. The property being redistributed has merely had its ownership transferred by means of legalized theft. This has only ever worked by means of government force, upon threat of incarceration at the point of a gun.
All Rights Are Property Rights, the Elimination of Which Kills Individual & Minority Rights
Since all rights are property rights, every human freedom is an economic freedom. Thus, any violation of one’s freedom is always an infringement of a property right. This is why property rights, which are generally expressed in economic terms, preëxist political freedoms. And this is why the right to bear arms in self-defense is so necessary in the protection of what is arguably one’s most important property of all—one’s own human life. Likewise, the right to claim an idea as one’s own by means of obtaining a patent or by copyrighting a publication protects intellectual property. And additionally essential for a free people is the right to maintain private ownership over one’s physical belongings and living spaces. (All of these rights are recognized and protected by the Bill of Rights and the US Constitution.) A socialist government must, upon assuming power, do away with the principle of equal protection under law (also a right protected by the US Constitution) while simultaneously canceling the right to private property, so the state may take property from some and give it others. In socialism, all property rights are claimed by the state, which then exercises sole discretion over the issuance of any and all privileges to own or protect property. The right to own property that was formerly recognized as a natural right exercised universally by all people is wiped out, to be replaced by a state-awarded privilege controlled exclusively by political elites.
Giving Government Absolute Power Enables a State of Criminality & Disables the Rule of Law
Empowering the state to control all property means likewise deciding that only the socialist government has the right to determine who has the privilege of making criminal complaints. Since all crimes are crimes against property, and all property is controlled by the state, the people are divested of any right to make criminal complaints, although they may be allowed the privilege to do so. But it is the government that decides whether or not to take a complaint; it is not the citizen’s right to make one. In a free republic, if a police officer refuses to take a criminal complaint, the citizen affected by his misbehavior can go over the officer’s head to his elected superiors, who work directly for the citizenry. In a socialist state, the policeman’s supervisor no longer works for the citizenry. The state does not recognize, at any level, an inherent right of the people to complain about anything the state has done to violate their lives, liberties, or pursuits of happiness—since the people possess no individual rights. Every socialist government possesses this power, the power of a property owner to the exercise of rights. When the people give up their property rights by transferring them to the government, they give up all the powers that belong to property owners. The right to regulate the behavior of government actors is surrendered, and the situation is reversed. The people can no longer claim the power to regulate the government, so state abuses of power inevitably increase; and, without any checks on that power, the people must endlessly suffer under the weight of an autocratic tyranny. As Lord Acton once said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The Principle of Agency: What Freedom Requires but Socialism Will Not Allow
Freedom-based economic and political systems (as we have seen, the two go hand in hand) operate based upon a set of consistently applied universal principles. One such principle, the Principle of Agency, holds that government, as the agent of a free people, possesses only the right to do what the people themselves may do. This principle validates the subservient relationship of the state to the people. It means that the state does not rightly possess any power—economic or political—to harm one individual or group in order to benefit another individual or group, without due process and equal protection under the law for every individual. In other words, if I do not have the right to enter your property and take your stuff or your money to share with the neighbors who have less than you and whom I prefer to you, then the state also has no right to confiscate your belongings or your wealth for redistribution to people that the state would prefer to have it.
Since I have the right to defend my property and my person against criminal action, I also have the right to hire a security company to do the same. And just as We the People have the right to defend ourselves, we also have the right to hire a sheriff, to found a police department, or to institute a military force for our mutual protection. But these are only our agents that we hire to protect us, even as we have the right to protect ourselves, for all collective rights and powers of the state derive from, and are based upon, the individual rights and powers of the people. This is because the people are the controllers of all property rights in a free republic, not the state. Under socialism, the entire situation is turned upside-down, with the state controlling the property rights and, thereby, all legitimate use of power.
Central Planners Must Always Break a Few Eggs
With no right of the people to plan how property is to be used or awarded to others, state autocrats must step in to engage in central planning for the economy. Historically, this has never worked well, because socialism is an ideologically inflexible system that prescribes lockstep and conformity from everyone engaged in economic activity; Benito Mussolini, the leader of the Italian fascists and Hitler’s contemporary, put it this way: “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” Like all socialists, Mussolini rejected individualism, allowing only statist coercion in the governance of the people, as well as in the formulation of economic policy. Anything that is not a product of the autocratic hive-mind is not allowed, even if the idea helps more people or saves more lives. A popular quote appropriated from 18th-century French political leader François de Charette, which has been used historically by socialists, illustrates this need of socialists to sacrifice individuals and their ideas to validate the sole power of the state to be the author of all plans and strategies: “Omelets are not made without breaking eggs.” This justification of socialist violence is a typical threat made against any speech or action that does not bear the government’s seal of approval in advance.
No Right to Diversity & No Right to Fairness Are Hallmarks of Socialism
Contrary to popular belief, socialists are not fans of diversity. And it makes no sense for anyone to believe that they would be, since the unequal outcomes that derive from the diverse choices of a free people are held in contempt by socialists. Free and independent individuals have diverse desires with regard to their occupational pursuits and how much time they wish to spend working. Thus, a free people will always generate uneven results with respect to income levels and other measures of wealth that all depend on people’s individual choices within a system that allows diversity. Under socialism, the amount of time spent at work and at leisure is tightly controlled by an autocratic state eager to enforce a uniform system geared to producing equal outcomes, rather than allowing equal rights among the people to express diversity in choosing the details of their work situations. If not enough people wish to study medicine under socialism, because the rewards offered to physicians are no longer enough to entice the long hours of study and hard work required, the state will force many unwilling students to become doctors. The freedom of an individual to choose a career—while considering its particular demands, including levels of financial reward and leisure time—disappears under socialism. From now on, the central planners will undertake the project of determining for each person what occupation would be most appropriate. Government power will be used to force compliance with all decisions of the state, because fairness under socialism is not about fairness to individuals, but what is fair to the “collective” as determined by political elites. Consider the proposition that fairness can only be guaranteed to whoever controls the property and, therefore, has the right to define and enforce what fairness is.
Coöperatives Are Not Genuinely Socialist, When They Exist in a Free Country
Many Americans believe that they are benefiting from socialism, if they participate in some sort of economic coöperative while living in the United States. But the truth is that, since these coöps exist—every one of them—within the precincts of a free country, each and every one of their members are free to exercise the right to quit the coöp at any time. This means that coöperatives must compete within a free marketplace to attract individual members. To do so, they must be careful to recognize the legal rights of their members and to grant them market-competitive membership privileges. Otherwise, they are not competitive with other coöps, and they will lose business. When I was a student, I lived in The Ark Coöp in the West Campus area of UT-Austin; but I could have exercised my right to leave at any time. I also served as the president of the College Houses board of directors, and as such I had to serve the members of all five student coöps with no ability to exercise any authority not granted me by the independent voting members of College Houses—who also had membership privileges that all had to align with their property rights as American citizens. I am perplexed whenever I run into people who also lived in student coöps in college who believe that they lived under socialism during that time and that the socialism worked. When I point out to people that they could have chosen a different housing option, had they been displeased with their experiences in the coöp, because they hold that right as free people in America, they often become argumentative. But the point is this: Once people give up their property rights, and thereby all their freedoms, they no longer have standing to make demands on any government entity—not even the board of directors of a student coöperative. In a socialist country, any governing board would ultimately owe more allegiance to the state than to its membership with regard to maintaining its economic power, therefore its freedom, to do business as a coöp.
Incentivizing & Managing Scarcity
Under socialism, once the hard workers realize they will be paid the same, even if they work less, they stop being as industrious as they were before. Therefore, fewer goods are produced, and less attention is paid to the quality of those goods; after all, why strive for excellence when doing so pays the same as meeting minimum expectations? People discover that minimal effort pays the same as hard work, so production soon declines precipitously. Scarcity results across the economic spectrum, shortages of goods plague the people, and, eventually, famine stalks the land. Only if and when fairness and freedom for all individuals—and not just the state—are restored to the markets, including the labor market, will enough food for everyone once again see production system-wide. The problem is that, to do this, the state would have to restore rights—and thereby property and power—to the people; this cannot and will not be made to occur voluntarily in any totalitarian state.
The last country of note to exchange freedom for socialism—where the people were fooled into surrendering their economic rights to a collectivist state-sponsor of wealth redistribution—was one of the richest countries in the world: Venezuela. There are now fewer pets in that country, since food shortages drive many to hunt, kill, and eat domestic animals, per the USA Today headline of May 18th, 2016: “Venezuela food shortages cause some to hunt dogs, cats, pigeons.”
Part of what makes the socialists so powerful is their ability to be in charge of allocating scarce resources. The resulting state preference for scarcity that is caused by the totalitarian lust for power actually makes socialism anti-economic, as victimization and impoverishment are embraced, and all problem-solving that might serve to diminish government power is abandoned. It cannot be stressed enough that the primary job of economics is to solve problems of scarcity, but this is always at odds with the goals of an unfree state that is jealous of its own power.
Fact Versus Opinion
I am often told that true statements I make about how socialism works are just my “opinion.” So, I point out that it is factual that socialism sponsors an invariably property-controlling state dictating to the people; opinion is saying whether one believes this to be good or bad. I teach students that opinions are properly informed by factual evidence, although many are being taught to allow feelings to guide the formation of their opinions. This is a problem—in my opinion—since I believe that a state that does not infringe economic rights and political freedoms, allowing the people to create most solutions without government permission, is a happier and healthier place than the totalitarian alternative. Socialists unfailingly choose to enforce the collectivist notion that political elites know better how to run people’s lives—both economically and politically—than the people themselves, that, therefore, their monopoly on the use of force is justified. Chairman Mao Tse-Tung once said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” This statement is one of economic, as well as political, control, since whoever ultimately controls the right to use force—whether it be We the People or They the Statists—also ultimately controls all three forms ofpower: knowledge, wealth, and violence. John Basil Barnhill (in words often misattributed to Thomas Jefferson) said this: “Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty.” What all Americans must bear in mind is this: Only those who control property rights—be it the people or the government—possess the power to inspire fear, and thus the power to create and enforce all economic and political rules of fairness.
Who Is Paul Dowling?
Paul Dowling is an American patriot who believes that individual freedom and minority rights—that only a free republic can protect—are the linchpin of Western Civilization. Paul has written a book on the Constitution, explaining the republican values on which it is based and how they protect against the dangers of a strictly majoritarian system of governance. The book is called Keeping a Free Republic: Learning the Blueprint for Liberty in the Constitution & the Bill of Rights. (It is on sale at Amazon, for $6.49 in paperback and $0.99 as a Kindle download.)