One of the most remarkable developments of the past half century is modern China’s journey from poverty-ridden undiluted socialism to a prospering capitalist-trending mixed economy.
Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong’s collectivization of China’s economy and people under his “Great Leap Forward” in the mid 20th Century unleashed a human tragedy on a scale for which no words exist to describe. Then, in the late 1970s, a new post-Mao leadership took over, and the Chinese economic miracle began. But while China’s new leadership deserves recognition for initiating free market economic reforms, don’t credit them with starting the ball toward recovery rolling.
In a piece titled CHINA’S FIRST CAPITALISTS: HOW DISSIDENTS CREATED THE WORLD’S SECOND LARGEST ECONOMY, DISSIDENT’s M. Nolan Gray discusses China’s transformation in the context of that nation’s current economic troubles. As Gray reports, “China’s economic miracle didn’t begin with state planners or Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials, but with dissident farmers in an impoverished village”:
In 1978, a group of farmers decided they had had enough of the poverty caused by Mao Zedong’s disastrous Great Leap Forward. Secretly meeting in a farmhouse, the farmers engaged in a revolutionary act of institutional innovation: they divided up the collective farm among the member families, and allowed each to keep what they produced once the CCP quotas were met, enshrining the new system in a written document. By establishing modest protections for property rights, they became, as NPR’s Planet Money puts it, “the first capitalists in modern China.”
What were the results? Encouraged by the possibility of keeping the fruits of their labor and a healthy sense of competition, the farmers’ productivity dramatically increased. Once the victim of communist-induced famine, they enjoyed prosperity for the first time in decades. More food was produced in one year than in the past five years combined. Reformers interested in moving away from Mao’s dystopia, including [Mao’s successor] Deng Xiaoping, noticed the village’s success and ultimately abandoned collectivized farming.
The decollectivization of agriculture set off a wave of reforms enhancing the economic liberty of the Chinese people. Market prices allowed efficient ground-up markets to develop in place of inefficient top-down plans. Many state-owned industries were privatized, and entrepreneurs were permitted to start businesses. Although the state and party leaders maintained their oligarchical status by preserving certain state-owned enterprises, a flourishing private sector enabled 500 million Chinese citizens to pull themselves out of poverty. The bottom-up, market-driven miracle of the post-1978 era stands in stark contrast to the top-down, communist controlled nightmare of the 50s and 60s.
Mao’s grand utopian experiment is estimated to have killed 40-60 million people. Keep that gargantuan famine in mind when you consider Bernie Sanders, the openly self-described “democratic socialist” who has a real chance of becoming America’s next president. China under Mao’s collectivism is what real socialism looks like. Sanders’ policies are actually far from undiluted socialism. But by dressing up his comparatively benign welfare state agenda in the garb of socialism, Sanders is creating in many people’s minds—in particular the uninformed minds of the young—the false idea that socialism isn’t so bad—and even good; in effect, camouflaging socialism’s blood-drenched history under a cloak of respectability and even compassion. This sanitization of socialism, to the extent it takes hold in American culture, will make it easier to push through more and more socialist “reforms” in the future, accelerating an unsuspecting America down the road to full, totalitarian socialism.
This, despite the lessons of China—perhaps the most dramatic of many demonstrations of the moral and practical power of even highly diluted freedom, free markets, and individualism over authoritarianism, central planning, and collectivism—that has unfolded in our lifetimes.
For the past hundred years, the progressive-“liberal”-Democrat Left has advanced a socialist-leaning, mixed economy agenda under the guise of “making capitalism work better.” But they always denied being socialists, as Hillary clinton and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz recently did. They’re not being completely honest—fascism, or back-door socialism, is a more accurate label for their agenda—but the mainstream democrats’ refusal to call their agenda socialist is an implicit acknowledgement that socialism is bad. To be honest, I think few Democrats actually want socialism.
Notwithstanding, Sanders is the first prominent Democrat candidate, to my knowledge, to openly espouse socialism. True, Sanders’ high tax, high regulation, heavily redistributionist “democratic socialism” is not undiluted socialism, just a more statist regulatory welfare state mixed economy than we have now.
But that’s irrelevant in this context. Keep in mind that socialism is the political expression of collectivism. Collectivism holds that the standard of moral concern is the group, and that the individual’s only moral purpose is to serve the good of the collective. The individual’s life, liberty, property, goals, and values—and personal pursuit of happiness—has no moral relevance under collectivism. Those ideals belong to collectivism’s antipode; individualism and its political expression, laissez-faire capitalism. Under collectivism, the state is the enforcer of the collective will. With the individual stripped of any moral right to live for his own sake, the state under socialism is free to loot, regulate, enslave, or kill any individual or any number of individuals that it deems necessary to further the “common” or “public good”—and invariably does wherever the collectivist trend is left unchecked.
But the damage is not just economic. To understand what socialism does to the moral fabric of society, consider the contrast between socialism and capitalism.
Under capitalism, aggressive force is banned from society, and the ban extends to people in their capacity as government officials. Thus people are free to work to satisfy their own needs and pursue their own flourishing by their own productive efforts and work, but only by dealing with each other by voluntary consent to mutual advantage, or trade. Through this mutually self-interested association, people get better together, each keeping what property he has earned by giving a value that by the other person’s voluntary judgement enhances his life. Since voluntarism rules, no one is a threat to anyone else.
Socialism inverts this moral social compact. Under socialism, everyone’s need is a moral claim on others’ property and the moral claim is enforced by law; i.e., at the point of a gun. In place of capitalism’s ban on aggressive physical force, socialism institutionalizes aggressive force by tying everybody to everybody else in a chain gang of need. Since you have no right to your own property—which can be confiscated at the will of society, with the government as society’s hired gun—everyone else is a threat to you, to the extent they have unfilled needs. And you are a threat to them. With your path to supporting your life through self-reliance and trade forbidden, your only path to personal survival is to rely on government’s guns to take from others. Instead of people getting better together by satisfying each others’ needs and desires based on voluntary trade, under socialism one person’s gain is another person’s loss. This inverted moral social compact turns people against one another. In place of the peaceful coexistence of trade under capitalism, socialism gives you universal predation.
The moral repudiation of the individual is the heart and soul of socialism, which explains its brutal history. Since the individual is the only human entity that exists in reality—only the individual breaths, thinks, values, acts, and feels—brutality in some degree is the only end that can result from any “ideal” that repudiates the individual. Socialism is inherently unfit for human life. It doesn't just kill economic well-being. It doesn't just kill freedom. It kills hope and aspiration of ever rising as an individual. Socialism is irredeemably evil. Yet Sanders extolls socialism. Don’t be fooled by the term “democracy” that Sanders attaches to his socialism. Democracy unconstrained by the principle of individual rights is just another manifestation of totalitarianism. Democracy doesn’t change the nature of socialism. It makes no difference if socialism is established by coup-d'etat, as in Soviet Russia, or by vote, as in Nazi Germany or Venezuela. Given the bloody, authoritarian, impoverished history of socialism in all of its manifestations, including the democratic and nationalist brands, Bernie Sanders’ sanitization of socialism makes him, in my view, the most evil politician in America.
Sanders’s Open Socialism Blows the Cover Off of the Left’s Stealth Socialism