Forgive me, Gentle Reader. Because of the graphic above, which I found over at 90 Miles From Tyranny, my memory has assaulted me again, and so I find that I must do a terrible thing. How terrible it is, I shall leave for you to decide.
About thirty-five years ago, Long Island’s regional disgrace published an op-ed piece from some socialist flack who argued that socialism is superior to capitalism because it’s “more democratic.” The words democracy and democratic have been used as the cover for a multitude of sins, but that one struck me with particular force. And so I wrote an angry letter to the rag dissecting the fallacies presented in that op-ed. It appeared on the Letters page a few days later.
In the usual case, diatribes such as mine result in nothing much. However, that letter was an exception. A day or two after the letter appeared, I received a call from a very pleasant gentleman named Leslie Ramsammy, who was at that time running for the presidency of Guyana. It proved an illuminating encounter for us both.
Those who hate capitalism will do anything to slander, undermine, and destroy it. This has been demonstrated repeatedly since before World War II. Below, I present a compact review of the major attempts, taken from the late Dr. Murray Rothbard’s book For A New Liberty:
Let us consider the record of recent decades:
1. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the liberal intellectuals came to the conclusion that capitalism was suffering from inevitable “secular stagnation,” a stagnation imposed by the slowing down of population growth, the end of the old Western frontier, and by the supposed fact that no further inventions were possible. All this spelled eternal stagnation, permanent mass unemployment, and therefore the need for socialism, or thoroughgoing State planning, to replace free-market capitalism. This on the threshold of the greatest boom in American history!
2. During the 1950s, despite the great boom in postwar America, the liberal intellectuals kept raising their sights; the cult of “economic growth” now entered the scene. To be sure, capitalism was growing, but it was not growing fast enough. Therefore free-market capitalism must be abandoned, and socialism or government intervention must step in and force-feed the economy, must build investments and compel greater saving in order to maximize the rate of growth, even if we don’t want to grow that fast. Conservative economists such as Colin Clark attacked this liberal program as “growthmanship.”
3. Suddenly, John Kenneth Galbraith entered the liberal scene with his best-selling The Affluent Society in 1958. And just as suddenly, the liberal intellectuals reversed their indictments. The trouble with capitalism, it now appeared, was that it had grown too much; we were no longer stagnant, but too well off, and man had lost his spirituality amidst supermarkets and automobile tail fins. What was necessary, then, was for government to step in, either in massive intervention or as socialism, and tax the consumers heavily in order to reduce their bloated affluence.
4. The cult of excess affluence had its day, to be superseded by a contradictory worry about poverty, stimulated by Michael Harrington’s The Other America in 1962. Suddenly, the problem with America was not excessive affluence, but increasing and grinding poverty—and, once again, the solution was for the government to step in, plan mightily, and tax the wealthy in order to lift up the poor. And so we had the War on Poverty for several years.
5. Stagnation; deficient growth; over-affluence; over-poverty; the intellectual fashions changed like ladies’ hemlines. Then, in 1964, the happily short-lived Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution issued its then-famous manifesto, which brought us and the liberal intellectuals full circle. For two or three frenetic years we were regaled with the idea that America’s problem was not stagnation but the exact reverse: in a few short years all of America’s production facilities would be automated and cybernated, incomes and production would be enormous and superabundant, but everyone would be automated out of a job. Once again, free-market capitalism would lead to permanent mass unemployment, which could only be remedied—you guessed it!—by massive State intervention or by outright socialism. For several years, in the mid- 1960s, we thus suffered from what was justly named the “Automation Hysteria.”1
6. By the late 1960s it was clear to everyone that the automation hysterics had been dead wrong, that automation was proceeding at no faster a pace than old-fashioned “mechanization” and indeed that the 1969 recession was causing a falling off in the rate of increase of productivity. One hears no more about automation dangers nowadays; we are now in the seventh phase of liberal economic flip-flops.
7. Affluence is again excessive, and, in the name of conservation, ecology, and the increasing scarcity of resources, free-market capitalism is growing much too fast. State planning, or socialism, must, of course, step in to abolish all growth and bring about a zero-growth society and economy— in order to avoid negative growth, or retrogression, sometime in the future! We are now back to a super-Galbraithian position, to which has been added scientific jargon about effluents, ecology, and “spaceship earth,” as well as a bitter assault on technology itself as being an evil polluter. Capitalism has brought about technology, growth—including population growth, industry, and pollution—and government is supposed to step in and eradicate these evils…. The great economist Joseph Schumpeter put the whole shoddy performance of liberal intellectuals into a nutshell a generation ago:
Capitalism stands its trial before judges who have the sentence of death in their pockets. They are going to pass it, whatever the defense they may hear; the only success victorious defense can possibly produce is a change in the indictment.
I trust that the matter is adequately elucidated.
One more thing before I close for the morning. Bad ideas seldom simply vanish, even after repeated, progressively wearying demonstrations of their horrors. The above was motivated not merely by the graphic at the top, but by how Dr. Ramsammy, an intelligent and highly educated man, accepted the “socialism is better because it’s democratic” premise almost reflexively.
If anyone still fails to understand why the words democracy and democratic have begun to make me violently ill – emphasis on the violent part – see me after class. I’ll pick out a new switch just for you.