I had another of those “free markets suck” conversations the other day, one that evolved from conversations about supposed disparities in child mortality stats across nations, to socialized medicine, to the supposed failures of free markets in safeguarding against “exploitation of people and the environment,” as my counterpart put it.

The specifics centered around what to do to fix health care in America, or, more accurately, why doesn’t America socialize its medicine like the rest of the world does, but that’s something I’ve covered at length in this blog, so today, I’ll focus on a subtle yet vital disconnect in the pro-socialism arguments.

The history of the 20th century is one where various forms of socialism/communism/fascism murdered a couple hundred million people and kept a couple billion in poverty and misery. Those numbers should be sufficient to burn socialism to the ground and scatter its ashes to the four corners of the continent, never to be resurrected again, even by the most arcane black magic. Should be, but are apparently not. Socialism’s making a resurgence, repackaged, rebranded, and repped by fresh faces that blather on about the evils of “hyper-capitalism” while simultaneously demonstrating that they are utterly lacking in clue, despite being highly educated at prestigious universities.

Why?

Because capitalism does not promise utopia, and does not claim that it can solve all problems. Big government, on the other hand, does both. The former is obvious to any informed thinker. Capitalism and free markets promise to produce better outcomes than central planning and coercive government, and have routinely delivered on that promise for centuries. It’s only the ignorant and the disingenuous constructors of straw men that denounce capitalism for not solving every problem known to man.

Big government, on the other hand, promises that, if given enough power in the hands of the Best-and-Brightest, it can fix everything, it can ensure that no one goes hungry, that no one goes without health care, that no one goes without a roof over his head or clothes on his back. And, it promises to do so merely by using other people’s money, not yours. On its face, this is absurd, but we don’t even need to assert that to dismantle the promise. All we need to do is look around us, both today and at the past. In New York City, now run by the more-progressive-than-thou Bill De Blasio, a massive scandal is brewing over lead levels in water and paint in public housing (as well as awful living conditions in general), and government’s efforts to deflect and cover up its failures. That’s just one of countless examples of government failure regarding something as simple as clean water – can anyone say Flint, Michigan? – and that’s just a tiny subset of government failures high and low. Encyclopedias can be written about government failures, and yet, people continue to prefer the utopian lie over the very good truth.

Part of the reason for this is our natural desire to prefer control over trust. We are far more likely to die in an auto crash than in an airplane crash, but far more people fear flying than they do driving. Why? Because we delude ourselves into thinking that if we are in control, we guarantee a better outcome than if we put our trust in forces beyond our control, even in the face of a mountain of evidence.

Another part is a faith in the promise of technocrats. If we can find the Best-and-Brightest and put them in charge, they can surely do better than trusting the unwashed masses to run things for themselves. This is control-by-proxy, where people decide that control is better than trust but delegate that control to someone else.

Finally, there’s the belief in altruism over self-interest. Capitalists are working for themselves, and not the common good, so they’re obviously going to do harm to others. Public servants (a lovely but absurdly double-think euphemism) aren’t driven by self interest, so they’re obviously going to do good.

Yes, that’s sarcasm. There’s so much wrong with those assumptions that it’s hard to cover it all in a single essay. It’s a zero sum fallacy, it ignores the history of politicians’ greed, corruption, favoritism, stupidity, wrongness, and, well, politics. It forgets that, even if a Solomon is found, he’ll be surrounded and succeeded by not-Solomons, and it dismisses everything we know about human nature. It also ignores the reality of voluntary cooperation. Capitalism relies on both parties in a transaction being happy with the terms of the transaction. Capitalism is where we’ve found and will continue to find win-win, and people acting in their self-interests are simply people pursuing their happiness and ways to improve their lives, not actively hurt others.

The siren-song lure of socialism relies on this mixed comparison, this weighing of the ideal and utopian version of government against the real-world warts of capitalism. It requires fixation on someone else’s occasional zit while ignoring your own raging bubonic plague pustules. And, it’s how societies die.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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