It should astound me that, even as Venezuela’s socialist dream collapses into a humanitarian disaster, the front-runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination is a proudly declarative socialist, and the de facto policy voice of the party is a young socialist from the Bronx. It should astound me that, despite the blatant lessons of history from just the last century, a failed and murderous ideology is making a resurgence in a nation born of principles wholly contrary to collectivism. It should astound me that, in an era of unparalleled and unprecedented access to knowledge, information, and millennia of accumulated human history, we are facing a very legitimate possibility that that which has failed so many times before stands a chance of being tried again.

It should astound me, but it does not. Not any more.

Technological and societal changes happen quite rapidly when measured against the pace of evolution and biological change. The basic human instincts that make socialistic ideas so appealing, especially to the young, don’t evolve out of the gene pool in a generation or two or five, so the innate chemical responses that make socialism so appealing are the same today as they were a century or more ago, when the premise was peddled without the stark lessons of history to counterweigh it.

People like the idea of an easier life, of getting more stuff for less effort. People like getting a free lunch.

Of course, ‘there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” The adage, immortalized and abbreviated to TANSTAAFL by the great science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein, is as true as the day is long. Someone always pays.

And we all know it.

That reality is a bit uncomfortable, especially when we actually go ahead and take or accept that free lunch, because deep down we know it’s unfair and unjust. If given freely, it creates a sense of obligation, a debt to be paid at a future date. If taken forcibly, it offends the innate sense of community that evolution built into us to promote our survival and procreation.

That discomfort, that cognitive dissonance, prompts our brains to find “outs,” to rationalize it away so that we can get what we want without feeling wrong about it. This tendency, which can be expressed as motivated reasoning, is fertile ground for those who’d sell the idea of the free lunch, in order to gain power or advance personal agendas.

Successful salesmanship of the free lunch can take on various forms.

We can be told that others will pay, and we can be sold that those others should pay, because they have far more than they need and/or because they got what they have by unjust means. This is the “tax the rich” angle combined with “the rich have gotten all the breaks,” “the system is rigged in their favor,” “the rich unjustly and unfairly take the fruits of workers’ labor,” and similar sophistry. None of this stands up to mathematical or rational scrutiny, but it doesn’t have to. It merely has to be plausible enough to give the brain the aforementioned “out,” to be talking points by which one can defend the taking of the free lunch.

Or, we can be told that the lunch really is free. This is a newer one. It’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “You just pay for it,” couched in rhetoric meant to be a noble play to morality. And, it’s rationalized by a convenient bit of hand-waving voodoo: Modern Monetary Theory. Give someone some word salad that fulfills motivated reasoning and covers cognitive dissonance, and its sniff-test improbability gets waved off. The brain gets its “out,” the discomfort of taking the free lunch is dismissed, and the people selling the free lunch gain supporters and votes.

That’s really what socialism has always been about: people being sold excuses for working less and getting more by those who seek power. Some of those power-seekers may actually believe their own bullshit. See: motivated reasoning. If it takes the presumption that they are doing as they do for noble purposes, or to help the poor, or whatever other “out” their brain needs, they can actually pass a lie-detector test as to the purity of their intent. This doesn’t make it true, it just makes them good at self-delusion.

The fact is, someone always pays. Now, those who want the free lunch may not care about that, especially if their tribal instincts are stoked sufficiently to see that payer as “other,” but that doesn’t mean that the lunch is free. It never is.

And, yet, a whole lot of people seem convinced otherwise. The somewhat honest ones admit that they merely expect someone else to pay. The rest? They seem to believe that, somehow, the new crop of Best-And-Brightest, led, ironically, by a near-octogenarian, will miracle wealth and ease into existence for them. Challenge this pixie dust by pointing at history, and they counter that, this time, it’s different.

That’s the miracle of marketing. Take an old, failing product, tweak it just a bit, wrap it in a new package with a new label, and convince people that they are getting something new, exciting and different. Or, they point at nations where they allege that socialism is working, despite the fact that what they propose looks nothing like how those nations actually operate.

Were it as simple as “a sucker and his money are soon parted,” we could laugh it off. It’s not his money, though, that’s in play. It’s everyone else’s, and the buyers of the “free lunch” idea are all too happy to close their eyes to how the “free” happens.

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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