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“CENTRAL PLANNING CANNOT WORK”
March 4, 2019
Dear Friends and Colleagues:
Yesterday I saw some stats from a poll that showed 6 out of 10 Americans would never vote for a socialist government, a few were undecided, but around 25% of us would support a socialist candidate and his/her platform. Even 25% is too many. Especially worrisome is the craziness of the many congressional Democrats ‘supporting’ the ruinous and nonsensical Green New Deal (GND), which would not only destroy modern life, but impose socialism and its mind-numbing controls whose enforcement would eliminate America’s initiative and freedoms. Younger folks seem to be the ones most inclined to support socialism and the GND. The only way to grasp why this is so is to imagine that they’ve never read nor been exposed to the history of the 20th century.
Marx and Engels published the ‘Communist Manifesto’ in 1848 after observing the horrid conditions that inspired Charles Dickens – poverty, poor living conditions, child labor, and the like. The final line in the Manifesto rang out “…Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains…” Marx’s theory held that capitalism was voracious, that labor was being exploited by the barons of industry and landowners, and that capitalism would ultimately fail because it would run out of buyers, markets and resources.
Before the industrial revolution there were varying forms of the vestiges of feudalism. Serfs were part of the landowners’ ‘property.’ And businesses were mostly small-scale enterprises, as most products were hand-made. The miracles of steam-powered machinery were not yet available.
Fortunately, Marx’s gloomy observations that underpinned his theory of communism began to fade as business owners and society as a whole became more aware and civic-minded. Later, some, like our own Henry Ford, realized that if wages were raised, there would be more customers who could afford to buy their products and thus, produce more and expand their businesses. Dickens’ writings and those of others were widely read by all classes and heightened social awareness. Improvement in working conditions took a bit longer in Europe than in America because of Europe’s historical class system – more vestiges of feudalism. In contrast, America began with a frontier spirit that recognized the rights of individuals. Worth was based on personal merit, and even though some acquired incredible wealth, any sort of ‘caste’ structure was rejected. Social mobility was pretty-much the norm in America. Folks could rise and make fortunes and also fail abjectly and go broke.
But, the old guard in Europe was more stubborn and progress was slower. In Czarist Russia, it was particularly stubborn. There were many smart people in Russia who sympathized with the plight of the common folk. Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) was from an upper-class family. His dad was a Boyar (a ‘noble’), but not a wealthy one. Although he was quite capable and clearly the best choice to fill a government position, he was denied it because his views of the ruling class were suspect. Lenin’s older brother was radicalized by Marxism and so upset with the treatment of his father that he plotted to assassinate the Czar. He was discovered and put to death. Lenin never forgot nor forgave. Vladimir Ulyanov, the son of a boyar, became ‘Lenin.’ He was highly intelligent, an avid reader and writer, and after his brother’s actions, he was a marked man. Thus, he went into exile and plotted from afar. He was supported in exile by free-thinking wealthy Russians and by street thugs like Stalin and Khrushchev who robbed banks, murdered, distributed ‘forbidden literature’ and sent money to Lenin in exile so that he could continue writing and plotting and growing ‘the movement.’
The carnage of World War I provided the catalyst for the end of the Czarist government, and the rest is history.
The idea in Marxism that appealed most to both radicals like Lenin and to intellectuals both outside and within government was that under communism, the ‘people’ would run the state and the ones they selected would be in charge. Rather than have businesses run by ‘bosses,’ the workers, who actually produced the goods, would run things. Government offices would be filled with only the most qualified and they and technical ‘experts’ would call the shots, rather than just the ‘dumb son-in-law’ of some wealthy and influential Boyar or other insider in the upper class.
That same idea held sway in every place that followed Russia’s lead in committing to communism – or, more properly, its ‘socialist’ form – because the real communism end-state would be a ‘’Utopia,” where the state had ‘withered away,’ as it would no longer be necessary in a ‘classless society.’ The big sticking point was that socialism had to be ‘imposed’ and the people (the proletariat) had to be re-educated so as to think ‘properly’ and not make decisions for themselves. The ‘collective’ would do the thinking for them and everyone else, based on their heightened knowledge of greater good for the majority. Religion, of course, would be at odds with such thinking, so it had to be abandoned – Marx had referred to religion as ‘…the opiate or the people…’
But, what happened was that folks didn’t have access the collective’s ‘thought’ every minute of the day, and thus sometimes they had to think and act for themselves to avoid some impending disaster or protect some ‘state resource’ (private property, being frowned upon, had been eliminated). Later, when the ‘collective’ found out what the citizen had done on his or her own initiative and decided that it conflicted or was somehow inconsistent with their idea of the ‘greater good,’ the citizen had to be punished – taught a lesson. The other citizens took note, and thus initiative and innovation ceased.
In the factories, the workers in charge now found that the markets the enterprise had previously served were no longer there. They also found that suppliers of raw materials were no longer responsive, since they too had been taken over by the workers and didn’t know how or how much of their stuff to send to the factories they previously served. And the reason behind all of this uncertainty was that the higher-up government authorities had not decided how much of what was needed, where and by whom, or how sending stuff from this factory or that factory might interfere with some other higher priority of the even-bigger bosses.
To un-muddle the chaos, Lenin had to appoint people he knew and trusted, folks who were willing to crush any opposition and who would meet the ‘quotas’ set out in Moscow for everything from farm products to trucks and rail cars, shoes and clothing, building materials, coal for heat, iron ore from the Donbass and, and, and.
So, rather than the best and the brightest and the highly-skilled ‘technicians’ calling the shots, it devolved to the ruthless thugs – the trusted insiders — who had robbed the banks and murdered with impunity to bring about the ‘revolution.’
The same sort of thing happened in Cuba. It happened in Venezuela. It happened in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia). It could never work because central planning cannot work. Markets work; quotas, not so much! The only way that communist (or socialist republics) survived as long as they did was by brutal force, including gulags, beatings, show trials followed by executions, ‘disappearances,’ and internal spy networks that included family members, school teachers, fellow workers, and so on.
Personal freedoms? Autonomy? Forget them. The ‘state’ always knows best. You wish to study to become a doctor? Sorry, we have enough doctors, but the state needs more hairdressers at the moment. Go there and learn that! It’s all for the ‘greater good!’
And somehow, that massive, punitive, all-seeing, all-knowing socialist state was going to ‘wither away’ and there will be Utopia! Sure. Go with that.
We have tenured college professors pushing students to accept ‘socialism…’ And we have parents of students paying thousands of dollars every semester to have their dearest ones indoctrinated by such ‘deep thinkers.’
The Russians were not stupid. Really smart people (many of them really good, well-meaning people) tried to make this work – for 70 long years. They tried – and failed – miserably. We should all demand that the ‘professors’ who are poisoning the minds of their eager but ignorant students address how it would work here when it failed so miserably in Russia. Those profs must explain how they do things differently from the Russians and to prove why it would work this time.