Lost in the ongoing debate in America as to whether the United States should embrace socialism is a discomforting fact: America embraced socialism a long time ago. The problem is that many Americans have simply not wanted to accept that fact and instead have preferred living a life of denial.
A complete socialist system would be one in which the state owns everything in society, including businesses and real estate. In a pure socialist society, the government is the sole employer, and everyone is a government employee. No private grocery stores, computer companies, restaurants, movie theaters, or anything else. The government owns and operates everything, and everyone works for the government.
Moreover, in a pure socialist society, all the homes are owned by the state. There are no private houses or apartments for sale or rent because nothing is privately owned. Everyone lives in public housing because the state owns all the dwellings. How do people determine where they are to live? The state assigns everyone his own particular housing unit.
How does the socialist state fund all this? It owns and operates all the businesses and enterprises in the hope of generating revenues to finance its socialist system. One problem, however, is that state-owned enterprises are notorious for inefficiencies and corruption, which means that they inevitably end up losing money rather than making money. Think of Amtrak and the Postal Service. Or state-owned petroleum companies in Latin America. They produce losses, not gains, for the state.
Thus, to fund its socialist enterprises, the socialist state inevitably permits a small number of citizens to engage in private enterprise. Once those people begin making money, the state taxes them and uses the money to fund its operations. The state does its best to
extract as much money as it can from these private-sector enterprises without pushing them out of business.
There are few purely socialist countries. North Korea comes closest to the socialist ideal.
There are countries, however, that adopt programs and policies that are socialist in nature. The United States is a premier example of such countries, even though many Americans are loathe to acknowledge it. They have convinced themselves that America is a “free enterprise” country and that they themselves are “capitalists.” The last thing they want to confront is that they are living a life that embraces socialism.
Let’s examine socialism in America.
Contrary to popular opinion, especially as held by seniors, Social Security is not a retirement program. There is no investment fund into which people place their savings for retirement. There are no lock boxes at Fort Knox labeled with each person’s name and containing his “contributions.”
Social Security is a straight socialist program, one that uses the government to take money from people to whom it belongs and gives it to people to whom it does not belong. This process of coercive redistribution of wealth is based on a principle enunciated by Karl Marx: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. The state takes money from those who have produced it and gives it to people who are said to need it more.
For more than a century after the United States was founded, Americans lived without Social Security. The idea for this particular socialist program originated among German socialists in the late 1800s. The so-called Iron Chancellor of Germany, Otto von Bismarck, adopted it into law in Germany. The program was later imported into the United States and became a legally established program in the 1930s. Today, the U.S. Social Security Administration displays a portrait of Bismarck on its website.
From its inception, Social Security has been a straight socialist, welfare-state program, one that uses the state to forcibly take money from some and give it to others. It
is no different in principle from food stamps, education grants, farm subsidies, or other socialist programs.
Seniors have a valid point when they say that the state plundered and looted them throughout their work lives, which has left them without savings for their retirement years. They say that they are just getting their money back under this program.
But that is simply not the case. Their money is long gone. It was spent in the same year that it was collected, on Social Security payments to people who are now long dead, to fund other welfare-state programs, or to fund the national-security establishment and its vast and ever-growing array of warfare-state programs. The money that is being given to seniors today is coming out of the pockets of their children and grandchildren and their friends in those generations, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet. The problem is only getting worse because seniors are demanding more, which means even more taxes must be imposed on young and middle-aged people who are still working.
Proponents of Social Security say that this socialist program reflects how good, caring, and compassionate Americans are. That’s ridiculous. Social Security is founded on force. Young people are forced to pay Social Security taxes. There is nothing voluntary about paying such taxes. If a young person refuses to pay his Social Security taxes, the authorities will come after him, arrest him, fine him, and send him to jail. If he resists with force, he might well find himself dead at the hands of some trigger-happy cop.
Goodness, care, and compassion can come only through the voluntary choices of people. When a young person chooses to help his parents in their old age with financial assistance or personal care, that’s goodness, care, and compassion. When the IRS takes a young person’s money and gives it to seniors, that’s just political stealing.
There is no way to reconcile Social Security with the principles of a free society. Freedom necessarily entails the right to keep everything you earn and decide for yourself what to do with it.
Medicare and Medicaid
The United States once had the finest health-care system in the world, one that was largely based on free-market principles. Health care in the 1950s was reasonably priced. In fact, hardly anyone had medical insurance except perhaps for catastrophic illnesses. Health-care costs were so low and stable that people considered them just a regular cost of living, like going to the grocery store.
Medical innovations, discoveries, cures, and inventions were surging. Doctors loved what they did in life. Many of them, along with private hospitals, provided free medical services to the poor, all on a voluntary basis.
It all came to an end in the 1960s, with the adoption of two socialist programs — Medicare and Medicaid. These two programs were based on the same Marxian principle as Social Security — using the political process to take money from people who have it to provide or subsidize health care for others.
With the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid, health-care costs began climbing and then soaring. Doctors came under strict regulations, which sometimes brought fines and criminal prosecution for Medicare or Medicaid fraud. A never-ending series of health-care reforms began to be adopted to deal with the ever-growing health-care crisis. Doctors began hating what they did in life and couldn’t wait to retire.
Today, the direction is clear — with each new health-care reform to fix the crises generated by previous reforms, the American people are heading toward a complete government takeover of health care, just as in Cuba and North Korea. The difference will be that Americans will call it “saving free enterprise,” while the Cubans and North Koreans correctly call it “celebrating socialism.”
As with Social Security, there is no way that socialized health care can be reconciled with the principles of a free society. To restore freedom to America, it is necessary to repeal, not reform, Medicare and Medicaid and to end all other governmental involvement in health care. Moreover, the eradication of health-care socialism is also a necessary prerequisite for restoring a healthy health-care system to our land.
It would be difficult to find a better example of a socialist program than public schooling or, more accurately, government schooling. This is a state-run program, one that is based on coercion and compulsion.
Parents are forced to subject their children to a state-approved education, on pain of fine and imprisonment for failing or refusing to do so. Most parents comply with this directive by sending their children into the state-run schools. But even private schools are subject to state supervision through licensing laws. Private schools know that if they fail to satisfy public officials, they risk losing their license or accreditation. Most home-schoolers have to satisfy state officials that they are meeting education standards set by the state.
Funding for public schools is by coercion. People are taxed to fund the system. Among those taxed are people who don’t have children. It is a classic example of the Marxian principle that undergirds Social Security, Medicare, and other socialist programs — from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
The state authorizes the textbooks and sets the curriculum. Schoolteachers and administrators are state employees. If a teacher teachers things that are dramatically outside acceptable boundaries (such as libertarianism), he is subject to being dismissed or pressured out of the system.
The entire public-schooling system is based on the concept of central planning, which is a core principle of socialism. Whether at a national, state, or local level, a board of government officials plans, in a top-down, command-and-control manner, the educational activities of hundreds, thousands, or millions of students.
Public schools inculcate regimentation and conformity in children, while smashing out of them the natural propensity to wonder, question, and challenge. Indoctrination is the order of things, especially when it comes to teaching children that they live in a free country, one characterized by a welfare-warfare–state way of life. By the time they graduate from high school, many students are absolutely convinced that they are free and that they work in a “free enterprise” economic system. The indoctrination is so effective that sometimes it lasts a lifetime.
It is impossible to reconcile a system of state schooling with the principles of a free society. A genuinely free society entails a separation of school and state, in the same way that our ancestors separated church and state. That means an entirely free-market educational system, one where families, not the state, are responsible for education and where entrepreneurs are vying for their business in a free and unhampered market economy.
Trade restrictions and immigration controls
Border controls are based on the socialist concept of central planning. Government officials plan how much trade Americans are going to be permitted to engage in with people in foreign countries; and they plan the movements of millions of people in a complex labor market. That’s what trade restrictions, tariffs, trade wars, immigration controls, visa restrictions, travel restrictions, and restrictions on spending money in foreign countries are all about. They are all designed to fulfill the visions of central planners.
As people in Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, and other socialist countries can affirm, socialism produces crises or, in the words of Ludwig von Mises, “planned chaos.” That’s why farmers who previously were prospering by selling to foreign countries are now being sent into bankruptcy because of tariffs and trade restrictions imposed by U.S. central planners. It’s also why there are thousands of foreigners backed up at the border trying to get into the United States to work, even while there are farms in the United States where crops are rotting owing to a scarcity of workers.
Socialism often comes with a police state, as the citizens of many socialist countries can also attest. That’s because people naturally try to avoid the crises and the chaos that socialism produces. That makes government officials angry. To ensure compliance with their measures, they begin adopting and enforcing an ever-increasing array of harsh and brutal measures.
That’s how Americans have ended up with an immigration police state in the American Southwest. Highway checkpoints. Warrantless searches. Boarding of Greyhound buses to check people’s papers. Felony prosecutions for hiring, transporting, or harboring illegal immigrants. The types of things one would expect in communist and totalitarian countries.
There is also the massive death, suffering, and impoverishment that comes with a socialist trade and immigration system.
There is no way one can reconcile a system based on central planning of trade and immigration with the principles of a free society. A genuinely free society necessarily is one that is based on the rights of economic liberty, freedom of trade, and freedom of association. Americans, like everyone else, have the natural, God-given rights to travel wherever they want, spend their money anywhere they want, associate with whomever they want, and hire whomever they want. Freedom necessarily means free trade and open immigration — i.e., open borders — the free movements of goods, services, and people across borders.
The national-security establishment
Perhaps the best example of a socialist system is America’s national-security state, which is a totalitarian form of governmental structure. North Korea is a national-security state. So is Egypt. And Cuba. Russia. Pakistan. And post–World War II United States.
The Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA, like all socialist structures, are operated by bureaucrats, both military and civilian, in a top-down, command-and-control fashion. There is nothing “free market” or “free enterprise” about the national-security state. The system is based entirely on force, regimentation, conformity, indoctrination, deference to authority, and obedience to orders.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a socialist governmental structure has come with dark-side practices that one would ordinarily expect from communist and totalitarian regimes. Invasions. Wars of aggression. Wars without the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war. Coups. Alliances with dictatorial regimes. Foreign aid to dictatorial regimes. State-sponsored assassinations. Drug experiments on unsuspecting people. Extra-judicial executions. Kidnappings. Torture. Secretive prison camps. A kangaroo judicial system. Sanctions and embargoes that impoverish or kill innocent people for political purposes. Denial of due process of law. Denial of trial by jury. Persecution of people who blow the whistle on dark-side practices. And much more.
None of this can possibly be reconciled with the principles of a free society. A genuinely free society entails the restoration of a limited-government republic, which was the type of governmental system that the Constitution called into existence. That means the dismantling of the national-security state and the termination of its dark-side practices.
Like the rest of the world, Americans are faced with a choice: Do you want socialism or do you want freedom? You can’t have both.
This article originally published in the January 2020 edition of Future of Freedom.