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NRI Ideas Summit

Socialism for Thee, But Not for Me

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Concord, N.H., U.S., March 10, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

At the National Review Institute’s 2019 Ideas Summit, a panel featuring the great Representative Dan Crenshaw of Texas, our Kevin Williamson, and Charlie Cooke on “the new Socialism” made the important point that most of today’s socialists, even the self-proclaimed ones, either don’t understand socialism, or want it implemented in a way that doesn’t really touch their lives. Crenshaw noted that the U.S. House of Representatives had considered a motion to recommit that would limit the fees of trial lawyers; suddenly Democrats argued that it wasn’t the role of Congress to interfere with wages, and that the market would sort out the appropriate level of compensation for trial lawyers. “Yes, the market knows, that’s the point!” Crenshaw laughed.

Charlie pointed out that American socialists keep emphasizing that their role model is Norway (which is not all that socialist in its economy and political system, and whose economy was helped by roughly $30 billion from oil revenues last year, making it 17 percent of the GPD and 21 percent of the state’s revenues) and that Venezuela somehow isn’t representative of socialism, despite its government embracing the label. Kevin observed that if the socialists are right, and that true socialism has never been tried, their preferred system is the unluckiest in human history, as the countries that embrace it keep “trying” it wrong and coincidentally collapsing into authoritarian economic basket cases with gulags, secret police, bread lines, and the rest.

What most self-proclaimed socialists want is price controls for what they want to buy but not what they want to sell; wage controls that will only raise their wages, never limit them; a government-enforced system of wealth redistribution that will only give them more, but never take from them.

Most socialists perceive themselves on one side of a negotiation and forget how the issue looks from the other side. Employers seem harsh and demanding until you have to hire someone, whether it’s a nanny, a tree-trimmer, a house contractor, or a babysitter. Price controls sound nice in theory and the profit motive sounds sinister until you’re selling something on eBay and are hoping the bidding goes higher and higher. A lot of cries of “socialism” really are just code for “the government should use its power to get me a better deal.”


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