The Corner

Economy & Business

The Failure of Socialism

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks at the National Action Network National Convention in New York City, April 5, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

National Review has been hosting a discussion about free enterprise and socialism, and it contains some very good stuff. But it is dispiriting that we must have this conversation — again — at all. Socialism’s record is a matter of history. But, for reasons having partly to do with lack of memory, “never again” once again has been superseded by “this time it will be different,” at least on parts of the Left.

The United States is not very much like Venezuela, but it is like Venezuela in one important thing: In Venezuela, the failures of socialism were blamed on anything but the policies themselves: capitalism, imperialism, sabotage, hoarding, etc. In the United States, the failures of socialism are blamed on anything but socialism. They are blamed on “inequality,” the wealthy, “globalists,” etc.

The United States is not a socialist country, but we have instances of socialism. Public K–12 education, for example, in which the state owns the means of production, manages them through political bureaus (with democratically elected boards in most cases), the labor force consists of state employees, etc. Public K–12 education is in much of the country a disaster. It is a much greater disaster especially in those places in which the Democratic party and its most socialistic members prevail: In the big cities where no Republican, much less any conservative, has exercised any real influence in generations.

What is the Democrats’ prescription for these socialist failures? More socialism.

Our economic is enormously productive, and the real standard of living for Americans has increased dramatically over the past several decades. We take for granted products and services that once were luxuries and conveniences for millionaires.

But there are important areas of failure. Not coincidentally, these are clustered in those areas in which the socialist model most strongly predominates: education, health care, retirement. It is in these areas that the ideas associated with Senator Warren, Senator Sanders, Representative Ocasio-Cortez, et al., have had the most influence. The public schools, in particular, have been a progressive fief for decades and decades. And while real-dollar per-student spending has climbed substantially, outcomes have stagnated or worse.

There is room for public welfare and for government action beyond the provision of narrowly defined public goods. But socialism is a different and distinct thing from the offering of welfare benefits and the like. It is not the case that the answer to every question is “Markets will take care of it!” or “Private charity will take care of it!” (The answer very often is one of those.)

But the failure of discrete socialism is not a warrant for more general socialism, except in the minds of ideologues who are disposed to see everything as a warrant for more general socialism.

Most Popular


White Cats and Black Swans

Making a film of Cats is a bold endeavor — it is a musical with no real plot, based on T. S. Eliot’s idea of child-appropriate poems, and old Tom was a strange cat indeed. Casting Idris Elba as the criminal cat Macavity seems almost inevitable — he has always made a great gangster — but I think there was ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Other Case against Reparations

Reparations are an ethical disaster. Proceeding from a doctrine of collective guilt, they are the penalty for slavery and Jim Crow, sins of which few living Americans stand accused. An offense against common sense as well as morality, reparations would take from Bubba and give to Barack, never mind if the former ... Read More
Politics & Policy

May I See Your ID?

Identity is big these days, and probably all days: racial identity, ethnic identity, political identity, etc. Tribalism. It seems to be baked into the human cake. Only the consciously, persistently religious, or spiritual, transcend it, I suppose. (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor ... Read More
Health Care

The Puzzling Problem of Vaping

San Francisco -- A 29-story office building at 123 Mission Street illustrates the policy puzzles that fester because of these facts: For centuries, tobacco has been a widely used, legal consumer good that does serious and often lethal harm when used as it is intended to be used. And its harmfulness has been a ... Read More