It's disheartening that an avowed socialist is a viable candidate for president of the United States. Socialism is a dead end. For hundreds of years, it has failed everywhere it's been adopted. The enthusiasm of our youth for the candidacy of Bernie Sanders is a symptom of our failure to educate them, not only in history, government and economics, but also basic morality.
You don't have to be a student of ancient history to know socialism doesn't work. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 was an unequivocal demonstration of the moral and economic superiority of capitalism. The misery caused by socialism is unfolding today in Venezuela. Since Venezuela embraced socialism in 1999, poverty, crime and corruption have all increased. Grocery shelves are empty and the annual inflation rate is estimated to be as high as 200 percent.
The United States is a constitutional republic founded on political equality, not equality of income or circumstances. Our system of government was designed to secure the natural rights of its citizens. These rights include not only “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but the right to acquire and maintain private property. The Founding Fathers considered property rights to be sacred and
Under capitalism, goods and services are distributed through private, voluntary exchanges. When people engage in volitional transactions, everyone benefits. If we believe a transaction is in our best interest, we have an incentive to maintain good relations with those with whom we're trading. Thus a society based on freedom and trading promotes good will and civility. Our free-market system has produced the greatest prosperity in human history.
There are no property rights under socialism. Goods and services are distributed by force through political means. Everything you possess is subject to confiscation and redistribution. Industrious and productive people are punished; parasites are rewarded. When people come to believe they have a right to goods and services produced by other people, society disintegrates into squabbling factions. If socialism is allowed to progress to its logical extreme, it culminates in a military dictatorship like North Korea.
What about so-called “crony capitalism”? This is nothing more than socialism that benefits the wealthy and influential. It's just as wrong as any other form of socialism. The cure is to limit government power. Human nature is corruptible. If government has the power to redistribute wealth, it will always act in the interests of the powerful segments of society. What made America great is not progressive government, but the genius and industry of a people freed from arbitrary power by the chains placed upon government by our Constitution.
Socialism isn't so much a legitimate economic system as it is a moral failing. It will always exist because ignorant people will always want something for nothing. If we want to retain our freedom and prosperity, then we must educate our children that the purpose of government is to secure liberty, not provide free lunches.
Deming (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professor of arts and sciences at the University of Oklahoma.