If you are like most Americans, you missed the most recent Democratic presidential debate. That was the intent. Buried on a Saturday evening right before Christmas — the slot where bad network programming goes to die — only 8.5 million folks tuned in. That’s about two thirds less than the number of people that watched the first Republican debate.
What are the Democrats hiding? On stage, there it was for all to see — a candid discussion of an epidemic that has swept through the North East, clouding the minds of our young people. New Hampshire has been particularly hard hit by an influx that was home-cooked in Burlington, Vermont.
No, I’m not talking about heroin. The bigger danger to America’s young people is their growing experimentation with Socialism. Senator Bernie Sanders — who is handily beating Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire according to a new CBS poll — has rebranded his product as “Democratic” Socialism. His target market: our sons and daughters.
Here’s the reality check: A recent survey of young people by YouGov shows that “Socialism” and “Capitalism” are running neck-in-neck in popular support, 36% to 39%. This election season, the crowds of students that once rallied for Ron Paul’s unvarnished libertarianism now seem more drawn to Bernie Sanders.
So we need to have the talk. But the language we use is important, because it is quite possible that we are talking right past each other. Millennials care deeply about community, about justice, and about shared responsibilities. Sanders seems to get this, and has softened the sharp edges of his old socialist rhetoric. He claims that he’s not talking about the old, government-owns-the-means-of-production type of socialism espoused by Lenin.
For Americans under 30, “socialism” probably means something akin to “people working together towards a common purpose,” and “capitalism” suggests a gamed system where connected CEOs use political pull to advantage themselves and screw the rest of us.
Is anyone else tired of the crafty left stealing all of our best words? “Liberal” now means the opposite of freedom. “Community” now means a new government program. “Justice” means using force to steal from someone you don’t know to redistribute to someone else with more political pull.
But all of the gauzy qualifiers available in the English language do not change the stark reality: Socialism Kills. Socialism seeks to replace private property, the monetary economy, and allocation of scarce resources through prices with direct control by government. This does, by definition, require completely centralized government power, no dissent permitted. In practice, no experiment in socialism has ever gotten this far, and millions of innocents have died along the way; murdered by despots seeking to consolidate control, or simply starved to death by economic dysfunction. Socialism has always devolved into National Socialism and other forms of fascism, systems that replace direct government ownership of the means of production with simple, brutal government control.
Senator Rand Paul puts it this way:
“I think it’s very important for Americans not to succumb to the notion that there’s anything sexy or cool about socialism. Bernie’s a socialist and ultimately socialism relies on force or implied force. It wasn't an accident that Stalin killed millions of people or Mao Zedong killed millions of people because [if] you want to control the economy and you want to control ownership of things by the state, you have to forbid other people from owning parts of the economy or controlling parts of the economy."
But what about “democratic socialism?” Democracy, at its best, decentralizes power and enfranchises people to make their own choices. New technology, for instance, has democratized how we buy products, where we get better information, and even how we associate with our neighbors. All this is good stuff. But socialism is still about power and control, and it really doesn’t matter if it is one despot, a congressional tribunal, or a majoritarian mob — socialism means imposing your will on others, by any means necessary.
“Socialism and democracy are irreconcilable,” wrote Ludwig von Mises, the Austrian economist widely credited with debunking the original socialist model.
So it’s past time we had that talk. It does take a village, as both Hillary Clinton and F.A. Hayek have reminded us, but government is no village. Real, functioning communities are made up of free individuals who work together voluntarily, cooperating and producing based on a simple, shared set of rules.
Of course, you didn’t hear any of this last Saturday, even if you did manage to catch the Democratic presidential debate.