Libertarians for Socialism!

 

shutterstock_112358291I recently returned from a trip to Denmark, which is probably the most socialist country in Europe. Danes pay very high taxes and receive generous welfare benefits in return. They acknowledge that there are trade-offs, but — in general — seem happy with the deal they have voted themselves over the years. No one there pretends that they are a center-right country, or a right-right country. It’s a socialist welfare state, and everyone knows it.

Here in the US, we all feel the increasingly heavy weight of the government boot on our necks, all the while pretending that we live in a center-right free market democracy. We are in 12th place in  the Heritage Foundation’s 2014 Index of Economic Freedombelow Denmark, and rated only as “mostly free.” (Canada is #6.) Every indicator is moving in the direction of a tyranny incompetent to govern, but brilliant at demagoguery and coercion.

Since the late 19th Century, the United States has steadily progressed toward becoming a massive, highly centralized social welfare state. We became a deeply unfree country while lying to ourselves and each other about the process; so long as we continue that lie, we guarantee the most dysfunctional and least free and democratic outcome.

For over a century, our ruling elites attempted to usher in a social welfare state in America. Because ordinary Americans abhor socialism and reject the idea of the government owning the means of production, these elites instead embraced a form of corporatism. Society would be organized as a set of interest groups such as labor unions, educational institutions, foundations, and large businesses, and these would be yoked to the wagon of social good, guided, bribed, and coerced by elites into pulling together in a common direction.

We see the results now in the genesis and management of massive social enterprises like ObamaCare. When it turned out that large employers commanded an insufficient share of the labor market to provide universal health coverage — these benefits set to be managed by a complex regime of tax breaks and regulations — large health insurers were enticed by the promise of a coerced customer base and the preservation of an uncompetitive, fragmented market to become public utilities in service of a nationalized health system. It’s not socialized medicine, you see, it’s private industry! But “private” in this case has no meaning besides the ownership of stock; these companies are not free to pursue private interests according to their best judgment, but must provide the product the government says, in the way the government demands.

The hyper-regulatory state we live under is a direct result of the corpratists’ desire to eliminate the free choices of private entities in order to harness them as vehicles of state policies and preferences. However, corporatism turns out to be an incredibly inefficient way to deliver social goods. The system of bribes, incentives, penalties, and regulations is complex and inefficient, and constantly in danger of further distortion and corruption through regulatory capture. It is also economically inefficient: in this system, economic rents aren’t a bug, they are chief among the incentives that motivate corporate entities to serve the interests of the state.

Above all, corporatism hides the true cost of delivering social goods by burying them in the costs of goods and services delivered by servile, over-regulated businesses. Economically naive citizens are told that the benefits they vote for will be funded by taxes on the rich, without any mention of how that invariably means higher prices throughout the economy. When prices rise, they never blame regulation and coercion, only those greedy, “1%” capitalists who are — ironically — cogs in the vast, corporatist machine.

Wouldn’t frank socialism be preferable to all this dissimulation? Wouldn’t it be better to draw a straight line from a citizen’s taxes to the expenditures made on his behalf for a cradle-t0-grave welfare state? If we had that sort of system, Americans could actually see the money draining from their pockets when they vote for services, and decide if they were getting their money’s worth. Let government deliver social goods, and business make money providing goods and services with a minimum of regulation. If businesses are to work for the government, let them do so as contractors providing transparent fee-for-service work, not as hidden tax collectors and enforcers of political whims.

Americans won’t embrace liberty or libertarianism in our lifetimes. Perhaps they should instead embrace democratic socialism in its honest, open form like the Danes, and decide if it’s worth the costs. America would be freer as an honest socialist country than as the corrupt, inefficient, grim corporatist machine that it is today.

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  1. user_1029039 Member
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    This^

    • #1
  2. user_139005 Member
    user_139005
    @MichaelMinnott

    That would mean the Republican Party would have to admit that it was in on it the whole time. Then WE would have to own up to the fact that we were snookered.

    Delusion, sweet delusion, may be preferable.

    • #2
  3. user_554634 Moderator
    user_554634
    @MikeRapkoch

    Interesting take. It really depends on the freedoms we most cherish. If we prefer the sensual freedoms (understood not merely sex, but all bodily freedoms) I should think the Denmark model would be attractive. Sure, you wouldn’t be able to “build that,” but you could hook-up, smoke up, and party up to your hearts content. And when those pleasures are no longer alluring, or through the ravages of time your body is exhausted, the state will happily pay a doctor to send you on a quick goodbye.

    It might be very heaven. It might even be the utilitarian utopia where no one feels the pain.

    • #3
  4. user_657161 Inactive
    user_657161
    @SimonTemplar

    Sure if you prefer security to freedom.

    • #4
  5. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Simon Templar:Sure if you prefer security to freedom.

    Most people do.

    • #5
  6. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Two things:

    1. For what you suggest to work would require some kind of honesty.  We don’t have honesty from our politicians.  We don’t have honest budgeting from our budgets.  It’s all a gigantic ponzi scheme built on lies.  To make the kind of change you’re talking about would require widescale, politically unsaleable honesty.

    2. I’m not so sure America won’t embrace liberty or libertarianism in our lives.  I’m a little more optimistic.  It’s not an unbroken trend line towards statism.  Every so often, there’s minor victories for human liberty.  Every so often there are major victories for human liberty.

    • #6
  7. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Denmark is much smaller and more homogenous than the US. That leads to stronger feelings of social solidarity, which allow for an honest socialism. (Though recent immigration trends have started to chip away at the social solidarity all over Scandinavia.) I strongly doubt that we could make socialism work in a country of 317mm people.

    That said, it might be worthwhile to propose a compromise to the voting public: If we get a real federalism, in which states have nearly all responsibility for taxation and spending, then states that want to can have honest socialism. Let Massachusetts and Vermont be socialist — and let Texas and Wyoming be free.

    • #7
  8. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    I don’t know about Denmark, but in general, governments and politicians always make a cruel hash out of pensions and insurance. Canadian social security is one exception.

    That is a lot of it.

    Great article.

    • #8
  9. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Son of Spengler: Let Massachusetts and Vermont be socialist — and let Texas and Wyoming be free.

    This is my secession dream.

    • #9
  10. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    There is some dissonance going on here. How can a socialist country be in the top 10 of economically free places? Isn’t economic freedom definitionally impossible under socialism? Is Heritage measuring something other than “economic freedom”? Or is Denmark not really socialist? I suspect that Denmark is not really socialist. High taxes and a huge government provided benefits system are not synonymous with socialism.

    Would it be more accurate to describe Denmark as socialistic rather than socialist? That’s hard to say considering the stats that Heritage is reporting: Denmark’s stats are towards the top of the chart in all categories except for government spending; just a moderate improvement there (say, moving from 0.5 to 50) and Denmark could find itself climbing the chart even more while still maintaining a quite large welfare/government benefits system.

    These are distinctions to explore. Doing so may help us understand how to reach an American citizenry which seems to keep moving away from a libertarian or conservative ideal of liberty.

    • #10
  11. civil westman Inactive
    civil westman
    @user_646399

    As Son of Spengler points out, it works better in Denmark due to small size and probably, government that actually provides decent services. Whether or not that situation can continue as both culture and government service decline is questionable.

    As well, Denmark does not have a large percentage of the population who live outside the mainstream culture – an aggrieved, entitled class – dependent on the productive to an ever growing degree.

    • #11
  12. user_1066 Inactive
    user_1066
    @MorituriTe

    Fred Cole:For what you suggest to work would require some kind of honesty. We don’t have honesty from our politicians. We don’t have honest budgeting from our budgets. It’s all a gigantic ponzi scheme built on lies. To make the kind of change you’re talking about would require widescale, politically unsaleable honesty.

    Absolutely! I think the corporatist project in America is one of the key causes of that dishonesty (alongside the general nature of politicians.) It’s one big lie we all tell ourselves and are bound to accept, but because it is increasingly at odds with reality, it requires increasingly frantic and coercive measures to enforce conformity and keep control over the institutions. To me, as I hinted in the keywords, this is a case where the Rectification of Names is long overdue.

    This is not a defense of socialism. I just feel that we have to start calling things what they are before we can have any real change.

    • #12
  13. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    civil westman:As Son of Spengler points out, it works better in Denmark due to small size and probably, government that actually provides decent services. Whether or not that situation can continue as both culture and government service decline is questionable.

    As well, Denmark does not have a large percentage of the population who live outside the mainstream culture – an aggrieved, entitled class – dependent on the productive to an ever growing degree.

    I agree. This is why our States should be the ones deciding on issues like welfare and healthcare–NOT the Federal Government–which is what the founders intended. Let Vermont be socialist and Wyoming be free market.

    • #13
  14. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    I just want to say that after visiting Holland and Norway, on the NR cruise, being stationed in Germany, traveling through Italy and France, that their economic systems are socialist or whatever, but the people themselves remain conservative. What I mean is that their towns and cities remain relatively unchanged. The habits and ways of the people are the same as they were 40 years ago. The homes in the picture up above indicates a conservative habit of maintenance, community norms and culture. We spoke with a lot of Dutch on the cruise and they have a very conservative take on life: save money, being with family, having grand kids, education, clean, safe cities, etc.

    • #14
  15. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    The more that non-Danes take up residence in Denmark, the more Danish politics will shift to the right.

    People don’t tend to mind highish taxes if they can see that the money is being well spent (i.e. it’s being spent on things that the people who pay the taxes need and want).

    As soon as too many free-riders show up, that’s when the taxpayers start to take notice.

    • #15
  16. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    Denmark’s biggest secrets are its free labor market and ease of starting a business. It is relatively easy to move around in the labor market — voluntarily or not — so it’s less prey to the stagnation other socialist economies experience.

    • #16
  17. user_657161 Inactive
    user_657161
    @SimonTemplar

    the following is found at:

    http://fee.org/the_freeman/detail/12-i-prefer-security-to-freedom

    Leonard E. Read

    Founder and President

    Foundation for Economic Education, 1946–1983

    Summary

    • True security is an outgrowth of freedom, not an alternative to it.
    • Being dependent, instead of being independent, is a move away from true security.
    • Read’s observation more than half a century ago that increasing reliance on a welfare state for security would produce financial problems seems positively prescient today. Consider our $17.5 trillion national debt as evidence.
    • The real choice is not between freedom and security but between security and insecurity.
    • For further information…

    • #17
  18. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    anonymous:The problem I see with a move to “frank socialism” is that the most likely outcome is that government spending and tax rates will rise toward those of Denmark, while the areas where the U.S. scores poorly are likely to remain the same or deteriorate (do you think the IRS is going to become less intrusive and abusive on the international scale when it is charged with extracting twice the fraction of GDP from the economy than it presently does?).

    Just so. Whatever the faults of socialized Europe, its public sector employees generally do their jobs. They may be rule-bound, they may not be polite, but they do their jobs.

    Our government sector — and many of its “private sector” parasites — are home to the venal, corrupt, and incompetent. In fact, much of its purpose is to provide a simulacrum of employment for just those sort.

    • #18
  19. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    Son of Spengler:Denmark is much smaller and more homogenous than the US. That leads to stronger feelings of social solidarity, which allow for an honest socialism. (Though recent immigration trends have started to chip away at the social solidarity all over Scandinavia.) I strongly doubt that we could make socialism work in a country of 317mm people.

    That said, it might be worthwhile to propose a compromise to the voting public: If we get a real federalism, in which states have nearly all responsibility for taxation and spending, then states that want to can have honest socialism. Let Massachusetts and Vermont be socialist — and let Texas and Wyoming be free.

    I’d go for that in a heartbeat, but THEY never will. Because the whole point for them is to  essentially conquer us.

    • #19
  20. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I can’t say that I blame the rest of the country for wanting to push Massachusetts off into the Atlantic.

    Sigh.

    • #20
  21. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus
    @UmbraFractus

    It’s notable that all the countries above us on that list have so-called “universal” health care systems. I’m not arguing in favor of that, but it supports the point being made by Ed G. and anonymous (and Kevin D. Williamson, by the way) that welfare alone does not a socialist system make; it’s the central planning that matters.

    It sounds like Americans get the worst of both worlds, a relatively stingy welfare system and a meddlesome regulatory state.

    • #21
  22. Elephas Americanus Member
    Elephas Americanus
    @ElephasAmericanus

    Son of Spengler:Denmark is much smaller and more homogenous than the US. That leads to stronger feelings of social solidarity, which allow for an honest socialism. (Though recent immigration trends have started to chip away at the social solidarity all over Scandinavia.) I strongly doubt that we could make socialism work in a country of 317mm people.

    That is the key:  Denmark is a small state where everyone is Danish.  Socialism can only work when everyone is of a similar social character; if everyone speaks the same language, has the same religion, shares a common heritage, and has the same overall work ethic, they are less likely to complain about sharing their wealth amongst the population as a whole.

    Look at Italy:  The North is a much more industrialized place with an attitude toward work that is more similar to the Germans, so they resent what they see as lazy, corrupt, parasitic Southerners.  Conversely, while the Swiss have four major languages, all of the Swiss share a common outlook on how society should work, so the Swiss state runs well.

    The USSR was a massive failure in part because Estonians and Azeris and Kazakhs are so different in their character, and that is why a massive socialist state often comes with a move to make everyone speak one language, etc.  (China is almost certainly going to have problems with this in the coming decades.)

    The Left worships at the twin altars of Socialism and Diversity/Multiculturalism, but these two ideas are incompatible.  But then, most of the Left’s great ideas contradict one another.

    This also holds true for gun rights:  The more homogeneous a population is, the smaller the incidence of gun violence is, no matter how tight or loose gun laws might be.

    • #22
  23. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    FYI: Sweden’s central bank just announced that it’s reducing its interest rate to zero per cent.

    • #23
  24. PCT Atlas Member
    PCT Atlas
    @PCTAtlas

    Excellent post.  I don’t think that is beyond the realm of possibility that we we see a more libertarian America within the next 40 years, preferably sooner. But if the alternative is the status quo, I would prefer we be more honest and legitimize what we already have.  Socialism is here just by another name.

    • #24
  25. Randal H Member
    Randal H
    @RandalH

    There are a number of excellent posts above that point out the fact that small, homogeneous countries with traditionally conservative populations can operate effectively under a system of shared prosperity.

    I was a college exchange student in Germany in the late 1970s and I was shocked at the apparent prosperity and complete lack of poverty I saw there versus what I had experienced in my native southern Appalachia. In my naivete, I attributed it to their socialist tendencies and spent a year or two espousing the benefits of some sort of socialism. After meeting and marrying a German and making many trips back while spending time with more and more Germans, it became obvious to me that the reason for the German prosperity is the responsible way they conduct their lives, the seriousness with which they pursue education and vocational training, and their commitment to sound financial and economic policies. In that sense, they are some of the most conservative people I’ve ever met. The former East Germans were renowned for having been the most successful communists, and the German temperament is such that they will make a success of any system of government. They even brag (and it has been independently verified) that they have the most dedicated and efficient bureaucrats around.

    We are a much different country and can never operate like a northern European Social Democracy with shared values and shared prosperity. What our leftists want is more along the lines of traditional class-struggle socialism based on a redistributionist model that keeps them permanently in power and the populace in a constant state of outrage and envy.

    • #25
  26. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I am predicting that the “local” movement will eventually lead to a limited breakup of the United States into 50, or many more, sovereign mini-nations, united with the other 50 only by a defense pact.

    No one feels close to the federal government, and computers have rendered their usefulness to individuals obsolete.

    I look at how the EU has bumped along, and it’s not working. People hate it. They love the lifting of the travel restrictions, but that’s all they love. The regulations are strangling Europeans, and people are ticked off about it. The EU cannot last.

    Economies of scale were a wonderful idea in the industrial revolution era, but everything now is small and targeted. Individualized is how everything is going in our lives. Economies of scale cannot be realized in human services or municipal services.

    People are going to get increasingly frustrated with sending money to Washington DC to help the guy across the street.  People want control over their government–that’s why they show up at town meetings.

    I’d put money on this bet. It’s going to be a great thing.

    • #26
  27. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    MarciN: I am predicting that the “local” movement will eventually lead to a limited breakup of the United States into 50, or many more, sovereign mini-nations, united with the other 50 only by a defense pact.

    So, like, as per the Constitution of the United States?

    • #27
  28. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Misthiocracy:

    MarciN: I am predicting that the “local” movement will eventually lead to a limited breakup of the United States into 50, or many more, sovereign mini-nations, united with the other 50 only by a defense pact.

    So, like, as per the Constitution of the United States?

    I read once a great essay by, hold onto your hat, Richard Nixon on states’ rights. What a tragedy we lost his point of view. He was a powerful advocate for returning sovereignty to the states.

    I’ve seen this coming for years. I live in a place, Cape Cod, with a strong regional identity. We don’t feel connected to anyone really. Massachusetts takes more from us than it gives back by some accountings. (And Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket definitely don’t feel like they are part of Massachusetts or Cape Cod. It’s sort of like a Kosovo and Serbia relationship.)

    People here are frustrated.

    I knew the woman on the Cape who used to oversee the human services operations down here. “We were tired,” she said to me once. “When the state came along and said they would take over, we were relieved. What a disaster it turned out to be. The people in need are still in need, and we have given all our money to the state so we can’t help them.” Very frustrating. It sounded like a good deal, but it was terrible.

    When I was a kid, I lived north of Boston. We had our own electric company that served our three towns. We were independent. No terrorist or person falling asleep at the computer switch could put our towns out of electricity. People like to be independent. Local-is-better is going to come back in a big way over the next twenty years.

    • #28
  29. Dietlbomb Inactive
    Dietlbomb
    @Dietlbomb

    America would be freer as an honest socialist country than as the corrupt, inefficient, grim corporatist machine that it is today.

    Perhaps, but America could never become an honest socialist country. There’s no such thing as an honest socialist country. Dig under the surface of any socialist country and you’ll find a web of lies. Besides, America is already a socialist country, and we’re doing just as well as any of these supposed socialist successes.

    • #29

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