So, Beto O’Rourke announces his inevitable run for the Democratic nomination for President in 2020 by saying, “The challenges we face are the greatest in living memory.”
I suppose they are, if your entire audience is composed of those born only within the last eighteen years, but “living memory” encompasses far more than the last two decades and far more serious challenges than millennials have ever faced–to wit, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the rise of Communism, war in Korea, totalitarian states in Latin America, a viscerally unpopular war in Vietnam, an unprecedented and unsuccessful grab for power by the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government in 1973, the fall of Communism and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall (a structure whose sole purpose was to keep people in East Germany rather than keep others out) in 1989.
We survived all of these upheavals. What’s more, every one of us has benefited from the greatest economic expansion in the West in the last three hundred years. That expansion happened because, at an enormous cost of money and blood, America and its Allies met the threat of Nazi domination of Europe and Japanese domination of the Far East. Out of that conflict emerged everything we know today: radar, wi-fi, computers, television, and, looming over all of us, nuclear and biological weapons. With all due respect to O’Rourke, the challenges of today, whatever they may be, pale in comparison to the challenges we have faced before.
The greatest challenge we face today is, frankly, O’Rourke himself, and what the left wing of the Democratic Party represents. O’Rourke and Bernie Sanders, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi, and Elizabeth Warren and Bill DiBlasio are all part of a leftward shift of the party that is nakedly anti-capitalist. They are this way–anti-capitalist–without ever once announcing what they are for, and articulating how they expect to achieve a better system. All that we have heard so far is a vague proposal for a “guaranteed minimum income”–an idea that ought to scare the wits out of anybody making $35,000 a year and above. Scary, because the operative words of the proposal are “guaranteed” and “minimum”. The former has never been provided by any government anywhere in human history; the latter is likely the only “guarantee” any of us will see, if it comes to pass–the absolute minimum a government could do.
Truthfully, we have already seen the minimum of what socialist governments can do: the poverty and fear of the Soviets themselves in the 1950s under Stalinist rule; the empty grocery shelves of the last decade in Venezuela. Yet, that kind of socialism is supposed to appeal to us. It shouldn’t. Socialism has failed everywhere it has been applied–the USSR, Cuba, Venezuela. It limps along in Britain and Europe, with their extraordinarily high unemployment rates, only because it is underpinned by the deeper, stronger roots of capitalism.
The fact that it has failed is easy to see once you understand that socialism did not start out as an anti-capitalist system. It was originally opposed to individualism, as expressed in both America and Europe. It has never been effective as an economic engine because it has no philosophy of how an economy is supposed to work, no principle except “redistribution of income,” which means, a la Robin Hood, “take from the rich and give to the poor.”
Do that often enough, and you wind up with Venezuela, where everybody is poor. The Soviets tried and failed to control every aspect of the Russian economy–means of production, products, markets, interest rates–everything. They couldn’t do it, even after seventy years of trying, because markets must have freedom in order to operate. There will always be unpredictability, uncertainty, and, yes, inequities, in such a system, but over the long haul, encompassing the last century, far more people will benefit under capitalism than under socialism.
The Democrats have preached “Equality!” “Equality”! for the last sixty years. It was in fact they who established Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society in the 1960s and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office in that day. What they have sought in the years since, however, particularly on the left wing of the party, is not equality of opportunity–which we all want–but equality of outcomes, which can only be achieved by theft, and the diminution of the genuinely talented.
There are a number of things they can do to address these shortcomings, but whether they will is an open question. The first thing to do is acknowledge that American memories go a lot further back than one generation. We’ve already seen within that time everything the political left can offer. We’ve also seen the consequences, in other places, of accepting what they offer.