August 1, 2010
Our Patrick Henry Moment Is HereBy Monty Pelerin
Obama's election was supposed to transform America, at least in his mind.
This country's first socialist president strode into office confident that he would remake this country. Fortunately for the country, the timing of his election was twenty, if not fifty, years too late. Socialism has failed in its pure form wherever it has been tried. Now it has failed in its modified form. While much of the world realizes this, President Obama is either ignorant or has more sinister plans for the country.
In the 1920s, Ludwig von Mises demonstrated via economic reasoning why socialism could not work. His argument was that without market prices, there was no way to properly allocate resources. About ten years later, Friedrich Hayek supported Mises' conclusion from a different angle. He approached it as a "knowledge problem" and argued that no central authority, regardless of how intelligent, could possess enough information to make proper and efficient decisions for tens of millions of people and businesses.
History validated the theory of the two Austrian economists. Russia, China, Eastern Europe, Cuba, and North Korea produced inevitable the misery, poverty, and brutality. The two countries that continue the system are amongst the poorest countries in the world, held together only by totalitarian rule and outside economic support.
With the recognition that socialism did not work, "do-gooders" changed their efforts to a system that would be part capitalism and part socialism. They believed that capitalism could be used for resource allocation while the "caring nature" of socialism could ensure equitable distribution of wealth. President Clinton expressed interest in what was then referred to as a "third-way." Western Europe had adopted this approach decades earlier.
Interestingly, Mises argued that a "third way" could not work, either. In the 1940s, Mises demonstrated that one intervention begets additional interventions. A so-called mixed system is nothing more than capitalism with interventionism imposed. Mises showed that any such system eventually degenerates into full-fledged socialism. In a collection of essays entitled "Planning for Freedom," Mises concluded:
The countries of Western Europe have, as Mises predicted, deteriorated into social welfare states likely never imagined or intended at their inceptions. As full-blown socialism approached, these countries became insolvent. Soon all will be forced to either dismantle their welfare states or incur sovereign defaults. The U.S., while never formally adopting either socialism or the mixed system, drifted into the mixed system by gradually adopting many socialist programs. As a result, the U.S. faces the same future of insolvency as its European counterparts.
In terms of history, the mixed system dates back only to Bismarck in the 1880s. It was initiated in a few countries in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Its widespread acceptance occurred after World War II, when several countries chose not to return to the decentralized economies that existed prior to the war. England was the prime example. Industries nationalized for the war effort remained nationalized after the war. England rapidly devolved into a third-rate economy as a result. Prime Minister Thatcher reversed the decline by re-privatizing most of these industries.
It took only about fifty to seventy years for the mixed systems to fail. That is literally a moment in terms of history. Many people are still reluctant to admit that socialism is a failure despite the theoretical warnings and the actual failures themselves. With socialists, it is never the system and always the people that are the cause of failure. "If only we had better leaders." As Hayek and Mises pointed out, it has nothing to do with leadership. There is a fatal flaw in the concept.
As a result of attempting to extend the socialist myth, governments and their populations are now burdened with debt, much of which will never be paid. We are on the verge of a worldwide depression that will hit as governments run out of resources. It is likely that politicians will continue to play the game of "extend and pretend." But we have reached Ms. Thatcher's end-point: "The problem with socialism is that you run out of other people's money."
How ironic that President Obama's first major achievement was ObamaCare. In May, Greece was ordered to privatize its health care system. This month, it was reported that England was going to overhaul their health care system. England was frequently referenced as a model of affordable, efficient health care by ObamaCare advocates. Apparently, the English government and its people view it differently.
These instances are not one-time events. Nor will they be limited to health care. The welfare states of Europe will soon be dismantled in part or whole. So too will the entitlement programs in the U.S. The laws of economics and physics are immutable. They are above legislation. Countries do not have the resources necessary to honor their commitments, period!
Our Founding Fathers, without using the term socialism, designed a Constitution to protect against such incoherent schemes. Over time, the Constitution was vitiated by "living document" interpretations, penumbras, and other nonsense. Now, the U.S. stands on the precipice of failure just as Western Europe. It is insolvent, and there are no other alternatives than to default or dismantle.
The world is at a very dangerous inflection point. We are about to enter a depression. Politicians are not going to back away from socialism willingly. They and large numbers of other beneficiaries will do whatever they can to retain the status quo. Despite the unequivocal failure of the modern welfare state, it is unlikely to disappear quietly. The status quo is always difficult to change. It becomes especially so in desperate economic times and for people who believe they are entitled to be taken care of by others.
The welfare state is headed for the dustbin of history. That is certain because it is no longer sustainable. The critical question is what will replace it. As Mises pointed out, there are only two alternatives: freedom or totalitarianism. There is no middle ground. There is no political compromise that can bridge this gap.
Regardless of which side of the issue you are on, the battle will be bitter and likely last a decade or more. Economically, everyone will be hurt, including many of the "well-off." Whether our moral and ethical code is strong enough to get through this together is moot. We are not like our ancestors in the sense of their strong commitment to community, responsibility, forbearance, and integrity. We are the pampered generation, entitled to gratification now and willing to cut corners to get it.
In many ways, this problem is more serious than that faced by our Founding Fathers. After all, King George had little control over their lives or fortunes. Yet these principled men risked both rather than accept even a little bit of tyranny. Theirs was a fight of principle; ours is one of survival. The fight is made more important when it is coupled with a depression. We know what monsters rose to power during the last depression and their effect on the world.
We will either get liberty or totalitarianism. There is no middle ground. For me, the choice is clear and was stated by Patrick Henry more than two centuries ago: "Give me liberty or give me death."
I am willing to sacrifice just as much as our Founding Fathers did so that my grandchildren and their grandchildren can live in the same country I grew up in. I hope enough others feel the same.
Monty Pelerin blogs at www.economicnoise.com.