Test-driving coronavirus socialism
COVID-19 has given us many opportunities — the opportunity to catch up on television reruns, the chance not to wear pants all day, and the joy of finding peanut butter in stock on our weekly masked grocery trips. More importantly, it has given us the opportunity to test-drive democratic socialism — a chance to take a spin around the economic block without signing on the dotted line.
Let's be clear: democratic socialism doesn't really exist as a democracy. Let's call it what it is: a planned economy purportedly managed by a few popularly elected folks, but in reality executed by armies of career bureaucrats. Without too much of a deep dive, we all know that "career bureaucrat" typically means an unelected individual lacking economic motivation who doesn't answer to market forces and is virtually impossible to remove from his job. Not all, but most.
While we're kicking the tires of the socialism model, let's ask about that upgrade to government-provided health care. Bernie says we need to eliminate private insurance and regulate prescription drug prices. Essentially, "trust me, we'll put the government in charge of your health care. It'll be much better!" Hmmmm — one of the tires seems to leaking.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is one of many government-owned and operated health duchies here in the U.S. It's been around for a while, about 75 years, so it should have its act together — after all, it is a finely tuned governmental machine, right? It's so well tuned, in fact, that in spite of its nearly seven-billion-dollar annual budget, its incompetence delayed the rollout of COVID-19 tests by weeks, if not months, costing countless lives.
That's right: like in all good socialist systems, a government agency initially claimed the sole right to manufacture something — in this case, the kits screening for the virus. While wielding this monopoly power, its bureaucrats ignored their own policies while its workers contaminated thousands of tests. It stumbled through a manufacturing meltdown and failed to deliver anything remotely usable. The result? Weeks after letting the government be exclusively in charge of messing up our health testing, private industry was allowed to compete and responded instantly by delivering hundreds of thousands of working COVID-19 tests. Still want the government to be the only provider of our health care?
So much for the tires — let's go for a drive. It's fitting that the democratic socialists — actually, even just regular old Democrats — howled to nationalize General Motors. We were told they shouldn't be making trucks and cars and such. Instead, we were told they should be building the all-important ventilators needed for coronavirus victims. Responding to the outcry, President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act on March 27 and ordered GM to start making them — fast!
Here's where the failed Soviet planned economy model showed up, and the reason we walked right past this red beauty on the lot is because it doesn't run well. While GM was manufacturing thousands of ventilators because of government decree, the states (known as the market) were piling up with them stacked unused in warehouses. New York governor Andrew Cuomo demanded 30,000 of them, but he has so many that he's shipping them to other states that don't need them, either. Ever wonder why it was easy in the '70s and '80s to find decent shoes in the Soviet Union but not bread?
Speaking of Andrew Cuomo, here's another upgrade available on the socialism model: asset seizure. If the folks in charge want something that you have, they just take it. That's right: the state of New York planned to seize ventilators from hospitals outside NYC, leaving those locations to fend for themselves. Remember the stockpile? So what? "We want what you have!" It's sorta like when Lenin used his army to seize land in Russia, only in New York, Cuomo planned to use the National Guard to seize ventilators. In all fairness, Cuomo later pointed out that it wasn't "seizure"; it was "sharing." That word apparently plays better with the Bolshevik crowd!
So now that you've been around the block, how'd that test drive work out? Aren't we fortunate to have this opportunity to shop for an economic system? You know, rev the engine and see how it performs. Well, it's pretty obvious that it never made it out of first gear, but just sign right here, and it can be in your driveway tonight — if it isn't seized...
Kevin Cochrane teaches business and economics at Colorado Mesa University and is a visiting professor of economics at The University of International Relations in Beijing.