Is Socialism a Good Idea?

My bed while visiting a Socialist land.

My bed while visiting a Socialist land.

I don’t care for politics. I don’t define myself as Democrat or Republican.

The pettiness of Washington, DC irritates me and the ineffectiveness of Congress to do their jobs bores me no end. The attribution to those in DC as our leaders mystifies me. They—every last one of them—work for us. We are the leaders, they are the followers and employees.

What I do care about—deeply care about—is people. My profession and my heart are devoted to what will help us as human beings live our best lives on this orb. Most of what I write is devoted to this passionate pursuit. Well, 99% of what I write and speak about is devoted to this.

The lines that follow are outside the norm for me, but only because of the subject, not the rationale. If you read quickly, you will take them as a political statement. If you do this, you will misunderstand my motivation for penning these words.

I’m writing for two reasons: First, I care about how we live. While this is a fallen kingdom compared to what God intended, it is the place of our residence for however long we have breath. As long as we are here, there are things that work in life and things that don’t. Second, among other things, I’m an historian. I’m not the best historian on the planet, but I don’t need to be to point out that we only need a rudimentary reflection into our history to realize we must think differently than some of our folks in DC are thinking. If we do so, then we will be better off and that is desirable. If we fail to review our history, our lives will get harder. Without good cause.

What follows is not Christian thinking. Neither is it un-Christian. But it is moral and it is important to our well being.

Let me over-simplify in an effort to jump start our thinking. Otherwise, I’m afraid we will remain where we are: Inert.  

Thought runs along a spectrum between ideas and systems. Ideas are compelling and big, systems are practical and linear. Ideas are fun because they are inspirational. Systems can be fun, but mostly they are hard work. While you can float an idea, a system must be assembled and tied together or it won’t hold water.  

Which is right? An idea or a system?  

The correct answer is, both. But even though that’s the correct answer, it isn’t the entire answer. The fact of the matter is that you have to have both in order to have anything of substance.  

A dream without a system is like a boat without a rudder. A system without a dream is like a boat with no propulsion.  

It would not be accurate to say that liberals are dreamers and conservatives are systems people. But, there is some truth in that generalization, especially right now. This is one reason why we as a country are not, a) getting much done, and b) what we are accomplishing is not all that noteworthy or resilient. Said another way, we need each other in order to do our best thinking.  

Many moons ago I served on the Finance Committee of a church. The budget was several million dollars and the church was vibrant and productive in its ministries. There came a committee meeting where the Pastor showed up to lobby for money to construct an additional building. It was a great idea. Compelling. Big. Inspirational. It was needed, truth be told, but the Pastor had no plan for how to fund the project.  

Over the next months, the atmosphere inside our committee ebbed and flowed as the dream was tempered to the budget and the budget inspired to meet the dream. In the end, a lovely building resulted that ALL celebrated. Had either the dream or the budget prevailed, ALL would have been unhappy. Who wants to live with crushing debt? Who wants to live inside a decimal point?  

Now, let’s think at a high level about the growing popularity of Socialism. The newly minted Representative from New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez identifies as a Socialist. Representative Ocasio-Cortez is young, pretty, enthusiastic, and spunky. What’s not to love about those qualities? Consequently, she and her ideas are in the news headlines almost every day. CNN loves her, Fox reviles her.  

Socialism: It’s a number of things, but at its heart, Socialism puts forward the idea that we will all be better off if we are equal. It sounds like a good plan, ideal, even Christian. Check this out from Acts 4:32-35:  

“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” 

As I’ve written before, Marx taught that Socialism was Communism not yet perfected. Plus or minus a few years, Socialism came to popular consideration in Europe around 1870. It was a tumultuous time and various efforts ranging from assassinations of heads of state to the Bolshevik Revolution transpired in an effort to establish Socialism as the ideal form of government.  

While the West was embracing Capitalism, much of Europe (and others) hitched their economic wagon to the star of Socialism. However, after a few decades of effort, the system of Socialism demonstrated that the idea of Socialism didn’t work as dreamed. Michael Knowles writes, “As early as the 1950s, Britain began to privatize its social security and pension programs. By the 1990s, as decades of socialism caused economic growth to stagnate, Sweden followed suit.” 

In a previous post, I linked to Chad Prather. He calls himself the Political Cowboy. He offered commentary—in his unique brogue—on the perils of Socialism and why it doesn’t work. It’s tempting to take Chad with a grain of salt, but that would not be wise.  

Now let me bring in a second thought that is complicating our ability to think about the first thought—the thought regarding the viability of Socialism. Not too long ago, we began prioritizing an education of our children that taught ideology more and scholarship less. As long as ideas and facts complimented each other, we were fine, and our kids were fine. But when the ideology and the scholarship parted, it was en vogue to capture the idea. Sometimes, this was at the expense of the supporting scholarship. No where was this more prevalent than in the teaching of history.  

What does this have to do with Socialism?  

Socialism is an idea. It’s also a fact of history. That means we can evaluate the idea of Socialism against history and evaluate if the idea worked. The trouble is, history is one of those areas where scholarship has taken a beating and ideology has run rampant.  

Are you ready for my point? If we misunderstand our world history, we will embrace Socialism and it will run us amok. Think backwards for a moment: If your country was thinking of becoming Capitalistic, what would you do? You’d study America, obviously. If you were thinking Socialism would be a good idea, what should you do? History is not quiet about this.  

I’m sure folks like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are interesting and delightful people. What deluded Bernie to think Socialism is a good idea, I don’t know. He’s old enough to know better. Maybe he slept through history class. Alexandria, on the other hand? I’m not sure she was ever taught history.  

Take the Millennial Generation as an example. These are people born between 1978 and 1998 approximately. By the way, Representative Ocasio-Cortez was born in 1989, solidly in the middle of the Millennial Generation. Quoting Knowles again, “One third of Millennials believe President George W. Bush killed more people than Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Over 40 percent of Millennials have never heard of Mao Zedong; another 40 percent and 30 percent, respectively, are unfamiliar with Vladimir Lenin and Che Guevara. Two-thirds of Millennials cannot identify Auschwitz, and 22 percent have never heard of the Holocaust, twice the percentage of American adults on average.” 

Failing a survey at this level is FAR different than not being able to identify Clara Barton. If you don’t know who Ms. Barton is, they might not hire you if you apply to work at the Red Cross. But not knowing who Lenin is? That means you have no idea if Communism worked or not.  

Historical failure at this level indicates a fundamental, egregious failure by whoever taught these people history. It also means these people will be highly prone to fail at learning from others’ mistakes.  

Dear Millennial citizens: I grasp that you don’t know what you don’t know, but with all due respect, if you don’t know enough about Stalin to distinguish his leadership from Bush’s, no matter how much you may dislike President Bush, and you don’t even know what Auschwitz is, let alone what transpired there, you are in grave danger of repeating a history that is awful in its consequences.  

To my friends who showed up prior to 1978: Failing to pay attention to what the world teaches us about Socialism, while tolerating naïve ideas about it from those uninformed of its historical failure, is flirting with a travesty that can be avoided.  

“According to a 2016 Harvard survey, they [Millennials] know they don’t support capitalism, with 51 percent of young adults rejecting economic freedom.” Further, “During the 2018 midterm elections, the Democratic Socialists of America endorsed 42 candidates for local, state, and federal office across 20 states. Of those candidates, 24 won their primary campaigns, and 18 won in general elections” (Knowles).  

Socialism, is an economic notion born of envy. It has been tried and it has failed, not utterly, but sufficiently to conclude it does not work. Now, it is being put forward in ignorance. If I suggested we all regress by 150 years, what would you say? No car. No electricity. You would call me a fool, wouldn’t you? When people advance the ideology of Socialism, they are advocating that we go backward 150 years in our economic and social thinking.  

The Twentieth Century was the bloodiest, most brutal century in the history of mankind. While Socialism was not solely to blame, it played a significant part. As those who bought into its ideology are making their way out of it and toward privatization, what sense does it make for us in the United States to embrace Socialism? The only explanation is historical ignorance—by those putting it forward and by those toying with it as a good idea.  

Socialism is an idea that sounds good on paper, but when subjected to the rigors of systematic application, it is shown to be deeply flawed. This isn’t a liberal or conservative point of view, by the way. This is the testimony of history.