Most economists now seem to agree that socialism as an economic theory is seriously flawed. So how do you explain the continuing embrace, by both major American political parties, of some form of socialism?
The verdict is clearly in from experience and economics: Socialism has failed everywhere, no exemptions, not even one. And yet, time after time, American politicians, legislators, and public officials embrace ideas and "solutions" to particular problems that clearly betray a sympathy, if not a downright espousal, of socialist principles.
Why? Because socialism offers people what appears to be immediate gratification--the promise of free this or free that, or of security from some perceived risk or harm or deprivation. Those who make these enticing offers rarely label themselves "socialist" and, of course, never talk about the iron fist that is inevitably buried within the velvet glove. Instead, they often come across as sincere, well-meaning people (as many of them indeed are, however misguided).
That means that people who listen to these siren songs for socialism must be smart enough to see through the rhetoric; they must have enough knowledge of economics and political science to know what's wrong with it all. And that strongly suggests that the antidote to the socialist appeal is education--the right kind of education: namely, sound economics and moral philosophy, which instills respect for political freedom, limited government, and private property. These, unfortunately, are not routinely taught in the government school system attended by 88 percent of Americans. Many times these ideas are not taught in private schools, either.
It takes a thinking, rational person to understand and practice the principles and virtues of a free society. It takes a person who has respect for the lives and property of others, who has the self-discipline to gather wealth the hard but honest way--working for it, trading for it, or otherwise attracting voluntary support and cooperation.
The more we understand and appreciate the rules of logic, the evidence of history, the morality of self-restraint, the more we respect others and understand the economics of daily life, the less likely we are to be socialists. The more we grow up and realize that wealth creation doesn't "just happen" but rather, must be nurtured and protected, the less likely we are to be socialists.
But all these things must be learned. The government schools don't teach them (we shouldn't expect them to; they're run by government, after all, which is more interested in self-perpetuation); they aren't taught by the major media, which largely reflect what they learned (and didn't learn) in government schools. And on top of it all, as a culture we are losing our sense of basic right and wrong--replacing it with an attitude of "somebody else owes me a living and I want it now."
We cannot push a button or wave a magic wand to turn this distressing trend around. We can only do it through the hard work of educating people, one person at a time, starting with our own families, friends, and local communities. If you do not have much time yourself to devote to this, that's understandable, but you certainly have myriad options out there to support others who are doing it.
This is essentially the case we make at the Mackinac Center all the time: appealing to people to do what they can themselves to spread the good word about freedom, free enterprise, and personal responsibility. But it also is important to support groups like ours that are working creatively and effectively toward that end.