Friday, 1 June 2007

A challenge for socialists under thirty

What do you do when reality confronts your most cherished beliefs with unwelcome facts? "When the facts change," said economist John Maynard Keynes, "I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

I ask because any socialist under thirty who is reading this will, if they're honest, be looking at the collapse of petro-socialist Venezuela and asking themselves some serious questions about socialism in practice. Venezuela's agony is not unique -- anyone over forty who's ever seen a news broadcast has seen it all before. Her fate was shared by every single country anywhere that ever adopted the destructive principles of More Socialism, More Government and the demonisation of capitalism and wealth production.

Both the collapse and the spiral into totalitarianism are the inevitable results of those ideals.

Peter Schwartz suggested back in 1995 that anyone over forty who had watched the collapse of the Berlin Wall and didn't draw the necessary conclusions about the abject failure of socialism as an ideology was either deluded, dishonest or braindead. Those too young then but who share those same ideals now should have been watching current events in Venezuela with the same interest, and hopefully with your brains switched on. Those of us old enough to have watched the crumbling, the penury, the totalitarianism, and the eventual collapse of every socialist regime known to man know what socialism looks like when implemented. This is your generation's opportunity to watch and to learn.

The process is the same everywhere: First they nationalise industry, then they censor all opposition, and then slowly the people starve -- and by that stage there's no one left to speak out. For those with eyes to see, Venezuela is just the latest tragic lesson.

Chavez's nationalisation of Venezuela's energy and telecommunications industries, of oil fields, banks and steel producers, these were just his first steps. His recent ham-fisted closure of the only remaining opposition TV station is the next. In the socialist gulag, free speech is not to be trusted:

President Hugo Chavez's clampdown on opposition television stations widened Monday as police used rubber bullets and tear gas on demonstrators protesting what they called an attack on free speech. [The protests followed the] shutting-down of the country's oldest television station, the openly anti-government Radio Caracas Television network (RTC).

On Monday several people were injured as police in Caracas fired rubber bullets and tear gas to put down a demonstration against the RCTV shutdown, following the fifth straight day of protests... RCTV was replaced by TVes, a state-backed "socialist" station...

These events make the news. The slow, stale stagnation of life (and death) under Chavez doesn't. Jeff Perren describes life under Chavez:

Increasingly frequent reports reveal that — in true 1960s Soviet style — grocery stores in Venezuela are no longer stocking items we would take for granted, such as sugar or black beans. These items, it happens, are staples of the traditional Venezuelan diet. However, because Chavez is so determined to “help the poor,” the socialist way, soon neither rich nor poor will be able to find such items in Venezuelan grocery stores.

Chavez’s price controls are having the same effects in Venezuela they’ve had everywhere else they’ve been tried... True to form, Chavez has threatened to jail price control violators.

In addition to their gradual takeover of the media, Venezuela’s socialists, led by Chavez and his Vice President Jorge Rodriguez, are nationalizing everything in sight as rapidly as possible.

The economic effects of these socialist programs speak for themselves. Per-capita GDP in Chile is $12,600 per year. In Argentina, it’s $15,000. In Mexico — not exactly a rich country, by any standard — it is $10,600. In Venezuela, the figure is $6,900, behind even the Dominican Republic at $8,000.

Remember, this is a country that supplies 11% of U.S. oil imports, and who received over $46 billion last year in oil receipts (assuming 2.55 mb/d at $50 per barrel). Of course, as oil production continues to decline, those numbers will worsen. Revenues for Venezuela will decrease, and exports will decrease, as Chavez continues to forego infrastructure investment in favor of social welfare spending.

Like I say, to those of who saw the heyday of socialism, we look at all this with the benefit of hindsight. If we're honest about what we've seen, none of this is either unfamiliar or unpredictable. Those productive Venezuelans, for example, who went on nationwide strike four years ago to protest the imminent liquidation of their property rights and themselves under Chavez's communist revolution knew what they were about, and knew exactly what was afoot. Jonathan Hoenig makes their point:

As Ayn Rand wrote, "without property rights, no other rights are possible." Chavez’s socialism, under which private property does not exist, is bringing this once-promising country back to the third world. He might have called Bush “El Diablo”, but it doesn’t take much to see the effect of Chavez’s benevolent populism.

Simply put, he is leading his people down a pathway to hell.

And note well: It's the same pathway down which every single socialist country before them has gone. Make no mistake: this is socialism's inevitable result. As Jeff Perren sadly concludes:
Given the country’s current trajectory, it’s almost inevitable that many people will have to suffer and die, needlessly, before Chavez’s increasingly harsh and unworkable socialist policies are discarded.
I urge you not to let this suffering and despotism happen with your sanction. Socialism is a bacillus as destructive as smallpox. I implore you to learn from the suffering and dying in Venezuela; to refuse to sanction it; to help wipe the socialism that caused it from the face of the earth, just as smallpox itself was once eradicated.

Leo Tolstoy said once that everyone thinks about changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. I'd like to turn that around. Changing yourself and your own ideals for the better is precisely where changing the world actually begins. That's where positive change begins. The battle against the destruction and human misery brought about by the ideals of socialism begins by rejecting those same ideals in yourself, and then by ensuring that what's being done to Venezuelans in the name of "people power" isn't done to you, or done in your name.

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?"


  1. Excellent Peter, excellent. However the Cuban experiment shows that most continue in their refusal to open their eyes. Terribly sad.

    Julian D

  2. I quite like having the state make payments to charities and foreign aid. I personally don't feel competent or generous enough to handle this sort of thing. When I walk past less fortunate people I am comforted by the thought that the state provides benefits and assistance even though they grabbed it from my pocket. This frees my mind to think about other things. I also couldn't possibly trust myself to decide which foreign country was less or more deserving of aid or even if it was ethical to try and decide. I voted in people to make these decisions for me so that I can sleep well at night.

    I know it's not very admirable but I'd have to have a lot more money than I have now to freely give it away to unfortunates - my own family would always come first.

    Maybe I'm a socialist. Is it ok to be just a little bit socialist?

  3. No. It is never OK to be a socialist. Being a socialist means being a thief and a liar.

    It is OK for you to hand your own money over to an agency voluntarily. You can then leave them to distribute it as they see fit. If that makes you feel better go ahead and do it. You could say you are being benevolent. That's fair enough. your free choice to so do.

    You do not have the right to force other people to do as you do. They can and should spend their own money as they see fit. What can never be justified is forcing people to hand over their money or property. That is theft and how you end up spending the money does nothing to validate the morality of thievery.

    Moving on. Chavez will destroy his country. Likely there will be many deaths. He will end up surrounded by a pile of bodies. Hopefully he'll end up hanging from a rafter with a good piece of piano wire around his throat or a meat-hook in his back. That'd be good.


  4. We choose the government we have and that government chooses to take some of our money and give it to less fortunate people. And we choose to have that government or a very similar one again next election time.

    I get the feeling that I am not the only one who is comfortable with this arrangement.

    I am also comfortable with the situation where if I lose my high paying job and have to do something less well paid I will get some tax relief to release more of my money to provide for my family. Is that being a socialist I wonder? Is it ok to apply to the government to pay less tax if it is being offered?

    I just think it is not as simple as socialist/capitalist whatever. There's more to it than that.

  5. Angloamerican said...

    "We choose the government we have and that government chooses to take some of our money and give it to less fortunate people. And we choose to have that government or a very similar one again next election time."

    No....some of us choose the Government we have and somehow this supposed to give it the right to steal from the rest of us.Is wrong no matter who or how many vote for it.....Democracy is oppression.

    "I get the feeling that I am not the only one who is comfortable with this arrangement."

    Unfortunately there are many like you....unthinking and apathetic.Its what allows tyranny and Socialism to grow...because the socialists are neither unthinking nor apathetic.All that's required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing....thats what's happening...

    I am also comfortable with the situation where if I lose my high paying job and have to do something less well paid I will get some tax relief to release more of my money to provide for my family. Is that being a socialist I wonder? Is it ok to apply to the government to pay less tax if it is being offered?"

    You are just asking for something back that was taken from you in the first place.Why not take out income protection insurance with a private company..?Oh that's right ...the states already taken the money you could have used to do that.

    "I just think it is not as simple as socialist/capitalist whatever. There's more to it than that."

    Its about basic right and wrong and human rights and life...its t6ahjt important.

  6. angloamerican

    It is really as simple as being a socialist/collectivist thief and liar versus being a productive Capitalist.

    If you quite like the state making payments to charities go ahead and give YOUR money to the state. That is your right to so do. Nothing wrong with doing that with YOUR stuff. What you do not have the right to do is force other people to deploy their money in a particular way. Nor can such an approach ever be justified.

    It is surprising that you don't consider the advantages in giving your money to a charity directly. This approach avoids the costs of double handling the money and the overheads of govt "processing", churn, make-work and bureacracy. The trouble with giving money to a govt is that much of it is wasted internaly and much is spent on stuff you'd rather it wasn't spent on. How do you know it isn't your money being spent on sending well connected bureaucrats on luxary holidays, departmental booze-ups and intimate escort dalliances...? You don't. How do you know it wasn't completely wasted? You don't.

    If alleviating the suffering of the poor is what your objective really is, then you should research which charities do the best job of helping people the best and support those ones. Let them make all the difficult decisions. Or is it you just don't really care about where your money goes, just so long as the propaganda makes you feel better? Of course govt is very good at propaganga creation and distribution.

    As stated previously you do not have the right to force OTHER people to direct THEIR money to a project or institution or preferred activity. Other people's money belongs to them and it is not proper for you or a govt to force them to deploy it in a particular way. The ends do not justify the means.

    BTW you say, "We choose the govt." Who is "we" precisely? Is "we" indeed a synonym for "I"?

    Had you considered those who did not choose the govt? How does your choice bind them?

    Cheers & Good Regards


  7. All good points but I remain unconvinced. I'm generally a status quo sort of person - worked for the same company for 27 years! I tend toward evolution rather than revolution so am interested in improving our lot hence I read this blog.

    BTW you say, "We choose the govt." Who is "we" precisely? Is "we" indeed a synonym for "I"? - Sione

    Well, in this country the vast majority vote either National or Labour. As these two parties are not much different and neither will radically change the structure of the welfare system etc I consider the "we" to be people who vote for either of these parties.

    Had you considered those who did not choose the govt? How does your choice bind them? - Sione

    Democracy is oppression. - James

    The majority rules and yes it is a tad oppressive but it's generally regarded as the best way to choose a government. Surely it's not as bad as all that? Maybe it's my apathy and lack of vision affecting me but I find it odd that people sit around all day grumbling about the govt stealing their money when they are really quite well off. Human societies can not escape some sort of collective system - you will be imprisoned if you don't pay your taxes . I find our present system to be very comfortable and admirable and it also caters for minority opinion and needs. I believe its success is more a consequence of British heritage than anything else.

    If alleviating the suffering of the poor is what your objective really is, then you should research which charities do the best job of helping people the best and support those ones. - Sione

    The thing is alleviating the suffering of the poor is something I try not to think about. I want to enrich my own family and ensure their security. I suspect I would let others starve to death rather than endanger my family. I would probably drop bombs on them and sink their boats and poison their water if they endangered my family. Most humans think like this deep down. That's why we need some sort of system to protect the poor and alleviate sufferring that does not rely on the few generous and many selfish individuals but rather relies on forcing people to make contributions. I guess it is also a form of protection money. There is always the problem of corrupt people missusing the contributions however we are lucky that we have inherited a fairly strong bias against corrupt practices.

    Ultimately my argument is that modern systems of government are designed to override human nature and that this is sometimes a good thing because we cannot rely on everyone thinking the same way. To ensure that most people are happy and secure force will be required when persuasion fails. An extreme example is in time of war when people are forced to accept what is really fascism, yet even in times of peace, well there never truly is a time of peace. In this country the majority of people intuitively support this system. That's why they keep voting the same

  8. You just wonder why and how all these idiots could vote for this man. Although I agree with you pc, Venezuela got what it voted for.

    But it's a good observation: Venezuela is a good example. So keep up the Chavez posts. Should drive the commies here nuts.

  9. angloamerican

    Consider: When you wrote "we" you really meant "I". You speak ONLY for yourself; nobody else.

    What you are indeed doing is trying to assuage your uneasy conscience by stealing (or attempting to justify stealing) that which belongs to other people and having those resources directed into projects that make you feel better about YOUR nature (or at least what you think your nature may be). It doesn't work. Never has, never will.

    What this sort of behaviour amounts to is the promotion of crime in order to feel better. Plenty of people have tried that approach for all sorts of naughtiness (from common petty crimes right through to genocide) but it remains unjustifiable in thoery and in practice. It just never works out well.

    A political system based on theft at its core is corrupt and results in great evils being committed. Such systems eventually corrupt all those who partake, for at its core lies crime, violence and the application of force against innocent men. It's doomed to yield impoverishment and violence. What kind of morality relies on theft?

    Think on this: A system that operates to oppose human nature is inhuman.

    Recommended reading: "Democracy- the god that failed" by Hans Herman Hoppe.



  10. You speak ONLY for yourself; nobody else - Sione

    I have considered this although I find I have to reject it for the reasons stated above. In essence that the majority of voters vote governments back in that have generous welfare policies. Any political party that said it was going to rid the country of the dole, sickness benefit and DPB at the same time as eliminating most tax would be wiped out at the polls. I'd wager that a suprising number of highly paid professionals and business people would not vote for this party.

    I understand the principle of the taxation is theft theory and certainly have some sympathy for it when I recieve a bonus and see how much has been shorn off it. I have income protection insurance and surgery insurance and would hold out for a very long time before going cap in hand down to the welfare office for financial relief. I'd probably sell everything up and live on interest in Bluff or buy a dairy before going on the dole.

    Yet some disaster might strike and I'd be penniless and if that happened I would quite like the option to sign on to the dole and get a state house in order to feed and house the kids. Somehow this seems more palatable than going to the Salvation army for food scraps and peoples hand me downs. It's just not right that citizens should have to rely on private charities in times of personal financial disaster.

    Some people will consider this to be stealing however the majority of voters consistently vote for this system and so it is a sort of contract between government and the majority of citizens and the majority rules.

    Don't you think this system would work well if everyone had the Victorian work ethic that I have?

    The problem is that the system is being abused not that the system is one of theft. After all even in a Libertarian utopia there would still be pacifists that considered taxation to fund defence to be theft. The reality is most voters do not consider taxation for welfare to be theft. They consider it a sort of insurance contract to cover for that financial disaster, ne'er do well relatives or wayward daughter.

  11. angloamerican

    Thanks for your coments but I don't think this is progressing very far really.

    The argument you are relying on is an example of an appeal to social metaphysics- that is, the notion that if many people agree with an idea or contention, then it must be correct and moral. It is an invalid approach that does not hold correct in theory or in practice. Some examples in recent European history prove the point quite clearly. That a majority believes in something does not make it correct or right. Never has, never will.

    In the end you speak only for yourself on matters of what YOUR nature is and how YOU would behave in particular circumstances (like what you would do if you were not being forced to pay tax). Other people are different from you. Others have different ideas and values than yours. Others behave differently. For example, in my circle of friends, colleagues and family it is usual to support certain charitable organisations and certain individuals who suffer particular disadvantages. It would be far easier to be more generous if a major portion of wealth, disposable income, time and resources were not stolen and wasted on state projects of dubious objective.

    The problem remains that the system you are attempting to justify on the basis of your feelings is one that is based on theft at its very core. It relies on a crime to operate. Hence it is an immoral system. A telling point is one you raised yourself- it is a system intended to oppose human nature. Such a system is inhuman and, of course, the results bear that out.

    Finally, you were asked "Had you considered those who did not choose the govt? How does your choice bind them?"

    The answer is that your choice does not bind them- not unless you are prepared to consider others to be slaves...


  12. It does seem we are unlikely to progress far. Being compelled to pay tax does not make one a slave. Governments that have the mandate of the people are not criminals. It’s absurd to expect that a government can please all of the people all of the time.

    This is not to say that things cannot be improved and government reduced but the only effective way to do this is through the ballot box and such an extreme position is unlikely to win many converts.

  13. "Being compelled to pay tax does not make one a slave."

    How so? Roughly two days out of five, I work for the state. It's certainly not my choice; I am forced to do so. And should I disagree with the actions of the govt, I do not have the right to withhold my own money, earned from my own labour during my own time, for any reason.

    Before you start defending odious concepts like 'compulsion', it's wise to reflect that the only way totalitarian govts can or could ever retain control, was via compulsion. Nice system, eh.

    "Governments that have the mandate of the people are not criminals."

    Within an MMP system, no coalition govt can claim to have a mandate, because of the various party manifestos prior to election day. This motley govt of wet and wetter socialists, racists and Christians is just that. Motley. That you believe it has a 'mandate' is a joke.

    "It’s absurd to expect that a government can please all of the people all of the time."

    Precisely. The govt's not there to "please me". (Aaaghh! I just had a terrible vision of Cullen!!) It's there to protect my rights. Problems occur when the state involves itself in other activities. The bigger the state; the more the problems.

    Don't know where you live AA, but I highly recommend the German film, "The Lives of Others". It's just opened in NZ. Won 'Best Foreign Oscar' earlier this year. Set in East Germany, 1986. Go see the culmination of socialist philosophy - and then try to defend it.

  14. "Being compelled to pay tax does not make one a slave."

    Correct. Taxes pay for services which compensate producers (wage earners, capital owners) for what is taken. Whether that compensation is sufficient is another matter...

    But the basic idea that higher taxes buy more services is the counter to an argument that says low tax countries will out-compete high tax ones in attracting labour and investment. That isn't generally true because low tax countries offer a narrower or shallower set of public services.

  15. matt b

    Well that's just not right. What you are attempting to justify is the notion that one can steal property from another with the excuse- "you are going to be compensated so it's OK for me to steal from you". That makes it all fine and dandy? False.

    Theft is theft no matter how you attempt to pretend otherwise. It is not possible to rationalise your way out of it. It's a crime. Interesting that the system you promote and support relies crime to exist. Inhuman indeed.

    If a service is in the "public interest" let an individual (or group thereof) set up a business and provide it. If the public value the service and want it they'll buy it without coercion.


  16. Slavery would be working seven days a week for the government with the very minimum of services provided such as food and shelter. A slave would also be a prisoner of his master and able to be sold.

    I think the services we get for our tax dollars are pretty good. I don't want people to rely on private charities when the need arises. Thousands of years of history have shown that people will quite happily let children starve outside while they feast inside.

    I also have no problem with punishing those who refuse to pay tax. These people are endangering our society and are, quite frankly, a perverse minority.

    There is a middle ground. Tax can be too high and be spent on unwothwhile things. Governments need to be watched closely and brought to account. However those who would overthrow our system to replace democracy with something else and force the poor to rely on private charity would face overwhelming armed resistance.

  17. Hi AA & MB .. thanks for having no compunction in imposing your views upon everybody else. That's big of you.

    MB: "Taxes pay for services which compensate producers for what is taken".

    Just listen to yourself. "Taken"! You're allowing the govt to do what individuals (rightly) can't, ie take someone's money by force. How about I come into your house and 'take' something of yours? Because that's what you're advocating.

    And as for receiving 'services', how about asking some poor soul wasting away on the interminable public hospital waiting lists, with no operation in sight, just how lucky they feel.

    The reality is that we're *forced* to pay for services we (may) neither want, nor receive.

    AA: "I also have no problem with punishing those who refuse to pay tax."

    Spoken like a totalitarian in the making! I repeat: see the German film - and then see how good you feel about imposing your will upon others.

    It's ironic that Communism's best friends are, and always were, the affluent soft lefties in the west.

  18. Sione said...
    Inhuman indeed.

    But humans had always been inhumans since the beginning of civilization. There is always been war, deaths, famines, etc, and it will go on like that till Tim Whiriwhiriki announced the second coming of Jesus Christ.

    PC used a phrase in the past as I recalled it was stated as since we came down from the trees , meaning since we humans developed to use our brains by evolving from our monkey ancestors, ...

    Even those early humans living in caves were acting inhumans. They would kill other tribal members and taken their food, and properties by force, etc...

    BTW, Sione, na'ake 'alu ki he putu 'o Folole Muliaga 'i Mangere 'aneafi? Na'aku 'iai au he putu, peau sio ai kia Helen Clark. 'Oku ou 'ilo 'oku ke fakana'usi 'aupito heni.

  19. The reality is that we're *forced* to pay for services we (may) neither want, nor receive.

    The key word here is reality. It's always going to be the case with taxation that some money is spent on things you are not happy about. Paying tax is part of the big picture of civilization and law and order which is the reason I am comfortable with punishing those that refuse to pay tax - it costs money to maintain law and order. It doesn't mean I am a communist. This is not to say that some spending is not misguided. All I'm saying is that we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water.


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