Antonella Marty | Associate Director at the Center for Latin American at Atlas Network
This op-ed originally appeared in RealClearPolitics.
Socialism is spreading across America. Leading up to November, socialist politicians and policies are gaining a foothold in the electoral system, at the expense of centrists.
Millennials and Gen Zers want more government in their lives, not less. And they are not alone: Jaded by the free-market system, many Americans support socialism over capitalism, even though they enjoy the benefits of living in an open economy. They believe that the free market has dealt America a bad hand, one only remedied by further government interference in the economy.
But, in truth, Americans who support more state interventionism and have grown up in the comfortable confines of the U.S. economic system don’t really understand socialism. They don’t recognize the pitfalls of redistribution and collectivism – because they’ve never lived it. (And believe me: I can attest that it isn’t “cool” living under socialism.) Immigrants from Cuba, Venezuela, and other collectivist nightmares may “get it,” but most Americans haven’t had the misfortune of growing up in such countries.
Let’s be careful: Socialism can happen anywhere, even in the United States. There is no vaccine against Big Government.
It is very, very easy to defend and promote socialism when you live in a free country. When free enterprise and entrepreneurship and consumer choice are staples of daily life, it’s easy to take them all for granted. We don’t see Americans escaping in boats to Cuba.
Yet the allure of socialism remains. Part of the reason is that socialist “leaders” often claim to renounce wealth – a popular talking point among low-income individuals. Socialism’s dogged reliance on wealth redistribution isn’t a difficult selling point when it’s “their” money being redistributed. Socialists rely on the otherization of the “one percent,” since redistribution never creates new wealth; it simply transfers it from those who have produced it.
The late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro pondered, “Why should some be miserably poor, so that others can be hugely rich?” Venezuela’s late ruler, Hugo Chavez, put it this way: “Being rich is bad, it’s inhuman.” But those claims are nothing more than the musings of socialist hypocrites who lived the most lavish lifestyles known to mankind.
In a free-market system, business leaders (not crony capitalists) earn their wealth by offering goods and services of interest to consumers – without government help or privileges. They create wealth and jobs through entrepreneurship. They match supply with demand in the marketplace. And, where demand doesn’t exist, entrepreneurial thinkers create it by supplying new offerings.
Socialist dictators, on the other hand, obtain their wealth through government control and coercion. They steal it from producers – the “industrialists” in their crosshairs. They wield the weapons of government to take from others and give to themselves. As we say in Latin America, “Those who split the cake always get the best part of it.” Socialists like Castro and Chavez only really hate the wealth of others; they love their own.
Do you know Castro’s estimated net worth? $900 million, money largely made through the nationalization of state-owned enterprises. In a country long known for food scarcity and more recently a milk shortage, Castro found time to enjoy an 85-foot yacht and his own private island. Meanwhile, most Cubans live in poverty.
Chavez’s hypocrisy is even worse. After years of plundering Venezuela’s oil supply, Chavez was worth over $1 billion at the time of his death. His daughter, Maria Gabriela Chavez, is now the wealthiest individual in Venezuela.
This is not just a Latin American phenomenon. At the start of the Cold War, Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin was one of the richest people in the world, controlling $7.5 trillion in wealth. Yet many Americans have no idea that socialists could adore wealth so much.
As history has shown, socialism’s publicly stated aversion to wealth is nothing more than an act. As socialist hypocrisy has exposed, it is a political ploy used to curry favor and gain control. Some of the world’s most famous socialists spent their lives denouncing wealth, only to amass riches on the side.
This is the essence of socialism: Do as I say, not as I do. Yet many Americans continue to wear $50 Che Guevara shirts and don $100 Adidas sneakers, just like Castro did. They continue to enjoy the spoils of the free market, choosing between dozens of different fast-food chains and hundreds of stream-able shows. And then they continue to complain about capitalism.
What we really need is perspective. Recognize the historic failures of wealth redistribution, and focus instead on social mobility. Support the upward mobility brought about by entrepreneurship, business expansion, and job creation.
If you are born poor in Latin America, then you will most likely die poor. It is difficult to improve one’s economic situation in a socialist country. On the contrary, if you are born in a free economy, you will have more opportunities to improve and become wealthier.
Most of all, choose your political idols carefully. And, if they’re socialists, beware the betrayal of hypocrisy.