John McDonnell, Deputy Leader of the UK Labour Party told those who would listen at Davos that the problems Venezuela is currently experiencing are a consequence of an incomplete implementation of Socialism, rather than a design fault with the ideology itself.
Ponder that for a moment; Not Socialist enough.
Today’s thoughts are not meant as a persuasion attempt to argue that Socialism is a catastrophically bad system due to a hard-coded flaw in the dogma.
If you don’t believe that the millions of deaths in the 20th Century in places as diverse in culture, history, environment and natural resources as Russia, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, North Korea, Bulgaria, Romania and Ethiopia are directly attributable to a design fault with Socialism then you may wish to find something else to read today.
Correlation isn’t causation, but when we start reaching the levels of murders that are uncountable (pick a source; 100 million? 200 million?), the
on the ground buried in the ground evidence is just too compelling. How many more deaths under Socialist governments would it take to convince you? Half a trillion? More?
I’m suggesting a hypothesis that undeniably really bad ideas that refuse to die in the face of overwhelming evidence must be somehow genetically hard-coded.
Malthusianism and collectivism are two examples.
Malthus has been wrong with regards to humans now for almost 300 years yet the basic idea is still attractive to those who discover it, from the supporters of eugenics, through The Club of Rome to the religiosity of Al Gore and his supporters.
Collectivism has killed several hundred million and counting but dreamers like McDonnell still pine for the opportunity to finally implement the correct working version.
Let’s pause for a moment and count the ways McDonnell is suffering from cognitive dissonance;
- Denial of the overwhelming evidence across multiple geographies and points in time that collectivism finishes in tyranny, poverty and mass murder.
- Denial of the overwhelming evidence that trade and commerce between individuals has resulted in the most incredible fall in absolute poverty on a global scale.
- Dunning Kruger-ism at the improbability that he, and his closest cohorts, with their almost non-existent experience of managing anything more complicated than a local political party sub-branch, could measure and manage a national economy to deliver sustainable improvements to the lives of all its citizens.
Note that in point #2 above, I use absolute poverty rather than relative poverty as the true measure of success. Put crudely, if we’re all equally scratching around killing pet rabbits for food, being equally poor is little comfort. If I can afford to eat, clothe myself and heat my home, the worry that Jeff Bezos is richer than Croesus is a luxury I can only afford because I am not dirt poor.
PJ O’Rourke said that Communism DOES work and is an absolutely perfect system inside his family home; he brings in the income and his wife and children distribute it according to their needs. The problem is that it just doesn’t scale any wider than the border of his property.
People like McDonnell are trying to scale to the macro what only works at the micro level. Perhaps a clue is to be had there.
It’s not credible to believe that the “if only we could implement Socialism properly” crowd are unaware of the brutal legacy of bloodshed of Socialism.
Its also hard to believe that, being aware of these mass murders in the name of their preferred dogma, they don’t care.
There must be something deeper, more fundamental to the human psyche that is the root cause of this refusal to give up on what is so clearly a bad idea.
Perhaps human evolution, so heavily-dependent on cooperation and self-organisation by specialities (at its simplest, the hunter goes off to hunt while the gatherer stays home to gather) has resulted in an instinct that teaches the positive value of collecting and distributing resources at a group level.
At the small scale of tribal/extended family, this would have been a very successful strategy.
The evidence is in that it results in tragedy at the scale of national populations.
How then, do we teach ourselves to let go of ideas when they cease to work for the circumstances with which we are faced?