Declinare Sirenum Scopuli

Harold Black, PhDBlog

In Greek mythology, the sirens lived on an island, Sirenum Scopuli, and lured sailors to shipwreck on its rocks with their enchanting songs. Socialism is the Sirenum Scopuli of modern civilization.

It is incredible to me that socialism remains appealing to so many people, given that it has always failed miserably no matter where it has been tried. It failed the Pilgrims and almost led them to starvation. Today’s poster child is oil rich Venezuela with its despotic ruler, hyperinflation, chronic shortages and fleeing population. Socialism, where the government controls the means of production, takes away personal liberty and choices. There are no economically successful social states. China, despite is size, has GDP only sixty percent of that of the United States and is repressive to its citizens.

Where socialism is juxtaposed to capitalism, socialism loses.  Just consider East Germany versus West Germany or North Korea versus South Korea. Although Scandinavian countries are often cited as examples of successful socialism, they are actually capitalist economies with very generous welfare programs. Socialism holds favor mainly with those who are gullible to the lure of promises of a free lunch and to those who want to impose their own personal tastes upon others.

Today’s fixation on socialism is prompted by the victory of a young socialist in a New York House district. It puzzles me why the media seem to feel that one additional socialist in the US Congress will have any influence over policy when one cannot point to a single achievement of our most famous socialist, Bernie Sanders, who has spent 25 years in the Congress. However, the siren sounds of “free this” and “free that” have an appeal to those who are too intellectually lazy to critique the arguments. For example, single payer health care produces lower quality health care than that which is market driven. It is interesting that the arguments over socialism usually are about costs of programs (which are always estimated too low) rather than the quality of service provided and how to control costs in the future (usually through rationing). Those who favor socialism are likely to scoff at socialism’s dismal track record and think that somehow the next time a group of government officials can do better than their predecessors.

Socialists cannot accept the simple fact that people in the main, regardless of background, know what is best for themselves and act accordingly. Those acts lead to market demand which directs resources to be used in a more efficient manner, resulting in greater consumer satisfaction and the least waste of resources. In socialism, the imposition of the will of the few on the many results in just the opposite: less consumer satisfaction and more waste. The government is inherently inefficient because it does not operate under the profit motive. Taking resources from the productive and allocating them to the non-productive creates disincentives on both ends. This is precisely why socialism always fails: it is wasteful and breeds sloth.

Despite the obvious, in the final analysis it is not surprising why socialism is still appealing. The intellectually lazy think they will be better off, even though they will end up being worse off as the economy gets less productive. Those jealous of the success of capitalism want to punish its practitioners by commandeering away their wealth.  Socialism begets despotic rule (Mao, Hitler, Stalin, and Castro) and a corresponding loss of freedom. One would think that because of their hate of the present administration that socialists would be rethinking giving more power to the government. Yet they naively persist in their calls for more, not less, government.

Socialists are our modern day sirens favoring more government control, even though they should know that the economy and its citizens will shipwreck. So say no to socialism:  declinare Sirenum Scopuli.

Dr. Harold Black is professor emeritus at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This piece appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK – TENNESSEE.