A personal note:  I agree with the author of this article.  I first visited  the Soviet Union in 1982.  Three of the photos I took on the street of the ordinary people were very telling.  One was of an elderly woman selling a few shriveled up cucumbers on the street, another was an elderly woman sweeping the city sidewalk with her broom and the third photo was a truck parked on the street laden with bricks. A man was standing by the side of the truck obviously watching that the three elderly women loaded the bricks quickly and correctly !  In sharp contrast was the magnificent subway system with huge photos of Lenin adorning the walls attesting to the glory of Communism.   
On my second trip to what was then called Russia in 1994 after the Berlin Wall had come down and the Soviet Union was dissolved.  My late husband who was working in Moscow for an international company at the time.  He was tied up and robbed in his hotel room at the Metropol  Hotel.  Also,  I had wanted to go back and revisit a wonderful restaurant that I had been to in 1982 but our company security  people told us it was no longer safe to go there as the restaurant  was now controlled by the Russian Mafia.  An American couple that we knew  who were also working in Moscow, bought an apartment and completely gutted and remodeled it. Their apartment was very lovely inside but because of the housing shortage, other apartments in their  building were crowded with many Russian people living in each apartment that had one bathroom.  Trying to put this delicately, let’s just say you had to be very careful where you stepped in the hallways !!!!   Oh, one more  thing, if driving in their chaotic traffic, definitely do not get stopped by the traffic  police for any minor offense,   as they will demand money from you.
  On a more positive note, their  museums and arts were world class.  The Hermitage Museum has more Rembrandts than the Metropolitan Museum  in New York !
God forbid that Bernie becomes president !!!  Nancy

Socialism Strikes Back

Before many Sanders voters were born, I saw his ideology in action in the Soviet Union and Britain.

By George Melloan    Mr. Melloan is a former deputy editor of the Journal editorial page. His book about the costs of bogus science will be published in August by Lyons Press.
February 5, 2020

Socialist Bernie Sanders’s emergence as a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination is puzzling to many of us who have experienced socialism. We thought it dead—good riddance—when the Soviet empire collapsed 30 years ago. Our mistake.

One can only assume that the hardships endured by many millions of Russians, Chinese, Africans and Europeans have been forgotten, or never learned, by a new generation of Democratic voters. Mr. Sanders says he is a “democratic socialist,” whereas those unfortunates of the past were ruled by “communists.” He’s right that there are wide differences in degree. But although the postwar British Labour Party was freely elected, it brought Brits a more limited degree of the economic stagnation that afflicted the people of the undemocratic Soviet Union and its satellites.

For Mr. Sanders’s followers, the realities of 20th-century socialism have apparently been lost down the memory hole. What remains is the delusion, long embraced by theorists, that socialism is a morally superior system of governance, which fosters equality and compassion by transferring wealth from the rich to the poor— Robin Hood government. The reality has been tested by many millions, and found to be detestable. Government ownership destroys production.

Mr. Sanders’s pitch attracts idealistic young people, who draw an additional impetus from the natural rebelliousness of youth.

And millennials fear, for good reason, that they may not enjoy the financial security their elders do. But this danger has been foisted on them not by private capitalism but by proto-socialist policy excesses that already put the future viability of welfare-state benefits in doubt. It was Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress that expanded student lending, inviting young people to run up much of today’s $1.5 trillion in college debt. Their expensive educations have apparently been deficient in economics and 20th-century history. They simply hope that Mr. Sanders or Elizabeth Warren will write off the debt and add it to the $1 trillion the government is borrowing each year to keep our existing welfare state afloat.

All economic systems are capitalist. A modern economy can’t exist without the accumulation of capital to build factories and infrastructure. The difference lies in who owns the capital—individuals or the state. Private, competitive capitalism safeguards the rights of individuals to strive for a better life through hard work and saving for investment. Government ownership of the “means of production” makes work, consumption and investment captive to a government monopoly, reducing living standards.

Having first visited the mother of socialism, the Soviet Union, in April 1967, I can extract a few historical nuggets to enlighten Sanders voters. I was on assignment for this newspaper, writing about yet another Soviet economic reform. On a Moscow subway, I asked a 30-something engineer how things were going. He shrugged and told me a classic Soviet joke: “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.”

That summed up nicely what happens under total socialism. The Soviet state owned everything. State enterprises compensated their workers with rubles. But people don’t work for slips of paper; they work for what the paper will buy. And those rubles bought very little, because the command economy produced very little (except weapons), and most of what it produced was shoddy.

Wherever I went, stores were short on goods. I witnessed Russians standing in a long line outside a state-owned store to buy shoes. Once inside, they were required to exchange their rubles with a cashier for a coupon, which they then used to buy something they hoped would fit. The coupon sellers, employees of the state, couldn’t have cared less about their customers or the poor workmanship of Soviet shoe factories. Black-market money changers spotted foreigners who might have dollars to exchange by looking at their shoes, which were of noticeably higher quality than those of locals.

Rents were cheap, if you didn’t mind squalor. I interviewed a member of the Leningrad City Council at her home in what in the U.S. would have been considered a slum. Soviet citizens had to endure these conditions because they were locked in by borders controlled by the KGB. Boris Yeltsin, a former member of the Soviet ruling elite who had turned against socialism, was elected president of the Russian Republic in 1991 and began the process of dissolving the morally and financially bankrupt Soviet empire. Yeltsin wrote in his 1990 autobiography, “Against the Grain,” that his epiphany came on a trip to the U.S. in 1989.

Most surprising to him were “those ordinary people in America, who radiated optimism and faith in themselves and in their country.” He was “shattered” by a visit to a supermarket, where he saw “shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort.” He wrote: “For the first time, I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people. That such a potentially superrich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it.”

The late Abram Bergson, a specialist in Soviet economics at Harvard, estimated that in 1985 output per capita in the Soviet Union was only 42% of what the average American produced and consumption was only 29% of the American level. The disparity between production and consumption was partly explained by the time wasted by consumers searching for scarce necessities.

Prices and production quotas were set by a huge Soviet planning bureaucracy called Gosplan, staffed by thousands of “economists.” Free-market pricing efficiently allocates resources. Price controls created waste as factories produced a lot of what nobody wanted.

I wrote a skeptical piece saying that if these policies persisted, no “reform” would do the Soviets much good. Britain, where I was living at the time, was conducting a socialist experiment much more like what Mr. Sanders imagines. After World War II, the Labour Party of Prime Minister Clement Attlee had nationalized coal, steel, electricity and transportation, with damaging and wasteful consequences. Rather than placate labor, it encouraged unrest.

I interviewed a steelworker in Sheffield who lived with his wife and two children in a “back to back” house with only a single door, at the front. Thousands were built in Britain in the 19th century to house industrial workers, and many were still inhabited. He didn’t own a car and had few other conveniences. A worker for U.S. Steel in Pittsburgh would have been appalled at such conditions.

Margaret Thatcher turned the U.K. around in the 1980s. Other European leaders followed. By the end of the 20th century, many thought socialism dead. The message from Iowa seems to be, “Not so fast.” Heaven help us.

Mr. Melloan is a former deputy editor of the Journal editorial page. His book about the costs of bogus science will be published in August by Lyons Press.




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