Two of my favorite jokes about socialism come to mind with today’s news out of Venezuela that the electricity is out. The regime is claiming “sabotage,” and they may ironically be correct: the “sabotage” has a name, and that name is socialism.
Ronald Reagan loved telling a joke about the Soviet Union that he claimed was one the Soviets told themselves. One person asks another—”Is this it? Have we finally reached peak socialism?” To which the answer comes: “Oh no. Things are going to have to get a lot worse.”
The other joke, suddenly deadly accurate, is: “What did socialists use for light before candles?” Answer: “Electricity.”
As it happens, with the revival of socialism running at fever pitch here among Democrats in the U.S., I decided to dust off a book I’d never much read before: Ludwig von Mises 1922 classic, Socialism. I had always preferred reading Hayek to von Mises for a bunch of reasons, but my goodness is von Mises book suddenly right on the nose nearly 100 years after it was first published—more evidence that old books are important to keep on your reading list. I’m staggered by how good—and relevant to our present moment—is Mises capacious analysis, which even includes a long passage about feminism and how Capitalism was the actual motive force behind the modern liberation of women from being the chattel property of their husbands—a thought you won’t find recognized or welcome in many gender studies classes anywhere today.
This passage, from page 414 of the Liberty Fund edition I have, fits the Venezuela story perfectly:
In fact Socialism is not in the least what it pretends to be. It is not the pioneer of a better and finer world, but the spoiler of what thousands of years of civilization have created. It does not build; it destroys. For destruction is the essence of it. It produces nothing, it only consumes what the social order based on private ownership of the means of production has created. Since a socialist order of society cannot exist, unless it be as a fragment of Socialism within an economic order resting otherwise in private property, each step leading towards Socialism must exhaust itself in the destruction of what already exists.
I’d say Venezuela reached this point quite a while ago now.
I’ll probably do more entries here—perhaps a mini-seminar—on von Mises’ analysis in the coming weeks.