“The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.” – Edmund Burke
A spectre is haunting the world – the spectre of communism. In the US and the UK, two openly socialist candidates, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders have their sights set on the top job. Everyday, I encounter intellectuals on social media who describe themselves as “Communist” (I regard the difference between socialism and communism to be one of degree not kind).
I must admit to being somewhat baffled by this ongoing fascination with communism, a system that has consistently failed wherever it has been implemented. Venezuela is currently suffering severe food shortages , a common ailment of communist societies.
Zimbabwe’s energetic “land reform” in the 2000s chased away some of the most productive people on the African continent. This has worked out just as well for Zimbabwe as it did for Russia and the Ukraine during the Soviet pogroms against the “kulaks” in the 1920s. Zimbabwe now has a staggering unemployment rate of 80-90%.
Communism is the political equivalent of a perpetual motion machine, or, if you are of a more cynical disposition: snake oil. It defies all the known laws of human prosperity. It is not a system that enables individuals to make good rational decisions in accordance with reality. That is because it obstructs the free flow of information amongst individual actors who comprise “the market”; instead, it concentrates all power and decision-making in the state, which, in full-blown communism is the only actor in the market. Without other actors there can be no real exchange and hence no way to accurately calculate prices, no supply and demand, and no risk or reward. The state, like any badly run business, tries to do too much and ends up bungling everything.
Communist planners believe they can ordain, by political decree what is real and what isn’t; what people want and what they don’t want. They cannot. Economic management requires very practical, hard-headed thinking. Ideology won’t get you very far. Anyone who has had any experience with entrepreneurship will know this. Trial and error is essential. You cannot possibly know everything in advance. A successful business has to be extremely nimble in adapting to market forces/change
Though it claims to, Communism cannot eliminate the marketplace; “the market” is just a way of describing “reality” in monetary terms. Supply and demand will always exist. Perception of value will always exist. The need to understand productivity and incentives will always exist. Communist societies simply ignore these realities.
Communist countries are often plagued by gross economic inefficiencies such as food shortages because they remove the normal mechanism by which the competent and incompetent ascend and descend in the free marketplace: trade.
Humans are a trading species (see Colin Bower’s excellent piece on this). Even in the repressive Soviet Union, people formed underground markets, which provided goods and service that weren’t available (or of sufficient quality) from the state. It’s what we do. That is, ultimately, why communism fails. It excludes us from the economy. It doesn’t allow for humans to do what we have since time immemorial: create and problem solve. That is the essence of who we are and how we build communities and civilisations.
For all its pretensions otherwise, communism isn’t a very humane system at all.