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Reviewing the book “Socialism Sucks”


About a month ago I went to visit my dad, and right before I left he urged me to take a book from him. He said things like please, and try to keep an open mind, so right away I knew I was fucked. Here I am, this fairly young, arguably (I’d like to think) open-minded person, and what kind of open-minded person refuses to take a book from his father?

Well, the title of the book is Socialism Sucks. I read the whole thing, so I now have the high ground to tell him it sucks. The book, that is.

See, I consider myself open-minded. That’s what I said. One thing that I’m not open-minded to, however, is bullshit. The heavy majority of this book is just that — straight up bullshit — the type of nonsensical drivel that actively makes the reader less informed. If all things were equal, which they aren’t, this book could be read as a parody, and if such was the case it would be five stars and ten out of ten hilarious. That’s the subject matter we are dealing with.

To that end, one can only assume that the book’s authors, Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell, are either (a) grossly uninformed or (b) deliberately misleading their audience. Based off the fact that both are professional “economists,” there isn’t much question as to which option they fall under. They have an obvious contempt for the types of rubes who actually made the decision to purchase a book called Socialism Sucks. 

But I’m not here to shit on everyday people, because it’s not in my arsenal to punch down on those who have been failed by public education and generations worth of family members who believe the same things. As a general rule, I only punch up at those with money and power.

Part of the problem in Socialism Sucks is that the authors refuse to diverge from the conservative playbook. We believe in limited government and individual liberty. That sounds great, right? The issue is that many things they attempt to knock Socialism for are actually much worse in the free market Capitalist system they so tragically love. They don’t spend any time criticizing what is so glaringly wrong with the United States. But what’s worse, I’m not sure they see anything wrong with it in the first place.

In the book’s forward, the authors identify why the groundswell for lefty economics have become some popular in the United States over the last decade. Although, naturally, they come to the exact opposite conclusion to what is both correct and necessary:

In recent years, sympathy for socialism in the U.S. has grown rapidly. No doubt one reason was the financial crises of 2008. Critics felt certain that this episode revealed a profound sickness at the heart of American capitalism. Yet the crises would certainly not have happened without the twin evils of government policy and Federal Reserve intervention, both of which are something like the opposite of capitalism. 

And there’s another, more fundamental reason: it’s an easy argument to follow. (1) Those people over there have lots of money. (2) You would like some money. (3) We are happy to facilitate the transfer.

“The rich,” meanwhile, are caricatured and despised as a matter of routine. And while it’s true that some people have come by their wealth in disreputable ways, made possible by government, socialist critics are not making fine distinctions like this. It is wealth, per se, no matter how acquired, that is to be condemned. 

I could go on and on, but you get the gist. You could pretty much write the rest of the book from there. The authors actually try to make the argument that too much (!) regulation and government intervention led to the financial crises in 2008. The big banks, who got caught with their pants down speculating with over a trillion dollars in people’s life savings, had too much (!) government oversight. If you are willing to believe that, then you are willing to believe anything.

The middle paragraph is just as laughable. Nowhere do leftists in the United States say they want a straight money grab from rich people. And none are dumb enough to believe that the American government — which is owned and operated by the ultra-wealthy — would be the party to make such a transfer. All working people want is fairness. We want to the billionaire and mega-millionaire class to be held to the same standard those at the bottom are subject to. That means paying a fair share of taxes, and justice when they commit crimes (such as bankrupting the American economy and forcing taxpayers to bail them out).

The last paragraph is, again, just living in opposite land. “The rich,” as these authors put them, have done nothing but continue their ascension over the last forty years. Middle class and working class wages have been stagnant ever since Ronald Reagan took office, while those at the top have been living as well as they ever have. If the rich are being vilified, it certainly isn’t showing up in their bank accounts.

But this is the impossible situation I created for myself when I chose to take the book from my dad. If I didn’t accept his invitation, or if I decided not to read it, then I would automatically be closed-minded. However, since I did decide to read it, painstakingly, page-by-page, and since I (of course) hated it, then that is going to make me closed-minded as well. Literally the only way I could be an “open-minded” person in my dad’s eyes is if I read it and came to the conclusion that socialism, indeed, sucks.

And let me just say, since at some point I feel like it needs to be said, I am not a Socialist in the way these authors describe it. I would even venture to guess that something like 9 out of 10 (or more) Democratic Socialists — the Bernie Sanders crowd, otherwise known as the “far left” — aren’t Socialists in the way they describe it. We are not looking to abolish private ownership of land. We are not looking to abolish free trade. We are not looking to create a system where workers take over the means of production. That is pure Socialism. That isn’t what leftists in the United States seek.

Instead, as Bernie Sanders has been consistent on, we want a system that looks more like Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden. That means socialized healthcare, free public college, more paid time off (for things like giving birth), and expanding retirement benefits. We want a welfare state, basically. A higher standard of living for those at the bottom, which means a higher standard of living for everybody.

Early on these authors put the kibosh to the idea that Scandinavian countries are Socialist in the first place. They say the reason the standard of living is higher in those countries is because of Capitalism, rather than all the government benefits their citizens pay taxes into. Essentially, they are telling us that everything good about those countries — the things leftists in the United States want — don’t have to do with Socialism at all.

We’ll take that for what it’s worth. But, then, why is it that in the United States we don’t have affordable healthcare? Why in the U.S. don’t we have affordable college? Why are senior citizens rationing their medication? Why are half of American workers making about $30,000 a year, and why are 80% of workers living paycheck to paycheck? If Capitalism is the cure-all, why does it have so many gaping blind spots? I can only assume the answers to all these questions, if we had to consult Watson and Powell, have to do with too much government regulation.

That is what’s so disingenuous about this book. The authors can’t manage to get past the label of Socialism — and assigning countries like North Korea (which is not Socialist), Russia under Stalin (which was a police state), Venezuela and Cuba — instead of addressing the specific policies that ordinary Americans are so interested in. I don’t know a lot of things, but I can assure you the reason that millions of people died under Stalin’s reign of terror wasn’t because Russia was investing too much money in healthcare and education.

Of course, the writer’s make no such distinctions. They basically spend two hundred pages telling you that everything bad in the world is due to Socialism, and all the good in the world has to do with Capitalism. They praise people like Ayn Rand, whose unfettered free trade philosophy has been put into practice by billionaires who don’t want to pay taxes. They say that NAFTA, the free trade agreement that outsourced millions of good-paying American jobs, was good both for the United States and for workers in Mexico making pennies on the dollar. Again: up is down, left is right, 2 + 2 = 5.

At the end of the book, in the section about Powell and Watson attending a meeting of Democratic Socialists, they almost stumbled upon some truth. They expected to go to a rally featuring a bunch of people who wanted to abolish private property and physically steal money from the rich, but what they found wasn’t that:

Oddly, none of the speakers at the opening rally commented on the importance of central planning and abolishing private property. Instead, we heard things like “Damn the Supreme Court to Hell,” in reference to the court’s recent ruling limiting the power of public unions to coerce fees out of non-member employees. There was also plenty said about the immigration crises and the separation of illegal immigrant parents from their children. We were reminded that, “Democrats are deporters too.”  Of course, President Trump was the frequent target of negative remarks. No big surprise there.

Crazy, it’s almost like leftists don’t view Democrats and Republicans all that differently. It’s almost if, this is a strange concept, I know, the struggle for workers isn’t a left vs. right issue. Everything is about class. Everything is top vs. bottom.

If you want to get a flavor of what really interested the attendees at the conference, aside from singing the praises of Mark and Lenin, here’s a list of some of the conference sessions:

  • Black Live Matter at School
  • A World Without Borders? Marxism, Nations, and Migration
  • Capitalism and the Gender Binary
  • The Rise of Red Power and the American Indian Movement
  • Artists Against War
  • Gender and Disability
  • Whose Clinics? Our Clinics! Defending Abortion rights
  • What Do Socialists Say About White Privilege?
  • All Eleven Million: The Fight for Immigrant Rights
  • From Trumpcare to Medicare For All: The Growing Movement for Single-Payer Healthcare
  • Socialism and Women’s Liberation
  • Athletes in Revolt: Black Lives Matter in Sports Today
  • U.S. Imperialism Under Trump
  • From #MeToo to No More: How Can We End Sexual Harassment and Assault?

As I laid out early on, leftists in the United States aren’t here to defend or promote pure Socialism. We’re not looking to nationalize all of our resources, or publicize all of our land and property. We’re just looking for a little healthcare, a little education, a little more in retirement benefits, and so on. And while we are doing all of those things, yes, we can also strive for more equality among the races and genders. We can create policy that isn’t so bent on making life as hard as it possibly can be for the people who immigrate to this country.

Of course, all of these things are possible. They are doable, in fact. It’s a choice for us, as a nation, not to do them. It’s a choice to dedicate something like 60 percent of our taxes dollars, from your check and mine, to the military. And it’s a choice to spend almost nothing (in comparison) on healthcare and education. Everything, and I do mean everything, we do in this country is bent towards making life better for the rich, and harder for the poor.

This book spends a good amount of time talking about everything that’s wrong with places like Venezuela and Cuba, yet they never care to mention that part of why those countries are so fucked up is directly the responsibility of the United States. They give not so much as a passing sentence about the economic sanctions placed on Venezuela, nor the thousands of poor people who have died as a result. They make an attempt to shit on the healthcare system in Cuba, but they never reflect on the point that it actually functions better than the healthcare system of the United States.

My dad lent me this book and implored me to read it and keep an open mind, but I fail to see precisely what I’m supposed to have an open mind about. Does he think some book that tries to equate Medicare For All and free public college to modern day North Korea and Stalinist Russia is honest? Does he think the authors telling me that the social safety net in places like Norway and Denmark isn’t Socialism is going to convince me that what I want isn’t actually what I want?

Like I’ve said, in Socialism Sucks there is a strong push being made that all the good things are because of Capitalism, and all the bad things are Socialism, but they fail to address any of the specific policies that are popular, and they fail to explain why Capitalism is so superior.

But what does one expect when the authors praise people like Ayn Rand and Milton fucking Friedman (of all people)? What does one expect when they try to say NAFTA was a positive? What does one expect when they try to say wanting single-payer healthcare is the same as the police state of North Korea? This book isn’t honest, and anyone with any sort of grasp of history, economics, or politics, can sniff it out from the very beginning.

My dad, unfortunately, has no such filter. He doesn’t know what Socialism is in the first place, so he’s going to do things like watch Fox News and read books titled Socialism Sucks and take everything in without any second thoughts. He knows that he’s a “conservative,” and that anything involving either Socialism or “the left” is bad. I’m kind of jealous of him, because things are so simple. Socialism = bad. Capitalism = good.

But if you really want to know Socialism, you don’t merely stop at the word. You must know that Medicare and Social Security — two things my dad owes his life to at this point — are socialist policies. Public schools, police departments, fire departments, sanitation departments, that’s socialism at work. We all pay into these programs and industries via our tax dollars. That’s all socialism is, really.

No one is looking to steal money from the rich, and nobody is looking for a full government takeover. We are simply saying, hey, maybe we don’t need to spend a trillion dollars a year on the military while people are dying for not being able to afford healthcare, and we don’t need to spend a trillion dollars a year on the military while the United States ranks something like 40th in the world in math and science. I’m aware that I sound crazy for saying so, but I won’t sit here and lie to you about the reality.

That’s something I don’t have in common with the authors of Socialism Sucks.

 

 

 

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