Walter Williams on Socialism

May 28, 2019

by John McClaughry

My friend the nationally known economist Walter Williams, now at George Mason University, recently had this comment on the upwelling of support for socialism.

“Socialism promises a utopia that sounds good, but those promises are never realized. It most often results in massive human suffering. Capitalism fails miserably when compared with a heaven or utopia promised by socialism. But any earthly system is going to come up short in such a comparison. Mankind must make choices among alternative economic systems that actually exist. It turns out that for the common man capitalism, with all of its alleged shortcomings, is superior to any system yet devised to deal with his everyday needs and desires. By most any measure of human well-being, people who live in countries toward the capitalistic end of the economic spectrum are far better off than their fellow men who live in countries toward the socialist end.”

“Prior to capitalism, the way individuals amassed great wealth was by looting, plundering and enslaving their fellow man. With the rise of capitalism, it became possible to amass great wealth by serving and pleasing your fellow man.”

So, Walt concludes, “Here’s my question to you: Are the people who, by their actions, created unprecedented convenience, longer life expectancy and a more pleasant life for the ordinary person — and became wealthy in the process — deserving of all the scorn and ridicule heaped upon them by intellectuals and political hustlers today?”

No, Walt, I think not.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Leonard Murphy May 29, 2019 at 5:21 pm

Once again a conservative pundit has raised the specter of Marxist socialism in defense of unfettered capitalism and an attack against what has been termed as “democratic socialism”. This comparison is not only irrational, but it is non-constructive from a political perspective and a “social” perspective. No rational American wants Soviet or Mao style socialism to take over the political system in the USA. However, what many Americans are calling for is a fresh look at the downside of unfettered capitalism as evidenced in income inequality, the exorbitant cost of healthcare, and a political system severely corrupted by the almighty dollar. The fact is the human animal is and always has been a social species. A “social species” that has always supported the reasonable sacrifice of the many to support and protect the community. Would it be practical or beneficial to abandon American socialist infrastructure and institutions? What would the economic impact be if all roads, bridges and tunnels were privatized and tolls implemented. The ultimate answer to this dilemma lies not on the far left or the radical right, but rather somewhere in between. Socializing health care was first proposed in the early 1970’s by none other than Richard Nixon. Nixon was concerned because Americans were spending 6% of GDP on healthcare with annual double digit increases in cost. What portion of GDP goes to healthcare today (14%)? In my opinion it is time to stop citing cold war defenses against those whose primary goal is to resolve the serious problems troubling our society today, and come together to identify and implement reliable solutions using whatever political and social tools are available. Including socialist solutions.


Rob May 29, 2019 at 5:37 pm

“No rational American wants Soviet or Mao style socialism to take over the political system in the USA.” Maybe, but if you plant the acorn, the oak tree grows. Do you really think that when the Russians supported Lenin and the Chinese supported Mao they thought they would be getting the mass murder of tens of millions of their friends, family, and neighbors? No, they thought they were getting a workers’ paradise. Didn’t work out that way. As for Socializing healthcare… yeah, government has been ratcheting up the level of socialization in the US healthcare system for decades now and, as you point out, the cost has more than doubled in terms of percentage of GDP. Government involvement in healthcare has been a disaster. As with higher education. Where it was once possible for students to pay for their college with summer jobs, post government involvement to “make it more affordable,” students are paying off debt for decades after they graduate. Great job! Government has increased its levels of socialist involvement in K-12 education, labor laws, energy policy, healthcare, college, home ownership…. the list is endless. What are the results? Shattered families, growing income inequality, a growing permanent underclass, pervasive rent seeking.


Leonard Murphy May 30, 2019 at 9:00 pm

I think you miss my prime point. We already are a socialist “species”, and even American society has many institutions that are fundamentally socialist in nature. Fearmongering about Marxist and Soviet style socialism results in an absolute removal of government involvement is resolving so many of our greatest challenges. The primary healthcare institutions in this country that are “socialized” are Veterans and Medicare. The the VA has many problems, these are primarily due to 17 years of constant war and a large population of veterans drawing on the system. Medicare is extraordinarily popular with those who are enrolled, and even though most are over 65 the cost (the entire cost) is certainly lower than private insurance. Federal involvement in higher education is primarily limited to providing subsidized student loans. I would argue the cause of the high cost of education is not government involvement, but a lack of government oversight. You claim income inequality is the result of government involvement, you are absolutely correct, but not for the reasons you cite. Our legal system and economic institutions protect corporations and the wealthy at the cost of the middle and lower classes. My wife and I are prime examples, we are both retired and after the recent so called middle class “tax cut” we find ourselves owing the IRS $ 2,400, for the first time in about 8 years. This tax law change was billed as a benefit to all Americans, but it is fairly clear who the real winners are. I do not know where you get your news, but I would suggest you diversify and stop watching FOX.


Rob May 30, 2019 at 9:35 pm

Hi Leonard. I appreciate the conversation. Medicare is popular because the total cost of the care is subsidized by private health premiums via “the cost shift.” Eliminate the cost shift, which “Medicare for All” would by definition do (eliminating the private premiums from which the cost is shifted) and Medicare prices will skyrocket. Yes, guaranteeing student loans is government’s involvement in higher education, and it IS the reason cost for college has gone into the stratosphere. Yes, government institutions and regulations overwhelmingly protect established entities (which tend to be wealthier) at the cost of middle and lower income people trying to compete. Remove the power those institutions have along with the dynamic you describe and you will have a more level playing field and more equal outcomes. Sorry for your tax bill. I guess we can all agree that the government takes way too much of all of our money, spends too much, and most alarmingly, borrows too much. For the record, I don’t watch FOX news, or any TV news for that matter. Gave it all up years ago when it ceased to be informative and and became an entirely entertainment medium.


Thaddeus Cline June 1, 2019 at 3:01 am

No social democratic system in Europe is the same . In France consumer as a as healthcare goes satisfaction is high . And some costs are half ours and a few
are as low as 2/3rd less. England is not very good at all . And all the rest fall somewhere in between all that . There are many factors that caused this but a lot of social democratic systems have been going on there since as far back as 1948. Now and then conservatives make inroads there . Less tax is spent on this and that , some regulations are taken down . But on the whole there social democratic systems have worked pretty well. If they didn’t you would hear a lot more of “we wish we had America’s systems”. Conservatives simply don’t touch the core of the systems simply because people are pretty happy with it .
And Peter Drucker the great Management guru And Business management book writer said “ capitalism is the best and the worst system we have . Meaning of course there lots of good things about it but just as many bad.
You simply can’t listen to someone who says they like a social democratic system and say they are socialist’s it’s way way two different animals so to speak. Believe it or not many social democratic’s don’t want Business owned by the state . They only want it run in a responsible manner. If that means more bureaucracy sorry sometimes you need that . If it dose not need to be regulated then it’s up to all the so called “ stakeholders “ not just Business owners and their stockholders . That should be obvious. And if it didn’t work
Then Denmark would not be rated the best place to do Business in Europe.
I keep listing what they and lots of Northern Europe has and some places in Asia as well . And I have yet for anyone on your conservative web site
Or blog say there’s something wrong with my statements if so please respond if you think anything on my list is something you don’t want and they dont have.
1 . Longer life spans
2. Lower infant mortality.
3. Higher and cheaper education then us.
4 longer vacations and close to the same productivity than us .
5. In some places as I stated cheaper healthcare that people like.
6 . Even better burial payments than we do . You get 200
Bucks from SSI they get more.
They don’t call it cradle to grave for no reason at all .
They aren’t perfect but neither are we . And they aren’t asking for our systems.
Talk to people from Northern Europe ask them how they feel. Don’t take my word for it or any other stranger on the internet.
When I lived in the Boston area , I ran into many Northern Europeans in the typical Tourist areas . They were on nice long 4,5,6 paid weeks vacations . And when they were going back they looked forward to there jobs because they had good educations so they could pick the job they liked . So in short they matched what I read about them .
But again I don’t want you to ask me. I want you to ask people who have and do live under a social democratic system and ask them what’s good and bad .
Till then don’t pull a Trump or a Fox News stunt . And that
Is hear someone say social democracy and then say we know it’s bad because it’s got the word social in it .
It’s not moral or ethical to say that.
Many many people who call themselves social democratic’s don’t dislike
Capitalism they just want it to run better and thats all
and you and I can agree on that if you would just listen to them.,

gdp June 2, 2019 at 10:54 am

Capitalism is, from a governance perspective, the private method of creating wealth and prosperity through invention, production, transaction and exchange of property and/or services under the law of property, contract and tort regulating the human desire for gain grounded in individual morality. The failure to adequately define capitalism and its relation to our law and morality is at the heart of the malaise of government dependence gravitating in ever greater measure to socialist outcome – which will further erode to Communism spawning dictatorship. The record of socialism (state control/ownership of the means of production) is one of disaster, conflagration and mass murder going to genocide, of the ‘bourgeois’ no less than the Jew. Capitalism, on the other hand, allied to Religion not hateful of it (See, Opitz), has a record of immense achievement from the roots of mankind governed by the law of property, contract and tort, and there from healthy emanation/progression, from fewer to greater, from higher to lower, from less to more, allowing for self-locomotion of independent judgement, industry bolstered by diligence, and commerce, all governed by a personal morality demanding more than fairness in dealings but good will going to mutual assent. This is a far cry from Marx, who called his system socialism, who turned Hegel on his head in tracing the roots of his ideal into a determinism based on class war and grounded in a despondence and resentment in anchoring it all in the specific human vice of individual greed, an orientation as limiting in its outcome and it is in its accuracy of describing the human condition and the requisites for human welfare and progress. The so-called ‘progressives’ and ‘democratic socialists’ of our time are worse than Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin were when they proclaimed themselves ‘democratic socialists’. Our brand/breed has the 20th Century experience of it to demonstrate the delusion and the danger, and ignore the obvious. Denmark is only the latest to realize the dementia in its response to migration. Sweden abandoning it in ever increasing measure, and Norway recognizing, if only recently, the bankrupting effect, and there despite the ‘capitalist’ subsidy of North Atlantic crude. The problems we have today are the result of government intervention, the erosion of law and the subversion of healthy private morality, none of which are economic in nature, all of which having more than economic impact. Need educated people to lead Vermont BACK to prosperity, culturally no less than economically. End the theatrics going to psychological ‘drama’ and social[ist] trauma! Get back to healthy America!


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