The Lure of Socialism

By Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
Thomas Sowell

USA –  -( Many people of mature years are amazed at how many young people have voted for Senator Bernie Sanders, and are enthusiastic about the socialism he preaches.

Many of those older people have lived long enough to have seen socialism fail, time and again, in countries around the world. Venezuela, with all its rich oil resources, is currently on the verge of economic collapse, after its heady fling with socialism.

But, most of the young have missed all that, and their dumbed-down education is far more likely to present the inspiring rhetoric of socialism than to present its dismal track record.

Socialism is in fact a wonderful vision — a world of the imagination far better than any place anywhere in the real world, at any time over the thousands of years of recorded history. Even many conservatives would probably prefer to live in such a world, if they thought it was possible.

Who would not want to live in a world where college was free, along with many other things, and where government protected us from the shocks of life and guaranteed our happiness? It would be Disneyland for adults!

Free college of course has an appeal to the young, especially those who have never studied economics. But college cannot possibly be free. It would not be free even if there was no such thing as money.

Consider the costs of just one professor teaching just one course. He or she has probably spent more than 20 years being educated, from kindergarten to the Ph.D., before ending up standing in front of a class and trying to convey some of the knowledge picked up in all those years. That means being fed, clothed and housed all those years, along with other expenses.

All the people who grew the food, manufactured the clothing and built the housing used by this one professor, for at least two decades, had to be compensated for their efforts, or those efforts would not continue. And of course someone has to produce food, clothing and shelter for all the students in this one course, as well as books, computers and other requirements or amenities.

Add up all these costs — and multiply by a hundred or so — and you have a rough idea of what going to college costs.

Whether these costs are paid by using money in a capitalist economy or by some other mechanism in a feudal economy, a socialist economy, or whatever, there are heavy costs to pay.

Moreover, under any economic system, those costs are either going to be paid or there are not going to be any colleges. Money is just an artificial device for getting real things done.

Those young people who understand this, whether clearly or vaguely, are not likely to be deterred from wanting socialism. Because what they really want is for somebody else to pay for their decision to go to college.

A market economy is one in which whoever makes a decision is the one who pays for that decision. It forces people to be sure that what they want to do is really worth what it is going to cost.

Even the existing subsidies of college have led many people to go to college who have very little interest in, or benefit from, going to college, except for enjoying the social scene while postponing adult responsibilities for a few years.

Whether judging by test results, by number of hours per week devoted to studying or by on-campus interviews, it is clear that today's college students learn a lot less than college students once did. If college becomes “free,” even more people can attend college without bothering to become educated and without acquiring re any economically meaningful skills.

More fundamentally, making all sorts of other things “free” means more of those things being wasted as well. Even worse, it means putting more and more of the decisions that shape our lives into the hands of politicians and bureaucrats who control the purse strings.

Obamacare has given us a foretaste of what that means in reality, despite how wonderful it may sound in political rhetoric.

Worst of all, government giveaways polarize society into segments, each trying to get what it wants at somebody else's expense, creating mutual bitterness that can tear a society apart. Some seem to blithely assume that “the rich” can be taxed to pay for what they want — as if “the rich” don't see what is coming and take their wealth elsewhere.

About Thomas Sowell
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, as well as a prolific author including Black Rednecks And White Liberals. His website is To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read his articles visit his website above.

  • 15 thoughts on “The Lure of Socialism

    1. For those of you who use the excuse “other countries do it so why can’t we” my reply is if you like what other countries are doing better then what we are doing feel free to move there
      Be it healthcare education or politics in general we are who we are we have a lifestyle unlike any other country we have certain freedoms unlike any other country and yes we have problems unique to our underlying philosophy. The issue is how much should we deviate from our core beliefs in an attempt to make changes that will ultimately make the USA something much different then it was intended to be for the sake of change?
      If you feel real strong about socialism and or free healthcare or education or the other 10 things that Sanders is promoting by all means find an existing country that has implemented those processes and move there but don’t change the USA to make it what it isn’t
      Our biggest problem is not from the outside word it is right here in our own country and that is our ungrounded attempt to be perfect instead of our passion to be the best USA we can be.
      Like it and stay otherwise American Airlines flies non-stop all over planet earth every few minutes hope a flight instead and destroying what the rest of us have fought so hard to keep as is
      Dr D

    2. The young almost always embrace the idea of Socialism and Communism. They’ve been indoctrinated to it since they were tiny by an education system infiltrated and controlled by the Left for decades. Naturally, they have to believe that it’s all their own Idea. Who wants to admit to themselves that their values can be so easily manipulated by others.
      Karl Marx was a genius at understanding and describing the evils of Capitalism. He was an idiot when it came to inventing something better. This is why Communism has failed everywhere in the world where it has been left alone to try and work. Countless millions have suffered for the fact that it is contrary to basic human nature.
      Socialism, is nothing more than Communism Lite. In Europe the Socialist Countries have always struggled along, just getting by for decades. Sure, they hold up the shiny examples of some of their seeming successes. Under all of that is some really not so wonderful things that are little discussed.
      Socialism is nothing, if not frail. It always teeters on the edge of available resources verses huge expenditures of resources. It doesn’t take much to tip over the balance. See what happened to Greece.
      Yep, the first couple of commenters to this article are right. This Country isn’t fare and equitable to everyone. They need to listen closely to what I’m about to share. I’ve lived a long life. I’ve paid close attention. There is NOTHING fare and equitable about this world! This world, and all that live on it have nothing what so ever to do with any such thing. This is a world of testing and struggle. To even suggest that people have some intrinsic entitlement to receive an equal share of everything is simply childish. It’s a childish idea.
      I’m not suggesting that we should live dog eat dog existences. Mercy, kindness, and generosity are the height of the Human character. But DO NOT believe for even one moment, that anyone has the absolute right to share equally in everything just because they happen to be alive in this world, even if they make little or no effort to compete, and to contribute.
      Time to grow up young Socialist, before the world makes you grow up the hard way.

    3. This subject is certainly a volatile one. Taking on only one part of the socialism issue, college for free. A society as productive as ours can pay for whatever is most important to society. If college for free is the object, why not? We pay for Kindergarten through High School now. Many think we need more military. Why not offer College for Military or infrastructure work on a year for year basis. Go to college for 2 years serve 2 years military. It can work.

      1. The thing is, that it’s always so easy to spend someone else’s money. In a society where the money (currency actually) is created out of thin air, at will, by those in charge, you may well ask, what’s the harm in just printing more to pay for things like free college? Have you any idea just how close we are right now to complete economic collapse?
        Right now we owe 18 Trillion Dollars to countries like China who have been lending us money which we have been using to pay over 40 percent of the costs of just operating Government. What do you think will happen when they figure out that they will never be paid back?
        How much is a Trillion Dollars? Take the average football stadium and begin dropping in hundred dollar bills. When you have completely filled it up to the very top of edge, like it was a bowl of popcorn. That is close to a trillion dollars. We owe other countries 18 if those, and growing. Use your brain.
        Right now, Banks, and Major Corporations are dumping Dollars, and buying Gold and Silver in the Billions. They know what’s coming. If I were you I’d start laying in some canned goods. You’ll need, and before too long.

    4. Quit the propaganda of the Kochs. What people want is a return to affordable college like I was privileged to back in the early seventies. It cost $33 @ credit back then compared to $300 @ credit today. Obviously there is inflation but wages never kept up with inflation making college extremely exspensive today. People are hurting from companies shipping jobs overseas and all of the increases in inflation benefitting the billionaires or oligarchs. People are supporting Trump and Sanders because they are fed up with the BS being spouted by those paid by the oligarchs to tell everyone that they should be happy. I own a business and see what the fraudulent trickle down economics has done to my customers. The people are mad as hell and the establishment GOP and Democrat politicians have been exposed for their support of the billionaire class. The people want a fair system that benefits those who work hard and play by the rules. Welfare is not only abused by poor people but also by the billionaires. Just look at the politician Ernst and the welfare her family has sucked out of our country. My ancestor did not fight in the Revolutionary War so some privileged class could rule as the Monarchy allowed. Wake up America.

    5. Well Dave, those countries are not doing as well as you may think they are doing; and certainly not as well as they would if their governments would stop experimenting, tweaking, and picking winners and losers.

      Greed is another word for motivation. Which leads to innovation, hard work, invention, progress, and jobs. Those greedy industrialists have to hire legions of workers, armies of personal assistants and battalions of household staffers. Thus jobs. But even the greedy have to die, and then comes redistribution.

      Socialism negates motivation, thus no innovation or invention, and certainly no increased effort. Why bother if there is no reward. Every physical thing that our world consists of is the result of motivation.

    6. Socialism (aka: Communism) is easy to explain, so that it sounds like a good idea. Capitalism is too complicated, intricate, and duplicitous to explain easily, but for those very same reasons guarantees everyone (except hard core unemployables) a dignified earning niche in society.
      What would colleges and universities be like if every professor began their class with the words, “Nothing that I am going to teach you in this course will help you earn a living.”?

    7. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Only an uneducated idiot believes that it can exist. Someone has to pay for it. We call them tax payers.

      1. They don’t have even a basic understanding of socialism. Yes, their college education may be “free”. But, who do they think is going to pay for the “free” college education of the next couple of generations? It is going to be them, through their higher taxes. They have no grasp of that concept. Like you said, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

    8. Bernie Sanders has been a parasite to his family, friends and finally the taxpayer, his entire life. He doesn’t know any better. The scary thing to me is, as Mr. Sowell so eloquently puts it – is that Bernie’s supporters are the product of a long, communist infiltrated education system. They don’t know any better either. And this greatly saddens me.

    9. Why are other countries that have adopted these positions doing well?The problem as I see it,this problem is & has been created by GREED, of the so called job creators,this is about FAIRNESS, the way it used to be.Thank you.

      1. Amen. This article, as with most conservative journalism, is completely one-sided. It ignores the fact that many European countries have thrived under socialism, achieving a high standard of living and education, not to mention having more content citizens. In looking to history, the author apparently missed the fact that the economic boom was the result of taxing the rich and using that money to create a well-educated middle class. If you want to see how socialism really works, go study the subject rather than relying on inaccurate political articles.

      2. What other countries are you referring to? Do these countries have the same standard of living we do? Do you want to pay the tax rate they impose? Finally, show me anywhere in the Constitution where it says life is fair. Life isn’t fair but you do have the opportunity to make something of yourself and be a success.

        Bernie Sanders wants to tax the most successful in this country up to 92% of everything they make to support his plans. Sorry but the successful do NOT owe anyone a college education. I don’t owe you or anyone else an education, housing or anything else. If there are those that are in dire straights and need help I understand helping them but as for kids demanding a free education, get out there and work for it. That’s the way it really used to be.

      3. I think Sweden is doing well. They have great social programs and they actively strive to reduce the retirement age for their citizens. But when you lift the curtain, they tax their citizens 50% of what they make. It works for them because they want it to work.

      4. I want to correct one of vanns40’s statements. Sanders, after being unable to show how taxing only the rich will pay for his free stuff, has admitted that everyone at all levels of income will have to be taxed much more. His defense of this is that increased taxing will be OK because it will lower everyone’s cost of things they now pay for out of pocket. If you are gullible enough to believe that argument, that anything the government pays for will be cheaper, then you should accept complete socialism, with the government owning everything, and taking everything you earn in exchange for providing everything you need.

        Every country in the history of this planet that has tried socialism has eventually failed. The European social welfare states have been able to afford their luxuries on the back of the American taxpayer, who funds a robust military to prevent a recurrence of the world wars of the last century. When Yugoslavia disintegrated, through no fault of the U.S., the Europeans called on us to help them, as they were incapable of stopping the Serbian slaughter machine.

        The EU countries have been much less racially diverse than the U.S., and as more Muslim immigrants and refugees have arrived, appear to be breaking down from their inability to absorb such populations.

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