The Swedish Plague

One of the things I hate about socialism is that it doesn’t help the poor.  It’s set up to advertise itself as helping the poor, (but) the poor are always the first ones to get it and get it bad.”

Great CSPAN interview with Kevin Williamson, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism.  The entire hour is great, but starting at the 4:00 minute mark he gives a beautiful 3 minute summary of the “characteristic failure of socialism.”

I’ll try to paraphrase:

  • There’s always been a great moral case against socialism because the great socialists of the 20th century were monsters (Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Ho Chi Mihn).  But not every socialist is a monster – Sweden is not an authoritarian hell hole, there are democratic socialists and pacifist socialist and people who don’t want to send dissenters to camps.  But their failures are the same because of the information management problem in the middle of it.
  • To take a very simple example:  how much OJ are you going to buy this year?  You don’t know.  You don’t plan your life that way, so how could the government?  Even one of a small country and for just one product (like OJ)?
  • When the planners say they’re going to consider all the information and options, it’s not true because it’s simply impossible.  Even if the government were staffed with the brightest people – and they’re not; even if they had the very best of intentions – and they don’t; it still wouldn’t work.  Economies are far too complex, even for a panel of economic supermen.  That is the characteristic failure of socialism.
  • It’s true at the national level but also on a smaller scale within nations:  US healthcare and public education, Mexican public oil companies…  They have the similar sorts of failures:  mis-allocation of resources and perverse incentives.

Later he adds, “…there is either something wrong with socialism or it is the most unlucky political philosophy in the history of political philosophies because everywhere there is total socialism it throws up monsters.  Does it just happen to coincide with Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Ho Chi Mihn, Pol Pot, the Kims?  Is it just bad luck or something about the system?”

He also discusses “why Sweden works”.  (Although it is poorer than the poorest American state.)

  • It’s not really socialist, just a heavily regulated welfare state with a lot of socialism in the labor market.
  • Ethnically/linguistically/religiously homogeneous
  • Small country, characterized by high degrees of trust and tremendous amount of social capital.
  • Strong national identity

These things make the institutions more effective.  But the socialism in the labor market is beginning to corrupt that social capital via “the Swedish Plague” as workers game the system for time off.   People have come to understand the growing levels off fraud and corruption involved, which subsequently undermines that social capital.

Swedish socialism is undermining the very aspects of their society that use to make it work.

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