This piece was originally published by Real Clear Markets on May 15, 2019.
For decades, leftists have championed socialism while ignoring its mountains of skulls, from
Russia to Venezuela. They dismiss The Black Book of Communism, a careful tally of the 60-plus
million deaths resulting from the deliberate actions of socialist regimes.
Some socialist-leaning people seem to be sincerely concerned about the welfare of others, and
ignorant of its egregious body count. Socialist-friendly intellectuals should know better. Their
job is to identify broad truths and their impact on human life. The most culpable are those who
know socialism’s deadly impact and continue to advocate for it.
The million-life question is: why?
Some of socialism’s apologists claim capitalism has killed more—but their tally includes
millions of deaths from wars and slavery. Are war and slavery caused by capitalism? Only clear
definitions can answer that question.
Socialism is the socio-economic system under which the community owns all property. Since all
the people living together can’t be in control at the same time, in practice, the leaders control the
use of property. The result: those with the power of the state control and direct economic
activity. Hence, horrors such as the deaths of 6 to 8 million under Stalin’s state-directed seizure
and disposal of farm produce in the Soviet Union alone.
Capitalism results from the system in which property is owned by private individuals,
government is sharply limited, and individual rights are protected, such as free speech and trial
by jury. Since Britain and the U.S. first implemented this system in the 18th century, creative
individuals have been able to well-deploy capital, resulting in profuse economic activity. Despite
the disruptions and truly serious problems along the way, capitalism has brought the highest
increase in wealth and relief from poverty to the greatest number of people than any other system
However, socialists confuse the public by equating capitalism with mercantilism, a system in
which government officials ladle out economic favors to cronies. Yet “crony capitalism” is a
canard: cronies have been around in every state.
More precisely, the problem is crony statism. Highly limited government and the rule of law in
which individual rights are protected delimits the favors officials can distribute to cronies,
equalizes opportunity, and results in the peaceful and productive pursuit of self-interest—and
increased living standards for all.
Wealth is not static—it is created. How else did we get from caves to skyscrapers? But a rich
person can live well anywhere—it’s the poor who especially need free choice made possible by
private property and individual rights if they are to create wealth and follow their own dreams.
And yet the mystery: leftists claim to care about the “poor and oppressed,” but the hockey stick
of GDP since industrial capitalism’s establishment fails to persuade them that capitalism is a
And they don’t just criticize capitalism—they revile it. Why?
Because socialists are collectivists and capitalism is individualistic. Socialists believe that the
ultimate good is “society,” the group, not the individual. This group may be the nation, the
family, the ethnic tribe, the similarly-gendered—you name it.
Caring for and helping others is their highest value, their moral duty and they claim to believe
that socialism achieves it. And that point is the intersection of the moral and the practical
because, if capitalism is dominant, people care for themselves. It is the individual’s
independence which scares these socialists, because, if everyone is independent, no one needs
Under capitalism each person can choose his or her own path of highest potential—not someone
else’s idea of how to live. The result is that individuals all over the world are lifted out of poverty
by following their own creativity to produce.
But living under capitalism demands an attitude towards others which is missing from the
collectivist picture. For example, many teachers are socialists because people who go into
teaching tend to want to help others, as do nurses and doctors. And there’s plenty of good in
helping others. I’m a teacher myself, but I don’t do it out of a moral duty. I do it as an exercise of
my highest powers of understanding and skill and I enjoy seeing the young flourish.
I strive to help them reach the point where they don’t need me. As renowned Italian educator
Maria Montessori said: “The greatest sign of success for a teacher…is to be able to say, “The
children are now working as if I did not exist… ”
Those who are collectivist in their core want something far different—they want power over
others. They infantilize to keep others dependent, like mothers who reward and enable children
to stay at home forever.
The collectivist focus on control reveals this motive. They dissemble by presenting a false
alternative: which group are you going to let control you? Are you going to be a “wage slave”
and let some rich guy tell you what to do, with his business and jobs, or are you going to have a
say by voting for the politicians and party that will control the economy? Nowhere do they offer
the choice of independence in which you control your own life.
To stop the scourge of collectivist guilt-induced government programs, capitalists need to
counter their ethic with a different moral model and assert capitalism’s spiritual as well as
material good. It’s good because it gives each individual the opportunity to exercise his or
her highest human virtues, such as self-reliance, productivity, and reasonableness, while, at
the same time, enabling individuals to make a good living.
A few years ago, Lenore Skenazy, of the book and blog Free Range Kids, dug up a 1905
newspaper article about two boys, 13 years old and 5 years old, who were celebrated for
traveling by themselves to Washington, D.C., and then San Francisco. Their adventure reflected
the self-reliance venerated in that era—and shot through Horatio Alger’s hugely popular novels,
such as Ragged Dick, in which a young boy radically improves his own life. That moral outlook
was celebrated in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America.
We need a return to that spirit! Challenging the collectivists’ moral presuppositions is critical.
Let’s trumpet the valor and superiority of capitalism and wipe socialism and its destructive
power from the face of the earth.
Marsha Enright is head of The Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute. It sponsors The Great
Connections Seminars and Leap Year Program, which radically increases reasoning power,
knowledge, self- confidence, and independence. She’s also the founder of Council Oak
Montessori School, for ages 3 to 15.