The intellectual folly of centralized economic planning and governmental economic interventionism presumably died with the fall of communism that began with the revolutions of 1989 and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union. And yet, the American left continues its lovemaking with the long dead idea of state interventionism in economic affairs. El Nuevo Herald contributor Orestes Rodriguez has poignantly labeled this love affair as ideological necrophilia. The cadavers of central planning remain unburied in countries like China, Vietnam, North Korea, and Cuba, but their intellectual decomposition is evident.
How then do we explain the popularity of governmental economic interventionism revealed, for example, by the youthful support for 2016 socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders? The wide-ranging evidence of the failure of collectivism is ignored by Mr. Sanders and his followers. Overlooking all empirical evidence, Mr. Sanders, who elected to honeymoon in the old Soviet Union and has expressed admiration for Fidel Castro, is a sincere believer in an intrusive, coercive, paternalistic state as a way to advance societal goals.
An explanation of how we often use simplifying heuristics (something like a rule of thumb) to make judgments ignoring all empirical evidence is offered by Daniel Kahneman, who received the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his pioneering work on decision making. Professor Kahneman asks us to consider Steve; an individual who has been described by his neighbors as follows:
“Steve is very shy and withdrawn, invariably helpful but with little interest in people or in the world of reality. A meek and tidy soul, he has a need for order and structure, and a passion for detail.”
Is Steve more likely to be a librarian or a farmer?
Most of us recognize in Steve the stereotypical characteristics of a librarian and will probably decide heuristically that Steve is indeed a librarian. In doing so, we ignore the relevant statistical considerations. If we think about it, we would probably realize that there are far more male farmers than male librarians in the United States. A bit of research will reveal that there are more than 20 male farmers for each male librarian. Our biases have led us to decide mistakenly that Steve is likely to be a librarian when the statistical evidence is that he is more likely to be a farmer.
Mr. Sanders and his followers, argue paternalistically that the coercive power of government must be used to directly address social problems. Yes, we all want to live in a just society, but charging government with bringing about say, a predetermined distribution of holdings, can only be accomplished by violating individual rights. The paternalistic expanded government sought by Mr. Sanders requires diminished liberty and injustice.
Even if it were possible to achieve, for one instant, a desired distribution of holdings, such a distribution would immediately begin to break down by individuals choosing to save in different measures, or to exchange goods with each other. Continuous interference with our liberties would be required to take from one person the holdings that others choose to transfer to them.
If under the logic of some socialistic felicific calculus, certain goods are to be guaranteed to some individuals, then other individuals must be coerced to pay for those goods. This conception of rights is inherently unjust requiring that the state treat some individuals differently from others.
Socialist paternalism also embodies the view that ‘other’ people cannot be trusted to make good decisions about their lives, thus requiring government to step in. Notice that it is only other people that cannot make good decisions. We do not want government to make decisions about our own lives.
Idealistic young students demonize business as a self interest pursuit that encourages and rewards selfish behavior. It does not follow that business is about exploiting customers. In a free enterprise system, profits result, not from harming customers, but from innovation and creating superior value.
I ponder this as I observe students around campus wearing Bernie Sanders T-shirts, playing games on their capitalistic iPads, and arguing with their parents, on their capitalist iPhones, about why they should be free to spend their parents’ money.
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José Azel left Cuba in 1961 as a 13 year-old political exile in what has been dubbed Operation Pedro Pan – the largest unaccompanied child refugee movement in the history of the Western Hemisphere. He is currently dedicated to the in-depth analyses of Cuba’s economic, social and political state, with a keen interest in post-Castro-Cuba strategies as a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami and has published extensively on Cuba related topics.