Sunday, November 5, 2017

Does Communism have a universal constant? From the October Revolution to Bernie Sanders

To acknowledge the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution, I have assembled data -- from Holmes (2009), Pipes (2001), Fontova (2013), and others -- on Communist regimes that lasted more than 5 years.
[Communists] openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite!

(1) The chart below counts Communist state killings -- war deaths not included -- of its own people by purge, massacre, concentration camp, forced migration, famine, or escape attempt.

The counts are expressed as a percentage of population. 6% is a typical result.

You might say, "94% of people survive Communist regimes." But that's a lot less than the percentage of people who survived history's major tragedies. The U.S. Civil War was especially deadly, but "only" killed 2% of the population and, unlike the 6% above, this counts war deaths (civilian deaths were more like 0.2%). AIDS/HIV killed "only" 2% of Africa's population.

(2) Facts about Communist results are not part of the standard training in economics. Indeed, as recently as 1989, they were denied by some of our best and brightest. E.g., Samuelson and Nordhaus' best-selling textbook asserted "the Soviet economy is proof that, contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, a socialist command economy can function and even thrive."

(3) Another example: this year's New York Times commemorated the Russian revolution with fantastic claims such as "Women had better sex under socialism." That article shows a photo of a smiling woman on "a collective farm near Moscow" without mentioning how the Communist system left women and men so malnourished that their bodies no longer functioned normally. Take a look at the birth rate in Ukraine under Stalin:
Click here for a similar picture for China under Mao.

(4) The above are examples of the intellectual class indulging their fantasies about the effects of apparently well-intentioned public policies. But the more general phenomenon was that results were suppressed, both outside and inside the Communist countries, because they were unpleasing to those in power.

(5) Disastrous results can more easily become public when there is competition both in the media and in the public sector. Obviously the Communist regimes operate in a one-party system. But even in our political system, the competition is far from perfect, and both media and state officials sometimes work together to attract attention away from negative results.

It is not so easy to have a government that tightly controls economic resources, but is unable and unwilling to exercise control over ideas. 

Perhaps even Senator Bernie Sanders, who has admired more than one Communist regime and insists that government should freely provide everything from health care to college to housing, might now notice as much: his presidential campaign was one of the most recent victims of the Party Line and political collusion.

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