Almost every conceivable form of “socialism” was tried over the last 100 years. There has been Marxian socialism in the form of Soviet-style fully nationalized economies with strict and comprehensive five-year government central planning. There was national socialism in the Germany of the 1930s and 1940s, with private enterprise placed under total government control with Nazi four-year central planning. There was Mussolini’s Italian fascism, under which private businesses and workers were forced into cartels and trade unions with government oversight and command of prices, wages, production, work conditions, and trade. There was British “democratic” socialism under the post–World War II Labor-party government, with nationalized industries, socialized health care, and central planning. There was a French version under the name of “indicative” planning, under which the government manipulated prices and production incentives to direct capital and labor where the central planners thought they should go. There have been government planning through regulations and redistributions of wealth through fiscal policy. This regulatory-redistributive model of government oversight and directing of social and economic outcomes grew out of the discovered and admitted inescapable limits and shortcomings of more-direct government planning and control of economic affairs.
Costs and Consequences of Socialism-in-Practice
The human cost experienced from the extreme forms of socialism-in-practice goes beyond most of our imaginations. Tens of millions of people — ordinary, unarmed, and innocent men, women, and children — were starved, tortured, shot, or worked to death in slave-labor camps in the name of building that bright and beautiful paradise on earth that the communists, fascists, and Nazis all promised would belong to those they had designated the righteous and justly deserving social class, national group, or racial tribe. British democratic socialism foundered on the discovery that even in a democracy, government socialist planning entails imposing commands on everyone that succeed in only making life stagnant, dull, and poor for most in society. Indeed, this is how we have ended up with highly regulated economies combined with often-extensive networks of income redistribution and social safety nets.
A Green New Deal Means Central Planning
Now additional voices for a new socialism are on the public scene, such as the recently elected Democratic-party representative from New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is also a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Even before being sworn in to the House of Representatives in early January 2019, she and others presented a proposal for a special and select congressional committee for the preparing and implementing of a Green New Deal.
Make no mistake, this is a plan for the introduction of comprehensive government planning over every facet of American social and economic life. Arguing that the world is facing an environmental Armageddon due to global warming, the time for doing nothing or relying upon carbon taxes to reduce use of fossil fuels or business regulations to influence how private enterprises produce goods and services, they say, is behind us.
A Carbon-Free Road to Social Justice
This must be done in conjunction with commitments and goals for “social, economic, racial, regional, and gender-based justice and equality.” Labor unions must have a prominent place, with the ability to direct wages and employment conditions for workplace justice in the pursuit of a post-carbon economy. The federal government should take equity positions — that is, total or partial direct ownership — in businesses, industries, and sectors of the economy as a means to hit the target of radical environmental change.
The goal is to have a “100 percent” fossil fuel–free economy within 10 years. All businesses and residential structures will have to be dramatically made over to environmentally friendly renewable sources of energy. Where and what is produced will have to be commanded by the federal government for both industry and agriculture.
At the same time, this grand and comprehensive central planning of American society to save the planet can also serve as “an historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic opportunity available to everyone participating in the transformation” of the country.
The Hubris of Our Would-Be Central Planners
The hubris just oozes from every presumption according to which these American central planners just know what needs to be done and why everyone else must cheerfully, enthusiastically follow the commands of our would-be national-socialist führers. The plan for this Green New Deal shows its totalitarian premise in each of its proposed elements. No corner of the economy would be exempt from the green planners’ control. Every human association and status in society would be subject to modification as determined by the social-justice warriors in power.
Once Democratically Chosen, No Reversing Socialism
But what happens to democracy after that? What if “the people” have second thoughts in election years 2022 or 2024 or 2026 or 2028? What if other voices challenge the premises and the policies of the Green New Dealers? If planetary existence and social justice for all time are at stake, can our democratic socialists allow the fickle and wrong-headed voting decisions of some of the people to alter the collectivist course that has been taken?
Surely, it would be irrational to permit the central plan to be dismantled, to backslide into chaotic and petty profit-motivated self-interest, to undo all that the revolution had been attempting to achieve. The socially just people’s will could not be allowed to be reversed because of some people’s misinformed and misguided voting whims under the influence of sinister interests swaying them against their true and real interests.
Oh, we have heard all this before, and no doubt, if they were to come to power, we would hear it all once more. But, but … it can’t happen here! Think again. The logic of central planning undermines the institutions and the spirit of liberty. By concentrating power and decision-making in the hands of those in government, socialist central planning first weakens and then eliminates autonomous centers of choice and association.
Property Rights and Personal Choice
One of the most essential aspects of private property rights is that it creates potential centers of control and discretion outside of the clutches of those in political authority. Private property in functioning free markets enables sources of employment and income independent of the government. The individual does not have to worry about loss of a government job, or his government-supplied income and benefits, or his chances for personal betterment due to any disagreement with or peaceful opposition to the policies and practices of the state.
Competitive, free markets provide avenues for a plethora of ways for multitudes of people to simultaneously follow diverse ends with alternative means considered better than those selected by others in society. Mistakes and second thoughts concerning what goals and purposes to pursue and how best to do so may be modified in many different ways by different people at different times, without needing to persuade or gain the electoral agreement of enough others through a voting process.
Central Planning Means Centralized Decision-Making
But this is exactly what our new American socialists are impatient with and want to do away with. There needs to be one master hierarchy of values, with one centrally guiding and implemented master plan to bring it to fruition, with all in the society accepting and making their own personal wishes and desires subordinate to it.
What they really want is a version of “democratic centralism” — that is, an inner circle of people ideologically motivated by the same general collectivist purposes and ideals who bargain over and divide the social spoils for the identity-politics-based factions and interest groups that they, respectively, represent, with no interference from the ignorant “reactionary” and supposedly race- and gender-bigoted individuals and groups who don’t understand the nature of a real “people’s democracy.”
The role of these uninformed masses, who must be constantly subject to government “re-education,” is to produce the wealth and output that the Green New Deal planners need to pursue their power-lusting dreams. And don’t worry, if they cannot plunder enough wealth through taxation to cover the costs of their social-engineering schemes, they say they will turn to the Federal Reserve to create all the paper money they will need to pay for all that they want to do. Welcome to the possibility of a Venezuela-style hyperinflation on the back of a stagnant economy built on the political insanity of those who claim to know how everyone should live under the central planners’ agenda for a new, carbon-free world.
These are dangerous ideas that threaten anew the foundations and functioning of what remains of personal freedom and free enterprise in the United States. The Green New Dealers’ self-righteous fanaticism and ideological enthusiasm for a collectivist America should not be underestimated. Understanding their misguided political assumptions and the damaging economic consequences that would follow from their coming to power is essential if a “green” road to serfdom is to be avoided.
Richard M. Ebeling, an AIER Senior Fellow, is the BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel, in Charleston, South Carolina. This article appeared at AIER.org and has been edited for length.