The first thing that struck me about
this libertarian forum were the arguments of my other debater (the one
debating against me) that kept referring to the problem of socialism being that
Russian leadership under socialism and Chinese [leadership] had killed millions of people. I
always find this a bizarre way of arguing about economic systems, a kind of
a body count approach. But okay, if that’s what they want to do let’s make a
comparison. Capitalism has been the dominant system for the last 150-200
years, pretty much around the world. What’s its record in terms of the
killing of people out of capitalist competition, capitalist enmity, inside
countries [and] across countries? Well, it’s way in excess of anything that socialists
could claim. Let’s start with World Wars I & II. I mean, conservatively those killed
50 to 100 million people, somewhere already in a different league. And those
were wars that came out of competition among capitalist countries like Germany,
England, the United States, Japan, and so on. So, really are we gonna go down that road? Then there’s the thing called
colonialism and imperialism, in which capitalist countries (mostly in Europe)
went around the world killing huge numbers of people to make the whole
world useful and profitable to Europe. I mean, why do you think there was a slave
trade that basically destroyed Africa for hundreds of years,
diluting it of its people? That was in order to bring those Africans to the
Western Hemisphere first for sugar, and then for cotton, which were very
profitable commodities capitalists bought and sold. And then there was
colonialism everywhere else in the world. First book I ever wrote was an economic
study of Britain in Kenya in East Africa. And one of the things I discovered is
when the British arrived in 1895 they did a census. Four million Africans lived
in Kenya. 30 years later they did another census. 2.5 million people lived [there]. In that little country, over that few years,
1.5 million people disappeared. That has to be chalked up to capitalism.
So if you’re gonna go this route of counting the dead, sure you can make a
criticism of Stalin and Mao (they deserve criticism. Killing is not good anywhere).
But the idea that you have found a flaw in the capitalism-socialism debate is
bizarre. Why would you even go down that road especially with five minutes of
reflection showing you it’s not good for your side of the argument. Then there was
an even stranger kind of thing, very typical I think for libertarians.
The fellow on the other side argued that he agreed with me that capitalism was
full of flaws. I had laid those out, as I do on this program often, and he agreed
with me. He said it’s so bad he would call it (in his words) CRAP-italism.
Okay, everybody giggled. But then he kept saying to me “Yeah, it’s terrible. But your
socialism is worse.” “Why?” I asked. Well he answered “because then the government
will become very powerful and the government is bad.” I said, really
is the government bad by definition? Are we like talking in religion where God is
good and the devil is bad and the world is nicely organized in that way? Is the
government necessarily bad? And his basic answer to me was yes, the government ipso
facto is bad. And you don’t ask why the government does something?
Apparently among these folks they don’t explain it. It’s just sort of given.
Government is bad. What government does is unwanted, because it’s bad. The idea
that the government is what it is because of the society in which it
exists, that it doesn’t come fully finished out of nowhere but is a product
of the society that is trying to govern, that doesn’t seem to have gotten in.
I find that bizarre in the history of the United States when most observers
would agree that both in 1929 when the stock market crashed, and again in 2008
when the stock market crashed, everybody, led by the business community,
went to the government to save us. It saved us with a new deal in the 1930s,
and it saved us with the Bush and Obama stimulus programs. Apparently the
government sometimes does good things so the issue is why would the government
be unnecessary? Bad [argument].