Socialist thoughts pervade many minds

By Tibor Machan: Syndicated Columnist

If you haven’t visited former Soviet bloc countries it is difficult to appreciate the devastating impact socialism has on human community life.

Judging by the continued popularity of socialism among academic political philosophers, economists and theorists, it is not likely that many of these folks have ever traveled to Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, the Ukraine, Georgia, Poland or Albania.

Of course, even among these people the form of socialism championed has changed from the massively planned, top-down economy to what are labeled market socialism, democratic socialism, communitarianism or “the third way.”

Although the ultimate authority for economic decision-making in all of these would still rest with the government, in these systems governments graciously permit activities in many areas, including in commerce and business, that they do not directly oversee.

To get a good sense of the practical consequences of socialist economies, whatever the new label they have been given, it would be valuable for proponents to get a close look at what has happened in the former Soviet bloc countries.

Even though nearly two decades have passed since the Soviet system collapsed, the signs of socialism are everywhere. That’s in part because these societies have not yet managed to generate the wealth that would be required to replace the horrible leftovers of the socialist system with what a free and prosperous country can produce.

Rows of dilapidated apartment houses, factory buildings, government offices, schools and the like are strewn across these countries with little evidence that purging them soon is likely. After all, even though the Draconian-type socialist planned economy is now part of the miserable past in most of these places, a robust recovery has not taken place, so that people, companies and communities could afford to get rid of the remains of the socialist era.

After all, even under miserable socialism people had to live some place, tried to get some work done, approximated some measure of education of their children, farmed, manufactured and so forth, however poorly and inefficiently.

And having invested in building their places of residence and work and play with the little wealth they had available, it is not practical to simply destroy it all and start from scratch.

But this is only one obstacle to a serious recovery from the grand Soviet socialist experiment, one that a great many of the academics in the West eagerly supported. There is also the fact that in most of these countries the old communists and socialists are still active in the political arena.

Unlike the Nazis, the communists were not deactivated after their system came a cropper. And given how unprepared the non-communists and non-socialists in those countries were for guiding their countries toward a substantially free society, these old-liners are still often in leadership positions.

Indeed, in Hungary, Bulgaria and elsewhere they have managed to get elected to lead the government, mainly by frustrated citizens. Some of these are nostalgic for the “good old days” of socialist security the devastating consequences of which they still haven’t fully grasped. Some of them were, of course, part of the old system and still actually wish for it to come back.

If you add to all this the fact that a great many Western advisers to these former Soviet bloc countries preach not the virtues of a fully free society but a variety of reconstituted versions of socialism, it becomes clear why there is such slow progress evident throughout the region.

Rent seeking is the norm in many Western countries, including the United States . So what the West’s leaders preach to the leadership in these former Soviet bloc countries is itself more of an impediment rather than assistance in the direction of full development and liberation.

Just imagine if someone who has been felled by some devastating illness tried to recover by getting small dosages of both good and bad medicine.

Such a person’s recovery would take a long time, if indeed it would at all. That is the situation with many of the countries of the former Soviet union.

Tibor Machan advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at: