Socialism Is Bad for the Environment

From The National Review

By Shawn Regan

May 16, 2019 9:47 AM

And markets are much better

As the Soviet Union began to collapse, the socialist economist Robert Heilbroner admitted that central planning had failed economically but said we needed “to rethink the meaning of socialism.” Now it was the thing that had to emerge if humanity was to cope with “the one transcendent challenge that faces it within a thinkable timespan.” Heilbroner considered this one thing to be “the ecological burden that economic growth is placing on the environment.” Markets may be better at allocating resources, Heilbroner thought, but only socialism could avoid ecological disaster.

Not long after, however, it became clear that the socialist economies of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union were not just economic failures; they were also environmental catastrophes. Economist Jeffrey Sachs noted at the time that the socialist nations had “some of the worst environmental problems in the entire globe.” Air and water pollution abounded. By one estimate, in the late 1980s, particulate air pollution was 13 times higher per unit of GDP in Central and Eastern Europe than in Western Europe. Levels of gaseous air pollution  were twice as high as this. Wastewater pollution was three times higher.

And people’s health was suffering as a result. Respiratory illnesses from pollution were rampant. In East Germany,  60 percent of the population suffered from respiratory ailments. In Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), nearly half of all children had intestinal disorders caused by contaminated water. Children in Poland were found to have five times more lead in their blood than children in Western Europe. Conditions were so bad that, as Heilbroner acknowledged, the Soviet Union became the first industrialized country in history to experience a prolonged peacetime decline in average life expectancy.

As the Iron Curtain lifted, socialism’s dirty environmental secret was exposed: Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union were the most polluted and degraded places on earth. “When historians finally conduct an autopsy of the Soviet Union and Soviet Communism,” economist Murray Feshbach and journalist Alfred Friendly Jr. wrote in 1992, “they may reach the verdict of death by ecocide.”

Consider the destruction of the Aral Sea between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which has been called “one of the planet’s worst environmental disasters.” Once the world’s fourth-largest inland body of water, it shrank to less than half its original size because of Soviet economic policies. Fixated on making the USSR self-sufficient in cotton production, central planners mandated industrial agriculture throughout the arid region. Massive water diversions for irrigation reduced the sea’s inflows to a trickle, causing the biggest manmade loss of water in history. Fishing villages became dry and landlocked. Some, such as the former port city of Muynak, now lie more than 75 miles from the sea.

The desiccation of the Aral Sea also caused severe health problems throughout the region. As the waters receded, the sea’s salty floor was exposed, along with pesticides that had accumulated from agricultural operations. All this was then carried by strong winds to nearby communities. Respiratory problems, throat cancer, and other illnesses became more common as the pollutants were deposited in the lungs of millions. The human and environmental consequences are still being felt. Today, infant-mortality rates in the Aral Sea region remain significantly higher than the national average in Uzbekistan, and children there experience similarly high rates of anemia, diarrheal diseases, and other illnesses caused by exposure to toxic contaminants.

How can this be? “Environmental deterioration was not supposed to occur under socialism,” Cuban-American researchers Sergio Díaz-Briquets and Jorge Pérez-López wrote in a detailed study of Cuba’s environmental legacy. “According to conventional Marxist-Leninist dogma, environmental deterioration was precipitated by the logic of capitalism and its relentless pursuit of profits.” Socialism, on the other hand, would avoid capitalism’s excesses. “Guided by ‘scientific’ principles, socialism’s goal was a classless and bountiful society,” they explained, “populated by men and women living in harmony with each other and the environment.”

But this was clearly not the case in the Soviet empire. Nor was it in Cuba, whose environmental record after decades of socialist control was described by Díaz-Briquets and Pérez-López as “far different from the utopian view.” The West, meanwhile, had not only the consumer goods that socialist societies lacked but also a cleaner environment.

One explanation for the disparity is that central planners, unlike markets, grossly misallocate resources, as a matter of routine. Energy prices, for example, were highly subsidized in the socialist economies of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. As a result, industrial production was far more energy-intensive throughout the socialist world than in Western European economies — five to ten times higher, according to one estimate — leading to more pollution. A 1992 World Bank study found that more than half of the air pollution in the former Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe could be attributed to subsidized energy pricing during this period.

A related problem was the fixation of socialist planners on heavy industry at the expense of the environment. “The singular dominant fact of the Soviet economic strategy,” Jeffrey Sachs has noted, “was the subordination of all human and economic goals to the development of heavy industry.” Industrial pollution from factories in Eastern Europe was so bad that Time described it as the region “where the sky stays dark.” Acid rain in Krakow severely damaged the city’s historic structures and buildings, some of which required renovations, and even corroded the faces of many centuries-old statues.

Of course, industry behind the Iron Curtain was anything but efficient, and central planning caused excessive use of natural resources. A 1991 study by Mikhail Bernstam found that market economies used about one-third as much energy and steel per unit of GDP as did socialist countries. Likewise, Polish economist Tomasz Zylicz found that the non-market economies of Central and Eastern Europe required two to three times more inputs to produce a given output than did Western European economies. (The former Soviet world, as well as China, also emitted several times more carbon  per unit of GDP than the United States did — a trend that continues today.) Simply put, market economies make more with less and are therefore better for the environment.

Socialist planners, on the other hand, lack the knowledge necessary to rationally coordinate economic activity. Moreover, bureaucratic constraints make accurate price-setting impossible. In their 1989 book The Turning Point, Soviet economists Nikolai Shmelev and Vladimir Popov offered an illustrative example. To bolster the production of gloves, the Soviet government more than doubled the price it paid for moleskin. Warehouses soon filled with mole pelts, but glovemakers were unable to use them all, so many rotted. As the economists explained:

The Ministry of Light Industry has already requested Goskomtsen [the State Committee on Prices] twice to lower the purchasing prices, but “the question has not been decided” yet. And this is not surprising. Its members are too busy to decide. They have no time: besides setting prices on these pelts, they have to keep track of another 24 million prices. And how can they possibly know how much to lower the price today, so they won’t have to raise it tomorrow?

Therein lies a crucial flaw in socialist economic logic, and one that has real environmental consequences: Whereas a capitalist firm has ample incentive to act on such information to economize on the use of natural resources, socialist planners have no such motivation — Soviet bureaucracies, Shmelev and Popov noted, were “able only to correct the most obvious price disproportions several years after” they appeared — nor do they have the knowledge needed to accurately set millions of prices at once. And if there are no market prices to convey accurate information about the value of scarce natural resources, there is little chance of conserving them.

Read the full article here

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Tom Halla
May 29, 2019 6:26 pm

For shame! One is only supposed to judge the intentions of the central planners, not their results.

Dan Sudlik
Reply to  Tom Halla
May 30, 2019 10:07 am

Socialism is bad for everyone and everything. Except of course the ruling class.

Reply to  Dan Sudlik
June 4, 2019 3:35 pm

Well, not even them. The ruler of every communist state regularly bumped off underlings. Stalin was a past master at getting rid of potential rivals (20 million plus?). So was Mao (80 million plus?). Communism teaches that the most dangerous enemy is the internal one. The only individual who really benefits from communism is the ruler. Lesser lights may get temporary benefits, but their longevity is often very short. The ordinary person suffers deprivation, lack of freedom, and even starvation.

Bryan A
Reply to  Tom Halla
May 30, 2019 10:11 am

We should be marching along with the protesters…holding signs saying things like…
No Palm Oil for fuel…
No Corn (FOOD) for Fuel…
Affordable Eneregy NOW…
No burning the Carbon Sink Forests for fuel…
Carbon Free 24/7 Dispatchable Energy Now (Nuclear / Hydro)…
Just say NO to Unreliable Energy Sources…

Thomas E.
Reply to  Tom Halla
May 30, 2019 10:23 am

Perfectly correct!

One author I want to read more of is Thomas Sowell

“Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.”

My greatest fear, is the intellectuals know what the problem of central control is/was, and believe that with the integration of Amazon’s and Google’s data bases, central control will work. The servers at Amazon/Google will be able to figure out how many hammers we need to manufacture. Our overlords will rely on AI to solve the problems that occur when a market economy is replaced.

Reply to  Thomas E.
May 31, 2019 12:09 am

If AI were able to solve the problems caused by replacing a market economy, they could only do so by replicating what the market economy already does.

Tom Gelsthorpe
May 29, 2019 6:49 pm

Government of the blockheads, by the blockheads, and for the blockheads. . .

Komrade Kuma
Reply to  Tom Gelsthorpe
May 30, 2019 5:45 am

Socialism, communism, managerialism = centralism whereunder the central controllers are selected by a system that is largely if not totally disconnected from an appropriate level of meaningfull feedback from the shop floor/coalface. Central control invents its own vocabulary and quantification rubric which suits its control over power and is optimised to that end, not to the betterment of the entity/organisation at issue.

The treatment of Peter Ridd by James Cook University is a case study that exemplifies the matter. It provides a narrative that crystallizes the issues and methods of the corruption of power and ambition in the manner of a Shakespearian tragedy. After all, the VC at JCU is an honourable woman and the JCU board are all honorable persons, are they not?

May 29, 2019 6:54 pm

The important part of capitalism is the free market which is far better then centralized control for encouraging growth and prosperity. This is why capitalist countries have done so much better economically then Socialist countries.

Even for Socialist governments, having enough money to run the country is the number one priority and a weak economy means less money is available. Things like polluting the environment, the reckless destruction of entire ecosystems or exploiting natural resources in an environmentally hostile manner are all because such things have a positive impact on their otherwise weak economies. They just can’t afford to do any better.

Reply to  co2isnotevil
May 29, 2019 7:42 pm

Capitalism is a dynamically unstable system that is highly responsive to market conditions and expectations. It is optimally designed to mitigate runaway conditions (e.g. monopolies, monopolistic conditions) common to central/single planner (“expert”) systems, and smooth recurring perturbations (“evolution”) innate to organic processes.

Reply to  n.n
May 29, 2019 8:48 pm

Rather than dynamically unstable, chaotically dynamic towards a goal is more descriptive. Much like the climate system which is also chaotically dynamic, exceptionally stable and converges to a goal. In both cases, that goal is a steady state equilibrium matching its outputs to its inputs.

Reply to  n.n
May 30, 2019 12:02 pm

“Capitalism is a dynamically unstable system”

No. Absolutely not. It is the absence of a system. It is free trade, independent of constraints. Free trade is self stabilizing.

The term capitalism was invented by Marx as a pejorative of free trade.

Reply to  Gamecock
May 31, 2019 9:17 am

I far prefer the term “Free Enterprise”. It more fully coneys the ability to create the goods and services traded.

As an unashamed proponent of the US “system” of free enterprise currently being reset by TRUMP! and the US military, think of the first Nuclear Aircraft Carrier, the USS Enterprise CVN 65. It is only one of a long history of US navel vessels with that name. True representatives of the US. Note there was even an HMS Enterprise. The third Ford class carrier is to be names Enterprise, the 3rd US carrier to have that name.

And don’t forget the Space Shuttle Enterprise, a test vehicle. I thought at the time that that was a mistake. The first operational shuttle should have been named Enterprise.

An of course USS Enterprise, NCC 1701, the future interstellar spacecraft. I hope there will be and intermediary interplanetary edition of a manned craft with that name, perhaps for the Mars mission. Just saying.

Reply to  n.n
May 31, 2019 4:12 am

How exactly it is designed to mitigate runway conditions like monopoly?
Is there something changed on “too big to fail”?

AGW is not Science
Reply to  Peter
May 31, 2019 9:23 am

Ah, but now you’re talking about the results of government interventions that disturb free trade, not about how free trade, by design, mitigates runaway conditions.

Absent government mandates that banks and other lending institutions provide mortgage loans to parties highly unlikely to pay their debts (which WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED absent the government meddling), there would not have been any such “failures” to begin with.

May 29, 2019 6:56 pm

Dork alert in caption!

May 29, 2019 6:58 pm

As history shows, Socialism is bad for the environment, freedom, business, living standards, social and technical development, economic growth, etc.

The US private sector spends $2 trillion/year (mostly wasted) in compliance costs for the mountains of US government rules, regulations and mandates, which is almost equivalent to the entire GDP of India…

Most of these compliance costs are imposed by the EPA, of which, most have little or no real cost/benefit affect…

The irony is that these excessive EPA compliance costs make US products uncompetitive, and force US manufactures to move production to countries without any real EPA compliance costs (like China), which severely hurts our industrial sector and actually INCREASES worldwide pollution emissions…

All EPA regulations should be determined by conducting careful cost/benefit analyses. Trump has massively cut regulations, which has drawn some manufacturers back to the US, but after he finishes his second term, Leftists will likely try reinstate most of the irrational EPA regulations he cut…

There is nothing more dangerous than Socialist zealots imposing their irrational beliefs on others against their will “for their own good”….

Reply to  SAMURAI
May 29, 2019 8:04 pm

Problem is that Liberals Environmental scientists play a key role in society’s responses to environmental problems, and many of the studies they perform are intended ultimately to affect policy. The precautionary principle, proposed as a new guideline in environmental decision making, has four central components: taking preventive action in the face of uncertainty; shifting the burden of proof to the proponents of an activity; exploring a wide range of alternatives to possibly harmful actions; and increasing public participation in decision making. All of this cost money and the cost/benifit analysis incorporates these components.

Reply to  Usurbrain
May 29, 2019 9:42 pm

The central problem of environmentalism:

… no matter what’s been done, it’s never enough and it always has to be much more and more radical. link

The EPA can never stop promulgating more regulations, no matter how useless they are and how badly they wreck the economy.

It’s also the central problem with liberalism; when do you stop?

Reply to  commieBob
May 29, 2019 10:56 pm

It’s the same with Health and Safety. They’re a business after all and every week their employees must find something to have a pretend panic attack over and ask the fetid over-abused question “But what if a small child..?”. This is just to maintain their own KPI’s and keep their jobs. Meantime it only gets harder for everyone around them, the business and employees. Health and Safety won’t be happy even if they successfully mandate to have small cages over the green “start” button so you can’t use the machine anymore.

As with Health and Safety, EPA’s mandate is to grow, never to be clawed back into a smaller institution after they’ve done a good job. They always manage to find something often bordering on the ridiculous and utterly dishonest to maintain their “business”.

AGW is not Science
Reply to  ЯΞ√ΩLUT↑☼N
May 31, 2019 9:29 am

Yup – It’s the problem with all bureaucracies – they live to grow and fester for their own benefit and to the detriment of everything else, ultimately – like a cancer.

procyon bearsfoot
Reply to  SAMURAI
May 29, 2019 10:31 pm

“Zealous statesmen perhaps did more mischief than anything in the Galaxy–with the possible exception of procrastinating soldiers. That could indicate the fundamental difference between statecraft and war.”
― H. Beam Piper, Works of H. Beam Piper

May 29, 2019 7:13 pm

Here is how socialism fails it takes away the rewards from those that perform and give them to those that don’t, with the government skimming off the top and handing out rewards to their friends that help keep them in power; thereby eliminating the incentive for folks to produce.

Rod Evans
Reply to  Gordon
May 29, 2019 10:59 pm

It also demands the right to tell you what to think.
Orwell was not just a writer he was clearly a visionary. The ministry of truth now exists, it travels under the name of The United Nations.

Reply to  Gordon
May 30, 2019 12:22 am

Those who make the decisions are insulated from the consequences of those decisions.
They have no skin in the game.

They can live away from the poluted areas, eat and drink food imported from clean areas and never have to face the wrath of disadvantaged voters or shareholders.

Zig Zag Wanderer
May 29, 2019 7:23 pm

It’s a good job that fossil fuels have been rebranded as ‘molecules of freedom’!

May 29, 2019 7:42 pm

We must stop calling welfare countries Socialist and it takes Capitalism to finance a welfare state. Cuba and Venezuela are probably the only true examples of Socialist states left standing. For now. Cuba is toying with Capitalistic changes but is still hard core Marxist and the citizens are paying the price. But after over a half a century most Cubans don’t remember the years of prosperity. Once vibrant economies gone in both countries.

Reply to  markl
May 30, 2019 6:47 am

Any state where government substantially tells industry how to operate, has strong socialist elements.

Reply to  markl
May 30, 2019 12:23 pm

The title of the following article is very misleading:

The Scandinavian welfare states are actually very capitalistic. Among other places, it shows up in the income data. “The top 10% of wealth holders in three Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden and Denmark) hold between 65 and 69 per cent of those nations’ wealth.”

Somebody figured out that you really need a very productive economy to adequately finance a welfare state, as markl noted.

Reply to  markl
May 30, 2019 2:21 pm

Don’t forget North Korea.

May 29, 2019 7:44 pm

The article, while entirely correct so far as it goes, still does not identify the root cause for the destruction.

The fact is that any system of government that concentrates excessive power to a relatively small group of people in a central location is soon taken over by corruption. Socialism is only one of those systems.

This group does not care what happens in the hinterlands. In flyover country, if you will. So long as their environment is not damaged, there is no problem in their eyes.

The same thing is happening here in the United States, as power is concentrated in the coastal states. Vast areas of land covered over by solar arrays (whether PV or mirrors). Bird chopping windmills. Incompetent people breaching the containment of heavy metal laden water in an abandoned mine. The list is long.

Reply to  Writing Observer
May 30, 2019 6:49 am

It doesn’t have to be “excessive power”.
Any concentration of power will be targeted by those whose only goal is power.
All power corrupts, the more power, the bigger the corruption.

Pat Frank
May 29, 2019 7:52 pm

The crux problem in socialist societies is that there is no negative feedback on bad decisions.

Reply to  Pat Frank
May 29, 2019 9:55 pm

There are punishments but they may be perverse. One of my favorite stories is about how all the Soviet trains moved at midnight.

At midnight, every railroad dispatcher sent all the trains in his district into the neighboring districts. That way he wouldn’t have to account for those trains.

May 29, 2019 7:59 pm

While I certainly am not advocating socialism, I am not quite buying the thesis of the article. I’m not seeing how industrial practices of an earlier era can be compared to now. It seems to me that the stage of development of industrial practices at the time were bad for the environment. The consciousness we have now was not there for socialism to tap into. Socialism happened to be the controlling philosophy over those industrial practices at the time. Did socialism itself cause ineffective choices in how those industrial practices were universally applied? I’m not convinced that it did.

Maybe socialism caused a push to drive those industrial practices of the time at a higher rate, in an attempt to create enough resources to spread around, but is this the result of socialism, per se? I don’t know.

I just don’t know. Some clarification might help.

Steve Reddish
Reply to  Robert Kernodle
May 29, 2019 9:20 pm

Central control slows advancement of technology. A factory has no incentive to use resources more efficiently if supply is subsidized. After ten years, technology in factories is 9 years behind the times.


Reply to  Steve Reddish
May 30, 2019 12:56 pm

“It is said that there isn’t a single person who possesses the knowledge and skill required to make a pencil”

The premise behind “I, Pencil”, downloadable as an audiobook.

Reply to  RobH
May 30, 2019 1:00 pm

Sorry. Seems you can’t download it but you can listen online.

James Clarke
Reply to  Robert Kernodle
May 29, 2019 9:58 pm

The research referred to in the article was conducted in 1989 and 1992, and the comparisons being made were contemporary comparisons. The article does point out the inefficiency of central planning, which naturally results in more pollution. In the full version, it also addresses the lack of property rights in socialist countries, which ultimately protect the environment. Where property rights exist, neighbors will take a polluter to court and make them clean up their act. Not so much under socialism. Ultimately the State was responsible for the pollution and no Soviet citizen could sue the state and maintain their upright, breathing status.

History is so replete with examples of the inefficiency and failure of centralized planning, that I believe we can safely call it settled economic science. Even without the empirical evidence, however, it is pretty obvious why such a system would fail. The market is far too complex to be governed by a small group of people.

It is said that there isn’t a single person who possesses the knowledge and skill required to make a pencil from the natural Earth. It takes miners, lumberjacks, machinists, designers, smelters and…well…people who understand where erasers come from and what they are made of. And that is just one very simple product. Pencils get made because there is a large web of people doing their part to make a pencil happen. Each person makes decisions based on their knowledge of that one small part, steered by prices. Prices play the role of communication between all the desperate endeavours associated with pencil making, and bring them all together to make those pencils in the most efficient way possible.

Socialism (in practice) attempts to circumvent all of that efficient coordination and replace it with a bureaucrat who knows little about any part of the process, and then gives that bureaucrat hundreds or thousands of other products to oversee and coordinate. Who in their right mind would think that is a better way to get things done?

Socialism with a market based decision-making process (is that still socialism?) may have a chance at economic survival, but no system with central planning at its core has any chance of longevity.

Reply to  James Clarke
May 30, 2019 6:58 am

Socialism is defined by centralized decision making. The difference lies in how much control and how critical the decisions.

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  Robert Kernodle
May 29, 2019 10:08 pm

Robert at 7:59

I’m not quite sure of the issue you raise – “industrial practices of an earlier era” – because, in the USA, the clean air movement started in the 1940s or before. The 2nd paragraph of the post mentions the conditions in the USSR and Eastern Europe in the 1980s. By then, US cities were getting cleaner by the year. Corrective practices were insisted upon by society – people, newspapers, politicians, and so on.
Apparently socialism had/has no means of forcing corrective practices.

The Donora Smog was one of the incidents where Americans recognized that exposure to large amounts of pollution in a short period of time can result in injuries and fatalities. The event is often credited for helping to trigger the clean-air movement in the United States, . . .

Reply to  Robert Kernodle
May 30, 2019 12:29 am

As I read the article, it compares resource use and environmental impact -or proxies thereof – between socialist and capitalist countries AT THE SAME TIME.

If your argument were correct, then both capitalist and socialist nations would have similar pollution levels, but the don’t. The only way that you argument *could* apply is in the sense that socialist countries remained industrially primitive for far longer….. and the most reasonable explanation for that is socialism and central planning.

So regardless of how you look at it, socialism is bad for the environment.

Reply to  PeterW
May 31, 2019 11:49 am

Yes, and deadly for people.

Reply to  Robert Kernodle
May 30, 2019 12:31 am

As I read the article, it compares resource use and environmental impact -or proxies thereof – between socialist and capitalist countries AT THE SAME TIME.

If your argument were correct, then both capitalist and socialist nations would have similar pollution levels, but the don’t. The only way that you argument *could* apply is in the sense that socialist countries remained industrially primitive for far longer….. and the most reasonable explanation for that is socialism and central plannin…..

So regardless of how you look at it, socialism is bad for the environment.

Reply to  Robert Kernodle
May 30, 2019 6:55 am

As economies and populations grew. Activities that didn’t call problems in small doses, started to create problems.
It wasn’t capitalism that caused environmental problems, it was growth. As proof of this, even those areas that lacked any capitalism saw the same problems.
The difference was that capitalistic societies were able to create the wealth and technology to solve the problems that their newfound wealth was creating. Socialist societies didn’t.

Reply to  Robert Kernodle
May 30, 2019 8:48 am

Okay, thanks, I think I’m getting it now.

Ignorance is a bitch.

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Robert Kernodle
May 30, 2019 9:53 am

All the problems with collectivist type governments has to do with the nature of human beings. We are all flawed, we each have different goals, and everybody values things differently. Since our nature has not changed in centuries, there is absolutely no reason to believe that a few decades would make any difference at all.

Reply to  Paul Penrose
May 30, 2019 3:49 pm

I don’t believe our differences are “flaws.”

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Gamecock
May 30, 2019 5:10 pm

Nor do I. The three things I listed are different reasons why collectivist type governments fail (since they assume we are all virtuous and have the same goals and have the same values). When I said flaws, I mean things like dishonesty, cruelty, easily corrupted, etc. While we don’t all have the same flaws, we have some mix; nobody is perfect.

Reply to  Robert Kernodle
May 31, 2019 4:24 am

I spent my childhood in socialist east european country. And now in my 40s, I can honestly say there is absolutely no way you can advocate socialism.
From principle redistribution from success to fail is attenuating all progress in society.
It has self driving dampening effect on economy inevitably ending in total collapse, without exception.
Worse, I can say I can see this happening in former capitalistic countries like France, Germany and to some extent in the US (I lived and worked 4 years in CA).
Current social, leftist governments are always balancing on edge of crisis and collapse, leaching as much of economy as it is possible to not tear it down immediately.

May 29, 2019 8:12 pm

Isn’t it all about the power in the end? It is getting kinda heavy out there…… right or wrong……

On the outer Barcoo
May 29, 2019 8:40 pm

With respect to socialism, what is more important: the murder of many tens of millions of citizens in the USSR and Mao’s China or the destruction of their environment? Rusty hulks and dried sea-beds are all that remain after the bones of the dead have been consigned to the realms of non-existence.

High Treason
May 29, 2019 8:57 pm

There are 2 sorts of capitalism-free market and crony capitalism. The excesses of capitalism in terms of exploitation are far more likely from crony capitalism. Alas, free market (natural) capitalism is being blamed for the excesses of crony capitalism.

The distinction must be made to avoid the guilty blaming the innocent.

James Clarke
Reply to  High Treason
May 29, 2019 10:18 pm

The word ‘crony’ negates the principles that define capitalism, so it has little relationship to capitalism at all. Crony Capitalism is more fascism-lite than it is capitalism. Free market capitalism is redundant. A free market is part of a capitalist system by definition. If the market ain’t predominantly free, it ain’t capitalism.

The left has no desire to make the distinction, because they are guilty and want to blame the innocent. That is their goal.

Reply to  High Treason
May 30, 2019 7:01 am

Crony capitalism is socialism.
Capitalism is when individuals decide for themselves.
Socialism is when government decides for everyone. Without socialism, crony capitalists have no power to affect anything.

Reply to  High Treason
May 30, 2019 3:50 pm

Crony capitalism is fascism. The cooperation of government and business.

Calling it capitalism doesn’t make it capitalism.

J Mac
May 29, 2019 9:08 pm

Shawn Regan,
Excellent article! Thank You!
RE: “Socialist planners, on the other hand, lack the knowledge necessary to rationally coordinate economic activity.”
We see this in evidence yet again, as the oil rich nation of Venezuela economically succumbs to the failing socialist administration there.

May 29, 2019 10:01 pm

Bummer. Regan just shattered my firm belief that we could happily follow North Korea’s example.

Mark Pawelek
May 29, 2019 10:41 pm

Yesterday’s centrally planned socialist economy had no way to account for the value of things. Planning sounds OK in principle: we get our spreadsheets (or accountants) out and figure out how much something will cost to make. In practice it’s all about politics and political deals.

In practice, no factory could surely rely on another because there was no good quality control; which the market gives capitalism for free. For example: a plant assembles cars. It needs body-making, engines, transmission, tires, seats, glass screens, etc. If one supplier doesn’t deliver, say seats, the soviet assembly plant would try making its own, as well as assemble. Another example: the public couldn’t rely on collective agriculture keeping supermarkets full; so many workers would try to get an allotment to grow their own food. That kind of think wrecked havoc with timekeeping at their official job! The whole trashes “economy of scale”; which is one reason today’s market economies are so much more productive than yesterday’s.

Tomorrow’s socialism will be different to the past. They will keep the market but deform it with ever sillier subsidy, directives and taxes. It will be more central directive plus MMT = Modern Monetary Theory; better known as “Magic Money Tree”. One of the sad consequences of the GFC is today’s socialist economists have even more faith in printing money than yesterdays’. They want to “invest in” masses of green energy infrastructure and pay for it by printing money. As if the Chinese, who supply it, are interested in getting even more MMT-dollar debt! Tomorrows socialism will be another environmental disaster; but with a different flavour than yesterdays.

May 29, 2019 11:18 pm

Socialism Is bad for the Environment and is even worse for the population.

Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
May 30, 2019 3:52 pm

Good point!

Rod Evans
May 29, 2019 11:19 pm

The difference between socialism and capitalism is clear. They are better described as totalitarianism versus freedom.
Socialism’s/totalitarianism prime objective, is to maintain socialism. No amount of effort is spared in that objective. It will persist while resources are available to maintain the objective. The spiral towards poverty and failure is baked into the principles advanced by socialists.
Capitalism/freedom’s prime objective is wealth creation and liberation of the innate skills within society.
Capitalism/freedom is core to human evolution. People strive to improve their personal well being and their security.
Socialism can only exist by removing the freedom to choose.
Capitalism exists because people have the freedom to choose.
As Winston Churchill once said, “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.

Reply to  Rod Evans
May 30, 2019 7:28 am

Under capitalism, the only way to get rich is to provide goods/services that people want to buy.
The only way to get people to want to buy is to have goods/services that either cheaper or better than the ones already on the market. (Yes, there is marketing, but most marketing only informs consumers of options, it can’t force anyone to buy your product.)
If your stuff is no good, people won’t buy from you again.

Johann Wundersamer
May 29, 2019 11:48 pm

There have been already retailers in zaristic Russia — compare nowadays Hudson Company:

“Kunst and Albers (German: Kunst und Albers, Russian: Кунст и Альберс) or Kunst & Albers was a German trading company in Russia.

Founded by Gustav Kunst, a merchant, and Gustav Albers, a sailor, it operated the first department store in Vladivostok. At its height, it was a vast business empire and the largest trading company in the Russian Far East.[1]”

WWI destroyed merchandise in Russia:

“By 1914, Kunst & Albers had 32 branch stores. World War I brought an end to the flow of merchandise from Germany. Multiple publications spread the rumour that the firm was operating a German spying network, the main source of such rumours being the publicist Ferdynand Antoni Ossendowski. In the 1950s, George F. Kennan wrote that: “it is doubtful whether the history of journalism could produce another instance of such a violent and prolonged personal vendetta.”[5]”

May 30, 2019 12:00 am

Yes, compared with what I’ve seen with my own eyes in industrial regions of the USSR, most of the territories in western countries are green paradise. Simply moving from the USSR to Austria on the train was like being transferred from the black-and-white, mostly dirty gray movie to the bright, colorful, different planet.

Only… one really need to think about the meaning of the term “socialsm.” Sweden, for example, is a predominantly socialist country. Yes, there are private property and private companies but the whole system of government there is clearly on the socialist side. Meanwhile, while the USSR contained some superficial features of socialism, it was mostly a feudal dictatorship masquerading as a socialist society.

Reply to  Alexander Feht
May 30, 2019 12:34 am

It’s a pertinent observation that the majority of casualties from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster were not from exposure to radiation, but from increased mortality amongst those forcibly evacuated from the countryside surrounding the nuclear plant, to the grossly polluted cities.

Reply to  Alexander Feht
May 30, 2019 12:40 am

Not sure you’re right about Sweden. The country has rigorous, well-enforced laws protecting property rights.

Reply to  Graemethecat
May 30, 2019 3:55 am

In Scandinavia it´s different kind of “socialism”?

Reply to  Alexander Feht
May 30, 2019 7:31 am

Sweden is a welfare state sitting on a capitalist society.
Totalitarianism is the only way to implement full socialism.

Reply to  MarkW
May 31, 2019 3:17 am

What is (barely) possible in countries with relatively ethnically homogeneous population is decisively impossible in omnigenous “melting pots” of the USA or Russian Federation.

Johann Wundersamer
May 30, 2019 12:02 am

“Consider the destruction of the Aral Sea between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which has been called “one of the planet’s worst environmental disasters.” Once the world’s fourth-largest inland body of water, it shrank to less than half its original size because of Soviet economic policies.”

Over geological times sea level of aral sea oscillated from 0 to some 100 feet –



Commerce and production has to be measured like climate – over decades to centuries to …

Reply to  Johann Wundersamer
May 30, 2019 7:34 am

So, in your opinion. The diversion of water flowing into the Aral Sea had nothing to do with it’s drop in size? Over geological time, rainfall over the watershed that fed the Aral Sea changed dramatically as the world’s climate changed. What in your opinion has changed in the climate that caused the change to the Aral Sea?

A century ago, most people were still riding horses. A few decades ago nobody had smart phones. What’s this nonsense about measuring commerce and production over decades to centuries?

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Johann Wundersamer
May 30, 2019 9:56 am

On geological time scales this happened in an instant. That doesn’t seem natural to me, Johann.

Reply to  Johann Wundersamer
May 31, 2019 11:26 am

Rivers to Aral Sea were turned to irrigate cotton fields. That was manmade disaster. And it was like an eyeblink compared geological timescales.

May 30, 2019 12:06 am

The EPA like all Bureaucracies exists by maintaining the taxpool and by extension, their livelihoods within its comfortable confines. They are quite happy to entertain the running of all society off Taxation. They know little else in a practical sense.

A political system is only as good as it’s trustworthiness and the skill base of those who maintain it. Increasingly they are regulating free enterprise out of existence and allocating access to resources to “Taxable” crony corporates that are amenable to the umbrella of Government oversight….. This was Mussolini’s economic plan for Fascism.

The Free market is no longer all that “Free”. It’s increasingly becoming a slave to bureaucratic regulations and interference. We can’t trust these people with our money or our freedom anymore. They waste both.

Johann Wundersamer
May 30, 2019 12:23 am
Johann Wundersamer
May 30, 2019 12:34 am

An American historian once said:

When you travel through the Balkan and ask e.g. an albanian farmer “why are you so poor”

he answers

“Because for centuries we had to fight the osman empire”

And when you travel through Turkey and ask an anatolian farmer “why are you so poor”

he answers

“Because for centuries we had to conquer Europe”.

Reply to  Johann Wundersamer
May 30, 2019 7:36 am

And the relevance of this is …?

Reply to  MarkW
May 31, 2019 11:47 am

Easy excuses for incompetent governments. Relevance to this thread is about nil.

Ed Zuiderwijk
May 30, 2019 12:52 am

Re: the misallocation of resources.

Many years ago I visited a Polish colleague. He asked me to help him shift his TV to another place. The thing was massive, in both size and weight so two were needed to move it. It was explained to me that the box frame contained an extraordinary amount of steel, it was built like a tank. Why? Because by adding utterly useless excess quantities of steel the production of TVs helped the producers of steel to meet their centrally set 5 year production target.

Ever driven a 1980s Lada (Soviet Union `volkswagen’)? Noticed how heavy, sluggish and fuel inefficient it was? You now know why.

Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
May 30, 2019 4:47 am

I had 80s Lada as my second car. The other was Wolkswagen Passat. In winter, when Wv didn´t start I use Lada. It started always, whatever cold it was. Great car, heavy, sluggish and fuel inefficient, but worked always and it was warm.

Russ Wood
Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
June 1, 2019 5:50 am

I read recently that the USSR had a ‘quota’ on whales, and if a whaling fleet was already full with oil, it still had to kill its quota!
The Socialist ANC rulers of South Africa are trying to enforce ‘black’ quotas on everything from sports teams to companies’ staffing. It doesn’t work, as can be seen by our failing electricity supply organisation.

Rod Evans
May 30, 2019 1:04 am

Would someone who knows the answer to this question please advise me.
Why is a comment I posted at 11 19 pm still say it is awaiting moderation?

Ed Zuiderwijk
Reply to  Rod Evans
May 30, 2019 2:19 am

I asked this same question to a very knowledgeable colleague. This is what he suggests:

“It’s likely that the comment posting is done using AJAX tricks behind the scenes, with a JavaScript function doing the actual HTTP POST operation to send new comments, and refreshing the page by updating the DOM tree after it gets a response. Maybe the web site has changed its JavaScript code or the back-end comment-handling function recently, and the developers didn’t test it using Safari or Firefox, so it only works if you’re using Internet Explorer. That would be my working hypothesis.”

I use Safari and Firefox browsers on which the comments appear usually after an hour or so.

Rod Evans
Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
May 30, 2019 10:54 am

Thanks Ed,
It is unfortunate that in these highly technical days of instant communications, it takes hours for simple comments to load up.
Hey Ho.

Johann Wundersamer
May 30, 2019 1:12 am

before “Lewis” was a trademark, Spanish galleons brought gold, silver and semi-precious stones from “the new lands” across the Atlantic to Spain.

The Spanish court and the sovereigns were able to arrange big parties with porcelain and silver cutlery. in princely robes.

The “sans-culotte” as in french, the “have-no-pants”, could no longer afford bread nor meat nor tailor service because first the sovereigns had to be supplied – and they paid every price.

The prices exploded.

The whole country was impoverished. To date, Spain has never really recovered from this “economic crisis”.

Reply to  Johann Wundersamer
June 4, 2019 3:56 pm

But France, Germany and the UK benefited enormously from the desire of the Spanish rich to purchase foreign goods. So artisans, manufacturers and farmers in Spain starved. Unfortunately, that attitude is fairly common now in the EU where wages have not increased in purchasing power for many years whereas the noveau rich keep on accruing wealth. For example, Greece is probably the new Spain (50% to 75% youth unemployment).

Johann Wundersamer
May 30, 2019 1:19 am

before “Lewis” was a trademark, Spanish galleons brought gold, silver and semi-precious stones from “the new lands” across the Atlantic to Spain.

The Spanish court and the sovereigns were able to arrange big parties with porcelain and silver cutlery. in princely robes.

The “sans-culotte” as in french, the “have-no-pants”, could no longer afford bread nor meat nor tailor service because first the sovereigns had to be supplied – and they paid every price.

The prices exploded. Over some decades the money was gone.

The whole country was impoverished. To date, Spain has never really recovered from this “economic crisis”.

Johann Wundersamer
May 30, 2019 1:31 am

The point is not “capitalism”.

The point is “competition”.

Ed Zuiderwijk
Reply to  Johann Wundersamer
May 30, 2019 2:23 am

Add ‘accountability’ and you have what’s called: free markets.

Johann Wundersamer
May 30, 2019 2:35 am

before “fracking” was a trademark, freighters brought carbon fuels from “Venezuela” across the oceans to the customers.

The Venezuelan court and the sovereigns were able to arrange big parties with porcelain and silver cutlery. in princely robes.

The “sans-culotte” as in french, the “have-no-pants”, could no longer afford bread nor meat nor tailor service because first the sovereigns had to be supplied – and they paid every price.

The prices exploded. Over some decades the money was gone.

The whole country was impoverished. To date, Venezuela has never really recovered from this “economic crisis”.

Johann Wundersamer
May 30, 2019 2:40 am

My fault –

before “fracking” was a trademark, freighters brought “fossil fuels” from “Venezuela” across the oceans to the customers.

The Venezuelan court and the sovereigns were able to arrange big parties with porcelain and silver cutlery. in princely robes.

The “sans-culotte” as in french, the “have-no-pants”, could no longer afford bread nor meat nor tailor service because first the sovereigns had to be supplied – and they paid every price.

The prices exploded. Over some decades the money was gone.

The whole country was impoverished. To date, Venezuela has never really recovered from this “economic crisis”.

May 30, 2019 2:57 am

And another aspect was that because under socialism the regulators are one and the same people as those who administer and run the day to day affairs, there is no real feedback and correction to account for self-interest and excess. The regulatory bureaucrats have essentially subsumed ownership, leading to a system with much less checks and balances. So there is no incentive to look into detail into any environmental consequence of one’s actions.

The whole socialist/communist model rests on this distortion, that people do not act in their own biased self-interest, and institutionalised bias does not occur.

Marx himself was once asked about the possibility of the workers, once in power, succumbing to the same corrupt tendencies that owners of capital do, his reply was revealing: he dismissed it entirely by saying (paraphrased) ‘if only one could see how a factory manager treats his workers, such concerns would go to the devil’. In other words, he totally failed to understand that human nature is the main problem, he thought that if you changed the system then people would automatically change as well. He had no understanding of genetics, or of human nature, and simply assumed that humans were entirely the product of the system that they were in. This is a common mistake amongst academics, and it doomed millions to a hell born from it- if you remove all checks and balances to human nature by removing any system of external regulation, you will only get those same negative deep-rooted aspects of human nature taking full advantage of it. A ‘factory manager’ that doesn’t answer to anyone, will simply become an even more out of depth factory manager who acts for himself and his associates-just like modern North Korea.

May 30, 2019 6:05 am

The three economic, social and political failures that have proven themselves to the world time and time again are Feudalism, Socialism and Communism. Proven failures everywhere they have been attempted. The mind boggles that many young people today are beginning to embrace Socialism.

Reply to  TeeWee
May 30, 2019 7:41 am

That’s because they are not being taught actual history, instead they are being taught a version that claims that the only reason why socialism has failed is because it was run by imperfect people. This time it will work.

Reply to  TeeWee
May 30, 2019 3:59 pm

Feudalism failed?

edward bergonzi
May 30, 2019 6:44 am

You mean Stalinism … the USSR degenerated into a form of national “socialism”, but based on the nationalized property relations established by the Bolshevik Revolution. The word “socialism” is bandied about by people who don’t know what it is. Was FDR a “socialist”?

Reply to  edward bergonzi
May 30, 2019 7:42 am

Was FDR a socialist? In as much as he put socialist policies into place, yes.

Bill McCarter
May 30, 2019 8:17 am

Heilbroner was the first author given to us in economics 201 1n 77. I quickly saw him as an impossible ideologue then, nothing has changed.

May 30, 2019 9:00 am

Health and Safety won’t be happy even if they successfully mandate to have small cages over the green “start” button so you can’t use the machine anymore.

But what if a small child with a long pointy stick where to reach through the cage? They might accidentally push the button and start the machine.

Clearly we need to have a plexiglass box installed inside the cage around the button.


Reply to  Schitzree
May 30, 2019 10:32 am

Reminds me of the plexiglass boxes some bosses put over the thermostat so that the peons can’t change the temperature settings.
The problem was the building was occupied by a bunch of engineers, who quickly figured out that if bent a paper clip, you could use it to reach through the slats of the plexiglass box in order to press the buttons and reset the temperature. We even kept the bent paper clip hanging from the box so that we wouldn’t have to make a new one each time we needed one.

Tom Abbott
May 30, 2019 9:29 am

I heard about a poll taken the other day about socialism verses capitalism.

When asked for a straight comparison of capitalism to socialism about 53 percent favored capitalism and 46 percent favored socialism.

But when the question was asked differently, the answers were much different. The question asked those polled which was better, Free Enterprise or Government control. Free enterprise won by about 90 percent.

I didn’t actually see this poll but saw it mentioned on tv yesterday, and the answers make sense to me. I don’t think most people who vote for socialism actually understand what it is. They think it is a benign form of goverment meant to help all people. If only it were. Socialism sounds good but always ends up harming people.

A socialist bureaucrat will never have as much incentive to do a good job as the private person whose sole focus is making their business work properly. The socialist bureaucrat is just not motivated sufficiently to get the job done efficiently. If their paycheck depended on things working then it might be different, but it doesn’t.

John the Econ
May 30, 2019 9:48 am

I’ve been arguing this for decades. Poor people are the worst possible thing for the environment. But this article only addresses half of the reasons.

The other reason that the capitalist west has a cleaner environment is because we achieved a high enough degree of affluence for the masses to demand it. People living in sustenance environments where 100% of their effort has to be devoted to mere survival don’t care about their impact upon the environment. Environmentalism was, in fact, a luxury only available to the independently affluent.

The communist economies could barely feed themselves, much less invest in the technologies that the west could. The Soviet commissars would not have survived telling the people that they’d have to surrender a percentage of their already meager lifestyles to improve “the environment”. Poor people don’t care about such things because they can’t.

This can be seen today in places like China, or other places where most of the world’s toxic industrial waste is disposed in the open.

In the west, especially after WWII when the masses became fabulously affluent, the people were able to lift their heads, recognize, and appreciate environmental quality that they couldn’t when they were 100% focused on more immediate concerns. The amount of our productivity that we were willing and able to divert from consumption for environmental remediation was comparatively painless because of our affluence.

Today in China, (today’s worst polluter) a middle class that has never before existed there is growing in size and economic and political affluence. They too are starting to demand improved environmental quality. It is hopeful that they too will eventually demand the changes we were able to make.

Rudolf Huber
May 30, 2019 11:54 am

I sure have said this many times but I grew up 5km away from the Iron Curtain – luckily on the Austrian side. When the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, my family was among the very first to cross over into the country we had seen beyond the barbed wires for so any years. It was an eerie feeling. We had imagined how it must be many times but no amount of imagination prepared us for what we were hit with. People that have never seen a banana in their lives, friendly, nice and kind people but the state of the villages and towns was desolation. And one thing we never really understood – the stench of lignite coal was in the air. We never smelled it on our side of the border, just kilometers away but there it was omnipresent. I was a young man at the time and I understood that socialism not only destroys economies, it also destroys countries and people.

Reply to  Rudolf Huber
May 30, 2019 4:03 pm

Indeed. The removal of hope from a people creates perpetual depression.

Dr Jordan Peterson has been talking about this.

May 30, 2019 2:18 pm

I myself toured eastern Europe shortly after the Wall came down, and was astonished at the wholesale ecological damage everywhere I went. Polluted streams, filthy air, and high levels of every kind of toxin were the norm. The cities, even such jewels as Prague and Budapest, were incredibly grimy.

The people I spoke to all blamed it on the policies of Soviet socialism, and its concomitant, brutal suppression of any public outcry.

Surfer Dave
May 30, 2019 6:42 pm

I think that everywhere this article and the commenters mention ‘socialism’ it means ‘communism’. Central planning is not a requirement for a socialist society. Most European nations are socialist, and they are thriving and people there are better off then under harsh communism or harsh capitalism. Universal health care is a great example of effective socialism, and the USA’s total lack of it also illustrates that socialist universal health care is a boon for societies. I would say that environmentally communism and capitalism are terrible for the environment while socialism provides a framework for a cohesive integration of environmental concerns with effective mercantile economic activities.

Tom Halla
Reply to  Surfer Dave
May 30, 2019 7:04 pm

I think you are confusing Bismarck type social benefits, funded by high taxes on a capitalist economy, with a socialist economy, with controls over the means of production and trade. The Scandinavian countries are definitely capitalist, with social benefits.

May 30, 2019 9:41 pm

“Central planning is not a requirement for a socialist society.” The individual gives up control to the society, which is to say he gives control over some aspects of his life to the government. Even in a democracy, his control of his own life is reduced. Sometimes the government is good and the trade-off works, but don’t count on it. The fewer people who have control, the higher the odds of them being corrupt, incompetent, or malicious. If one person has all the control, he is a dictator. Socialism is a step along the way, where they take your money “for your own good”.

Frank Garrett
May 31, 2019 4:54 am

Socialists like to counter that the USSR wasn’t real socialism. The new favorite word is ‘ state sponsored capitalism.’ Always moving the goalposts to suit their agenda.

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