The 2020 elections may turn on the question of socialism vs. a freer economy. Both parties claim their way will provide the greatest benefit to the American people. Objective viewers should be interested in examining how socialist systems have performed. Recent history provides us with numerous examples of the the performance of government dominated economies.
Not far from the coast of Florida, Cuba provides a clear example of the way a socialist government impacts its citizens. When Castro took over, Cuba had the third-highest per-capita income in Latin America. Fifty years later, average per-capital income had plunged by 25 percent and Cuba had dropped to 11th place in Latin America in personal income.
The divided Korean peninsula provides a prime example of the results freedom vs. socialism can provide. The people of both North and South Korea share the same language, climate, ethnic background and heritage. The difference is socialism vs. relative free enterprise. Estimates for 2018 indicate a per-capita income of $1,300 in North Korea and $31,363 in South Korea. South Koreans earn 24 times as much as those in the north. Freedom makes all the difference.
EAST AND WEST GERMANY
After World War II, Germany was divided with the West enjoying a relatively free economy and the East adopting a Soviet style socialism. By 1989, just before the wall came down, West Germans enjoyed a per-capita income a full 80 percent higher than those under socialism. After the country was reunited and more accurate records were developed, it appears that the difference was a 10-to-1 advantage in favor of those in the West.
When the Communists took power in China, they adopted a strict socialist economy. While most of the rest of the world made rapid progress after the war, China's per-capita income remained stagnant. In 1991 the Chinese in Taiwan earned an average of seven times as much as those in China. This dramatic difference in productivity by similar people in the same part of hte world was not lost on the mainland leadership. They started to privatize parts of their economy. As China continued to privatize their economy, the difference has begun to narrow and individual income has risen dramatically.
Austria and Hungary were united in one country for many years and lie next to each other in Central Europe. They share many similar factors including climate and topography. Prior to World War II Austria enjoyed a per capita income approximately one third higher than Hungary's. After the war, Austria adopted a relatively free economy while Hungary, like East Germany, was subjected to Soviet communism. By 1989, just before the Wall came down, Austria's per-capita income was six times that of Hungary. Since privatizing Hungary's economy, great strides have been made.
Venezuela once enjoyed the highest per-capita income in all of Latin America. At a peak of $15,739 per person, they were the envy of their neighbors. Blessed with extraordinary natural resources and a productive population, their future looked bright. Over the years as they have moved toward a socialist economy, per-capita income has plunged. For 2020 per-capita income is projected to slide again to $4,000 a year.
PLYMOUTH AND JAMESTOWN COLONIES
Jamestown and Plymouth colonies, our first two permanent English coloies, began as communal societies where all shared alike in labor and rewards. The results were a disaster without the opportunity for individual effort and rewards. Governor Bradford of the Plymouth colony described the reasons for the failure of communal ownership by noting:
"For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense. ... And for men's wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it."
Both colonies were forced by necessity to privatize their land after a few years of starvation. Governor Bradford noted that by working for their own interest, "it made all hands very industrious."
Socialism has been tried many times throughout the world. While results vary, it has consistently yielded less for the people than economic freedom. Simply put, few will work up to their potential without some incentive. Those who would divide everything equally ignore the fact that there will be far less to divide. While socialism will harm hard-working men and women, it will give power to those who lust to control others.
The 2020 election may turn on whether our young voters understand the lessons of history. The political appeal of "free stuff" from the government is hard to resist, even when we know it is illusion.
Hank Brown is a former U.S. senator and a past president of the University of Colorado.