4 weeks ago

Socialism and the horrors of communism

Bernie Sanders’ pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination continues to bring popular attention to socialism. Polls continue to reveal socialism’s considerable appeal to many Americans. Opponents of socialism often offer up the horrors of 20th Century Communism as a rebuttal. Is this history relevant today?

Received wisdom holds that young Americans know no history. So here’s the history lesson: communist regimes in the 20th Century produced over 100 million deaths, numerous famines, gulags, purges, and mass arrests. The Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain turned Eastern Europe into a virtual prison to keep citizens from fleeing.

Whether such brutality was an inevitable feature of communism is debatable. The Russian and Chinese revolutions occurred by force, not peaceful means. An international coalition, including the U.S., invaded the Soviet Union after World War I and helped foment civil war. External forces arguably pushed communist nations down a violent path.

Yet are Josef Stalin’s atrocities relevant for the Sanders campaign? I do not think so, and this strikes me as a poor rebuttal.

So why bring up this history? The answer lies, I think, in F.A. Hayek’s argument about “Why the Worst Get on Top” in The Road to Serfdom. Hayek was a distinguished economist (he won a Nobel Prize) who also had significant impact outside the academy. Britain’s Margaret Thatcher was strongly influenced by Hayek’s writings, and George H.W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Even socialist movements starting with a democratic tradition, Hayek argued, would be pushed to extremes. He had previously argued, along with Ludwig von Mises, that socialist economic planning would seriously founder. Socialists would need almost dictatorial powers to implement their economic plans. Once possessing such powers, leaders would face a choice “between disregard of ordinary morals and failure.”

If the initial socialist leaders would not use power to achieve their goals, they would lose out to less scrupulous rivals. As Hayek put it, “The old socialist parties are inhibited by their democratic ideals; they did not possess the ruthlessness required for the performance of their chosen task.”

Furthermore, Hayek thought that socialism must inherently be nationalistic, especially in a wealthy country; otherwise, all transfers would go to the world’s poor. Indeed, Mr. Sanders intends free college, Medicare for all, and government-guaranteed employment for Americans. Group demarcation is significant: thanks to centuries of living in small groups, humans often accept that the ends justify the means when advancing our group’s interests.

History shows, however, that Hayek’s argument was not totally correct. Great Britain was basically socialist under the Labor Party between 1946 and 1979. Free elections continued though, and eventually, Lady Thatcher was elected Prime Minister. France elected socialist Francios Mitterrand as President and Sweden serves as Mr. Sanders’ favorite example of socialism and neither descended into tyranny.

Liberalism distinguished European socialism from communism. As developed in England and exported to its American colonies, liberalism viewed individuals as the source of value in society. Previously people served kings and emperors; liberalism held that governments serve the people. Russia, China, and North Korea had no liberal tradition.

America’s democratic socialists, I think, accept that government exists to serve the people. They believe that Mr. Sanders’ economic programs would better enable all Americans to thrive, not just billionaires and millionaires. I strongly disagree with their economics, but accept their commitment to individuals as the standard of value, which implies that government cannot violate citizens’ fundamental rights.

I see Hayek’s tale as cautionary, not prophetic. Conservatives and libertarians who largely accept this story are deeply suspicious of the chain of events a socialist government would set in motion. We fear that when push comes to shove, democratic socialists will sacrifice individual rights.

Anecdotes like the following do not calm our fears. Philosopher Jason Brennan writes in Why Not Capitalism?: “A prominent Marxist philosopher was once asked how many people he would be willing to kill, during the Revolution, to bring about his favored goals. He responded, without blinking, ‘10%.’”

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

11 mins ago

By the numbers – Cases, life and looking forward in Alabama

It has now been 28 days since Gov. Kay Ivey issued an order declaring a state of emergency in Alabama due to the coronavirus outbreak.

For most, it feels much longer ago.

Here is the latest info, by the numbers.

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2,499. That’s the confirmed number of coronavirus cases as of 6:00 a.m. on Thursday. This is a 302 case increase in the last 24 hours but still far below previous projections. Alabama’s numbers remain manageable.

67 reported deaths in the same time period.

314. Those are the total hospitalizations in the state since March 13. Should Alabama’s current trajectory hold, bed space in the state will be a non-issue.

60,000. The total estimated deaths in the United States has been reduced to this number after having been previously projected to be between 100,000 and 250,000.

1,200. That’s the number of masks donated to hospitals and nursing homes by Masks for Marshall County. Volunteer efforts like this are popping up across Alabama as members of the community seek to help those most vulnerable.

Mobile County now has 249 reported cases.

15. That’s the number of employees at Grayson Air Conditioning in Mobile who received  lunch vouchers from company owner Richard Ridge so they could eat out and support local restaurants struggling to do business. Ridge challenged those deemed essential to support other businesses as best as they can.

363 healthcare workers have now developed confirmed cases which is why there have been efforts in communities across the state to offer support and gratitude.

3. The number of hours coronavirus can remain viable in the air.

24. The number of hours coronavirus can remain viable on cardboard such as packages delivered by Amazon.

72. The number of hours coronavirus can remain viable on a plastic surface similar to a bottle of water.

100. That’s the number of birthdays World War II veteran and Mobile resident Henry Waltman was supposed to celebrate at Battleship Park this week. Unfortunately, due to the outbreak, his birthday party had to be canceled. Instead, friends drove by his home and honked their horns.

56.54. This is the percentage of women among the confirmed cases in the Yellowhammer State.

1,000,000 is the amount of dollars the Poarch Band of Creek Indians donated to Atmore Community Hospital. Tribal chair and CEO Stephanie Bryan said, “We are committed to doing everything we can to make sure this great hospital that serves our community has what it needs.”

7. The number of days coronavirus can live on the outside of a surgical mask. A reminder for everyone of the care required even when using extra precautions.

40. That’s the number of years of experience Dr. Richard Myers has working in genetics. Myers is leading the effort at Huntsville’s HudsonAlpha Institute to develop a treatment and a vaccine for coronavirus.

180. For some, this may be the most important number on the list. It’s the number of days until the college football season kicks off on September 5. It’s good to have something to look forward to.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

14 hours ago

OK, it’s time to start talking about opening up Alabama’s economy

The irresponsibility of the media, national public health officials and China has effectively destroyed our economy, individual businesses and American lives.

It is time to look for the exit ramp.

On March 14, Ramsey Archibald, son of John Archibald, was responsible for a completely ridiculous piece of video that rightly scared the heck out of many Alabamians.

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Archibald helped push the message that 2.5 million Alabamians would get the coronavirus, adding, “Let’s be conservative and say 50% get COVID-19.”

But wait, there’s more.

The video also makes the following claims:

  • 500,000 will need to be treated at a hospital.
  • 125,000 will need treatment at an intensive care unit.
  • 25,000 people could die

The Alabama Media Group “data reporter” painted this projection of millions getting sick and 25,000 dead as the best-case scenario.

He — and his publication — got it wrong. Big time.

But it worked. In concert with other lunatics, they declared that Alabama Governor Kay Ivey wanted people to die, or was at least cool with it, if she didn’t declare Alabama to be a “shelter-in-place” state.

After all, they just heard of such a thing and the smart states were doing it, so the dummies in Alabama should do it as well.

I, for my part, saw this for what it was and pointed out that at some point the governor’s office would cave and make the order, so she should just do it.

That’s exactly what happened.

The numbers began to change.

March 14 — 25,000
March 31 — 1,700
April 1 — 7,300+
April 2 — 5,500+
April 5 — 923
April 8 — 634

Now, this other info came from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projections.

Archibald’s info? A CBS News piece and a calculator. The projection went from 25,000 to 634 in less than a month.

The national line moved from 2.2 million to 60,000+ in that same time frame.

But the storyline didn’t reflect that change.

“People will die!” after all.

It won’t change now either.

It’s time to acknowledge that Alabama should be figuring out how to get back open for business.

Here is my suggestion how:

  1. Social distancing continues until August 1
  2. All businesses, outside of bars, restaurants and sporting events, can open on May 1
  3. Bars, restaurants and sporting events can open on May 15 with half occupancy
  4. Everything can fully open up on June 1
  5. Dates can change based on data

Why these dates?

Why not? Archibald based his on less.

The other steps we took were based on incorrect information and a guess.

Nations in Europe are doing similar things, and I thought people wanted us to be like Europe.

Give Alabamians some hope. Let them know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Be optimistic, but safe. Be smart, but understand that people are suffering here.

Jobs and businesses are already lost, unemployment is through the roof. It’s time to show the people of Alabama that there was a reason for that.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

14 hours ago

Yellowhammer connects your business to Alabama consumers

After nine years, our mission remains the same: reflect our state, its people and their values. As the state’s second-largest media outlet, Yellowhammer connects your business to the people of Alabama.

Online, on the radio, podcasts, events and more. What can Yellowhammer do for you?

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14 hours ago

Ainsworth encourages Alabamians to ‘Ring for the Resurrection’ on Easter

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth is asking all Alabamians to join him in a “Ring for the Resurrection” campaign on Easter Sunday. The effort is intended to promote unity at this COVID-19 time of prolonged separation and to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ following his crucifixion.

Ring for the Resurrection, which was created by Ainsworth, calls for all churches and individuals across the Yellowhammer State to ring a bell at noon on Sunday, April 12, in joint celebration of the holiday.

“Social distancing guidelines require us to remain apart from our extended families, church members, and other individuals on a sacred religious holiday that normally encourages us to gather together,” Ainsworth said in a statement on Wednesday. “But I realized that the simple act of ringing a bell can allow us to remain physically distant while being united in spirit.”

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“My wife, Kendall, our twin boys, Hunter and Hays, and our daughter, Addie, will be among those ringing a bell at noon on Sunday to celebrate the miracle of Easter,” he concluded. “While Gov. Ivey’s stay-at-home order, the public’s health and safety, and simple common sense prevent Christians from gathering in large groups even on the holiest of days, all of us can join together in spirit as we ring a bell to recognize that Christ has risen.”

This comes after Ainsworth earlier this week unveiled a new website designed to provide small business owners with a one-stop online information hub related to the ongoing pandemic.

RELATED: Ivey announces campaign encouraging Alabamians to pray for medical personnel, first responders

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

15 hours ago

COVID-19 restrictions unfairly choke small business

When Mark and Susan Anderson were required by a statewide mandate to close the doors of their Dothan clothing and outdoor gear store, Eagle Eye Outfitters, they felt like it was a necessary sacrifice for the good of public health. By limiting retail shopping to essential items such as groceries, prescriptions, and fuel, the governor’s order takes a great many people off the streets.

Hopefully, it slows the spread of the rampant COVID-19 virus. But the closure is incredibly painful for owners like them: it has forced them to furlough more than 150 employees, and the massive loss of revenue will leave a mark on their business for years.

What the Andersons don’t understand was how it is fair for one of their local competitors, the national chain Academy Sports and Outdoors, to continue selling the same types of apparel and outdoor gear.

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In this case, the loophole for Academy is their small firearms counter. Guns and ammunition are considered essential under the current order. Therefore, Academy and others who carry firearms have been allowed to continue to do business — even if guns and ammunition are only a small percentage of their overall sales.

One of the unintended consequences of the mandate is that small businesses, which often specialize in a more narrow range of merchandise, are penalized more heavily than their national chain competitors.

You heard that right: businesses owned and operated by Alabamians are absorbing the crushing cost of total closure, while national chains based out of state continue to snatch up what little retail demand still exists in the downturn.

If all businesses operating in Alabama were restricted from selling non-essential goods, small businesses might at least expect to benefit from the pent-up economic demand that will exist once the mandate is lifted. As it is, demand for those goods and services is funneled immediately to the big chains, cutting small business owners out of the deal entirely.

Bob Couch of Couch’s Jewelers feels that his small business is paying a higher price than others, as well. While he is forced to shutter his 75-year-old family jewelry store in downtown Anniston, Wal-Mart is allowed to continue selling jewelry just a short distance away. Because they carry groceries and have a pharmacy, they are allowed to sell anything.

None of the small business owners I spoke with this week felt the retail sales restrictions were unnecessary, given the scope and seriousness of the pandemic. But they think the state government has picked winners and losers with a poorly-conceived order.

They are right. And the governor can correct it today if she chooses.

Vermont heard a similar outcry from its small business community. In response, it amended its closure order so that businesses that remain open to offer essentials are limited to just those sales. In a large department store that offers a variety of goods, selling non-essentials is temporarily prohibited. No more going to Wal-Mart for groceries, but then wandering the aisles looking for a pair of gold earrings or a sleeping bag.

These are trying times for businesses of every size. But there’s no good reason for our own state government to damage Alabama’s small business owners further.

None of us likes the loss of civil liberties, or the freedom to do business as we choose — not even for a day. But if our current public health concerns are so extraordinary as to require such restrictions, the least government can do is ensure that they be equally and fairly applied. Every business operating in this state — big box or main street — should bear its share of the burden.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute; reach her on Twitter at @dhmccain.

API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families, learn more at alabamapolicy.org.