The welfare state

Already the free market economy reflects a compromise between pure capitalism and pure socialism, although the free market preserves the benefits of capitalism and permits only necessary legislation to moderate the economy. Governments limit pollution of the air and land and water. They make sure that the products sold to consumers are safe. They also regulate work areas for the safety of the workers. Governments even place limits upon who can work—setting minimum working ages to keep children out of the work force—and they limit the number of hours per week required of workers and demand rest times and meal times for workers.

A further compromise between pure capitalism and pure socialism is called the welfare state. Although some kinds of government welfare can be detected in ancient times—the Roman government subsidized bread and circuses for the people—the real welfare state began in the late nineteenth century as a result of the conflict between the ideas of capitalism and socialism. Otto von Bismarck introduced the welfare state to the newly-formed country of Germany in the 1880s. Fifty years later, Franklin Roosevelt introduced aspects of the welfare state to the United States as part of his New Deal, an attempt to overcome the troubles of the Great Depression.

Behind the welfare state lies the concept that all people have rights and that governments exist to protect those rights. In the original definition of human rights (life, liberty, property), the work of the government was largely negative. The government was not to deprive people of their rights without due process (a declaration of war or a criminal trial, for example). The government was to protect the rights of some citizens from enemies and criminals that would violate those rights. But, at first, no one said that the government should guarantee life by positive efforts to support the lives of all citizens.

People have basic needs. We need food and drink, clothing and shelter, and other physical supplies. When John Locke and Thomas Jefferson wrote about a right to life, they did not intend for the government to feed and clothe and house all citizens. People who work are given money, and they use that money to purchase what they need. People who do not work receive care from their families—children, the elderly, and the ill generally expect their families to feed and clothe and shelter them. Churches, community groups, and other charitable organizations care for those who are lacking the support of a family and those whose needs surpass the capacity of their family to meet. The government, therefore, had no role in supporting and protecting the poor beyond its essential task to keep enemies and criminals from taking advantage of those who were poor.

God gave his Law to his chosen people, the Israelites. He said that poverty would not exist if his Law was obeyed, but God acknowledged the reality of sin when he said, “You will always have the poor with you.” Jesus calls his people to be loving and generous, caring for those in need. If every Christian obeyed those commands to their fullest extent, poverty would not exist. Today’s Christians must confess that we have not perfectly followed the commands of Jesus. The poor, the needy, the homeless, and the oppressed among us reveal our shortcomings, our sins, our need for forgiveness. Christians are forgiven. Jesus paid the debt of all sinners in full on the cross. Being forgiven, Christians are being transformed into the image of Christ, doing what Jesus would do. Because the transformation is not complete, the poor and needy and homeless and oppressed are still among us.

Socialists point to the poor and oppressed and blame capitalism for their plight. Rather than acknowledging the sinful nature of all people, they focus their accusations upon the wealthy, the business owners, the people who benefit most from capitalism. Bismarck and Roosevelt did not want to renounce capitalism and endorse socialism. Instead, they used the authority of the government to require more help for the needy from those who could afford to offer help. Businesses are required to give their workers health insurance, disability insurance, and retirement plans. Under Social Security (part of the New Deal), workers are taxed to provide the government money; that money pays other people—chiefly the elderly and the disabled—not to work.

Does its defense of the right to life require the government to guarantee food, clothing, shelter, education, and health care to every citizen? This question defines the debate between conservatives and liberals in Europe, North America, and much of the rest of the world. The more services the government undertakes to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and provide medical care for the ill and injured, the more money it must collect from all its citizens. Government programs tend to be less efficient and more expensive than comparable programs under private ownership. Wealthy capitalists and their foundations often provide help for the poor that addresses their needs more specifically and more completely than government programs. On the other hand, when citizens begin trusting the government to solve the problems of the poor, those citizens often become detached from the problems of the poor, losing their compassion and their willingness to help their neighbors one person at a time.

Many Americans who say that they support socialism are actually longing for a more complete welfare state. They do not necessarily want their government to run all the factories, all the farms, all the hospitals and clinics, and all the means of production. They merely want a guarantee that all the hungry will be fed, all the homeless will be sheltered, and all the sick will receive the care they need. Calling for socialism, they blame the wealthy for creating and perpetuating the needs of their neighbors, and they accept no personal responsibility for causing or for solving those needs. The welfare state is not as bad an answer to human problems as is pure socialism; but it falls short of being the best answer available. J.

The richest Americans

A frequent complaint against capitalism is that it permits the rich to get richer, even at the expense of the poor. Capitalists reply that the success of rich business leaders helps all people, providing jobs for workers and products for customers. Over the years, who have been the richest American citizens, and how did they make their money? For this study, I chose to take a snapshot of the country’s wealthiest citizens every fifty years, beginning in 1820.

Stephen Girard was one of the richest citizens of the United States in 1820. He made his first profits from shipping, and then increased his wealth through banking. John Jacob Astor is another wealthy American alive in 1820. His initial wealth came from the fur trade, but he then increased his fortune through buying and selling real estate. Banker Thomas Willing and real estate mavin Stephen Van Rensselaer were also among the richest men in the country two hundred years ago.

In 1870, Cornelius Vanderbilt was one of the richest people in the United States. His money came from railroads, as did that of another wealthy American, Jay Gould. Alexander Turney Stewart became wealthy from selling textiles and dry goods. In 1870 Frederick Weyerhauser was beginning to build his fortune from the timber industry.

One hundred years ago, John D. Rockefeller had become one of the wealthiest citizens of the United States through his profits from Standard Oil and the petroleum industry. Henry Ford was one of the richest Americans due to the automobile industry. Brothers Richard Mellon and Andrew Mellon began as bankers but increased their fortunes through steel, oil, and railroads. Andrew Carnegie barely misses the cutoff of 1920, having died the previous year, but his fortune came from railroads and the steel industry.

H. L. Hunt and J. Paul Getty both gained wealth through oil. But by 1970 the richest American was Howard Hughes, whose wealth came from air travel and the movie industry. Another wealthy American in 1970 was Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart.

And in 2020, the wealthiest Americans include Bill Gates (Microsoft), Elon Musk (Tesla and SpaceX), and Jeff Bezos (Amazon). Another wealthy American is Warren Buffett, whose fortune came from the clothing and retail business.

Of course, all these wealthy Americans are white and male. Their opportunities for success were probably greater than potential competitors who were female or non-white. Looking beyond that impression, though, all of these men became rich by giving what consumers what consumers wanted. Railroads, cars, gasoline, steel, computer technology, and innovations in shopping mark the majority of these highly successful individuals.

Beyond that, most of them are known for philanthropy, for using their wealth for the benefit of others. Carnegie, Rockefeller, Walton, and other men on this list devoted much of their wealth to projects that helped others—combating disease and malnutrition, establishing opportunities for future entrepreneurs, and making libraries, concert halls, and museums available to the public. Most of these wealthy men and their families created foundations to continue their work beyond their lifetimes. Meanwhile, as they made their wealth by giving consumers what consumers wanted, they also created bountiful jobs for American workers.

Would railroads or automobile travel have been as affordable under government ownership and control? Would they have opened as many jobs as quickly as private investment made possible? If Walmart and Amazon were operated by the federal government, would they benefit as many shoppers? It is hard to imagine a scenario in which government control of these businesses would have been nearly as successful as they became under private ownership and control. J.

Capitalism or socialism–you make the choice

In 1980, a few Cuban citizens sought refuge in embassies, seeking to leave Cuba. After Fidel Castro announced that anyone who wished was welcome to leave, the number of emigrants swelled to more than 125,000. Cubans living in south Florida arranged boats to transport emigrants to the United States. Many of the migrants had to be housed on military bases in the United States until sponsors were found for them all—many of whom were relatives of the migrants, while others were charitable organizations offering help.

One young man from Cuba was taken in by his uncle and aunt in Miami. After a few days, he startled them at the breakfast table by announcing that he was ready to go pick up his Nikes. Further conversation clarified what he expected. The government of Cuba gave one pair of shoes to each Cuban citizen once a year. Now that he was in the United States, a much more prosperous country, this young man thought that he would receive a pair of expensive sports shoes from the government rather than the less luxurious shoes offered by his former government.

His uncle and aunt explained to him that the United States government does not pass out Nikes, or any other shoes. In the United States one works, saves one’s money, and then buys the shoes one wants and can afford. Those who want to save up for a pair of Nikes can do so; those who want to buy more affordable shoes sooner may do so. People in the United States can buy as many shoes as often as they want, provided they have the income to pay for their shoes. This is part of the difference between capitalism and socialism.

Discussion question: Which do you prefer: one free pair of shoes a year, provided by the government, or the opportunity to buy the shoes you want when you want them, provided you have the money? Explain your answer.

In the movie Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Robin Williams plays a Russian musician who defects to the United States. Shortly after his defection, the musician offers to stand in line to buy coffee for his American host family. He finds himself instead in a grocery store aisle surrounded by dozens of different brands and styles of coffee, which results in an emotional breakdown.

Discussion question: Which do you prefer: one style of coffee, chosen and distributed by the government, or the opportunity to buy the kind of coffee you want when you want it, provided you have the money? Explain your answer.

These two examples are not cherry-picked from an array of comparisons between free market capitalism and socialism. Both of them portray the real differences between life in the American free market economy and life under a socialist government. Once again, which do you prefer? J.

Rescuing capitalism

Under capitalism, the rich try to become richer. In the process, they provide jobs for workers and products for consumers, stimulating the economy. As businessowners compete with one another for customers and for workers, they try to achieve the best balance of price and quality for their products. They try to find the right wages to pay their workers, high enough wages to keep the best workers, but low enough wages to keep their products affordable.

The Industrial Revolution offered a glut of workers because the population was growing, agricultural workers were being pushed off their land, and machines were making it possible to accomplish more work with fewer laborers. Socialists (and other enemies of capitalism) recognized the problems that the system contained; they saw the poverty of the working class. At the same time, industry and the growing population of the cities led to other problems not directly due to capitalism, such as pollution and disease. Blaming all these problems on capitalism, socialists assured their audience that changing economic systems would fix these problems and would offer workers a better life.

Karl Marx predicted that the workers would violently overthrow business owners, along with political and religious leaders and others who supported the status quo. He further predicted that the overthrow would happen earliest at the places where the Industrial Revolution began—the British Isles, followed by western Europe. Marx could not foresee a response to capitalism that would fix its problems from within. But certain things were already happening in Marx’s lifetime that would rescue capitalism from its dangers by improving the lives of the working class.

Even Moses and the prophets pronounced laws against greed, oppression, and unfair practices. They denounced cheating weights, scales, and measures; they spoke against mixing the chaff and the sweepings with the grain. According to the Bible, government represents God’s authority among people to enforce the laws, to protect the people, to limit the power of greed and other sinful tendencies. Governments in western Europe used their authority for the good of the people. They inspected stores and businesses to make sure their practices were fair and honest. They restricted pollution of the air, land, and water, establishing sewage treatment plants, water purification plants, and other needed responses to the pollution caused by industry and by urbanization. Governments placed limits upon the age of factory workers; they also limited the number of hours that could be required of workers. In many ways, governments used the force of the law to reduce the problems within capitalism, industrialism, and urbanization—and they did so without seizing the means of production, without taking farms and factories and stores out of the hands of their capitalist owners.

God’s law demands perfection. Human law cannot mandate the same level that God requires. Food contamination laws permit a small amount of insect parts, rodent hairs, and other contaminations; reading those permissions can be stomach-turning. Questions are raised, and will always be raised, about how much regulation is necessary and how much is too much. The political system exists to address such questions, and negotiation and compromise will always be part of the answer to these questions.

Perhaps the most important laws prompted by the Industrial Revolution were those that permitted workers to organize labor unions, leaders who represented the workers and negotiated with business owners for higher salaries and better working conditions. At first, business owners tried to break the unions, but governments supported the unions and insisted that business owners hear their demands and negotiate with them for the good of the workers. This process, unexpected by Marx and other revolutionary socialists, preserved capitalism in western Europe and North America. Eventually, much of the rest of the world would be persuaded to follow the same economic system. People turned to capitalism because it works. J.

What’s wrong with capitalism?

Two principle complaints about capitalism are that it perpetuates inequity of wealth and that it both causes and worsens poverty. While these might seem to be two sides of the same coin, they are not the same complaint at all. In fact, when advocates of socialism combine these two complaints into one argument, they are working to undermine the very strength of capitalism, its reason for existence.

People once believed that wealth is stagnant, that if one person gains wealth, another person must lose wealth. Adam Smith demonstrated that labor adds value, and that wealth is not stagnant. When capitalism works as intended, everyone benefits. Competition between the wealthy business owners helps their customers to have more choices and also provides their workers with more opportunities to earn wages and improve their lives and those of their families.

God in his creation (or Nature, if you prefer) did not make all people the same. Some people are stronger than others. Some are more physically attractive than others. Some are smarter than others—and there are various kinds of intelligence, so that one person may excel in one kind of thinking while the next is better in a different intellectual field. To hold that all people are created equal is not to hold that everyone must have the same advantages and the same benefits. The fact that some people are born into wealthy families and others are born into poor families is neither the fault of capitalism nor a reason to abandon capitalism. We are all different in several ways; but still we maintain that we all are created equal.

Deuteronomy 15 teaches that, if all people followed God’s commands, there would be no poverty. The same chapter warns us that the poor will always be with us. Capitalism might seem contrary to Christian and humanist principles of loving one’s neighbor, helping those who need help, and caring for the needy and the oppressed. A wealthy capitalist seeks to increase his or her wealth. As selfish as that sounds, the capitalist actually is a servant to his or her neighbors. To increase wealth, the capitalist seeks to provide a product that consumers want or need. The capitalist seeks to make that product more desirable—higher quality, more affordable, or in some other way better. At the same time, the capitalist creates jobs, paying workers to create the product and so providing for those workers and their families.

As the Industrial Revolution emerged, wealthy capitalists found an excess of labor on their doorsteps. More and better food from overseas expanded the population, and enclosure of agricultural lands drove more poor families off the land and into the cities. Craftsworkers were overwhelmed with new competition. At the same time, business owners were using steam and steel to become more efficient, offering products that were both better quality than before and more affordable. Work moved from homes into factories. Only wealthy people could afford to maintain factories and to purchase the new machinery of steam and steel. Often they combined their wealth, creating corporations. The rich became richer, but it was not inevitable that the poor had to become poorer.

I tell my history students that, for every Jane Austen novel they read, they must also read a Charles Dickens novel. Dickens captured the problems of the Industrial Revolution vividly in his fiction. Women and children worked in factories, because they would accept less money for their labor and would cause fewer problems for their managers. A large underclass of unemployed men frequently turned to crime, both out of need and out of boredom. Cities were dirty, overcrowded, and dangerous. Disease ran rampart through the population. For these reasons, nineteenth century socialists predicted the overthrow of capitalism. They expected working people to rise up and demand their rights, including a larger share of the wealth to which their labor was contributing.

Before the Industrial Revolution, families worked together, whether raising food on the land or producing crafts such as shoes, clothing, and candles. Women often were members of guilds, equal to men active in the same crafts. Factories tore apart families. They separated adults from children and women from men. Over time, the dream of the Victorian family developed: the family in which the man was the sole worker and breadwinner, the children went to school and played at home, and the women stayed home to raise a family. This idyllic picture never represented reality for most of the population. But, over time, society and government began to work in that direction. Labor laws took children out of the factories and put them in schools. Other laws began to clean the cities, reducing industrial pollution and untreated sewage. The free market found means of regulating itself so that capitalism did not imply poverty for the working class. More about this will be said in a future post. J.

Stepping back to see the big picture (socialism, continued)

The idea of socialism arose as a response to the Industrial Revolution and to some of the problems within that Revolution. In turn, the Industrial Revolution was a consequence of several large historical movements that came together in a particular time and place to shape human history.

When historians seek to understand and explain an event or a movement, they must take a step back and look at the broader picture. Often this requires further steps back, sometimes to view the entire panorama of history. Analyzing the causes of the Industrial Revolution includes such steps and such a view.

The Persian Empire, Mauryan Empire, Han Empire, and Roman Empire each constructed roads to facilitate government communication across their stretches of land and to accommodate the travel of armies. As a result of those roads (and associated waterways), merchants and merchandise began to flow through and beyond these empires. Imperial governments favored the exchange of merchandise, since it could be taxed every time it changed hands. Two thousand years ago, Italian glass could be bought in China, and Chinese silk could be bought in Italy. Anything that could be moved, bought, and sold traveled along these roads and waterways: fabrics, spices, precious metals and gems, artwork, food, livestock, and slaves. Over the centuries, travel and trade ebbed and flowed because of other political and economic conditions. Along the same routes traveled ideas—religious ideas, political and economic ideas, and technology—and disease also spread from culture to culture along the same roads.

Genghis Khan’s Mongolian Empire sparked additional travel and trade along these routes. Asian produce and technology traveled into Europe. Bubonic plague (the Black Death) began somewhere in inland China but spread to the cities of China and to Mediterranean cities, and from there to all the populated areas of Europe. This disease had a devastating consequence upon commerce and economic activity, both because of the high death rate of the disease and because of the fear of disease that spread throughout the population.

Disruption of trade, caused by disease and by political developments in the eastern Mediterranean, caused western European governments to seek a shortcut to African and Asian goods, eliminating some of the middlemen. Using Asian technology, including the Chinese compass and the Arabian astrolabe, Portuguese mariners set sail down the coast of Africa and into the western ocean. Spain, England, and the Netherlands eventually followed. Early results of the Portuguese expeditions included expansion of the sugar industry and development of the African slave trade. But Columbus’ abortive attempts to cross the ocean between Spain and east Asia revealed an expanse of islands and continents in the western hemisphere. Soon commerce between the Old World and the New World brought new foods to Europe; those new foods helped to support a growing population, recovering from the plague.

As the population grew, though, landowners found that they could enclose their land for more specific use, such as the grazing of sheep to produce wool. This removed peasants from the land and from their agricultural activities, sending them into the towns and cities. The growing urban population disrupted the guilds and other work that the tradespeople had developed over centuries. More new technology met this change in population dispersion to ignite the Industrial Revolution in England.

A Chinese inventor had learned how to harness the power of a flowing river with a wheel, channeling that energy to other uses. Europeans improved the water wheel by installing it vertically instead of horizontally, effectively letting the power of gravity increase the power generated by the moving water of the river. Later, the same idea was converted to generation of power from steam, which no longer needed the immediate presence of a river.

Around the same time, a Chinese chemist found a new recipe for steel. Iron technology had begun in Anatolia (the location of modern Turkey) about three thousand years ago. Pure iron is a powder, but iron combined with carbon makes cast iron, which produced tools stronger and more durable than the stone and bronze tools used previously. (Ironworking was discovered independently in central Africa around the same time.) About a thousand years ago, a new recipe for iron and carbon produced steel, a great improvement over cast iron. The new recipe used coal instead of burnt wood as a carbon source. Coal and iron deposits both exist in China, but not near each other. In England, iron and coal and running water are found in close proximity. Deforestation of England also provided greater interest in coal, both as fuel and as an ingredient for making steel. The Industrial Revolution was ready to emerge.

As the urban population grew, new businesses began to exploit the work force to get around the guild economy of Europe. Shepherds and shearers would sell the raw wool from their sheep to moneyed peasants. These peasants would then hire some families to card the wool in their homes. The carded wool was then returned to the business owners, who hired other people to spin the wool into thread. The spinners returned the thread, which the business owners then sent to weavers, who used looms to change the thread into cloth. The cloth was chemically treated by fullers, and the improved cloth was sent to tailors, who cut the cloth into pieces and sewed it into garments. Shepherds, Shearers, Carders, Spinners, Weavers, Fullers, and Tailors were each paid for their labor, and afterward they all bought clothing from the businesses that had paid them for their work. Today many family names reflect the role of their ancestors in this industry.

Steel tools and steam power made factories possible. No longer did the work have to be sent into homes and brought back to the businesses: the businesses could own the buildings and machines where the work was done. These machines could produce far more clothing from far fewer laborers. The Industrial Revolution began in England, spread into other European countries and then to North America, and eventually filled the world. The impact of this revolution changed the lives of many people, from wealthy business owners to impoverished workers. J.

Defining socialism (and related terms)

I have written twice about socialism without taking the effort to define my terms. That shortcoming needs to be corrected.

Briefly, socialism describes a society in which the means of production are controlled by the government, or the state. This distinguishes socialism from capitalism—in which the means of production are privately owned—and communism—in which the means of production are commonly owned without control from the government or the state. Based on nineteenth century European philosophy and its aftermath, the idea of socialism can be further divided into three categories.

Means of production include any source of wealth and any production of items that are needed and wanted by members of the community. Farms are the primary means of production for most of history. Factories and businesses have become means of production in more recent times. A shoemaker’s shop, a pharmacy, and a railroad are all examples of means of production. If the government owns and operates these means, socialism is present. Mere regulation by the government of these means is not, strictly speaking, socialism (but see further development of this thought below).

Utopian socialism occurs when a group of people establishes a business or a set of businesses within a community and places them under a governing authority. Several small-scale attempts to establish utopian socialism were tried in the nineteenth century. Even some twenty-first century companies retain elements of utopian socialism—when workers are given stock in the company or other ways of receiving a share of the company’s profits, and when workers are invited to take part in the decision-making process of the company’s boards.

In many cases, utopian socialism remained dominated by the owners of the company, leading to the further subjugation of the workers. In the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago, the Lee Wilson & Company plantations of northeast Arkansas, and various other establishments and businesses, the company owners not only built factories and storehouses. They also built homes for the workers, stores where the workers shopped, schools for the children of the workers, and even churches for the workers and their families. Company owners controlled prices charged in the stores and messages delivered in the schools and churches. Company currency was paid to the workers instead of money that could be spent off company property. The detriment to workers is illustrated by the song “Sixteen Tons,” in which a worker sings, “Saint Peter, don’t you call me, ‘cause I can’t go—I owe my soul to the company store.”

Revolutionary socialism sought to prevent that lack of control by overthrowing the company owners and placing control of the companies directly into the government’s hands. A class of capitalist businessmen, politicians, and other leaders was to be attacked and stripped of power so the workers could gain full control of the means of production. The government, it was thought, would run the farms and factories and other businesses more fairly, giving more of the wealth to the workers since it was keeping less of the wealth to itself. Some revolutionary socialists, including Karl Marx, viewed revolutionary socialism as a temporary condition, one that would become communism (see below) as the government withered away, granting more control of the means of production to the workers. Other revolutionary socialists expected the government to remain, to continue to control the means of production, but to treat the workers more kindly than the capitalists had done in earlier times.

Gradual socialism hoped that the government could assume such control over the means of production without a violent uprising by the working class, and without a violent overthrow of businessmen and politicians. Through increasing government regulation, advocates of gradual socialism hoped, the government could strip capitalist businessmen of their control of the means of production, effectively placing that control in the hands of the government. Not all regulation of businesses is done with the goal of gradual socialism; much legislation has intentions that are not at all related to socialism. But proponents of gradual socialism use government regulation as a means to remove control of the means of production from business owners and to give the government full control of the national economy.

Communism differs from socialism in that the workers directly control the means of production without a government interfering with their control or making decisions on their behalf. Karl Marx wrote that revolutionary socialism would be a temporary step on the road to full communism. Because of his theories, revolutionary socialists in Russia, China, Cuba, and other places identified themselves as a Communist Party, holding out the promise that their government would concede control to the workers over time. That never happened in any of those places.

Communism can be practiced by a small group of people who combine their resources to meet all of their needs. The early Christian Church practiced that kind of communism. Wide-scale communism on a national level has never been achieved. When a revolutionary government established control of the means of production, it retained that control unless and until it was overthrown by a second revolution.

Capitalism teaches that control of the means of production must remain in the hands of the investors, who conduct their businesses for their own profit, but who compete to offer the best conditions for both workers and customers. Capitalism was historically expressed by Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations. People used to believe that wealth was limited, that one person could gain wealth only if other people lost wealth. Smith demonstrated that labor increases value and wealth is not stagnant. If a person finds a diamond, that person has received wealth. If a person pays a jeweler to cut and shape that diamond, the gem is smaller but much more valuable. Both the finder and the jeweler become more wealthy.

Smith wrote that capitalism thrives when governments do not interfere with the economy. He defended the idea of laissez-faire, or “leave it alone.” Pure capitalism would insist that the government exercise no form of control over the means of production in the national economy. But even Smith understood that some government regulation is good, beneficial, and necessary. The result of a capitalist economy with some government participation is called free market capitalism.

In the free market, the government does regulate the means of production to a certain extent. Pollution of the air, land, and water is limited through regulation. Safety of the products sold to consumers is regulated through inspections. Safety at the workplace and other benefits for the workers are also regulated by the government. Workers and consumers both benefit from some government regulation, while investors continue to benefit from their part in the means of production and the growth of the economy.

In free market capitalism, business owners and investors benefit from competing with each other for workers and for customers. They choose how much to pay their workers and what other benefits to offer their workers. They choose how much to charge for their products, and they also make choices about the quality of their products. All of these choices are shaped by the availability and cost of raw materials, the availability of workers, and the interest of customers in their products. Workers and customers also make choices among the options offered to them. As long as businesses compete for customers and for workers, good jobs continue to be offered, and affordable, good-quality products continue to be bought and sold.

To preserve the free market, governments sometimes act to prohibit or break apart monopolies, trusts, and cartels. Such business practices limit choices for workers and customers by placing control of the means of production into the hands of too few people. Standard Oil and AT&T were divided by the government for the benefit of workers and customers; social media providers may face similar legislation in the near future. The government acts slowly and deliberately when it considers challenging a monopoly in free market capitalism. On the other hand, no agency exists to police the government when it holds control of the means of production in a socialist system. J.

Why socialism?

Given its abysmal track record, why would anyone advocate socialism today?

The reasons for suggesting socialism today are much like the reasons for proposing socialism in the nineteenth century, before it had been tried and had failed. Life is unfair. Poverty and oppression are wrong. All people deserve a fair chance to rise above their situation, to have a happy life, and to perform to the best of their abilities. Because that does not happen as often as it should, socialism was once suggested as a correction for the world’s problems. Even though socialism has failed, some people today are willing to overlook those failures and give socialism another chance, because in theory socialism addresses some of the injustices that exist in the world today.

It’s not fair that a back-up infielder can earn more money in one baseball season than a third grade teacher earns spending forty-five years in the classroom teaching children.

It’s not fair that a thousand people work in a factory forty hours a week, then go home to squalor and hunger, while the owner of the factory lives in luxury without ever having worked a day in his life (because he inherited the factory from his father).

It’s not fair that these inequalities are reinforced, to a measurable extent, by gender, ancestry, language, appearance, and zip code, not to mention physical and emotional disabilities.

Socialism promises to address these injustices, to make people equal, to eradicate poverty and its accompanying problems. Socialism promises to care for the poor and needy and oppressed, to rescue them from the clutches of greedy rich and powerful capitalists, to end their oppression and to allow them to live up to the potential of their lives as human beings.

But socialism has never kept these promises.

If wealth is to be redistributed, the first question is how it is to be divided. Should each person receive an equal amount of wealth? Should those with greater needs be given more and those with fewer needs be given less? Should those who work hard and produce more benefit for others be paid more than those who contribute less? All of these answers have been proposed, but none of them ever has been accomplished.

Compare North Korea to South Korea, and judge for yourself whether socialism reduces or increases poverty and injustice. Compare Mao’s China of 1970 to Xi’s China of 2020 and judge for yourself whether socialism heightens or lowers a nation’s wealth and the average wealth of that nation’s citizens. Consider again why people fled East Germany, North Vietnam, and Cuba—was it because they wanted to live where life is less fair, or was it because they believed that life would be better (and more fair) in a free market economy?

When Jesus said, “The poor you always have with you,” he was being realistic and not defeatist. Jesus still wants his followers to care for the poor and oppressed, for widows and orphans and foreigners among us. But Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 15:11, which says, “There will never cease to be poor in the land.” But that verse follows closely after Deuteronomy 15:4-5, which says, “But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess—if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today.” Poverty exists because people—even God’s people—have not lived the lives that God wants to see people living.

The world contains more than enough food to satisfy its population; but the food is not distributed evenly. The world contains more than enough room for everyone to live comfortably; but some people are crowded into cities and living on the streets. The world contains enough resources to meet the needs of people everywhere. Thanks to science, the food supply has grown even faster than the human population. But the world is not fair. Socialism tries to force justice upon all people, redistributing the wealth for the benefit of all. Instead, socialism supports a bureaucracy of managers while increasing rather than diminishing the misery of the workers.

Socialism claims to be a better way. Free market economies have shown themselves to be the better way. History demonstrates repeatedly that free market economies benefit more people than socialism. But some people listen only to the promises of socialism and do not consider the historic record. J.

Against socialism

I know better than to check social media at bedtime. But, for some reason, I decided to look at Facebook late Saturday evening. When I saw that my sister had shared a poster favoring socialism, my ability to sleep was entirely lost. My first impulse was to reply to her that someone must have hacked her Facebook account, that she could not possibly have intended to share that post. But instead I shut off the computer, went to bed, and tossed and turned for hours, framing the response I wanted to make to her post.

Of course, what I arranged in my head during those hours far exceeded the proper length for a Facebook comment, or even for a single WordPress post. In fact, before I fell asleep, I probably had the makings of a book arranged in my mind. I have taught college history classes. I have addressed socialism as an economic theory: its origins, its beliefs, its strategies, and its results. I have read much about socialism—in fact, this month, I have been reading the philosophical writings of John Stuart Mill, a nineteenth century philosopher who favored liberalism and who addressed the idea of socialism. I am well prepared to discuss the topic, or to write a book on the topic.

But I know how my sister operates on Facebook. She sees a poster that appeals to her, and she shares it. She has not built a consistent philosophy of history or economics or any other field; she does not try to remain consistent with her posts. At one time she will share a poster calling all people to care about each other, respect differences of opinion, and try to get along. An hour later, she will share a post describing how horrible people are who do not wear masks during this virus crisis. She is not seeking to discuss or debate positions. She would not take kindly to a corrective comment.

I wish, though, that I could persuade her to consider the history of socialism. The first time socialism was attempted on a national level was during and after the Russian Revolution, when they formed a country that they called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). After World War II, the Soviets exported their brand of socialism to other countries. For example, Germany was divided between the Federal Republic of Germany (aka West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (aka East Germany). The western government adopted a free market economy, like that of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and other western nations. The eastern government adopted a socialist economy like that of the USSR. After a few years, the eastern government had to surround western Berlin with a wall to keep the German people from fleeing socialist East Germany in preference for free-market West Germany. The wall remained until the socialist government of East Germany collapsed in 1989. Two years later, the socialist government of the USSR also collapsed, ending a seventy-year experiment in socialism—an experiment that found socialism lacking in value.

The experiment was even more decisive in east Asia. Korea was (and remains) divided between North Korea (socialist) and South Korea (free market). Presently, the South Korean economy ranks roughly tenth in the world (depending upon which measurement is chosen), while North Korea comes in at 117th. In 1949, a revolution swept through China, capturing twenty-one of its twenty-two provinces. The government of the Republic of China retreated to Taiwan and maintained a free-market economy, while the Peoples’ Republic of China fostered a socialist economy. During the twentieth century, Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore also maintained free market economies. The results were so clear that in the 1980s, the Peoples’ Republic of China turned its back on socialism and adopted free market practices. China now has the second largest economy in the world.

Vietnam was divided as Korea and Japan were divided. Because the division happened later, Vietnamese people were permitted to relocate before the border was closed in 1954. Ninety thousand Vietnamese citizens moved from south to north, into socialist North Vietnam. One million Vietnamese citizens moved from north to south, into free market South Vietnam.

In 1959, a new, socialist government was established in Cuba. Since then, a few American citizens have tried to get into Cuba. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have tried to leave. In 1980 alone, 125,000 fled Cuba in the Mariel boatlift. At other times, Cuban citizens have risked their lives trying to get out of socialist Cuba and into the free market United States.

Numbers do not lie. Historically, socialism is a failure. Any attempt to swing the United States from a free market economy to a socialist economy is choosing failure for the United States. I have much more to say about this. In the coming days, I will. J.

Not my family

I am sorry to say that I am not descended from the legendary Thomas Nathaniel Edwards.

I do have an ancestor who was named Fanny Edwards (with various spellings of her name) until she married. She was born in 1790 in Germantown, New York. She later moved with her husband to Virginia, where she died in 1852. Fanny was part of a community established in the Hudson River Valley in the 1600s, originally settled by the Dutch but later claimed by the British. My ancestors from that community include Dutch, German, and Irish settlers. Their colonial history is fascinating, although I have only bits and pieces of it so far. The family even includes soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War, so my daughters are eligible (if they do the required research) to join the Daughters of the American Revolution.

But, alas, Fanny was not the great-granddaughter of Thomas Nathaniel Edwards, in spite of some information in the historical records that places her within that clan. Fanny’s father was Richard Edwards—which is why she and her husband named their son Richard—and not the Aaron Edwards of Essex, New Jersey, reported by some researchers.

Sir Thomas Nathaniel Edwards, it is said, was born in Edwards Hall, Cardiff, Wales, on October 14, 1690. His parents were Sir George Thomas Downing, a Baron, and Lady Catherine Cecil, Countess of Salisbury. Moreover, Sir Thomas’ grandparents on his father’s side were Sir James, Earl of Salisbury, Cecil, and Lady Margaret Manners, Countess of Salisbury, who was born in London in 1648 but died in Paris in 1682.

Sir Thomas Nathaniel Edwards might as well have been a Nigerian prince. He was invented in 1925 by an intrepid group of investors who sought to convince members of the Edwards family in the United States that they were owed a great deal of money due to Sir Thomas’ investments on the island of Manhattan. According to what I’ve read, these investors created the Association of Edwards Heirs, sending out a regular newsletters to members and promising to divide the family fortune among Association members once the money was legally claimed. Millions of dollars were paid into the Association. Sadly, Sir Thomas, his parents, his grandparents, and even Edwards Hall in Wales never existed.

The Internet did not exist in 1925. Scams were already old news at that time. I doubt the hunt for the Edwards family fortune is still active, or that anyone is profiting from it. Apparently, though, some people are too stubborn to admit to themselves or to the world that their parents or grandparents were taken in by such a scam. Therefore, Sir Thomas continues to appear on historical records in this Internet age, leading many researchers to believe, at least for a time, that they have discovered an interesting branch on their family tree. The branch does not exist; it is pure fantasy. J.