The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism

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The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism by Kevin D. Williamson Regnery * 2011 * 272 pages * $19.95

Reviewed by George Leef

What do the following have in common: hungry Venezuelans, starving North Koreans, ecological devastation in the former Soviet Union, and functionally illiterate students in Washington, D.C., high schools? Give up? They are all consequences of socialism.

In his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, economics professor and National Review editor Kevin Williamson gives the reader an easily understood yet highly informative disquisition on the nature of socialism, its inherent flaws, and the reasons it continues to spread. In connection with that last point, two of Williamson's chapters cover the political infatuation with "energy independence," which he argues is socialist in essence, and the push to saddle Americans with the politicized medical care system known as Obamacare.

Williamson's arguments are sharp and his examples illuminating. His book is like a wrecking ball going to work on the already feeble edifice of socialism.

"Hold on a minute," some will say. "You can't compare the bad things that happen in a totalitarian state like North Korea with our well-intended and generally popular public school system in America." Williamson shows, however, that the crucial element of socialism is present in both, namely governmental control over the provision of goods and services that would otherwise be done by private enterprise. That invariably leads to waste and inefficiency - or even worse.

Williamson does a first-rate job of explaining why those arrangements stifle productivity, depress quality, and hinder innovation. It is because government officials (and the type of government is immaterial) do not know what consumers want. That information only comes from the market's price system, which socialism prevents from working. It is also because government officials have no incentive to satisfy consumer wants since their money is not given by buyers but taken from taxpayers. Starving peasants in Korea and illiterate students in the United States - the roots are the same.

The poverty of India has been compared to the remarkable wealth enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong and Singapore before, most famously by Milton Friedman, but that is no reason not to emphasize it again. Following World War II, Williamson observes, India was seemingly poised for great economic expansion, having suffered little from the war and benefiting from infrastructure built by the British. India's economy, however, remained stagnant due to the naive socialism of Nehru, the first prime minister, who admired Soviet central planning. Grinding poverty gripped most of the country.

Singapore and Hong Kong, in contrast, had suffered considerable war damage. …