Originally published by The Hill, August 21, 2018.
A recent poll finding that Democrats prefer socialism to capitalism should remind us of something Ronald Reagan once said: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” When today’s headlines regularly include stories about Venezuela experiencing an economic collapse less than 20 years after Hugo Chavez implemented socialism on a comprehensive scale, one would think Americans would heed, rather than imitate, that lesson.
But then we’d be reminded that people don’t read the news anymore. We should worry that our country could slide into the very same socialism that in 20 years left Venezuelans fighting for food, unable to find toilet paper, and dealing with pirates running guns and harassing fishermen along the country’s coastline.
The Russians have an old proverb: “Dwell on the past and you’ll lose an eye; forget the past and you’ll lose both eyes.” And the story of one Russian from the recent past — a Russian named Boris Yeltsin who visited America just as the Cold War neared its end 30 years ago — perhaps best illustrates both the meaning of that proverb and why socialism is a failed strategy that all Americans would do well to avoid if they want the country to continue on the road to prosperity.The story goes like this: It’s September 1989 and the Berlin Wall has not yet fallen. Yeltsin, who had not yet replaced Mikhail Gorbachev as leader of the Soviet Union, visits a small town in Texas and makes an unscheduled stop in a grocery store. It’s the kind of store where all Americans regularly shop to find everything they could want to satisfy a hunger or household need.
What Yeltsin found would not surprise us, but it amazed him. The local Texas newspaper recounted how Yeltsin “marvel[ed]” at the produce, the fresh fish, and the checkout counter. “Even the Politburo doesn’t have this choice. Not even Mr. Gorbachev,” remarked Russia’s future leader.
Even the Politburo — the ruling class of the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” and its U.S. presidential counterpart, the premier — could not expect to ever experience in Russia what the average Texan in a small town near Houston could do every day in 1989. Imagine living in a world where the groceries available to our congressmen, or to our president, somehow could even be expected to be better than what we find on the shelves at our local grocery stores. The thought would not even occur to us, but that was how Yeltsin summed up the amazement he felt when he saw a typical grocery store of Anytown, USA.
Yeltsin could not believe the poverty his countrymen faced when compared to the bounty of the land built on freedom, liberty and capitalism. He recognized the failures of the socialist and communist systems upon which his homeland was built, two systems with distinctions that do not amount to a difference, and he later tried to implement economic reform to achieve what America has achieved.
It’s likely that the shock Yeltsin felt visiting that Texas grocery store would be similarly felt by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro if he visited any grocery store in America today. Thirty years later, the lesson of socialism is the same — it brings poverty wherever it is tried.
This is the economic system that some think we should try in America in the year 2018? How about they try it and then let us know when they run out of toilet paper and food.
When Reagan remarked that freedom is always just one generation away from being lost, he continued by warning Americans that they have a duty to ensure the light of freedom is kept lit. He stated: “We didn’t pass [freedom] to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
If you hear it declared that perhaps the American way of life is past its sell-by date and socialism presents the way forward, reject the idea out of hand. Don’t contribute toward the creation of a future where you will spend your sunset years telling your grandchildren about the feasts that once could be found at the corner grocery store.
Mark Miller is a senior attorney for Pacific Legal Foundation, which litigates nationwide to achieve court victories enforcing the Constitution’s guarantee of individual liberty.