On Tuesday I took part in a 3 on 3 debate on Capitalism vs Communism on Trigger Talk with @too_savage_for_democrats and @capitalist_america. If you want to view it you can see it here. Sadly, two of the communists just did not say anything and ended up leaving halfway through. While this lead the debate to become a shouting fest, I do think we won. However, I feel a couple of arguments were not responded to in full, and I will address them here.
1. But people immigrated to the USSR
As I said in the debate, “have you heard of the Berlin Wall”? The communist bloc had to put up actual barriers to keep people in. Millions of people have fled Cuba. This includes many that crossed 90 miles of shark infested waters in dinghies, just for the chance to make it to America. In the end, this is simply cherry picking the experiences of fewer people than it takes to fill most college football stadiums. You can just as easily cherry pick all those who escaped the Soviet Union or left after its fall, like my mom, and were in awe of the amount of food they saw the first time they stepped into an American grocery store. It is a fact that Soviet bloc countries were far poorer than their American allied counterparts.
2. Capitalism killed 100 million people
As I said in the debate, BULL SHIT. This claim is completely made up and comes from websites such as “petersaysstuff” or other communist blogs that have no base in scholarly research or reality. In short, this argument blames capitalism for the death of anyone even slightly linked to it. This is regardless of if the death was in a war started by communists or something like starvation, which communist nations are far more guilty of and capitalism is on the way to eradicating. The blog post includes the deaths of those in wars (something Capitalists don’t do when counting the death toll of communism) and uses a far larger timeframe by a couple hundred years. If we used the same standards we could inflate the numbers killed by communists to the billions, but our side actually tried to make legitimate connections.
The list starts by listing a bunch of wars the US took part in, (including Korea and Vietnam which were started by communists because “logic”) but that has nothing to do with capitalism nor does it even attempt to take into account legitimacy. Capitalists don’t blame communists for the deaths in World War II, Korea, or the Soviet Afghanistan because those aren’t due to communism, but instead, it is because of the inherent nature of states.
Later capitalism gets the blame for deaths from preventable disease, hunger, and poverty even though all those pre-existed capitalism by thousands of years and capitalism is on the way to eradicating all these. I guess we can blame the state of nature on capitalism.
Then the slave trade is blamed on capitalism because that only increases the number of deaths.
3. But after the USSR fell their GDP collapsed
The biggest problem with this argument is that it ignores the long term in favor of the short term. As a meta-analysis of 60 studies on economic liberalization by the Czech national bank noted, liberalization comes with “costs in the short run” but has “strong positive effects on long-run growth”. If you actually look at the individual countries which came from the Soviet union you will see the collapse in GDP began BEFORE 1991, and those that enacted reforms quickly recovered and gained wealth. On the flip side, those that did not engage in reforms, like Moldova and Ukraine, stayed poor and are the ones communists point to. Looking at Poland (a member of the Soviet bloc), a country whose communist past ended in 1990, never experienced a collapse in GDP. Ukrainian GDP peaked in 1989 and began to shrink prior to the fall of the USSR in 1991. Estonian GDP shrunk slightly but had recovered by the end of the decade and had grown fivefold from 1990 to 2014. Depending on your timeframe, Latvia’s GDP doubled to tripled after the collapse of the USSR, and Lithuania’s increased four to almost fivefold. Hungary also sustained constant GDP growth. Of course, you can point to countries like Ukraine and Russia, whose GDP struggled to recover because they did not reform, not because capitalism is bad and communism is good. The question of the post-Soviet bloc economies wasn’t as simple as communism one day and capitalism the next. It was a question of if deep structural economic and political Reforms were carried out.
4. The Soviet ranking of the Human Development Index was high and rivaled capitalist countries
This argument has two main problems. One is the HDI itself, and the other is the fact that this claim is completely based off cherry picking. As economist Bryan Caplan pointed out, the HDI measures how Scandinavian a country is, which would bias the index towards the communist countries since they are basically Scandinavianism with authoritarianism. I hyperlinked the full critique if you want to read it. Secondly, if you actually look at the index you will find that the communist countries do not do that well. In the 1991 HDI report, only three communist bloc countries made the top 30, and all of those were in the last five. Out of the 33 countries considered “industrial” countries, only 8 were in the communist bloc and, again, all were in the lower portions. Lastly, out of the countries considered industrial, only 3 countries scored above a .9 on the index while 24 scored above .9 for the non-communist nations.
5. The Soviet Union had opposition parties
If you believe this means anything I have a bridge to sell you. Kim Jong Un gets almost 100% of the vote. It is easy for a regime to create fake opposition for the sake of having opposition but never give them the power to even think about creating change. Modern Russia does that. I don’t know how gullible and ignorant of history you have to be to think the USSR or any other communist state, is politically free.
Also, as former NSA Counterintelligence agent, John Schindler points out, “One of the most powerful tools the Kremlin has in its secret arsenal of Special War is provocation, what they call provokatsiya. While Moscow cannot claim to have invented this technique, which has existed as long as there have been secret services, there’s no doubt that Russians have perfected the art and taken it to a whole new level of sophistication and deviousness… Provokatsiya simply means taking control of your enemies in secret and encouraging them to do things that discredit them and help you. You plant your own agent’s provocateurs and flip legitimate activists, turning them to your side… This is causing problems in order to solve them, and since the Tsarist period, Russian intelligence has been known to do just that… Perhaps the most infamous Kremlin case of provokatsiya was the TRUST operation of the 1920s.” In the 1920s the Soviets created a fake opposition group.
6. The Black Book of Communism overestimates the deaths of communism
The Black Book of Communism claims there were about 94 million deaths due to communism. This could very well be an overestimate, but it could also be an underestimate. Estimates for the amount of deaths in the USSR alone are anywhere from 6 million to 60 million. Historian Frank Dikotter puts the number of deaths in China at 45 million or more. 1.5 million to 3 million were killed in Cambodia.
We may never know the true total of communism slaughter but we know it is in the tens of millions.
7. Many former soviets regret the collapse of communism
I have two words for you. Stockholm syndrome. I’m sure many people miss the sense of order, security, and purpose subordination to the state gave them. On a side note, if happiness is your goal then you should favor free market capitalism since it is connected with happiness.
8. Compare Cuba to capitalist countries like Jamaica and Haiti
It is true that Cuba is richer than its fellow island nations like Jamaica and Haiti. However, this argument ignores the long run trend. Prior the revolution, Cuba was one of the richest countries in the Hemispheres and was among the ranks of America and Europe in terms of wealth. Today it is one of the poorest. Cuba is stuck in the 1960s and the fact that it is good enough to beat Haiti is not an argument for socialism that holds any water.
9. Cuba has free healthcare and education
Not all costs are in the price. Many are in the quality and that is exactly what this argument ignores.
If you actually think Cuba has good health care I encourage you to read this article. While supporters can cherry pick a few statistics, which may or may not be fake and/or misleading, hospitals which lack staff and require you to bring your own bedsheets can not be good.
When it comes to education, having a high literacy rate is great if you can read what you want. In Cuba, you can’t. Cuba’s accomplishments in education, which come down to their literacy rates, are just for show and have no practical purpose.
Lastly, to quote John Derbyshire, “wherever there is a jackboot stomping on a human face there will be a well-heeled Western liberal to explain that the face does, after all, enjoy free health care and 100 percent literacy.”
10. Venezuela isn’t socialist
I refute this argument here but in short; it is a socialist state. The definition of socialism is the centralized control of the means of production and that is exactly what Venezuela is–the fact that Venezuela does it through a mix of direct and indirect makes it no less socialist.
All in all, as I quoted Ben Shapiro in the debate, “socialism is rape and capitalism is consensual sex”.