Socialism in its present form began as an intellectual fad in the nineteenth century, was tried in various countries in the twentieth and faces its final collapse in the twenty-first. Its end result is never a thriving economy or a good life for the people. In the last century it led to many millions of deaths.
Currently the news is filled with the precarious health of Europe's 'socialism lite' schemes, which have led to unsupportable debts. In the U.S., Obama and his Democrat allies are pushing us down the same precipitous path. This cannot end well. At best, the West is facing a period of financial correction that will put an end to public confidence in socialists of all stripes. At worst...well, let us hope it does not come to that.
Socialism is never sustainable because when you say 'to each according to his needs' everyone has needs, and when you say 'from each according to his abilities,' people's abilities flag. When you say 'to each according to his abilities' everyone tries hard to discover his abilities. But that is the one thing the socialist never says.
The French people have spoken. They did not say what they intended, but said something that came out as an embarrassment. They are now living in that entertaining moment of having misspoken but not yet realized it. Everyone is snickering at them and they don't know why.
What they have said, of course, is that they reject government austerity drives and approve of the burden imposed on the economy by public spending. They have elected a president who thinks government spending is a good thing and France needs to do more of it. The new president doesn't like bankers and wants to raise taxes on corporations and the rich.
The new French president is borrowing a page from Obama's playbook in promising to soak the rich. The trouble with that plan, there or here, is that there are never enough rich people. You could beggar them all and not have enough money to run the country.
At the same time, money taken from those who have it is money that will not be invested in productive enterprises that offer some hope of returning a profit. Profit is where riches and growth and prosperity and a resilient economy come from, and confiscating profit produces all the opposite results.
Of course, the socialist hope is that they can draw blood from the prosperous without weakening the economy too much. They will take from the rich, but not so much as to collapse trade and enterprise. How much is too much? They offer no precise answer to that. It is clear, though, that they always come back for a little bit more money than last time, because that is always how much the government needs to support its projects of ever expanding largess.
Because the scheme cannot be balanced entirely on the backs of the rich, the tax burden is pressed downward upon those who are merely prosperous, rather as Mr. Obama's despised "millionaires and billionaires," once the fine print is examined, include individuals making $200,000 a year. Rather than using their money to continue and expand whatever enterprise it was that made them well to do, they shall pay over more and more for their less enterprising neighbors. Heaven knows what the ceiling will be for the next generation, the threshold at which one is deemed to have "made enough money." A hundred thousand? Fifty?
We come back again to socialism's built in error. To the socialist, it is always time for the government to expand. In good times, it is time to grow the government. In bad times, it is time to grow the government. It is always time. When the bad times become chronic, the socialist is at a loss to say why. He thinks it must be time for more spending. Stimulus, not austerity! That is his answer because it is unthinkable that more government is not a good thing, that perhaps government is something we could have too much of. The idea that government spending could have a parasitic effect on the health of the general economy is simply not in his lexicon of ideas. If it were, he would not be a socialist.
The French have voted for their short term good at the expense of the long term. They will have the government spend money on them, and will not inquire too closely into where the money comes from. When they realize the joke is on them, will they have the grace to laugh?
Update: Democrats here in the U.S. are encouraged that the French vote went the way it did. They too think it is time to spend more not less and austerity is the wrong idea. This may be one of those questions we must leave for history to sort out, but I know which way I'm betting. The principle here is that of the goose and the gold eggs.