I was asked on a podcast this week if capitalism and communism can co-exist.
The short answer is, yes: capitalism has created wealthy, liberal and diverse societies, which tolerate a range of ideologies – even ones as fanciful and hazardous as communism.
But the harmonisation stops there. The freedom that capitalism inspires and the force that communism requires will forever be at odds.
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Yet despite overwhelming historical evidence that the former leads to flourishing, and the latter to disaster, sympathies for the hammer and sickle seem to be on the rise.
Take Novara Media editor Ash Sarkar, who made waves this week after announcing proudly on Good Morning Britain that she was a full-blown communist, and chiding the host Piers Morgan for assuming her to be your average left-winger. The result has been a week’s worth of debate on the merits of an economic order whose attempted implementation has resulted in nearly 100m deaths worldwide.
It seems almost farcical that this tried, tested, and catastrophically failed system of belief could rear its ugly head once more. But it has, and we can’t ignore it.
Young people are increasingly sympathetic towards communism compared to older generations. According to one record poll, “a third of millennials (32 per cent) falsely believe more people were killed under George W Bush than under Joseph Stalin”.
It doesn’t help that communism often eludes the historical scrutiny applied to other economic orders, with defenders claiming that the problem with Marxism is simply that “it’s never really been tried”.
Ask them how they’d implement their system differently to the USSR – or East Germany, or Venezuela, or North Korea – to ensure utopia instead of mass murder, and you rarely get more than catchphrases or buzzwords about “economic democracy” and “ownership by the people”.
The very simple answer is that there is no answer: structuring an economy to prioritise the collective in every circumstance cannot be done without brute force.
There is also a strange sympathy given to the intentions of communism, despite the horrific realities of the outcomes it wreaks. Communism gets an easier ride than its far-right equivalent – fascism – because its goals are seemingly kinder, well-meaning, and rooted in a sense of equality.
Yet even its intentions, when properly analysed, become deeply sinister. There is nothing fair or noble about stripping individuals of their autonomy and freedom. Prohibiting people from acting as traders and profit-makers is an attempt to destroy an innate sense of entrepreneurship and ambition that is fundamentally engrained in humanity.
But perhaps the biggest boost for communism has come from our failure to make the case for capitalism – an ideology that, though by no means perfect, is by far the best elevator we’ve created to lift people into prosperity.
I’ve been making my way through the latest primer to be published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, written by one of the UK’s most renowned experts on capitalism, Dr Eamonn Butler. His simple and honest assessment of capitalism’s strengths and weaknesses provides plenty of food for thought, but even more importantly, reasons to remain extremely optimistic about the future.
While communism has sent tens of millions to their deaths, capitalism has lifted over one billion people out of poverty in a quarter of a century alone. Free enterprise has raised our standard of living in miraculous ways, and allowed for individualism to thrive alongside a world that is becoming increasingly connected.
Millennials are the generation of AirBnB and Deliveroo – the biggest consumers of what capitalism has to offer. Perhaps one day, our stated preferences will line up with our revealed preferences. Until then, I hope my peers enjoy purchasing “I’m a Communist, You Idiot” T-shirts for £20 a pop. We are Capitalists, You’re Welcome.
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