Jonah Goldberg

Five years ago this week, my former boss William F. Buckley started a column thusly:

"Every ten years I quote the same adage from the late Austrian analyst Willi Schlamm, and I hope that ten years from now someone will remember to quote it in my memory. It goes, 'The trouble with socialism is socialism. The trouble with capitalism is capitalists.'"

Well, Bill is gone now, but his memory lives, and I'm sure he'd forgive me for taking up his request five years early.

Schlamm's point is still relevant, even though the kind of socialism we're dealing with is less doctrinaire. But it also distorts the issue somewhat. One might just as easily say that the problem with socialism is capitalists, too.

If by "capitalist" you mean someone who cares more about his own profit than yours; if you mean someone who cares more about providing for his family than providing for yours; if you mean someone who trusts that he is a better caretaker of his own interests and desires than a bureaucrat he's never met, often in a city he's never been to: then we are all capitalists. Because, by that standard, capitalism isn't some far-off theory about the allocation of capital; it is a commonsense description of what motivates pretty much all human beings everywhere.

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And that was one of the reasons why the hard socialism of the Soviet Union failed, and it is why the soft socialism of Western Europe is so anemic. At the end of the day it is entirely natural for humans to work the system -- any system -- for their own betterment, whatever kind of system that may be. That's why the black market economy of the Soviet Union might have in fact been bigger than the official socialist economy. That is why devoted socialists worked the bureaucracy to get the best homes, get their kids into the best schools, and provide their families with the best food, clothes and amenities they could. Just like people in capitalist countries.

It's why labor unions demanded exemptions and "carve-outs" for their own health care plans from ObamaCare. And why very rich liberals still try their best to minimize their taxes.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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