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The Worst Bad Idea in History

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

When my children were young, we occasionally played a game we called: Good Idea—Bad Idea. It went like this. Good Idea: playing the piano. Bad Idea: playing the piano in a marching band. Or, Good Idea: fishing for fish. Bad Idea: fishing for school buses. You get the drift. 


We also see this game played out in real life. Some years ago, a serial bank robber in Pittsburgh was noted for his red beard. In his version of Good Idea—Bad Idea, he thought it a good idea to disguise himself with a beard. But he chose a red beard just like his own and was quickly apprehended. 

Then there was the fellow who thought it a Good Idea to avoid the transoceanic baggage charge on his airline by wearing all his clothes: six T-shirts, four sweaters, three pairs of blue jeans, two jackets, and two hats. That Bad Idea led to a trip to the hospital for overheating and dehydration that likely cost more than the $50 he hoped to save. 

More deadly are the Good Idea—Bad Idea implications of socialism. To many, especially the young, socialism seems like a Good Idea. The ideal of “equality” is often mentioned. But the socialist view of equality requires treading on personal freedom, as the wealth of many are confiscated for the greater socialist “good.” 

Other young people embrace socialism out of a profound sense of entitlement, believing that earned societal privileges are actually rights they should receive upon demand. They believe there is such a thing as a free lunch, and they want theirs now. Little thought is given to the obvious reality that if everyone is riding in the wagon, there are none left to pull it. As one journalist put it: “The bottom line is that most young proponents of socialism simply haven’t done the math.” 


Death Toll 

Socialism is the worst Bad Idea in human history, and younger proponents are seemingly blind to the human cost of socialist governments—one measured in blood. As Professor Paul Kengor tartly put it: “Communism has only killed 100 million people. Why not give it another shot?” But surely that’s hyperbole, yes? Afraid not. 

In 1999, Harvard University Press published The Black Book of Communism, a respected research effort detailing the death toll from Communism in the twentieth century alone. Their grim toll: 

U.S.S.R.: 20 million 

Red China: 65 million 

Vietnam: 1 million 

North Korea: 2 million 

Cambodia: 2 million 

Eastern Europe: 1 million 

Africa: 1.7 million 

Afghanistan: 1.5 million 

Latin America: 150,000

Other highly regarded researchers have labeled these horrendous totals as markedly conservative. Research scientist R. J. Rummel estimates that “Soviet governments were responsible for the death of 61.9 million of their own people from 1917 to 1987.” Years later under the glasnost inaugurated by Mikhail Gorbachev, Alexander Yakolev, a high-ranking Soviet official, was given the official task of counting the victims of Soviet communism. He estimated 60 to 70 million dead under Stalin alone. This number comports well with the prior estimate of Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn. 


A similar underestimate emerges in North Korea. The Black Book of Communism failed to include the two to three million people that died in the late twentieth century famine precipitated by North Korea’s communist policies. A shocking context is important here. Two to three million dead is 10 to 15 percent of North Korea’s population. The equivalent number in the United States today would be 33 to 50 million dead. The same sad story emerges from Cambodia, where Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge government killed an estimated 40 percent of the population. 

Professor Rummel’s total accounting for the number of people killed by their own communist governments in the twentieth century is an astonishing 140 million. This reality was surely the genesis of President Ronald Reagan’s descriptors of the Soviet Union as the evil empire and the heart of darkness. Reagan went on to say: “Communism is neither an economic or a political system—it is a form of insanity.” 

Velvet Glove . . . Iron Fist 

Socialism has been termed by some as an iron fist inside a velvet glove. Outwardly its ideas may seem attractive and even rational. Socialists argue that, once in power, the socialist state will “intervene directly to relieve all suffering, satisfy and anticipate all wants, furnish capital to all enterprises, enlightenment to all minds, balm for all wounds, and asylums for all the unfortunate.” 


If this were true, who would not desire it? But it’s not true, for the simple reason that socialist (or any) government has nothing to give anybody that it does not first take from somebody else. Socialism is principally about the acquisition and concentration of power. And that appetite may well be the leading man-made cause of death in all of human history. 

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