Impoverishment and Death by Socialism

June 13, 2009

[First published April 8, 2005] Socialist of different flavors — leftists, Marxists (alias communists), fellow travelers, and the economically ignorant — continue to rant about the greed, inequality, and economic slavery of the free market (they prefer to call it capitalism), but yet in the grandest of economic experiments, their socialism has utterly failed in practice. When these socialists are free to fully apply their ideas, they end up impoverishing whole countries.

In social science, one way to test a theory it to select two groups of people such that they are virtually identical on all variables but the theoretical one. Want to test whether nature or nurture make a difference in making spelling errors (I insist it’s nature), then test this on identical twins separated shortly after birth.

But, surely, you say, we can’t do such tests on free market vs. socialist systems. Well, we can’t organize it for this purpose, but we can observe what socialist have done. We have had people of one nation, language, culture, religion, literacy, wealth, and so on, divided into two, such that one had a largely free market economic system and the other a purely socialist one, with the socialist being the more prosperous and industrial region to begin with. The divided countries were North Vietnam vs. South Vietnam, and East Germany vs. West Germany, and still is North vs. South Korea. Some might include mainland China vs. Taiwan, but Taiwan (formerly Formosa) was not part of China, although one might point to the fact that both the mainland and Taiwan are now Chinese in language and customs, and thus show what the Chinese can do when they are free as on Taiwan, or still dominantly socialist as on the mainland.

Okay, the experiment. How did these two halves fare, with their economic-political systems being the only meaningful difference? In each case, the socialist half has failed economically compared to its free market one, which in contrast substantially uplifted its people in health, technology, services, economic growth, and wealth. Let me focus on the two Koreas to provide some statistics on this. In what follows, the first figure will be for socialist North Korea, the second for the South (source: The Wall Street Journal, 3/11/05):

Population: 22.5 mil vs. 49.9 mil.
Gross National Income (GNI): $18.4 bil. Vs. $606.1 bil.
GNI per capita: $818 vs. $12,646
Exports: $.78 bil. Vs. $193.8 bil.
Imports: $1.61 bil. Vs. $178.8 bil.
Power generated: 19.6 bil. kwh vs. 322.4 bil. kwh

But, these statistics show only part of the cost of socialism. N. Korea has again cut food rations from last years near starvation level of 300 grams per person per day. Now it is 250 grams (8.8 ounces) per person, according to the UN World Food Program (WFP). This is far below the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) minimum. Also, keep in mind that Kim’s food distribution system is highly unequal. Food is put aside first for “patriotic rice” and “military rice.” And then it has a graded ration system depending on whether a family is considered supportive of the regime at higher ration end, and unreliable, possible anti-regime at the bottom.

In the last decade, the human cost of this socialism, leaving aside the regime’s mass murders, has been about 3 million starved to death. Further, malnutrition has caused excessive underdevelopment and brain retardation of children, and fostered rickets, scurvy, nyctalopia, hepatitis, and tuberculosis, among other diseases. And the country is one of the few in which population mortality rates have been increasing. The life expectancy has fallen to 66.8 years from 73.2; newborn mortality rate has increased from 14 to 22.5; and the rate for those less than five years of age has increased from 27 to 48 per thousand.

Meanwhile, in South Korea the per capita calorie intake is 3,268, which is 139 percent of the FAO recommended minimum requirement. This calorie intake is made up of about 84 percent vegetable products and 16 percent animal products. A typical South Korean meal consists of steamed or stir-fried vegetables, thin sliced meats, grilled fish, and bean-baste soup. Life expectancy is 75.6 years and rising; infant mortality is 7.18 per 1,000 live births, and falling.

What more need be shown? Socialism not only kills by the conditions it creates, encourages the ruling thugs to murder their own people (how else impose such a anti-humanitarian, prison like system?), it greatly impoverishes them. The free market, however, constantly improves overall wealth and welfare, and if part of a democratic system, protects and saves lives.

These historical social experiments have cost tens of millions of lives. We must now say, “ENOUGH ALREADY!”

Link of Note

”North Korea: Human Rights Concerns,” (nd) Amnesty International USA

The report has good links and a fair overview:

Amnesty International’s long-standing concerns about human rights violations in North Korea include the use of torture and the death penalty, arbitrary detention and imprisonment, inhumane prison conditions and the near-total suppression of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and movement.

Their expressed “concern” is not the way I would put it. More like horrified, disgusted, sickened.
Freedom's Website Never Again Series

What Countries Are Best For Business?

February 2, 2009

[First published November 29, 2005] The World Bank, which sometimes does good things, has published on the net a ranking of 155 countries as to the ease of doing business in each for 2006 (go here). From this page, you can also download the index and its subindicies in pdf or Excel.

The data that has now become available on the net is amazing. I still remember having to squeeze it out of reports from the UN, World Bank, and Department of the Treasury in a dusty government documents room of the library, various yearbooks, and encyclopedias. I spent over a year just going through the The New York Times Index. And now to have all these data ready made for analysis in Excel . . . . With all these data around, including on conflict, war, political systems, and a variety of related variables, I sometimes wish I were at the beginning of my scientific career so that I could exploit them all.

For those of you who are students, take some statistics courses so that you can use such data to answer your own questions. You will never regret it.

Anyway, on the doing business index, you would find that the best in rank order are New Zealand, Singapore, U.S., Canada, Norway, Australia, Hong Kong, Denmark, U.K., and Japan. At the bottom are nine African countries, and Laos. Taiwan is 35th, China is 91st, and South Korea is 27th. Germany is 19th, and way ahead of France, which is 44th. Iraq is 114th, while Syria is 121st and Iran 108th. Israel, a democratic country with a mixed free market-socialist economy, is 29th. Sweden, another one, is 14th. Even those democracies that tend toward socialism, like Norway and Denmark in the top ten, and Germany, Sweden, and Israel not too far below, are better for business than most of the nondemocracies. It ultimately comes down to democratic peoples knowing on which side their bread is buttered.

I can’t do this right now, but I have a little project for someone. What is the correlation between a countries political freedom, economic freedom, and how well one can do business there. The data are easily available. Those for political freedom are here, and for economic freedom they are here.

I would bet my house that the three correlations will all be high, i.e., >.75.

Another plus for the democratic peace.

The Free Market As Utopia

January 8, 2009

[First published March 22, 2006] As a freedomist, I often despair of intellectuals ever seeing the free market as it really is. First, the name for it that has stuck like glue is “capitalism,” which immediately shunts perspective onto the track of wealth, huge corporations, capital formation, and such. In this view, the utopian nature and idealism of the free market is lost.

Moreover, through socialist polemics and constant mindless repetition, capitalism is portrayed as the incarnation of greed. You know how this goes. Entrepreneurs and business people are only out to make a profit, and economic competition as nothing more than capitalists climbing over each other to profit from the poor. This is viewed as he antithesis of economic system wherein each tries to help others and provide for their needs, rather than people trying to get rich at each other’s expense — an outlook that lies at the root of much leftist and socialist thought today. Even many that strongly support a free market, see greed as its driving force. This not only gives ammunition to the enemies of this freedom, but also mischaracterizes it altogether by reference to something that is an aspect of the system and not its central, psychological dynamic.

Imagine a utopia where people are highly motivated to provide services and fulfillment to others, usually total strangers. They see this as being in their own self-interest. Many of these people also spend sixty to seventy hours a week trying to provide such services. Also, imagine — unbelievable as it may seem — that in this utopia some of these people spend their life savings and borrow huge sums of money to discover or provide new things that they believe other people might want. That is, in this society the chief preoccupation of people is to satisfy the wants of others, or to determine how they might do this, and do so with the least expense to those getting the services or goods.

Such an unbelievable other-directed society does seem utopian. But if we could have such a society, would it not be inherently moral? Is this not the dream of many communitarians, philosophers, and theologians — that people spend their time, energy, and resources to provide others with what they need and want?

This utopia does exist. It is the free market.

Lawyers, doctors, teachers, intellectuals, writers, authors, journalists, movie stars, business owners, financiers, stockowners, and all other individuals making up the whole population comprise the free market, as do all large and small businesses. The automobile repair shop, the computer discount house, the Italian restaurant, the Chinese laundry, the small Catholic college, the mom and pop grocery store, and so on and so on, exist to give people a particular service. If this service is unwanted or the business charges too high a price, then it goes bankrupt. Moreover, entrepreneurs are constantly trying to invent new businesses or services that will fill some need or want not yet recognized by others. If no such want exists, or its fulfillment is not worth the cost, the businesses fail. Such working and striving to satisfy others is a moral ideal. Due to near 200 years of socialist misinformation and distortion, that this is the essence of the free market is widely unappreciated.

Of course, profit is involved, but in spite of socialists having turned this into an expletive, the idea is simple – people often do things for the benefits they receive, which may be monetary, but also may be love, prestige, power, and psychic satisfaction. Nothing evil, greedy, or exploitive about this. One can easily describe the “profit motive” of those on the left when they write their anti-capitalist or anti-American polemics, although through their control over the major media and the educational institutions, they have managed to identify capitalism as uniquely driven by a profit motive.

And what is not much taught or much discussed is how we all have immeasurably benefited from a technological revolution that began in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, one that was really a revolution in freedom. As government loosened its stranglehold on national economies and foreign trade, as it allowed creative and enterprising people to produce new things, there was a surge in new inventions, new businesses, and the earnings and wages of the poor. Before this revolution, laws tied workers to a farm or manor and forced them to live the most basic and poorest of lives. They often faced the threat of starvation if a harvest was meager, if they lost or broke their tools, or if they were dispossessed of their land by the government or feudal lords. They wore the most basic and plainest of clothes and ate the simplest and cheapest food. The revolution of freedom liberated the poor from this kind of servitude, assured them of a basic wage, and enabled them to improve their consumption. Much to the complaint of the upper classes, which saw this as “putting on airs,” the poor began to dress in better, more colorful clothes, and to eat a greater variety of foods.

Just consider how freedom promotes a continuous reduction of the cost of goods compared to the average wage, such that even the most complex and advanced products are available to the common person. An example of this is the rapid evolution of the handheld calculator.

When I was a graduate student working on my M.A. thesis in 1960, I had to calculate statistics on a large Monroe mechanical desktop calculator. I had to punch the numbers into it, move some switches to do a specific calculation, and physically crank it (like starting an old car) to get the results. By computer standards today, this Monroe was painfully slow and clumsy, but it was still better than doing the arithmetic by hand. I could calculate sums, cross products, and correlations, but it took me about two months and a sore arm to do all the necessary calculations. My university paid about $1,100 for the machine then, or about $6,408 in current money.

By the early 1970s, I could pick up a handheld Hewlett Packard electronic calculator that would do all these calculations and many more, such as logarithms and trigonometric functions, store one figure or calculation in memory, and function on a small battery. It cost about $400, or about $1,709 in today’s dollars.

Now I can get such a handheld calculator for $10; paying slightly more will get me a calculator that will do much more than the obsolete Hewlett Packard. And for about $900 I now can buy a personal computer — for example an iMac with monitor, keyboard, modem, CD drive, and an internal hard disk — that has a capability undreamed of a mere decade ago and on which I could have done all the necessary calculations for my M.A. thesis in seconds, not months. This is comparable to the free market, through innovation and competition, bringing the price of a new automobile in 1960 down to the cost of a new shirt today — which makes one wonder what the price of an automobile now would be without any government regulations on its production and quality.

I did my Ph.D. dissertation on the Northwestern University mainframe, a central IBM computer worth tens of millions of dollars in current money. It had a memory of 36 kilobytes and filled a huge, air-conditioned room with its blinking lights, spinning tapes, massive central processor, very slow printer, batch punch-card input, and bustling attendants. The whole atmosphere of computer, lights, air-conditioned room, and all the rest created a feeling of almost spiritual mystery. To use this monster, I had to learn to write my own computer programs, and to change some of its functions I had to rewire part of the computer. That was in 1962 and 1963.

Today I sit before a flat seventeen-inch color monitor connected to a new Macintosh G5 that has one gigabyte of memory (nearly 28,000 times the memory on the mainframe), a 28.5-gigabyte hard disk, a DVD-rewritable drive, a cable modem, and a color printer. The total cost of all this was about $3,500. Incredible power at an unbelievably low cost compared to what I could have bought only one human generation ago. This is the fruit of people being free to search and think of ways they can satisfy the needs or desires of others, and to invest their time and resources in trying to do so.

Link of Note

”A Shiv in the Back: How politicized college courses mangle education” (10/6/2004) By Bruce Thornton

A review of Ben Shapiro’s Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth.

Among other comments on the leftist nature of the American university, note this:

On issue after issue—tax cuts, liberal media bias, “social justice,” and the general evil of stupid conservatives and Republicans—the University speaks with one mindless voice, repeating clichés and stale progressive ideas with nary a nod to any opposing viewpoint.

This numbing orthodoxy partly results from old-line Marxist received wisdom that, despite being repudiated by history, lives on in the groves of academe like some wood-boring beetle. Despite its success at creating wealth for vast numbers of people, capitalism is condemned for increasing poverty and income inequality. For example, a tenured professor at the University of Texas calls capitalism “‘a system based on exploitation and domination and racism and war — and lots of other things.'” An article assigned in a geography course — yes, geography — at UCLA stated that free-market capitalism “‘do[es] not have a good track record in feeding people, nor in tackling the underlying structures of poverty which consign over one quarter of the world’s population to hunger.'” As compared to what other economic system, one might ask? “Last time I checked,” Shapiro responds, non-market systems “had starved twenty million people in the USSR, thirty million people in China, and millions more throughout the world.” This disconnect between ideological bromides and the simple facts of history, evident in the presumed bastions of critical thinking and factual accuracy, should disturb us all.

Exemplifying the Horror Of Some European Colonization—Leopold’s Congo

December 20, 2008

[The following was originally posted on the H-NET List on the History and Theory of Genocide, November 2, 2001]

 Having just read Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, and followed up on its reviews and what I could find about the Congo Free State on the internet….

I’m aghast at the democide I missed. It is probably over many millions, possibly 10 million murdered or more from 1885 when The Berlin Conference formally recognized the Congo Free State (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo-formerly Zaire) to 1908 when Belgium took it over as a colony. The Congo Free State was the private land, not a colony, of King Leopold II of Belgium to do with whatever he wanted.

And the massive killing did not stop when Belgium took it over.
But amazingly, although the death toll is in the many millions, far exceeding what Germany did to the Hereros (I get a toll of 55,000), the incredible terror, slavery, and death imposed on the Congo natives by one man has been virtually ignored in books on genocide. For example, there is nothing on it in Chalk and Jonassohn’s The History and Sociology of Genocide, Kuper’s Genocide, and Charny’s two-volume Encyclopedia of Genocide. There is one paragraph without estimates of the toll in Totten, Parsons, and Charny’s Century of Genocide.
This neglect cannot be due to lack of historical information. There was a vigorous international movement at the time led by the Congo Reform Movement, and involving many notables of the day, such as Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, Booker T. Washington, and Bertrand Russell. Debates over what to do about the Congo involved the legislatures and Presidents, or Prime Ministers of the United States, England, France, and Germany.

Yet, this democide far surpassed in human corpses most every democide in the 20th Century except that by Stalin, Mao, and Hitler. This mind-boggling democide has been flushed down the memory hole. Why this should be so is beyond this post, but should be the subject of study in itself.

To add embarrassment to this neglect, the French in their Congo taken over in 1900 (now the Republic of the Congo) copied Leopold’s system of rule and exploitation and thus may have murdered several million Africans as well. No work on genocide that I have mentions this.
Just to see how far off I was in my eight-year search for any and all 20th Century genocide, I went through all the tables in my Statistics of Democide and tabulated cases of colonial democide I recorded there.

For colonies by Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom, in Africa and Asia, 1900 and after, my grand democide total is 870,000 murdered. This measures a human tragedy by itself, but is nonetheless puny in comparison to just the many millions murdered by Leopold in his private Congo Free State.

I have only a low of 25,000 for this. I recorded no democide for Belgium, although it may have been responsible for close to a million once it took over the Congo. And I get just 22,000 forced laborers murdered by the French in building a railroad in the French Congo.

Now, we have these estimates:

  • Britannica, “Congo Free State” claims that the population declined from 20 or 30 million to 8 million.
  • A 1904 report by Roger Casement’s estimated that as many as 3 million Congolese died since 1888 (cited in Gilbert’s History of the Twentieth Century; also in Colin Legum, Congo Disaster (1972).
  • Peter Forbath (The River Congo (1977) claims that at least 5 million killed.
  • John Gunther (Inside Africa (1953) estimates 5-8 million deaths.
  • Adam Hochschild (Leopold’s Ghost mentioned above) estimates 10 million, or half the original population from 1885 to 1920.
  • Fredric Wertham, A Sign For Cain: A Exploration of Human Violence (1966) estimates that the population of the Congo dropped from 30M to 8.5M, a loss of 21.5 million.

As a result of all this, I’ve reevaluated the colonial toll. Where exploitation of a colony’s natural resources or portering was carried out by forced labor (in effect slavery of a modern kind), as it was in all the European and Asian colonies, then the forced labor system built in its own death toll from beatings, punishment, coercion, terror, and forced deprivation. There were differences in the brutality of the system, the British being the least brutal and Leopold and the French, Germans, and Portuguese the worst. We all know what the Soviet gulag was like. These colonizers turned Africa into one giant gulag, with each colony being like a separate camp.

Based on this research, I’m willing to estimate that over all of colonized Africa and Asia 1900 to independence, the democide was something like 50 million. This is way above my original 870,000. Even 50 million may be too conservative. If this figure were roughly close, however, then I must raise my total murdered by governments in the 20th Century from 174,000,000 to 223,000,000.

We should all weep. 

Some List Exchanges
on the Above”

November 6, 2003
Regarding of my reestimate of the colonial democide due to the European powers, one scholar asks: “I am curious to know, though, how Rummel’s arguments might contribute to a rethinking of the relationship between democracy and democide/genocide. I am far from an expert on fin-de-siecle and early-20th century European politics, but it seems to me that both Belgium and France could have claimed, at the time that they and/or their chartered companies were perpetrating massive atrocities, to be as democratic as any states then in existence. Does Prof. Rummel have any thoughts on this?

1. Does this change my evaluation of the relationship between power and democide, freedom and nondemocide?
No. It reinforces it. King Leopold II had absolute power over the Congo Free State. It was his. Belgium had nothing to do with it. And he created and slave and lethal land on the order of Stalin’s slave labor gulag.

2. What about when the Congo Free State was transferred to Belgium in 1908? Belgium colonial officials went to extreme lengths to prevent information about the Congo from getting out. particularly to the people.. For example, the testimony before a Commission set up to investigate what was going on in the Congo was suppressed. Even Belgium’s own ambassadors in the 1970s, over 60 years later, were forbidden from looking at the secret files. Nonetheless, due to the legislature’s demands and overview, conditions in the Congo were gradually improved after it took it over..

3. What about France, which did directly govern the French Congo in which conditions were not much different from the Congo Free State?
The Story is similar. The French colonial office kept secret information about events in the colony and tight control over who went there and what they could say. Nothing negative was allowed out.
We have here the problem in democracies, especially regarding foreign affairs, whether war, security threats, or colonialism. Although the democracy itself may be open, with freedom of speech and the diffusion of power, centers of near absolute power may be set up that operate internally and over their mandate as though a dictatorial system. The intelligence services (e.g., CIA), the military in time of war (e.g., Hiroshima), or the colonial administration (e.g., France)

4. What does the greed and bloody profits of concessions in the colonies say about capitalism?
Nothing. There was no capitalism, no free market, no competition, and no free trade. The companies that operated were given special dispensation and military protection to be monopolies over a specific region or trade. In the case of the Congo Free State, for example, Leopold only allowed most concession into the Congo if he had at least controlled 50 percent of their stocks. This was industrial socialism at its worst. 

November 4, 2003

A mystery about the black hole the Congo Free State and the French Congo have fallen into is the interest among genocide scholars in the Herero genocide that took place during this period. Here about 55,000 were murdered by the Germans, while next door and ignored by current scholars was the ongoing murder of many millions. Every book on genocide in general covers the Herero; none covers the Congo, except for a nonspecific paragraph here and there. 

November 6, 2003
German Africa was similar to the Congo in the forced labor and exploitation of the natives, with the one major exception of the Hereros. As a result of their rebellion, the Germans intentionally tried to kill them off root and branch. This meets the Convention’s definition of genocide. Otherwise, in German colonies, as in the Congo Free State, French Congo, and other colonies, natives were murdered in the process of their exploitation as slave labor, or when they got in the way. The were not killed because of their tribal membership or race as such.

But this is where the scandal of the many definitions of genocide used by scholars hits home. By the Genocide Convention’s standards, only the Hereros involved genocide, and maybe some other isolated cases of minor significance. But by Charny’s definition, and that Chalk and Jonassohn implicitly use, which is murder by government, all the mass murders in the colonies were genocide.
I suspect there are two reasons for the emphasis on the Herero. One is that it is manifestly genocide as defined by the Convention. Second, the Germans did it, which then plays into all kinds of theories about national character, precursors of the Holocaust, The Kaiser and the causes of WWI, etc.

Anyway, the significance of the different treatment is that an incredible amount of democide (genocide in Charny’s terms) has been missed, and this affects our attempt to get at causes and conditions, or most fundamentally, our understanding.

I hope some Ph.D. student takes a dissertation interest in this whole question.

The Solution to Mass Poverty

December 12, 2008

[First published May 24, 2005] Lately in international organization circles, there has been much to do about poverty, with some sad facts being focused upon (from the Guardian Unlimited link here):

One third of deaths – some 18 million people a year – are caused by poverty.

An estimated 600m children live in absolute poverty. Every year more than 10 million children die of hunger and preventable diseases.

Income per person in the poorest countries in Africa has fallen by a quarter in the past 20 years.

More than half a million women die in pregnancy and childbirth every year – one death a minute.

Clear to all is that the effort to ameliorate the conditions of the poor in one country after another has failed. In the resulting soul searching, especially at the World Bank that has been in the forefront of this effort, a reevaluation of their approach to poverty concludes that they have placed too much effort on lessening poverty, rather than fostering economic growth, an increase which, to invent an expression, will lift all boats.

Still, as I go through the articles on this, one thing is missing, which is the real solution. Look again at Table 4.1 and its plot in Figure 4.1 that I showed in a previous blog:

Table  4.1
Figure 4.1

Note the strong relationship between measure of poverty (HPI) and human development (HDI), and the internal freedom, really the liberal democraticness, of a country.

The degree to which a country is free is strongly related to its economic freedom, which in turn is inversely related to the impoverishment of its people. And the theoretical reason for this is well known among free market economists, so there is theory and fact and fact for this solution.

So, why don’t the international organizations get it? To push economic solutions, to focus on poverty, is accepted internationally even by the mass of dictators that benefit from the poverty-development give-aways, and the periodical forgiveness of their debts (we are due for another round of the fleecing of the taxpayers of the democracies). And to focus on poverty and development to lessen mass poverty is compassionate and objective. But, to focus on democratic freedom . . . . well, now, that is . . . being political and internationall partisan, you know. And where is the profit for dictators in that?

Link of Note

”World Bank failing to reduce poverty in poorest countries” (5/20/05) Financial Express

The article says:

The World Bank, the largest financer of projects in developing nations, is failing in its mission to reduce poverty in the poorest countries by paying too little attention to boosting economic growth, an internal audit found.

In the past 15 years, the bank put too much emphasis on social development and cut spending on bridges, dams, pipelines and other projects that have a more dramatic impact on economic growth, according to the report, obtained by Bloomberg News.

The World Bank’s model to fight poverty in the poorest of nations had, in practice, paid insufficient attention to fighting poverty growth, the 115-page report said. “Without growth, no sustainable poverty reduction is likely.”

There is nothing on democracy or freedom in the article. And I’m afraid this refocus on growth will mean more grants to the dictators, and a recycling of the international forgiveness of their debts in order to facilitate growth. Heavy sigh.

Democratic Peace


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.