Donald Boudreaux: Conversation with a young socialist |
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Donald Boudreaux: Conversation with a young socialist

Lady Gaga arrives at the Oscars Feb. 24 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Recently near my office at George Mason University I ran into a student of mine who was showing his friend around campus. The friend is thinking of transferring from Radford University to George Mason.

The friend — call him “Jack” — wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the famous image of Che Guevara.

Inferring from my economics lectures that I’m no great admirer of Guevara, my student joked awkwardly that Jack’s other favorite T-shirt features an image of Milton Friedman.

Jack didn’t laugh. Instead he asked me why I object to Guevara.

I was in no mood for confrontation, so I chose not to inform Jack of Guevara’s bloodlust. I instead replied simply that “Guevara was a socialist and I disapprove of socialism.”

“Why?” Jack asked.

“Because,” I answered, “socialism has never delivered on its promise to enrich the masses — quite the opposite — and it always turns into tyranny. Just look at the Soviet Union, Cuba and Venezuela. Even what we might call ‘socialist-lite’ countries do rather poorly.”

Jack’s look turned defensive. But before he could respond, I asked what he meant by socialism.

Jack admitted that he wasn’t sure of the details. He just wants to live in a society that’s “more just.”

I asked Jack for a specific example of an injustice in America today that would disappear under socialism.

“Inequality!” he answered immediately. Opining that it is “unjust” for one person to have multiple times more wealth than others, Jack expressed his desire for massive income redistribution.

I then asked a follow-up question that I knew would cause Jack to think that I was changing the subject. “What’s your college grade point average so far?” Jack replied, “3.85.”

“Very impressive!” I said sincerely. “You’re among a relatively small number of students at Radford who’ve accumulated such a large number of high grades.”

Jack looked at me suspiciously. I pressed on, asking if he favors grade redistribution: transferring “A” grades from students with “unjust” amounts of A’s to students with very few high grades.

Being an intelligent young man, Jack saw where I was headed. He replied “That’s different. I earned my good grades.” To which I replied: “Yes. So what makes you think that very rich people such as Jeff Bezos and Lady Gaga did not earn their great wealth?”

Before Jack could answer, I put to him another question: “If you knew that Bezos, Gaga and other very rich people earned their wealth, would you then call the difference in their wealth from that of ordinary Americans ‘unjust’?”

Jack dodged my questions by insisting that “no one needs that amount of money.”

“That’s not the question,” I protested. “The question is about the justice of the likes of Bezos owning so much more wealth than is owned by ordinary people. Tell me, Jack: What is unjust about Jeff Bezos having billions of dollars if it is all wealth that he earned, just as you earned all of your high grades?”

Jack answered confidently: “It’s unjust because it gives Bezos more power than others.”

“More power?!” I reacted surprisingly. “What power does Bezos have over you or me? He can’t force us to shop at Amazon.”

Jack heard enough. Walking away in a huff, he brushed me off as if I were an uncomprehending old goat.

I hope that Jack does indeed transfer to George Mason, and that he takes an economics course here.

Donald Boudreaux is a professor of economics and Getchell Chair at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. His column appears twice monthly.

Donald Boudreaux is a professor of economics and Getchell Chair at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. His column appears twice monthly.

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