If Capitalism Is Theft, What Is Socialism

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I had an interesting conversation a few days ago at the Edina Grille on France Avenue in Edina, MN.  I arrived as they opened so that I’d have time to read the newspaper and check my iPhone for newer news before my breakfast companion arrived.

I picked a high top table by the huge window in the bar area to be in the sun light.  Ten or fifteen minutes after me a 40’s-something woman, wearing a long sleeved red T-shirt sat at another table in the same area.  When she went to wash her hands a little later I saw the white letters on the back of her shirt: “CAPITALISM IS THEFT.”

I thought it would be fun to ask about that message, so a little later when she made small talk to ask “what’s good to eat here,” and told me her name, I had the chance.

ME: (Paraphrase) “I noticed the message on your shirt.  Are you a teacher?”

SHEILA: “No, but I would like to educate people on capitalism.”

ME: “What might be a better way for an economy to fund business?”

SHEILA: “I’m not sure, but capitalism sure as hell isn’t it.  Why do you ask?”

ME: “Years ago I was a history student; and my senior paper topic was to compare the overall performance of post-World War II economic systems in capitalist Western Europe and communist – socialist Eastern Europe.”

SHEILA: “I think I’d favor socialism.”

ME: “A couple of Democrats are now preaching just that aren’t they?”

SHEILA: “Do you disagree?”

ME: “Yes I do. Marx lectured and wrote that capitalism was an essential first step for society on the road to socialism by providing the funding for a peaceful transition.  Marx also believed the process could be driven either by pressure from workers, or by a coup engineered by those wishing to take charge themselves.  And importantly, Marx also said that ‘freedom was not possible by the coup method’ – which as it turned out – was the method actually used to implement communism everywhere.”

SHEILA: “Well at least the people got the government that they wanted.”

ME: “Not really.  It was actually forced upon people with intimidation and violence, exactly what Marx said should not happen.  Take Russia for example, where over 20 million were killed to force and sustain communism; and worldwide communism has killed about 95 million people. 

SHEILA: “I don’t think so.”

ME: “Okay.  Here’s a few more details.  At the time of the Bolshevik revolution Russia was only starting to experience capitalism and the economy was beginning to modernize. Lenin allowed private capital to continue during the war to prevent the economy from collapsing.  Then immediately after the civil war, he outlawed other political parties and executed many of those same business owners as ‘class enemies.’ Priests were considered intractable and were also arrested and executed, or sent to work camps in Siberia.  And Stalin killed even more than Lenin when he took over.  He confiscated the grain and animals of Ukrainian farm owners, then had the army close borders so none could escape.  That caused about 8 million to starve to death over a two-year manmade famine.  Stalin also enacted the infamous ‘Great Terror,’ during which he killed about 2 million more that he had identified as class enemies.  So the people were not getting the government they wanted.  And if they complained they were imprisoned or executed.”

SHEILA: “I don’t know much about that old history.  But I have visited Cuba, and know that they love their government.  China’s economy is almost as big as ours and the Chinese have free health insurance and free college.”

ME: “Do you have health insurance?”

SHEILA: “Yes, but it’s very expensive.”

ME: “Trading health insurance for freedom isn’t a very good bargain for someone like you is it?  Your shirt makes me think that you’re someone wanting to express herself.  Would you really give that up?”

SHEILA: “It wouldn’t bother me in exchange for free health insurance, but those opposed to socialism might not like being forced to shut up.”

ME: (My friend then showed up and he and I moved to a nearby booth): “It was interesting talking to you, Sheila.”

SHEILA: (Nodding, but without a smile) “You too.”  

Later on I found myself wondering what other T-shirts with slogans on them Sheila might have at home in her closet.  

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