I’m Not a Communist…Anymore

I was born in the USSR and was once a dedicated communist.

I would love to be able to trace my conversion to a single, defining point in my life. I would love to be able to say that at a certain cliché gathering of friends, I was staring at a certain plate of oranges when suddenly all of time and space came together to strike the opening chords of some brilliant socioeconomic revelation. I would love to say that this symphony even materialized via a James Horner piece. Unfortunately, my life is not a Ron Howard film. No, this conversion to conservatism was a culmination of several psychological battles that played out over the course of a year.

Realism v. Idealism

An English professor of mine once defined tragedy as “an event which occurs when a perception of reality does not correspond with reality itself.”  At some point, I started asking myself: could we really have equity-driven policy, altruistic leaders, and homes and jobs for everyone?  The economic reality is that we cannot.

People are not driven by altruism; they are driven by incentives. People seek to maximize their own good – or, as economists term it, utility. Everyone having everything is impossible.  There is scarcity in the world because we have fixed resources.  This scarcity implies the existence of trade-offs; you cannot have one thing without giving up another.

You are reading this right now, but you are giving up the time that you could spend doing the laundry, studying, or watching television. In short, I realized that I’d been working towards a utopia in a world with no hope of attaining it. My idea of reality was faulty. I concluded that a workable system must accept imperfection as a premise. It must accept the truths of scarcity, opportunity cost, trade-offs, and incentives. Economic equality is just not natural. I concluded, then, that it could only be achieved by coercion. That was strike one for communism.

Reason v. Sense

I saw a collapsed housing market.  The United States was on the brink of a “Great Recession.”  People were losing their jobs and their homes.  Corporate greed, government bailouts, golden parachutes, and rising inequality were everywhere I looked.  The genius of science is that it makes reason conquer sense.  The world looks flat when looking at the horizon, yet mathematicians as far back as ancient Greece proved that it was not.  Time, experienced by everyone, seems to be an absolute.  Yet, physics has revealed that it is purely illusory.

Capitalism looked pretty bad during the recession. However, the charts told a different story. They told the story of free markets gifting us with a higher standard of living.  The ubiquity of television, refrigeration, telecommunications, and transportation is unparalleled.  Even in the midst of harsh economic times, we are undoubtedly better-off now than we’ve ever been.

I looked at the nations I glorified.  The former USSR, China, North Korea, and Cuba could not hold a candle to the progress of free markets.  That was strike two.  I allowed reason to tame my biased senses.  If I was going to disparage capitalism, I would have to admit that humanity was better off 150 years ago than it is today.  Despite the recession all around me, reason gave me a sense of proportion.  Just look at the data.  Look at all that growth in just half a century! And look how puny the last recession was in comparison with capitalism’s accomplishments.

Humility v. Conceit

I used to talk haughtily of equality, virtue, and the common good.  At one point, I had to accept that there is no consensus on these terms.  People define equality, virtue, and the common good in different ways.  However, these are the goals of communism.  If consensus can’t be reached, then any party or leader coming to power preaching these values is assuming that they have the “right” definitions.  Naturally, some will not agree.  The ruling party will dub the dissenters’ definitions as “wrong” and demand that they submit to what they perceive are “true” equality, virtue, and common good.

Rapidly ascending to power and preaching absolute values is a slippery slope to oppression.  We’ve seen this before. This fanatic preaching of seemingly altruistic values will only end, and has ended, in tragedy.  My own conceit dawned on me.  I actually thought I knew what was best for someone living in Utah, Florida, or Texas.  I learned to be humble and accept that my definitions are no better or worse than others’ so long as they do not clash.  Communism is oppressive because it forces its definitions on a population.  Strike three.

A system which avoids oppression must be humble and adopt policies in which individuals can develop their own definitions, not be coerced into following some party’s definitions.


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Comments

  1. Brilliant!! Bravo!

  2. Really great!

  3. Arman, I must admit, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever read another article here that was constructed without fault. Yours was. My faith in humanity is regained. :)
    To all the others whose lack of attention to detail in their writing belittles their essays, WAKE UP. These articles will be read by, hopefully, millions. Do you really want them all to have to add or subtract words in their heads to make up for your shortcomings? If you can’t reread your articles until you find them without mistakes, why should I take anything you have to say to heart?
    I just reread this comment I am writing and found TWO COMPLETE WORDS OMITTED in the first sentence that I had to add. If you authors are too rushed to make your articles right, and I assume you know how, maybe you shouldn’t write them.

  4. Dawnsearlylight says:

    From someone that was born in Cuba and saw that Cuba STOOD STILL after Castro, I can tell you that you are absolutely correct. The quest for Castro’s sense of “equality” led to more harm than all the so called inequalities of the free markets. We all know that the only one that made out like a bandit was him. WELCOME! We don’t need to share the pie… we just make more.

  5. Great article written by one who has “been there.”

    Just to substantiate your claims regarding socialism, the following is from the June 2004 Swedish Timbro Institute study, http://www.timbro.se/bokhandel/pdf/9175665646.pdf:

    “Poverty is a highly relative concept. As we saw in the preceding section, for example, 40 per cent of all Swedish households would rank among low-income households in the USA, and an even greater number in the poorer European countries would be classed as low income earnings by the American definition.”

    “What does it mean to be poor in the USA? Major living standard surveys carried out in the USA at regular intervals show the poor to have a surprisingly high standard of living”; see Table 3:2. (percentages of stuff poverty level households own):

    Home ownership 45.9%
    Car 72.8%
    2 or more cars 30.2%
    Air conditioning 76.6
    Refrigerator 96.9
    Washing machine 64.7
    Drying cabinet/tumbler drier 55.6
    Dishwasher 33.9
    Garbage disposal 29.7
    Microwave 73.3
    Colour TV 97.3
    2 or more colour TV sets 55.3
    Cable or satellite TV 62.6
    Wide screen TV 26.3
    Video or DV 78.0
    2 or more video and DVD players 25.3
    Stereo 58.6
    Telephone answering machine 35.3
    Mobile phone 26.6
    PC 24.6
    Internet access 18.0

    “Another indicator of the relatively good material standard of living among the American poor can be obtained by comparing dwelling space among poor households in the USA with average dwelling space in Europe (in other words all Europeans, not just their poverty level population). Table 3:3 compares dwelling space in various countries. Average total dwelling space in Europe is just under 1,000 sq. ft. In the USA it is 1,875 sq. ft for the average household and 1,200 sq. ft for poor households. Adjusting for size of household, one finds that poor households in the USA have slightly more dwelling space than the average European. The average American household has a home that is 80 per cent larger than its average European counterpart. Europeans, in other words, are more crowded in an American perspective.”

    Table 3:3. Dwelling space. Various countries. (Nation/year study taken/living space per person)
    Austria/year study taken 2000/living space per person 406.2 square feet
    Belgium/1991/371.4
    Denmark/2001/558.0
    France/1996/378.8
    Finland/2000/392.0
    Germany/1998/424.0
    Greece/1991/285.5
    Ireland/2001/316.7
    Italy/1991/462.7
    Luxembourg/2001/517.3
    Netherlands/2000/439.4
    Portugal/1998/279.1
    Spain/1991/278.1
    Sweden/1997/460.1
    UK/1996/381.1

    All of Europe/average 395.7
    USA poor households/1993/average 438.6
    USA all households/1993/average 721.2

    “Clearly, then, there are very big differences between the American and European economies. A long period of high growth has made the USA far and away the world’s richest region. For several centuries Europe led the world in terms of prosperity and progress. As little as a hundred years ago, much of the American continent was virgin wilderness. Today, a hundred years later, the USA has completely overtaken Europe to become the unrivalled leader of the world economy. Most Americans have a standard of living which the majority of Europeans will never come any where near. The really prosperous American regions have nearly twice the affluence of Europe. It is worth reminding ourselves what this means. In these regions the average American can get exactly twice as much of everything as the average European. Which goes to show the importance of an economic policy to stimulate growth.”
    **************************
    My path from the mind-trap of liberalism is kind of interesting.

    After five years in the Navy (being somewhat apolitical until I learned that the Bay of Pigs was an LBJ lie which he used to justify exploding our involvement in Vietnam) I graduated from UC Berkeley (1968-73) during which time I: campaigned for McCarthy, McGovern and Bobby Kennedy; gave money to The Black Panthers and John Froines (the “Chicago 8” chemist who happened to be hitchhiking in Berkeley, and I picked him up); resigned my officer commission in protest the Vietnam War; subscribed to self-professed communist I. F. Stone’s newsletter; gave money to William Kunstler and marched against the war in Berkeley.

    My conversion from an unthinking liberal (but oh so sensitive…and so extraordinarily superior to those dense conservatives) took seed after I read Nobel prize winner Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. Having been a main stream media news addict since getting out of the Navy it struck me as odd that the media and Hollywood — which daily gushed their unequalled love for mankind — seemed to brush off the horrendous conditions related in his book. There was virtually no coverage of the Gulag and certainly no movies or documentaries like those which documented the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps (lots and lots of those, as it should be). Quite the contrary, the media was in constant “defend the USSR mode,” until, in fact the very end of it. (See footnotes)

    In the end it became obvious to me that liberals are everything they stigmatize conservatives for: close-minded, extraordinarily judgmental…if the subject isn’t minorities or non-white culture and full of hate for those who disagree with them (think Pelosi or Reid or Obama’s Reverend Wright). That being the case, nothing you write will affect how they view socialism, any more than Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag. On the other hand, maybe I’m wrong – I used to be a liberal.

    -Walter Cronkite, speaking at the UN in 1999: “It seems to many of us that if we are to avoid the eventual catastrophic world conflict we must strengthen the UN as a first step toward a world government.”
    -Dan Rather, speaking on CBS Evening News, 6/17/87 : “Despite what many Americans think, most Soviets do not yearn for capitalism or Western-style democracy.”

  6. Also communists and socialists tend to forget that our economy and government for that matter, are not free market/capitalistic. Too much regulation exists and the government is 500 pound man that can’t get out of bed. If the American govenrment and market were really capitalistic then we would see a completely different environment. A prosperous environment.

    Anyhow, that’s great that you switched to the light side.

  7. The point has moved beyond whether we are better off or not but how can our tide lift all boats.

    With respect to USA governmental regulation, I want my tax dollars out of the hands of anyone doing business. The government can protect and defend, but it should not be part owner via tax policy, loopholes, grants, etc in any business. Why do we subsidize ethanol? Why do we pay farmers not to plant? Why do we subsidize food production?

    But I don’t hear our current GOP candidates actually speaking this way.

  8. Joe, we stopped subsidizing ethanol a few days ago, after 30 years. Didn’t you hear about that? We still spend money on the industry, however, directly and indirectly. Partly in the way of tariffs. I remember reading a news story about it when the subsidy ended. If necessary I can dig it up.

  9. Great piece, Arman.

  10. @ Keith: Thanks for the update. Now if we can continue this trend to any and all expenditures that give my tax dollars to any industry and then look even more closely at foreign aid.

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