Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Mythology of Socialism

In the United Kingdom, Jeremy Corbyn, an avowed hardline socialist, currently leads the Labour Party’s primary polls by at least 15 percentage points. This is a big deal. Between 1997 and 2010, Britain’s equivalent of the Democratic Party held governing majorities in Parliament. Today, although out of power, Labour remains Britain’s main opposition party.

How is a hardline socialist leading? Well, as I’ve argued, “For defeated Labour activists who detest British Conservatism and simply cannot believe [British Prime Minister] Cameron won, Corbyn is a tonic.” But consider Corbyn’s platform. He seeks far higher taxes on “the rich”; Britain’s withdrawal from NATO; a splurge of unrestrained quantitative easing; restrictions on charter schools; nationalization of energy and train companies; rejection of a looming Trans-Atlantic trade pact between the European Union and the United States; rent controls; and a ban on fracking.

These policies encapsulate the mythology of socialism — and its American standard bearer, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. As the Democrat from Vermont recently said, “When people understand that in those [EU socialist] countries, governments are working for the middle class rather than the billionaire class — I think we can get our message across.” That line generated applause, but contemplate what Corbyn-Sanders socialism would actually mean.

Labour leader candidate Jeremy Corbyn outlines his plans for a publicly owned railway network on the concourse at Kings Cross Station before boarding a train to Newcastle Jeremy Corbyn outlines his plans for publicly owned railway-Kings Cross,London,England 18th Ayugust 2015  (Rex Features via AP Images)

Socialist Jeremy Corbyn is seeking to lead the United Kingdom’s Labour Party, the country’s main opposition party. | Photo: AP

Seizing control of industry and education, Corbyn believes that government should shape social interests for individuals. Yet he — and Sanders — also asserts a narrative of popular emancipation. The hypocrisy is choking. After all, private interests flourish by applying services in response to the evolving demands of individuals. That is why America is the world’s superpower.

In contrast, public services often fail because they are operated without personal interest in services and outcomes. Consider that between 1987 and 2011, while public sector productivity fell, private sector productivity grew by 50 percent. These distinctions affect lives. Think about the ongoing real world impact of nationalization. Today in Brazil, the binding of political patronage to corporate interest has led to an extraordinary wave of corruption in the Petrobras energy company. In Venezuela, nationalization has created a failed state.

The poor lose most from this. It is the poor who lose most when government imprisons impoverished children in failing schools. It is the poor who lose most when bloated government run industries return ever-worsening outcomes. It is the poor who lose most when private investment flees to greener pastures. France proves that in the 21st century, high-taxation leads to a capital exodus.

Still, what’s most extraordinary about Corbyn, Sanders and company is the repeated failure of their ideas. Corbyn’s politics was shaped by the Thatcher years. Conservative governance, Corbyn says, betrayed the poor. The facts tell a different story. As John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge note in “The Fourth Revolution,” thanks to Thatcher, “(t)he inflation rate fell from a high of 27 percent in 1975 to 2.5 percent in 1986. The number of days lost to strikes fell from 29.5 million in 1979 to 1.9 million in 1986.’’

“What’s most extraordinary about Corbyn, Sanders and company is the repeated failure of their ideas”

My parents lived those facts. Back then, my mother was a nurse for Britain’s National Health Service. She endured days of power cuts as unions struggled to maintain their stranglehold on the British economy. My father, a State Department diplomat, remembers how businesses rose up to provide better amenities and more choices as private investment displaced government central planning.

Ultimately my argument here isn’t about politics, but rather about policy truths. As British writer, Kyle Orton told me, “Corbyn would lead Labour to a potentially party-annihilating electoral defeat,” The same is true of Bernie Sanders. Yet the mythology that socialism serves the popular interest deserves illumination. Reality proves the opposite is true.

Tom Rogan is a contributor for Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.