After the calamitous century between Russia’s October Revolution and Venezuela’s debt default last week, you might think socialism would be dead and buried. You’d be wrong: It’s capitalism that is back on the rack, being tortured and refitted according to the ideologies of its detractors. But be warned, when you modify the word “capitalism,” you are by definition misallocating capital. I call this fill-in-the-blank capitalism.
Bernie Sanders offers a fine place to start. “Do I consider myself,” he asked at an October 2015 rally, “part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little?” (Emphasis mine.) Never mind that it was a progressive hero, Barney Frank, who said in 2003 that he wanted to “roll the dice a little bit more in this situation toward subsidized housing”— which helped lead to the financial crisis. Now Mr. Sanders wants to load the dice: Free college for all. Free Medicare for all. Free rations for all?
Al Gore, an ostensible environmentalist who made millions dealing with oil-rich Qatar, is no stranger to ideological modifications. On these pages in 2011, Mr. Gore co-wrote “A Manifesto for Sustainable Capitalism,” which demanded that markets integrate “environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics throughout the decision-making process.” Yet messing with critical price signals through “ESG metrics” is exactly what would make capitalism unsustainable. See: Frank, Barney.
A 2014 Huffington Post headline declared “Let’s Make Capitalism a Dirty Word.” This was right around the time that “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the French economist Thomas Piketty’s now largely discredited book, was published in English. Mr. Piketty called for a tax on dynastic wealth because of “a strong comeback of private capital in the rich countries since 1970, or, to put it another way, the emergence of a new patrimonial capitalism.” Tell that to Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page, self-made billionaires who weren’t even alive in 1970.
Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz tried to one-up Mr. Piketty, complaining in a 2014 article for Harper’s magazine about “phony capitalism.” But he offered a remedy! “A well-designed tax system can do more than just raise money—it can be used to improve economic efficiency and reduce inequality.” Messrs. Stiglitz and Piketty and all the modern-day central planners will no doubt gladly make the economic decisions needed to right the ship after they have sunk it.