Why You Never Hear Anyone Say “That Wasn’t Real Capitalism”

“Real Socialism” is apparently defined as “a system of government that yields results a fan of Socialism approves of”. When a socialist government collapses in ruins, we hear “that wasn’t Real Socialism” and “it doesn’t matter what they called themselves”.

It’s got to do with some of the responses to my book Socialism: The Failed Idea That Never Dies. The book shows how Western intellectuals have long had a habit of lauding socialist experiments as long as they were in their prime, only to disown them later, now claiming that they were never “really” socialist to begin with. One of the most common responses I have been receiving lately is:

But you could say the exact same thing about capitalism! Is your next book going to be called “Capitalism: The Failed Idea That Never Dies”

It reminds me a bit of playground spats, where children whose verbal abilities are not that well developed yet often respond to taunts by simply redirecting the same taunt back: “No, you are!”

This, of course, only works in a pot-calling-the-kettle-black situation, where your opponent is indeed guilty of the same thing they are accusing you of. And this really isn’t the case here. You could not say the same thing about capitalism. Show me an example of free-market liberals acting in the same way as the socialist intellectuals I am citing in the book. Name a country that free-marketeers used to praise to the skies, and that they now dismiss as “not REAL capitalism.”

You can’t. Because this does not happen.

The Economic Histories of Countries 

Quite the opposite. I recently reread a few passages from Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose, which was first published in 1980. In terms of the places Friedman singles out as positive examples, I was struck by how little has changed since then. Friedman was very positive about the economy of Hong Kong, and to a lesser extent, the other “Asian Tigers,” such as Taiwan and Singapore. He described Switzerland as “a bastion of capitalism.”

He was cautiously optimistic that Britain’s then-new Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, would change the country for the better. He did not mention Chile in this book, presumably aware that any positive statement about the Chilean economy would be misconstrued as support for the Pinochet dictatorship. But we know from statements he made elsewhere around that time that he was also optimistic about Chile’s future economic prospects.