Through all kinds of poorly-conceived schemes, our leaders in Washington seek to revive our ailing economy, or at least to give the impression that they are taking the problem seriously. These remedies will ultimately do more harm than good, and as they draw us closer to wholesale socialism, they could turn a case of the sniffles into a life threatening illness. Obama urges Congress to "act quickly" on yet another economic stimulus plan. I hope they don't. In this case, the cure is almost certainly worse than the disease. For all the stimulating and reviving we've seen lately, we've seen little or no success. Our elected officials are bloodletting the economy.
Here's a refresher on the practice of bloodletting. Bloodletting was the longest-running tradition in medicine. It originated in the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Greece and lasted through the second Industrial Revolution.
"Most bloodletters would open a vein in the arm, leg or neck with small, fine knife called a lancet. They would collect the blood in measuring bowls. Doctors bled patients for every ailment imaginable. They bled for pneumonia and fevers, back pain and rheumatism, headaches and melancholia; even to treat bone fractures and other wounds. Yet there never was any evidence that it did any good.
"Bloodletting was based on an ancient system of medicine in which blood and other bodily fluids were considered to be 'humors' whose proper balance maintained health. Sick patients were thought to have an imbalance of their humors, which bloodletting was thought to restore. Bleeding was as trusted and popular in ancient days as aspirin is today."
"George Washington, the first President of the United States, was bled to treat severe laryngitis in 1799 and died shortly thereafter. Of this incident, one medical historian writes: 'Today we find the removal of about eighty-two ounces of blood from a sick patient in less than sixteen hours to be incredible. However this was the method of treatment being taught in those days. It was the treatment of choice for many diseases and the complications of using this method were not understood by the physicians of that day.'"
Reports indicate President Washington had somewhere between five to nine pints of blood drained from his body. We don't know if these multiple bloodlettings resulted in his demise, but bloodletting clearly was not the solution.
"It wasn't until well into the 19th century that people began to question the value of bloodletting. Scientists such as Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister, and Robert Koch showed that germs, not humors, were responsible for disease. Furthermore, medical statisticians tracking case histories began to collect evidence that bloodletting was not effective. Eventually the practice died, although it continued in some parts of America into the 1920s."
It is important to keep in mind that well loved remedies do not always have a basis in any kind of evidence. They often have no impact on the underlying causes of disease, and in many cases they are very harmful.
This brings us back to the economy. As has been widely publicized, president-elect Barack Obama believes in the power of redistributionism to heal our ailing economy. Barack's famous words to Joe the Plumber: "...I think that when we spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." This statement represents the redistributionist essence of socialism.
But socialism was the twentieth century's economic equivalent of bloodletting, a well loved remedy with no evidence so support its efficacy. In fact there is abundant evidence to show that socialism is every bit as irrational and harmful as bloodletting.
"As a buzzword, 'socialism' had mostly good connotations in most of the world for most of the twentieth century. That’s why the Nazis called themselves national socialists. That’s why the Bolsheviks called their regime the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics..." But the promise of socialism never materialized.
"While [socialism] promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.
"In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may show early signs of success. But any accomplishments quickly fade as the fundamental deficiencies of central planning emerge. It is the initial illusion of success that gives government intervention its pernicious, seductive appeal. In the long run, socialism has always proven to be a formula for tyranny and misery.
"A pyramid scheme is ultimately unsustainable because it is based on faulty principles. Likewise, collectivism is unsustainable in the long run because it is a flawed theory. Socialism does not work because it is not consistent with fundamental principles of human behavior. The failure of socialism in countries around the world can be traced to one critical defect: it is a system that ignores incentives.
"In a capitalist economy, incentives are of the utmost importance. Market prices, the profit-and-loss system of accounting, and private property rights provide an efficient, interrelated system of incentives to guide and direct economic behavior. Capitalism is based on the theory that incentives matter!
"Under socialism, incentives either play a minimal role or are ignored totally. A centrally planned economy without market prices or profits, where property is owned by the state, is a system without an effective incentive mechanism to direct economic activity. By failing to emphasize incentives, socialism is a theory inconsistent with human nature and is therefore doomed to fail. Socialism is based on the theory that incentives don't matter!"
"Both history and current events demonstrate that the socialist reality is always bad for the individual, and this is true whether one is looking at the painfully brutal socialism of the Nazis or the Soviets or the Chinese, with its wholesale slaughters, or at the soft socialism of England, in which people's lives are ever more tightly circumscribed, and the state incrementally destroys individual freedom. And that is why Obama's socialism matters. Regardless of Obama’s presumed good intentions, socialism always brings a society to a bad ending."
Evidence-based political solutions would be ideal. As with evidence-based medicine, evidence-based politics would promote policies that have been proven to work. Bad ideas like Marxism and socialism would be abandoned.
But political thinking is still as backward and irrational as medicine was 200 years ago. Too many politicians don't care if their policies don't ultimately work; they only care about getting votes in the easiest way possible. The ideas of socialism are easy to sell, and the consequent failures are easily attributed to other causes. Therefore, despite the fact that Marxism and socialism have been repeatedly proven to be failures, leftists keep going back for more.
Americans gave up bloodletting in the practice of medicine over a century ago. How long will it take for Americans, and the rest of the world, to give up bloodletting in the practice of politics?
Remembering How Far Health Care Has Come Since George Washington's Time
Why Obama's socialism matters
Thankful for Our Piece of Pie
Daschle-Obama Health Care Reform?
A Libertarian Defense of Social Conservatism
Are you more knowledgeable than the average citizen? The average score for all 2,508 Americans taking the following test was 49%; college educators scored 55%. Can you do better?