It beggars belief that Jeremy Corbyn can, with a straight face, announce that capitalism has failed and we’d all be better off under socialism. ‘The super-rich are on borrowed time,’ he said at the Labour party conference. He’s going to tax the rich until their pips squeak, overlooking the fact that the coalition government’s decision to lower the top rate of tax from 50 per cent to 45 per cent actually boosted tax revenues. The taxes paid by the top 1 per cent of income earners are now responsible for 28 per cent of the total tax take, higher than it ever was under Labour. Coincidentally, 28 per cent of the total amount the government spent in 2016-17 was on welfare — things like social security benefits, disability benefits, incapacity benefits, housing benefit, child benefit etc. In effect, the rich are paying for the services that sustain the poorest people in our society. Isn’t that an example of capitalism working as it should?
More generally, the superiority of capitalism to socialism when it comes to helping the very poorest is completely indisputable. Since 1990, more than a billion people across the globe have been lifted out of extreme poverty as countries like China, India and Indonesia have embraced the fundamental principles of the free enterprise system. In 2013 alone, 114 million people saw their incomes climb from below $1.90 a day to above $1.90, the international poverty line. Compare this with the effect of the socialist economic policies introduced by Hugo Chávez, whom Corbyn hailed as ‘an inspiration to us all’. Venezuela was once tipped to be among the richest South American countries, thanks to its abundant natural resources; now it is among the poorest. When Chávez came to power in 1998, 48 per cent of households were living in poverty; last year, that figure was 82 per cent. Since 1990, the global infant mortality rate has more than halved, from 64.8 deaths per 1,000 live births to 30.5. Venezuela’s infant mortality rate, by contrast, increased by 30 per cent last year.
I could go on. The 20th century was littered with socialist leaders who plunged their countries into economic ruin. Most scholars estimate the death toll from communism to be around 110 million, with those who didn’t starve to death or die from preventable diseases being worked to death in labour camps or executed by the state. The standard response of the ‘I am literally a communist’ types when confronted with this statistic is to engage in a bit of whataboutery — what about all those killed by capitalism?
In order to make that argument, they have to expand the definition of ‘capitalism’ to include the transatlantic slave trade and the most heinous examples of colonialism, such as Belgian’s conquest of the Congo, as if slavery and imperial conquest are unique to western capitalism. But even if the free enterprise system has been responsible — is responsible — for a certain amount of misery, it has also alleviated a good deal of suffering. Socialism just impoverishes and enslaves people.
Yet a majority of young people prefer socialism to capitalism. This is one of the great mysteries of the age. According to a Pew survey carried out in 2011, 49 per cent of 18- to 29-year-old Americans have a positive view of socialism and only 43 per cent a negative one. When it comes to capitalism, the vote swings the other way, with 47 per cent positive and 48 per cent negative. The same is true of British millennials. At the last election, 62 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted Labour. How to explain this? It’s as if, given the choice of getting into two cars, one a VW Golf and the other a 100-year-old jalopy held together with spit and glue, they’ll happily choose the deathtrap.
I blame the education system. In the past I’ve written about the left-wing bias of British universities. For instance, a survey of university staff in 2015 found that only 11 per cent intended to vote Conservative. But the imbalance in our schools is even worse, as we were reminded by the teacher at the Labour conference who claimed that if children get a ‘proper education’ the country ‘won’t have any Tories’. Only 9 per cent of British schoolteachers voted Conservative last year, compared with a plurality in the 1970s. That’s an all-time low. Is it any wonder young people believe capitalism is the font of all evil and the magic grandpa will create a socialist paradise? The poor bastards have been brainwashed.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.